Friday, 26 February 2016

Physics English

I am rather spoiled by the fact that English is the, um, lingua franca, of the scientific world.  My competence at foreign languages extends as far as French, to GCSE level, and German to A-level level, while my international colleagues are required to write more or less all their physics publications in English if they want them to be widely read.

Scientific English usage is not always the same as everyday usage.  For example, scientists often use data as a plural, while general English usage treats it as a mass noun.  There are some common constructions, though, that I think are basically incorrect, but have occurred so often in scientific papers (at least in my field) that they just slip by now and may almost be regarded as correct enough.  I'm reading through a draft manuscript at the moment, and two of the most common such phrases occur:

  1. associated to: As in "The occurrence of the wobbling is associated to the deformation of the doobrey." This should be associated with.  This seems to come about from a direct translation of the equivalent phrase in Romance languages
  2. allows + infinitive: As in "This super method allows to calculate terms up to fifth order".  It seems a bit unfair that this logical enough construction doesn't work, but one has to say something like allows one to calculate or allows the calculation of.  There are allow+infinitive usages that are okay, such as in the sense of giving permission:  A allows B to do C, but not A allows to do C
any other common examples out there?  There must be lots.

Friday, 19 February 2016

A Mental Health App for Students

I received an email from the mental health charity, Mind, yesterday.  It asks if I am a student, or I could spread the word about their new mental-health-for-university-students app.  I'm happy to oblige:

Mind - for better mental health
Hi Paul,
Do you know a student (maybe you are a student)? The thing is,we just made an app called Emoodji - to help people at uni stay mentally healthy - available now for iPhone and Android!
We really need your help spreading the word, by sharing these links to students up and down the UK :

And it definitely is *not* your typical ‘mental health app’...
Emoodji is a way for friends at uni to send emoji selfies to each other, while also keeping an eye on each other's wellbeing. You probably know how mental health problems can seemingly start at Uni, sometimes with devastating results (in fact, 1 in 8 students have felt suicidal at university). So Emoodji is quite silly, and secretly slightly serious too.
Please lend us your support and help spread the word to all the students!
Many thanks,       
Sam at Mind
P.S. Of course, if you’re a student yourself please *review it* on the app store!

Monday, 8 February 2016

Second prize in a beauty contest

Sometimes I repost news here concerning my employers, the University of Surrey, especially when it relates to things of interest to the topic of the blog.  Here's something completely off-topic, but which I thought I'd pass on anyway.  As reported by the Antigua Observer, a graduate of the University of Surrey won second place in a beauty contest (I don't know if he won £10).  There were several categories on which the contestants were judged.  Given the picture, with our graduate on the right, it's a surprise to me that he did not come first in the magnificent wear category.  I think his outfit is splendid.

I also like how the language in the story uses the verb cop in the headline.  Though a perfectly acceptable usage in standard British English, I don't think it's a word I'd expect to see ever in a British newspaper, used in that way.  Lovely.

Friday, 5 February 2016

New isotopes from 2015

The announcement came through today from the Discovery of Nuclides Project that they have compiled their list of discoveries of new isotopes as announced in papers published in 2015.  It's not quite as exciting as the discovery of new elements, which seems a rum deal for the poor old neutron, with a never-before seen number of neutrons combining with an already-observed number of protons not making such a splash as a new number of protons, but such is the tyranny of our social constructs upon the way science is done and presented.

The list of new isotopes is given in a table in this pdf file, along with the papers in which their discovery was announced.  Slightly more than half the new discoveries were made in one experiment, at RIKEN in Japan.  The coauthors and codiscoverers of those isotopes includes a one of my colleagues from Surrey (Zsolt Podoly├ík) along with his erstwhile PhD student Zena Patel.

The newly-minted isotopes are: 118 Mo, 121Tc, 127Rh, 129Pd, 132Ag, 134Cd, 136 In, 137In, 139Sn, 141Sb, 144Te, 216U, 59Ge, 223Am, 229Am, 233Bk, 284Fl, 29Cl, 30Ar, and 221U.

Included in the list are two isotopes of uranium (216U and 221U).  Perhaps surprisingly these two light isotopes of uranium do not sit right next to each other.  U–216 is the lightest isotope of uranium yet made, while U–221 was in a little gap in the table, with some lighter ones made and measured in the past:  U–217 in 2000, U–218 in 1992, U–219 in 1993, with U–220 still awaiting observation. 

The picture shows a uranium glass cake plate, though lacking any of the very short-lived isotopes discovered last year.