O'Really?

January 27, 2020

Seven things to do at CERN if you’re not a Physicist

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Wandering the Immeasurable: A sculpture at CERN by Gayle Hermick, picture re-used with permission from the artist

Even if you’re not a Physicist, there is plenty to see and do above and below ground at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN). Home to the worlds largest experiment on what is arguably the worlds largest machine near Geneva in Switzerland, CERN is a very inspiring place to visit. Consequently, CERN and the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) feature in many guidebooks like The Geek Atlas [1], the Atlas Obscura, Lonely Planet and Tripadvisor.com. So what can you actually see and do at CERN?

  1. Get a well paid engineering job. Good news for engineers, there are loads of jobs at CERN. What better way to explore a place than to work there? If you’re a student see careers.cern/students for details on summer internships and year long technical student programs. 📢 KLAXON: the next application deadline for summer internships is 31st January 2020. 📢 If you have already graduated, take a look at the CERN Fellowships and the doctoral student program. There are also plenty of opportunities for more experienced engineers described at careers.cern/professionals too. CERN’s mission is to “unite people from all over the world to push the frontiers of science and technology, for the benefit of all”. Part of that means providing opportunities for people from CERN’s 23 member states to learn new skills at CERN and take them back to their home country. For every research physicist at CERN, there are ten engineers. [2] To run their experiments, physicists rely on massive, novel and a very precise network of machines made with millions of parts, both moving and stationary. You need an army of engineers to build, test, run and develop such a complex machine, for example:
    • Mechanical engineers develop heating & cooling systems and mechatronics (there are quite a few robots at CERN)
    • Materials engineers test novel materials, metals, magnets, microscopes, superconductors, vacuums, X-ray diffraction and apply radiochemistry
    • Software and hardware engineers develop applications, virtualised infrastructure, distributed computing and databases using a wide range of programming and scripting languages. These applications manage data in one of the most highly demanding computing environments in the research world
    • Electrical and electronic engineers work on energy distribution, signal processing, microelectronics and radio frequency technology
    • Civil engineers and geotechnical engineers develop structures, roads, drainage, both above (and under) ground to accommodate all of the above
    • There are non-engineering jobs too, in administration careers.cern/AdminStudent-projects and Applied Physics (obviously)

So CERN is full of engineers of every flavour. But if you’re not a physicist or an engineer looking for a job, there is still plenty to see and do. So let’s restart our listicle again: seven things to do at CERN if you’re not a physicist, an engineer or job seeker:

  1. Watch cosmic rays arrive from outer space: There are two permanent exhibitions which can be visited without booking and they both have free entry. One is housed in the aesthetically pleasing Globe of Science and Innovation (GoSI) and is called the Universe of Particles. Another is opposite the GoSI and called Microcosm. There’s plenty to see in both exhibits, including film projections, spark chambers showing cosmic rays and cloud chambers which allow you to visualise ionizing radiation.
  2. Wander the Immeasurable with Gayle Hermick: Right outside the GoSI, sits an impressive sculpture made of 15 tonnes of twisted steel, stretched out over 37 metres in length and 11 metres up into the air. Covered in mathematical equations describing physical laws, the sculpture tells the story of Physics from Mesopotamia and Ancient Greece up to present day Higgs Boson and beyond. It’s a beautiful work of art to contemplate by Gayle Hermick. Having been inspired by equations the next thing you need to do is…
  3. Crunch numbers using Einsteins famous equation: You can’t visit CERN without crunching some numbers. Many people will be familiar with Einsteins famous equation of mass–energy equivalence E=mc². What this means that energy can be converted into mass (and vice versa) and the “exchange rate” () is a very large number – the speed of light squared. So, you can turn a small about of mass into a HUGE amount of energy. Armed with your handy mass–energy calculator, you can crunch numbers, for example 1 kg = 90,000,000,000,000,000 Joules.
  4. Thank the technology mothership: CERN is widely known as the the birthplace the Web, which we should all be thankful for. Many other technologies can trace their origin to CERN. Bent Stumpe and his colleagues developed the first touchscreens as early as 1973. [3,4] Cloud computing platforms such as Amazon Web Services, Google Cloud, Microsoft Azure have some of their roots in Grid Computing developed at CERN too. [5] Key pieces of widely used open-source software like Ceph and OpenStack have been co-developed at CERN. Where would we be without massive international collaborations? Find out more about how investment creates a positive impact on society through knowledge transfer, spin outs, startups and more at kt.cern. Many of these projects have an impact far beyond physics in areas such as medicine and consumer electronics. Thank you technology mothership. 🙏
  5. Boggle at Big Data: Data speaks louder than words. Here is some random data for your mind to boggle on:
    • When switched on, some of the LHC detectors track up to 40 million events per second.
    • The LHC Grid computing generates 30 petabytes (10¹⁵ bytes) per year, with 300 petabytes of data permanently archived in its tape libraries as of October 2018.
    • The big loop underground is 27km long. Travelling very fast, close to the speed of light, a proton laps the circuit 11,000 times every second.
    • There are 100,000 scientists from over 100 countries working at CERN
    • More boggling can be done in the CERN data centre, especially the key facts and figures. [6] Anyone can explore and play with over two petabytes of Physics data at opendata.cern.ch
  6. Contribute to the Grid: Talking of data, Physicists from all over the world work on data produced by the experiments. This requires supercomputers, very High Performance Computing (HPC) and Grid computing that no single machine can provide. This is why the Worldwide LHC Computing Grid (WLCG) exists. With the improvements of the LHC more and more computing power is required to crunch the data. Anyone can contribute by joining in the LHC@home project. Who knows? Maybe you can be a part of the discovery of the new mysterious particle or the proof that physicists have been struggling with for decades. CERN’s Grid builds on volunteered resources provided via the Berkeley Open Infrastructure for Network Computing (BOINC) middleware.
  7. Book a free tour: While the two free permanent exhibitions require no booking, the free tours do and they offer much more. Tours are typically given by knowledgeable and enthusiastic staff. You can learn a lot from the permanent exhibitions, but a tour guide brings the place to life. Tours fill up quickly and provide access to restricted parts of CERN such as mission control, the ATLAS experiment, CMS cavern, synchro-cyclotron, the CERN data centre and more. [6] The cyclotron tells the story of CERN from 1957, when the first particle accelerator arrived in pieces on the back of a few lorries. Today it spans 27 km of France and Switzerland. How did that happen? Using lights and projectors, the exhibition brings the story to life in an illuminating way. At the time of writing, limited underground visits are possible as we are in the middle of the long shutdown 2 [7]. Tunnels are accessible but you’ll need to book a tour.

If you ever get the chance to visit.cern, it is well worth it. There is nowhere else quite like it. CERN is a truly inspiring place that demonstrates what can be achieved when thousands of people collaborate on a shared vision.

Acknowledgements

I’d like to thank current and former CERN technical students from the University of Manchester for their tours (both virtual and actual) of CERN and comments on drafts of this article: Raluca Cruceru, Simeon Tsvetankov, Grzegorz Jacenków, Boris Vasilev, Ciprian Tomoiagă, Nicole Morgan, Paul-Adrian Gafton, Joshua Dawes and Stefan Klikovits. Did I miss anything? Let me know in the comments or by email.

Thanks to Gayle Hermick for her permission to re-use the picture of her artwork in this piece.

DISCLAIMER: You can probably tell from reading the above that I am not a Physicist, unless you count a very rusty A-level from decades ago. Any factual errors in this article are the combined fault of me and my Physics teacher!

References

  1. John Graham-Cumming (2009) The Geek Atlas: 128 places where Science & Technology come alive O’Reilly Media, Inc. ISBN: 9780596802257
  2. Did you know, CERN employs ten times more engineers and technicians than research physicists? home.cern/science/engineering
  3. Bent Stumpe and Christine Sutton (2010) The first capacitative touch screens at CERN: The story of a forerunner to today’s mobile-phone screens, cerncourier.com
  4. Bent Stumpe (2014) The ‘Touch Screen’ Revolution: 103–116. DOI: 10.1002/9783527687039.ch05 Chapter 5 of From Physics to Daily Life by Beatrice Bressan Wiley‐VCH Verlag GmbH & Co ISBN: 9783527332861
  5. Maria Alandes Pradillo and Andrzej Nowak (2013) The Grid, CERN’s Global Supercomputer Computerphile
  6. Mélissa Gaillard (2019) Key Facts and Figures – CERN Data Centre information-technology.web.cern.ch
  7. Evan Gough (2018) The Large Hadron Collider has been Shut Down, and Will Stay Down for Two Years While they Perform Major Upgrades universetoday.com

 

December 30, 2019

Dry January 2020: Goodbye smartphone, Hello feature phone

320px-Mobile_phone_evolution

Mobile phone evolution, has it all been downhill? Public domain picture via commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Mobile_phone_evolution.jpg

Last January I went Dry for January and was pleased with the results, both physical and mental. No booze or social media for a while can clear your head and help your body too. One thing I learned was it is hard to do a proper digital detox with a smartphone in your pocket, so this time I’ve decided to go one step further and switch to a feature phone for January 2020. According to Ross Barkan, smartphones are like cigarettes and just as hard to quit. [1,2,3] Why not try going without for a bit to see how you get on? Say goodbye to your iPhone/Android and party like its 2000, not 2020.

Whatever phone you are using in 2020, have yourselves a happy new year and may your twenties be roaring.

References

    1. Ross Barkan (2019) The smartphone is our era’s cigarette – and just as hard to quit, The Guardian
    2. Kevin Roose (2019) Do Not Disturb: How I Ditched My Phone and Unbroke My Brain The New York Times
    3. Eitan Chitayat (2018) At first life without a smartphone was terrifying. Then it was beautiful, Quartz

 

December 10, 2019

Thank you Sara and Bhav at Wikimedia UK

320px-TtT_Group_Shot_2

Participants in the Training of Trainers workshop at the University of Glasgow, November 2019. Picture by Sara Thomas (WMUK) [CC BY-SA 4.0 commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:TtT_Group_Shot_2.jpg

Last month I attended a three day Training of Trainers (ToT) course at the University of Glasgow. Run as an interactive workshop, the course was designed to help leaders of Wikipedia training events to improve their delivery and organisation. Having participated and run several Wikipedia events in the past, such an Ada Lovelace event earlier this year, I was keen to learn how do things better. Here’s a report on the workshop, with some bonus extra curricular Glasgow goodies thrown in for good measure. Thanks again Sara Thomas and Bhavesh Patel for organising and delivering the course.

As a charity, Wikimedia UK (WMUK) is part of the global Wikimedia movement. WMUK organises events in order to:

… work in partnership with organisations from the cultural and education sectors and beyond in order to unlock content, remove barriers to knowledge, develop new ways of engaging with the public and enable learners to benefit fully from the educational potential of the Wikimedia projects.

Most of the workshop participants (pictured top right) were from Gallery, Library, Archive and Museum (GLAM)  institutions and a few educational and charitable ones too. Over the three days, here is what we covered:

Day one: Getting started

We kicked off with some introductory activities including “head, heart & hands” from Waldorf education. We looked at needs analysis (Who are the participants? What is the purpose?), adult learning (particularly Howard Gardners theory of multiple intelligences) and design skills (using David Kolb’s experiential learning and Bernice McCarthy’s 4MAT).

Day two: From theory to practice

The second day revisited design skills while touching on delivery skills and group work. This covered elocution, voice projection, body language and an examination the range of experiential activities that can be utilised in workshops. We also discussed aspects of Dave Meier’s accelerated learning (with feedback) and finished the day up with teams preparing for activities for day three.

Day three: The Show Must Go On

The final day of the course finished with the participants divided into four small teams. Each presented a on hour mini-session and had it critiqued by peers. This enabled us to learn from;

  • Our own mistakes
  • Other peoples mistakes
  • Copying / stealing other peoples good ideas, of which there were plenty. Thanks Abd, Daria, Doug, Eoin, Ian, Tara, Ian, Madeleine, Marianne, Saeeda, Tore, Sara and Bhav!

Overall, this was a really useful and memorable training course, one of the best training courses I’ve been on. The content, participants, location were all great and I felt empowered by taking the course as well as making useful contacts from a range of different organisations. It had a clearly defined purpose, well chosen activities and participants, with nothing irrelevant presented. There were tonnes of practical ideas to put into practice straight away which I look forward to doing in 2020. If you’d like to do the course, get in touch with Wikimedia UK.

While in Glasgow, it would be rude not to take advantage of all the bonus extra curricular activities the city has to offer:

Bonus 1: People Make Glasgow Hospitable 🏴󠁧󠁢󠁳󠁣󠁴󠁿

They say that People Make Glasgow, and Glaswegians are very hospitable. In between training sessions our host Sara showed us around the city, including the University cloisters (etc), Inn Deep on the banks of the River Kelvin and Curlers Rest in the West End. Sara’s impressive knowledge of Glasgow and its history is wikipedian in its depth and breadth.

Bonus 2: Glaswegian-Mancunian connections 🇬🇧

To me, Glasgow and Manchester feel like sibling cities separated at birth. If you’re English, Glasgow can feel like a Scottish Manchester. Perhaps Manchester feels like an English Glasgow to the Scots? Here is the case:

  • Second city syndrome 🥈: As second cities, both Glasgow and Manchester live in the shadow of their more famous capitals, Edinburgh and London. Both cities are the “belly and guts” of their respective nations. Glasgow had its docks, Manchester had its cotton. While both trades are long gone, they leave similar post-industrial legacies on the culture and infrastructure of their respective cities.
  • Shipping 🚢: Ships, shipping, docks, ports, quays and wharfs run deep in both cities. Glasgow built ships on the River Clyde while Manchester used ships for export and import of goods on its Ship Canal.
  • Football ⚽: Love it or loathe it, the fitbaw connection between Glasgow and Manchester is strong [1,2]. Scrolling through the list of Manchester United managers I count not just one, two or even three but FOUR Glaswegians. Matt Busby (Belshill is basically Glasgow), Tommy Docherty, Alex Ferguson and David Moyes. Is this a coincidence or catholicism? [1,2] Who knows, but my hypothesis is that being shouted at in a strong Glaswegian accent can make teams perform better (although it didn’t work very well for Moyes). I wonder how many Glasgow kisses Alex Ferguson gave his overpaid prima donna squad to keep them in line? Strangely, the fitbaw manager connection isn’t reciprocated: I can’t find any Mancunians in the list of Celtic managers or the list of Rangers managers

Bonus 3: King Tut’s Wah Wah Hut 🎸

Glasgow is home to the legendary King Tut’s Wah Wah Hut. This humble venue, relatively small with a capacity of only 300, has hosted an impressive range artists including Coldplay, Radiohead, Oasis, Blur, Pulp, Manic Street Preachers, you name it, they’ve played King Tut’s. Curious to find out what all the fuss was about, I arranged to meetup with an old Glaswegian friend for a drink at the venue. Assuming the gig that night would be sold out we asked at the bar who was playing. Turns out they had a handful of tickets left, so we spontaneously bought a pair to see Blanco White. Mixing Andalusian and Latin American influences, Blanco White play melancholic but beautiful tunes using a variety of instruments including the Charango [3]. Part of the reason King Tut’s is legendary is Glaswegian audiences are lively, and it was fun to see the band visibly moved by what Josh Edwards, the lead singer told us was:  “easily the best reception we’ve had in months of touring”.

Bonus 4: Like a Brudge over troubled water 🌊

Looking for a walk, run or ride in Glasgow? There are some great routes around the city like the Glasgow River Clyde Bridges, with at least 21 bridges to cross the Clyde on. On an early morning run, I couldn’t find any of the “bridges”, but there were plenty of “brudges” and some fantastic scenery along the Clyde. Och aye!

Bonus 5: The Glasgow Bucket List ☑️

There is still loads on my personal Glasgow bucket list for future visits, like the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, St. Mungo’s Cathedral, the Riverside Museum, Glasgow City Chambers, People’s Palace and the Glasgow Science Centre. What a great place Glasgow is, if you’ve never been, what are you waiting for?

References

    1. Frank Worrall (2007) Celtic United: Glasgow and Manchester – Two Football Clubs, One Passion, Mainstream publishing ISBN: 9781845962760
    2. Kieran Cunningham (2016) Alex Ferguson: The Irish Connection The Irish Daily Star, buzz.ie ☘️
    3. Blanco White: Olalla, more than a name…

June 29, 2019

The Small Scale Experimental Beer Machine aka “Manchester Beerby”

beerby

The Small Scale Experimental Beer Machine (aka Manchester Beerby) has its name in neon lights and was switched on on the 21st June 2019.

A new pub has opened opposite where I work. Set up by some enterprising scotsmen from Aberdeenshire (🏴󠁧󠁢󠁳󠁣󠁴󠁿 och aye laddie!), it has its very own microbrewery. They have called the microbrewery the The Small Scale Experimental Beer Machine (SSEBM).

As I work in a Computer Science department, this pleased me no end, because it is an appropriate nod to the Small-Scale Experimental Machine (SSEM) aka the Manchester Baby: the world’s first computer with random access memory (RAM).

Both of these machines were switched on on the 21st June (memory day), one in 1948 the other 71 years later in 2019. Unlike the Manchester Baby, you will actually be able to drink the output of the “Manchester Beerby” 🍺 and it is going to be a lot more quaffable than anything you might find in a cathode ray tube. [1]

The pub is in the heart of a new Bruntwood development called University Green, a pleasant leafy space with retail and restaurants centred around the Alliance Manchester Business School (AMBS). Like most things in the green, its a bit pricey but the beer is good, the food is tasty and the staff are friendly. Brewdog Outpost Manchester is a relaxing place to hang out.

I wonder what the engineers of the Manchester Baby, Tom Kilburn and Freddie Williams, would make of the Manchester Beerby? 🍻

References

  1. Williams, Frederic Kilburn, Tom (1948). Electronic Digital Computers. Nature162(4117): 487. DOI:10.1038/162487a0

 

December 20, 2018

Dry January: Can you switch off all your social media for a month? #DigitalDetox

socialmedia

Dry January: can you abstain from toxins like alcohol and social media for a month?

Here in the UK, there is an annual tradition known as Dry January. It’s pretty simple, in the wake of all the festive indulgence (🍻), around 4 million people voluntarily abstain from alcohol for the month of January. Why? Because they can save money, sleep better, lose weight [1] and even raise money for charity in the process. If you haven’t tried it yet, Dry January is an enlightening (and enlivening) challenge.

But dry January needn’t just stop at alcohol. Other toxic social lubricants are also available. Have you ever wondered what life would be like without the distraction of social media? Ever tried going without? Go dry by switching off all your social media for a month – just to see what happens. Is social media as toxic as alcohol? Could going cold turkey (🦃) for a month be beneficial to your health and those around you? Switch it all off, meaning:

  • No LinkedIn
  • No Facebook
  • No WhatsApp
  • No Instagram
  • No Twitter
  • No Blogging
  • No “voluntary panopticon
  • No [insert your favourite social media here]. How far you take it will depend on how you choose to define social media…

Abstention requires a bit of planning and preparation, but if you tell your friends now, you could experiment with switching off all your social media for the month of January. Will you be able to handle the Fear of Missing Out (FoMO) [2]? Will your quality of life improve?

The idea of digital detox has been around a while and there are several ways of doing it. You can either go the whole hog like Jaron Lanier and just delete everything [3]. If that’s too drastic for you, try using blockers or timers set to zero minutes. Since the most toxic forms of social media are typically found on smartphones, there’s a few options for detoxing:

Abstaining from alcohol can be beneficial for your physical and mental health. [2] Abstaining from social media could probably help too. Why not give it a whirl and see for yourself?

As this is last (and first!) post here for 2018, have yourselves a happy winterval and a healthy new year in 2019.

References

    1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fear_of_missing_out
    2. De Visser, R.O., Robinson, E. & Bond, R., (2016) Voluntary temporary abstinence from alcohol during “Dry January” and subsequent alcohol use. Health Psychology, 35(3), pp.281–289. DOI:10.1037/hea0000297
    3. Lanier, Jaron (2018) Ten Arguments For Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now. Bodley Head, ISBN: 978-1847925398 jaronlanier.com/tenarguments.html

 

June 23, 2017

Nine ideas for teaching Computing at School from the 2017 CAS conference

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Delegates at the Computing at School conference 2017 #CASConf17 answering diagnostic questions, picture by Miles Berry.

The Computing At School (CAS) conference is an annual event for educators, mostly primary and secondary school teachers from the public and private sector in the UK. Now in its ninth year, it attracts over 300 delegates from across the UK and beyond to the University of Birmingham, see the brochure for details. One of the purposes of the conference is to give teachers new ideas to use in their classrooms to teach Computer Science and Computational Thinking. I went along for my first time (*blushes*) seeking ideas to use in an after school Code Club (ages 7-10) I’ve been running for a few years and also for approaches that undergraduate students in Computer Science (age 20+) at the University of Manchester could use in their final year Computer Science Education projects. So here are nine ideas (in random brain dump order) I’ll be putting to immediate use in clubs, classrooms, labs and lecture theatres:

  1. Linda Liukas demonstrated some intriguing ideas from her children’s books and HelloRuby.com that are based on Montessori education. I shall be trying some of these out (particularly the storytelling stuff) at code club to keep girls involved
  2. Sue Sentance and Neil Brown from King’s College London gave an overview of some current research in pedagogy.  They discussed research questions that can be tackled in the classroom like (for example) do learners make more progress using visual programming languages (like Scratch and Blockly) or traditional text-based languages (like Python and Java etc)? Many of these research questions would make good projects for undergraduate students to investigate in secondary schools, see research on frame based editors, for example.
  3. Michel Wermelinger from the Open University demonstrated using iPython notebooks for teaching data literacy at the Urban Data School. Although I’m familiar with iPython, it had never occurred to me to actually use iPython in school for teaching. It is a no-brainer, when you think about it, even for primary, because you have your code, inputs and outputs all in one window, and can step through code execution instead of (or as well as) using more conventional tools like Trinket, Thonny or IDLE. Data literacy is fun to teach.
  4. Miles Berry from the University of Roehampton demonstrated Diagnostic Questions in Project Quantum. These are a collection of high quality quizzes to use interactively for example as hinge questions, where teaching is adapted depending on answers given, like this multiple choice question:
    Consider the following Python code:
    
    a = 20
    b = 10
    a = b
    
    What are the values of a and b?
    
    A: a = 10, b = 10
    B: a = 20, b = 20
    C: a = 30, b = 10
    D: a = 10, b = 20
    

    You’ll have to try these five questions to check your answer. The useful thing here is that DiagnosticQuestions.com (the platform on which this is built) allows you to see lots of responses, for example each answer (A, B, C or D) above was selected by 25% of participants. You can also view explanations which illuminate common misconceptions (e.g. the classic mistake of confusing assignment with equality) as well as providing a bank of free questions for use in the classroom.

  5. Mark Guzdial from GeorgiaTech discussed using learning sciences to improve computing teaching. He demonstrated predictive questions (e.g. ask students What do you think will happen when we run this code? before actually executing it) alongside what he called subgoal labelling. These are simple ideas (with proven benefits) that can be put to use immediately. I’ll also be trying the Live Coding (with Sonic Pi) and Media Computation he demonstrated asap.
  6. Laurence Rogers demonstrated Insight: Mr. Bit  this looks like a good app for using BBC microbits in the classroom, connected to a range of sensors, provided you’ve got access to iPads.
  7. A copy of Hello World magazine was in the conference bag. The summer 2017 issue has an unusual article from Ian Benson from Kingston University and Jenny Cane describing their use of the Haskell programming language to teach 5-7 year olds to reason symbolically and learn algebra before arithmetic with help from Cuisenaire rods. The Scratch Maths project at University College London are doing similar things, building mathematical knowledge using Scratch, rather than Haskell. These are experimental ideas you could try out on unsuspecting (junior) family members.
  8. Lee Goss from Barefoot Computing, described the free CPD for primary school teachers on offer from BT. I’ve signed up and hope to plug some of the shortcomings in the Code Club Curriculum.
  9. Richard Jarvis demonstrated appJar, a handy Python library for teaching Graphical User Interfaces (GUIs). That’s Jar as in Jarvis and Jam, not JAR as in Java ARchive BTW. I’ve not tried GUIs at code club yet, but appJar looks like a good way to do it.

There were lots more people and projects at the conference not mentioned here including tonnes of workshops. If you’re interested in any of the above, the CAS conference will be back in 2018. Despite the challenging problems faced by Computer Science at GCSE level, it was reassuring and inspiring to meet some members of the vibrant, diverse and friendly community pushing the boundaries of computing in schools across the United Kingdom. Thanks again to everyone at CAS for putting on another great event, I will definitely consider attending next year and maybe you should too.

May 5, 2017

Venturing Further in 2017 with student entrepreneurs in Manchester #VentureFurther

venturefurtherVenture Further is a business startup competition that awards £50k of prize money to eight student entrepreneurs in Manchester. Running annually, #VentureFurther showcases the enterprising talent of students and graduates of the University of Manchester in four themed categories: Business, Research, Digital and Social. Here is a quick summary of results from the 2017 competition, now in its twelfth year.

This year there were were 16 finalists selected from a total of 73 entries. I was pleased to be invited to judge on the panel for the digital category, which saw some impressive and well polished business propositions. It was really was hard picking the winners!

The awards ceremony and dinner were held in the Whitworth Hall and attended by members of the North West business community. After a keynote from Dale Murray CBE on her distinguished career as an entrepreneur and angel investor, the awards were announced as follows:

Business category: Commercial potential for new products or services

First prize: Eleanor Trimble, Siddharth Kohli, Mohammed Abdulaal, Meera Dulabh, and Dr Alex Casson for Neurolytics, working on biometric data analysis

Second prize: Amir Khorasani and Mohammad Hajhashem for Russell Food Group’s Locally Sourced, a farming supply chain disruptor.

Runners-up: Bilal El Sayed and Benedict Vardey for UWispa a mobile phone case and Crystal Bromwell for Wardrobe in the City a clothing-rental subscription service

Research category: Businesses that focus on the application of university-based research

First prize: Salman Malik and Muftau Akanbi for Microspray Technologies enabling industrial and research scale particle manufacture using aerosols.

Second prize: Denis Bandurin and Alexander Obraztsov for GrapheX, developing portable x-ray sources with graphene-based cathodes.

Runners-up: Mohammad Nazmul Karim and Shaila Afroj for 2DTronics wearable e-textiles and Niall Coogan and Barry Johnston for Cable Coatings a novel low cost method to boost electricity grid capacity.

Digital category: Businesses that apply digital technologies

First prize: Rishabh Jindal for Otterly a food ordering service

Second prize: Michal Wisniewski and Edmund Moore for Simple terms crowdsourcing and gamifying recruitment.

Runner-up: Mubashshar Rahman, Jonathan Tang and Ali Ibrahim for HollaMe a student services exchange and Caleb Conner for SpareSpace Airbnb for luggage

Social cateogory: Businesses that improve the lives of people and communities

First prize: Duncan Swainsbury, Eve Chancellor, Jessica Stalmach, Ashton Coates and Neil Stewart for Bounceback Education a ‘buy one, donate one’ tutoring service giving disadvantaged students access to free tuition.

Second prize:Kathryn Pierce for Somewhere MCR CIC a social enterprise supporting the LGBT community.

Runner-up:Salman Malik and Jamshed Malik for Second Shave Barbers CIC a barbershop for homeless people and Hamza Arsbi and Farah Abu Hamdan for The Science League an educational platform

Congratulations to all the finalists, making it to the final 16 is an achievement in itself. Thanks goes to

If you would like to get involved in the next round of the Venture Further competition in 2018, as competitor, sponsor or supporter see the Venture Further website and details of the 2017 competition on LinkedIn.

July 31, 2015

Wikipedia Science Conference @WellcomeTrust in London, September 2nd & 3rd 2015 #wikisci

There is growing interest in Wikipedia, Wikidata, Commons, and other Wikimedia projects as platforms for opening up the scientific process [1]. The first Wikipedia Science Conference will discuss activities in this area at the Wellcome Collection Conference Centre in London on the 2nd & 3rd September 2015. There will be keynote talks from Wendy Hall (@DameWendyDBE) and Peter Murray-Rust (@petermurrayrust) and many other presentations including:

  • Daniel Mietchen (@EvoMRI), National Institutes of Health: wikipedia and scholarly communication
  • Alex Bateman (@AlexBateman1), European Bioinformatics Institute: Using wikipedia to annotate scientific databases
  • Geoffrey Bilder (@GBilder), CrossRef, Using DOIs in wikipedia
  • Richard Pinch (@IMAMaths), Institute of Mathematics and its Applications. Wikimedia versus academia: a clash of cultures
  • Andy Mabbett (@PigsOnTheWing), Royal Society of Chemistry / ORCID. Wikipedia, Wikidata and more – How Can Scientists Help?
  • Darren Logan (@DarrenLogan), Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, Using scientific databases to annotate wikipedia
  • Dario Taraborelli (@ReaderMeter), Wikimedia & Altmetrics, Citing as a public service
  • … and many more

I’ll be doing a talk on “Improving the troubled relationship between Scientists and Wikipedia” (see slides below) with help from John Byrne who has been a Wikipedian in Residence at the Royal Society and Cancer Research UK.

How much does finding out more about all this wiki-goodness cost? An absolute bargain at just £29 for two days – what’s not to like? Tickets are available on eventbrite, register now, while tickets are still available. 

References

  1. Misha Teplitskiy, Grace Lu, & Eamon Duede (2015). Amplifying the Impact of Open Access: Wikipedia and the Diffusion of
    Science Wikipedia Workshop at 9th International Conference on Web and Social Media (ICWSM), Oxford, UK arXiv: 1506.07608v1

July 3, 2015

Manchester Digital, Education & Digital Skills in 2015

deemind

#DeepDream manipulated image of the Creation of Adam, some rights reserved (CC-BY) by Kyle McDonald (@kcimc) on flickr

Manchester Digital a non-profit trade assocation of around 500 digital businesses in the north west of england. Every year they hold elections at their AGM for members of their council who serve for two years. It’s time for me to stand for re-election because my two years is up. Here’s a vote-for-me pitch in 100 words:

Digital skills are crucial to the success of Manchester Digital (MD) but many members of MD struggle to recruit employees with the skills their businesses need. Key questions for MD’s growing membership are how can the skills shortage be met, and what are the responsibilities of employers and educators in addressing the digital skills shortage? As a council member, I would reboot the education special interest group to report thoroughly on these issues at a strategic level. The report would provide an overview of what digital skills young people are likely to have aged 16, 18 and 21+ and what employers can do to bridge the gaps.

If you’re interested in finding out more about Manchester Digital, and hearing from diverse bunch of 18 candidates standing for 6 places on the council, come along to the MD AGM on Thursday 9th July at 5.30pm in Ziferblat (@ziferblatedgest) – where everything is free, except time.

References

  1. #DeepDream Inceptionism: Going Deeper into Neural Networks, Google Research blog
  2. #DeepDream – a code example for visualizing Neural Networks Google Research blog
  3. Britain faces ‘growing shortage’ of digital skills” Daily Telegraph
  4. A UK digital skills gap looms, The Guardian
  5. UK failing to address digital skills shortage, says Lords report, ComputerWeekly.com

May 8, 2015

MPs with Science Degrees: How did Science & Technology do in the UK General Election 2015?

In case you missed it, the people of the United Kingdom have just democratically elected 650 Members of Parliament (MPs) to run their government for the next five years [1,2]. How many of these newly elected MPs have science backgrounds? Like many, I was inspired by Mark Henderson’s book The Geek Manifesto [3] back in 2012 after reading an article which argued that (quote) “with just one British MP having a scientific background, the people who run the country clearly need some expert advice”. So when I heard the news that the MP concerned, Julian Huppert (a.k.a. the “only scientist in the commons”) had lost his Cambridge seat, I lamented accordingly on twitter:

My lament was retweeted quite a bit, then Roger Highfield at the Science Museum in London challenged the interwebs to find if it really was true:

The sciencey MP factoid was quickly questioned by some random bloke on twitter called Richard Dawkins:

… and lots of people weighed in (see below)  – as they usually do on twitter. Thankfully Margaret Harris at Physics World, set the record straight and drew attention to the impressively large Physics Vote. Viva La Relativity!

Who knew there were so many physicists involved in the election? Not me. Turns out, the article about only one science MP, is a bit misleading. Julian Huppert was the only MP in the last government to be a “primary science worker” – that’s not quite the same as studying science at university. Julian was the only MP in the last government with scientific background at PhD level:

Members of the UK Parliament with science and technology degrees in 2015

So with help from twitter, the list of MPs with science degrees looks something like this (for a 2017 update see MPs to watch via the Campaign for Science and Engineering (CaSE)):

  1. Heidi Allen MP for South Cambridgeshire (BSc in Astrophysics)
  2. Steve Baker MP for Wycombe (BSc Aerospace Engineering, MSc Computer Science)
  3. Gavin Barwell MP for Croydon Central (BA Natural Sciences)
  4. Margaret Beckett MP for Derby South (BSc Metallurgy)
  5. Karen Bradley MP for Staffordshire Moorlands (BSc Mathematics)
  6. Tom Brake MP for Carshalton and Wallington (BSc Physics)
  7. Julian Brazier MP for Canterbury (BA Mathematics)
  8. Andrew Bridgen MP for North West Leicestershire (BSc Genetics)
  9. Alan Brown MP for Kilmarnock (BSc Civil Engineering)
  10. Therese Coffey MP for Suffolk Coastal (BSc & PhD Chemistry)
  11. David Davis MP for Haltemprice & Howden (BSc Computer Science)
  12. Robert Flello MP for Stoke-on-Trent South (BSc Chemistry)
  13. Liam Fox MP for North Somerset (Bachelor of Medicine)
  14. Mark Hendrick MP for Central Lancashire (BSc Eletrical Engineering)
  15. Carol Monaghan MP for Glasgow North West (BSc Physics)
  16. Liz McInnes MP for Heywood & Middleton (BSc Biochemistry)
  17. Chi Onwurah MP for Newcastle Central (BEng Electrical Engineering)
  18. Chris Philp MP for  Croydon South (BSc Physics)
  19. Alok Sharma MP for Reading West (BSc Physics & Electronics)
  20. Alec Shelbrooke MP for Elmet & Rothwell (BEng Mechanical Engineering)
  21. Graham Stringer MP for Blackley (BSc Chemistry)
  22. Stephen Timms MP for East Ham (MA Mathematics)
  23. Philippa Whitford MP for Ayrshire Central (Bachelor of Medicine)
  24. Sarah Wollaston MP for Totnes (Bachelor of Medicine)
  25. Valerie Vaz MP for Walsall South (BSc Biochemistry)
  26. Nadhim Zahawi MP for Stratford-on-Avon (BSc Chemical Engineering)

So there are at least 26 MPs out of 650 total who have some kind of STEM educational backgrounds, and hopefully several more. Thankfully, much better than none – but still not that high considering the proportion of STEM in the general population. This article MP’s Degrees: What do they know? claims there are many more scientific MPs, but it depends what you mean by Science of course. Over at the Science Campaign, they have counted 83 politicians with a background or “interest in” science. Doesn’t everyone have an interest in Science & Technology at some level? If so, there are 650 out of 650 MPs (100%) with an interest in science and technology then? As for MPs who have an actual science education, your mileage may vary, especially if you think Politics, Philosophy and Economics (PPE) are all sciences. Wannabe sciences? Yes. Actual Sciences? No.

In an ideal world where politicians create policies based on evidence, rather than finding evidence to fit their policies, how many scientists and technologists do we actually need in our government? Would it actually help make for better policies?

[Update: Jo Johnson MP for Orpington (BA Modern History), is the newly appointed Minister for Universities and Science [4], a post formerly held by David Willetts. Apparently, Johnson doesn’t know anything about Science. Does it matter?]

References

  1. Castelvecchi, D. (2015). Why the polls got the UK election wrong Nature DOI: 10.1038/nature.2015.17511
  2. Gibney, E. (2015). What the UK election results mean for science Nature DOI: 10.1038/nature.2015.17506
  3. Anon (2012). Books in brief: The Geek Manifesto: Why Science Matters Nature, 485 (7397), 173-173 DOI: 10.1038/485173a
  4. Gibney, E., & Van Noorden, R. (2015). UK researchers fret about downgrading of science minister role Nature DOI: 10.1038/nature.2015.17535

Thanks everyone who weighed in on twitter:

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