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September 2012

SATNAV Magazine at the University of Birmingham

Issue 6


science and technology news and views magazine

In This Mini Edition : - What makes athletes unique? - The dark side of gravity - Research at Birmingham

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SATNAV Magazine at the University of Birmingham

Molecular Gastronmy ___ The Dark Side of Gravity



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The Large Hadron Collider


Variation Amongst Athletes


Science in Religion


Research at Birmingham; Barbary Macaques



SATNAV Magazine at the University of Birmingham

Molecular Gastronomy Chemistry is a big part of our lives, even if we don’t realise it as the process of cooking is actually a very complex reaction. But beyond the science of food there’s the search of many chefs to be ahead of times when it comes to cuisine, and molecular gastronomy is a very controversial and different type of cooking. Hervé This and Nicholas Kurti felt the need to investigate cooking in a different way; both passionate ‘foodies’ with vast knowledge and curiosity about the chemical process of cooking. They are the fathers of the field of molecular gastronomy, which differs from food science as it isn’t concerned with analysing the chemical makeup of food or developing methods to process food on a large scale but does take advantage of many scientific principles on a smaller scale, such as the use of emulsifiers.

The technique is known as spherification, which involves making liquid-filled beads that explode in the mouth. Using liquid nitrogen to achieve fluidfilled fare is another popular technique and is used to create unconventional flavour combinations such as strawberry and coriander, pineapple and blue cheese or cauliflower and cocoa. They have learned that foods sharing similar ‘volatile’ molecules compliment each other. Molecular gastronomy shows how science and cooking can go hand in hand to create new and exciting things and brings the lab to our tables, but could this movement be dead already? It’s too early to tell, this young style of cooking might only be evolving. Words: Isabella Romer

The term has now been adopted to describe a style of cuisine. Many have incorporated unconventional ingredients into their cooking to incorporate different textures and flavours. Pictured (right) is ‘fruit caviar’ which was first developed by Ferran Adrià, the chef of El Bulli Restaurant in Spain.


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SATNAV Magazine at the University of Birmingham

The Dark Side of Gravity For millennia, light has been our only tool with which to explore the cosmos. Light is radiated by stars, reflected by planets and moons and absorbed by huge dust clouds called nebulae. However, to answer the really tough questions about where we came from 13.7 billion years ago and to explore the very nature of space and time, we need to look into the dark.

cooled to approximately 3000 Kelvin and light was finally free to radiate. These early photons still surround us today and form the Cosmic Microwave Background (CMB) and have now cooled to a chilly 3K, that’s -270°C! These primordial photons are the oldest in the Universe, limiting our observational knowledge of the cosmos to hundreds of thousands of years after its beginning.

Immediately following the Big Bang, light particles called photons were trapped in a hot, dense plasma until 380,000 years later when the Universe finally

Measuring the properties of the CMB corroborated the Big Bang theory but the fact that the earliest light in the Universe came years after its beginning is problematic to cosmologists- they


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want to know what happened in the beginning. To learn about our elusive past we have to rely on radiation that exists in the darkness of space: gravitational waves. Gravitational waves are predicted by Einstein’s general theory of relativity; they are ripples of space-time which travel at the speed of light, stretching and squeezing the fabric of the Universe as they go. Professor Alberto Vecchio from the Gravitational Waves group at the University of Birmingham explains; “Gravitational-wave

astronomy will provide us with a radically new view of the cosmos, by mapping the vibrations of spacetime rather than the light from stars and galaxies.” . Astrophysicists have a zoo of known objects which should emit gravitational waves and are very keen to measure them, but arguably, the most exciting part is the unknown. Who knows what else could be hiding in the dark? Words: C. M. F. Mingarelli Images:

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SATNAV Magazine at the University of Birmingham


bioinformatics cosmos dyad gene therapy genome gravitational higgs knotweed leptons


lhc macaque olympics photons quarks spherification standard model supersymmetry triad

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The Life  and  Environmental  Sciences  Interface  Series

Science Outside  the  Syllabus

Artificial Intelligence  and  Cognition Dr.  Nick  Hawes  and  Dr.  Jackie  Chappell Monday  8th  October  2012—5.30pm

The Search  for  Extra-Terrestrial  Life Dr.  Simon  Goodwin

Tuesday 30th  October  2012—5.30pm

Public Engagement  in  Science Professor  Alice  Roberts

Friday 7th  December  2012—12:30pm

Biosciences WG4 @LESISmoreUoB

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SATNAV Magazine at the University of Birmingham

The Large Hadron Collider The aims of the experiments at the Large Hadron Collider are to explore the limits of the Standard Model of particle physics. Birmingham physicists are taking part in two experiments at the LHC: A Toroidal LHC Apparatus (ATLAS) and A Large Ion Collider Experiment (ALICE). The Standard Model: the Story So Far Up until the end of the 19th century, atoms were thought to be the smallest possible division of matter; this changed with the discovery of the electron by JJ Thomson. This then evolved into the discovery that the electron exists simultaneously as both a discrete solid particle and a stationary wave constrained to certain wavelengths within the atom. It is now believed that fundamental particles can be classified into two categories: quarks and leptons. There are six of each. The known quarks, in order of increasing mass, are named up, down, top, bottom, charm and strange, the known leptons are the electron, muon, tau, electron-neutrino, muonneutrino and the tau-neutrino. All of these particles also have a 8

corresponding ‘anti-particle’ which display the same properties but have opposite charge. It is also believed that there are four fundamental forces which govern the behavior of the Universe: gravity, the electromagnetic force, the strong nuclear force and the weak force. It is thought that these forces act by the transfer of exchange particles, called bosons: the photon for the electromagnetic force, the gluon for the strong force and the W+, W- and Z0 particles, for the weak force. The above suppositions are collectively known as the standard model of particle physics. Gravity has proved difficult to reconcile with the standard model, in order to bring it inside the standard model, the existence of a new particle named the Higgs Boson was proposed by theoretical physicist Peter Higgs. The existence of the Higgs boson infers the existence of a ‘Higgs field’ that pervades the universe, exchanging energy with W and Z particles and slowing down their motion, creating the appearance of mass. ATLAS Experiment The most widely accepted theory of the origin of the universe is that it arose from the Big Bang 14 billion years ago. Immediately after the Big Bang, the universe existed at temperatures

SATNAV Magazine at the University of Birmingham and pressures far greater than any occurring in nature today. Because of this there may have been heavy particles that no longer exist. At the LHC, two proton beams are collided at energies of 7 TeV (tera-electron volts), leading to interactions of up to 15 TeV, equivalent to the energies that existed less than 10-10 seconds after the big bang. ATLAS aims to detect any exotic heavy particles that might emerge at these energies, particularly the Higgs Boson. It also strives to detect any particles that might make up the illusive ‘dark matter’; the as yet unknown form of matter that makes up 23% of the mass-energy density of the universe alongside supersymetric particles, corresponding bosons (force carrying particles) for every fermion (matter particle) and vice versa. Dr David Evans, of the University of Birmingham’s particle physics group says that

the Birmingham group played the central role in designing, producing and testing part of this triggering system. ALICE Experiment ALICE explores what happens when lead ions are collided at the LHC to create energies equivalent to those that existed 10-5 seconds after the big bang. At these energies quarks would be unbound from each other and a state of matter called a Quark- Gluon Plasma (QGP) would have existed. ALICE aims to determine the energy at which the QGP comes into being and its properties, which may shed light on the properties of the strong force. Birmingham Physicists designed and built the Central Trigger Process (CTP) and its associated electronics. As Dr Evans who heads the Birmingham ALICE group explains “this is basically the electronic brain of the ALICE detector, it collects signals from various sub-detectors, every 25 nanoseconds, and determines if an interesting interaction has occurred. Words: Alice Dadd Image: flickr/ Image Editor

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SATNAV Magazine at the University of Birmingham

Variation Amongst Athletes How and why athletes are adapted to their sport

If I chose a number of individuals, stood them all in a line and asked you to choose the Olympic athlete, I doubt you would have much trouble in doing so. Most people can distinguish between an athlete and some one who doesn’t partake in any exercise whatsoever as they tend to have greater muscle mass and low body fat, with precise definition and an air of strength. They also have a lower heart rate and tend to be generally healthier than the rest of the population. But could you pick out the sprinter from a line of runners? Or distinguish a swimmer from a cyclist? All athletes’ body shapes and size are adapted to the sport they do in order for them to be the best they can possibly be in that category. A good example is runners, for there is a massive variation in body composition between a sprinter and a marathon runner. If you stood the two side by side you would notice that a sprinter is a lot taller than a marathon runner. Sprinters tower above them, have narrow hips for quick rotation and have a muscular upper body to propel their body forward in a race. A marathon runner on the other hand, is lean and light with slim legs and high calf muscles. They don’t just differ in physical appearance either. If we look inside the muscles of a sprinter and marathon runner, we’d see different proportions of the muscle fibres that make up the tissue. There are two types of muscle fibres: fast twitch fibres and slow twitch fibres, each performing a different role in the body. Sprinters have fast twitch fibres, which allows for an


extreme amount of power to occur in a few seconds. The fibres can contract more rapidly for a short period of time so are ideal for short sprints. They rely on energy stores of phosphocreatine so that they can create ATP, the energy currency of the cell. There is no time for aerobic respiration in such a short time frame so this energy store is very important. In fact, sprinters usually hold their breath for the first 15 metres of the race. This allows them to hold in energy so that they can have an explosive start and then release the energy as the race continues. Marathon runners have a higher proportion of slow twitch muscle fibres instead, which allows for slow release of energy via aerobic respiration, meaning that the runner can last for a longer amount of time at a steady pace. The contraction of these muscle fibres is a lot less powerful than that of fast twitch fibres but they are designed for duration. In order to maintain constant exercise for a long period of time, the fibres need to be well supplied with blood vessels and mitochondria in order to aerobically respire to produce the energy needed. The two runners heart rate also differs due to the amount of time they are running. A sprinters heart rate will reach 80% or even 90% of its maximum. This high percentage can only last for a short time frame, just long enough for the sprinter to finish the race. They use anaerobic respiration in order to get a quick fire response for a short interval of time. A marathon runner will not reach this high but stays at a level of 60-70% of

SATNAV Magazine at the University of Birmingham their maximum heart rate so that they have the endurance to run for a longer distance. Lets take a quick look at how a swimmer is adapted to their sport. They differ in build to that of a runner in quite a few aspects, although they are usually of tall stature. A swimmer usually has broad shoulders with well-developed shoulder and back muscles due to the fact that only 10% of their propulsion comes from the legs. They need strong arms to propel themselves through the water quickly and efficiently. Their body also needs to be streamlined so they generally have narrow hips to reduce any drag. Big feet give a great advantage for they helps for propulsion. Having looked at these athletes, it is clear that they are adapted to their particular sports. But what is the basis behind these adaptations? Well, most come from genetic inheritance. An athlete can’t change how tall they are going to grow, what body shape they might have or what proportion of muscle fibres they will have. So aiming to become a professional basketball player at the height of 5 foot 3 would probably not be the best career path. Therefore, the key to most athletes’ success is their body type. A good example is that of the Australian rower Megan Marcks. In High school, she was scouted by the national talent identification programme, which decided her build would be perfect for rowing. Within two years, she was competing in the World championships and in 1996 she won gold at the Atlanta Olympics, making her and her crew the first Australian women’s crew to achieve an Olympic title. However, it’s not all about genetics. What is so incredible about the human body is that you hone in on a certain area and train those muscles for a particular function. Athletes follow particular training regimes in order to maximize the best possible outcome of their muscles. For example, a

flickr/ Dave Catchpole

sprinter needs to explode from the starting block, therefore they undergo strength training so that their legs are powerful enough to do so and they complete interval training so that their muscles get used to sprinting on a regular basis. Diet can also play an important role in becoming the best athlete in your field. A sprinter would need to consume a lot of protein in order to maintain a fast pace during a race, whereas a marathon runner will consume more carbohydrate based foods in order for energy endurance. Each and every athlete that takes part in the London Olympics will be as well adapted to their sport as possible. Most are there because they were born to compete and a combination of training factors has led them to be the very best in their sport. What is so interesting is that every athlete competing will have variation in their body shape, build and lifestyle in order for them to compete to the very best of their ability and hopefully win that gold medal they are all hoping for. Words: Emma Spark

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SATNAV Magazine at the University of Birmingham

Science in Religion People have often asked how a scientist can have religion. A scientist deals in hypothesis, evidence and conclusion whereas religion is based upon blind faith; the two ideologies are incompatible. But are they?

Flickr/Crowcombe Al

Religion began because people had questions, based on their observation of the world around them. These early scientists wondered where the Earth came from, why drought and famine plagued for an answer. Evidence of order good people and whether it is everywhere. In the structure was randomness or reason of an atom, the highly governing their lives. complex machinery Albert EinMost people believe in every cell of stein wrote that things happen our body and the for a reason; the “All religions, arts and perfect organisms difference lies in sciences are branches of these cells make the same tree. that reason being up. In short, we have a deity, or something faith that things do not more quantifiable. happen randomly, and so we Science is the search for pattern, order and reason in our surroundings, but without faith that there is a reason, it would be pointless to search 12

try to find out why.

Albert Einstein wrote that “All religions, arts and sciences are branches of the same tree.� Perhaps he meant

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that ultimately, all three strive toward a common goal – a better understanding of ourselves and the world we live in. Gaia Theory, postulated by James Lovelock in the 1960s, states that the earth is a selfregulated system. Interactions between organisms and their environment form “feedback” loops, thereby setting up an inherent homeostatic system of co-existence. The idea, named for the Greek goddess of the Earth, has attracted ridicule and reverence in equal measure. Hard scientific evidence of the interactions was deemed to be lacking and some felt Lovelock wrote with an assertion that all things have a predetermined purpose. He never wanted to imply that “self-regulation is

purposeful, or involves foresight or planning” but evolved a hypothesis based on evidence. Others embraced Gaia as the “Revival of Paganism”. Given the opportunity we may interpret scientific data to agree with a fantastical idea. Perhaps religion is an easy way around difficult questions, when something incredible happens we could call it a miracle rather than hunt for a scientific explanation. The strongest link between religion and science is our questioning nature, our hunger for answers; we never stop asking and never fully accept a conclusion, whether it is in a laboratory or a church. Words: Elizabeth Randall

Flickr/SLU Madrid Campus

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SATNAV Magazine at the University of Birmingham

Research at Birmingham: Barbary Macaques This summer, eight finalyear students from the School of Biosciences spent a month studying the behaviour of Barbary Macaques (Macaca sylvanus). This project was based at Trentham Monkey Forest, Staffordshire, where 140 macaques are kept and provisioned in a 60 acre forest. The macaques are naturally separated into two groups, which reside in their own ‘home ranges’ within the enclosure. Visitors are


free to walk through the forest, but are restricted to the footpaths. Interactions of both visitors and keepers with the macaques were kept to a minimum, meaning that this is an environment in which natural behaviours and group dynamics could be observed. Barbary Macaques are unique due to the fact that male-infant interactions are frequent, especially compared to most other mammal species. These interactions involve an infant and one male, a dyad, or an infant and two males, a triad, and can often occur immediately after birth. They are not restricted to related individuals, as paternity is not known. It has been proposed that the males use the infants for social buffering. The infant is most often passive in these interactions, but its presence reduces aggressive behaviour and allows other interactions, for example allogrooming, to occur between the males. As male Barbary Macaques gain rank through forming alliances with other members of the

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group, these triadic and dyadic interactions can therefore be highly influential in the social dynamics of the whole group. This study focused on determining the effects of these interactions on individual males, females and infants, using continuous focal sampling. Behaviour, social interactions, provisioning and aggression were recorded during 10 minute samples of an individual. Pseudorandom selection was

used to determine the subject of the next focal. Scan sampling of each group was also carried out to record general group behaviour and to give a context to the focal samples. The data is currently being processed, and the students are hoping to see some interesting results! Words & Pictures: Emily Dixon

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SATNAV Issue 6  

The University of Birminghams Science Magazine

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