Manga cartoon boost for young females in STEM

Ana Verissimo of the University of Leicester is mashing up her love of Japanese art with a passion for science with the launch of a new series of manga characters.

‘STEM Heroes’ follows the adventures of four high school girls using their amazing STEM skills — Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics — in order to solve mysteries and save the day. Verissimo has tested the characters on pupils at a high school in Japan with positive results.

“So far, the reaction has been very positive, the girls love the characters’ looks and individual skills. Mari loves biology and genetics (and cake!), Jun is passionate about maths and physics, Miki is a little engineer and Yui is a computer genius,” says Verissimo. “Despite being mega smart, they are just like everyone else, a bit shy, a bit clumsy, a bit grumpy, a bit silly. I think those traits make them relatable and lovable.”

A better year

Is it just me or do you feel it’s been a truly bitter-sweet year, there have been many highs but far too many lows?

A Better Year

When life takes a turn for the worse,
the worst it could ever be
And you yearn for something to quench that thirst
There’s a chance that you’ll fail to see

Are you still hoping for a silent night?
Are you still open to love’s shining light?

There are no signs, but there’s a warning
This is our time, no time for mourning
One thing it seems is very clear
Right now, we’re hoping for a better year

Are you? Are you?
Are you? Well, are you?

And you had a hunger it wasn’t the first
Maybe, there’s a chance you’ll see
The road you travel, well it seems that it is cursed
The time is running out for breaking free

Are you still hoping for a silent night?
Are you still open to love’s shining light?

Are you? Will you?
Can you? Can you live? (Can you leave?)

There are no signs, but there’s a warning
This is our time, no time for mourning

How can you tell if you’ve been hacked?

The Rayban scam is doing the rounds again, don’t click any friends’ updates where there’s an offer of cheap sunglasses, I mean come on, look at the weather.

Some people imagine hackers sitting typing in passwords one after the other until they get into your account, this is not what hackers trying to break into a person’s account do, Indeed, those same people who say “I’ve been hacked” are usually guilty of one of three things:

  1. They inadvertently installed malware known as a key logger, which captures everything they type and sites they visit and sends it to a third party surreptitiously
  2. They have been conned into handing over their security credentials (username, password, PIN etc) by an attacker using social engineering tricks.
  3. They have used a simple or easily guessable [email protected], like ILuvYou, 1234567890 or a pet name or obvious date that is mentioned in their updates and on their profiles…

It’s almost inevitable that some trick or scam will catch each and every one of us eventually as the criminals are almost always one step ahead of antivirus updates and security alerts. Just make sure you don’t fall for the oldest tricks in the book. If you want more details email me your current email username and password and I will check that your system is secure…hah…see what I did there?

Oh, there is, of course, a fourth way in which you might easily see your logins compromised and that is when the online service providers fail to keep their systems secure and somebody breaks into their servers and steals all their data. If your service provider has any decency they will not store data irrelevant to your account and they will encrypt and salt the database of logins they must store. Unfortunately, not all of them run ethical systems and emails, passwords, birthdays, credit card numbers and much more has been leaked in major incidents over the last few years by some of the biggest names on the internet. The idiots.

Mozart beats Metallica at Operation

Men should avoid listening to rock music when playing board games, such as Operation, according to UK scientists who, presumably on the last day of term brought in some toys to play in the lab.

Mozart may enhance a man’s performance in board games – while Metallica may hinder their chances, they suggest. The scientists behind the study, from Imperial College London and the Royal College of 雷竞技官网 , say classical music may be the best option for men when concentrating on a task.

Apparently, music choice had no effect on women’s performance, though they generally performed better than men at the game involved in the study regardless.

“The razor’s edge: Australian rock music impairs men’s performance when pretending to be a surgeon”, Med J Aus, 2016, DOI: 10.5694/mja16.01045

How to photograph Christmas starbursts

Updated once more for Christmas 2019

Updated for Christmas 2018, because our Christmas tree on the village green outshines any we have had in recent years!

The important point in getting the starburst effect is to use as small an aperture as possible. So, this was f/22 on my Canon 6D. ISO was kept low (500) to avoid noise, but that meant the shutter needed to be open a long time (30 seconds) to allow enough light in to capture the image, which means steady tripod and a timed shutter release (or remote shutter release) to avoid camera shake blur.

I snapped a few night-time shots of the Christmas tree and lights on our village green this weekend. I did a few “pulling” the zoom with a fairly low shutter speed so that I got some nice drawn out light effects from the tree and the Xmas lights encircling The Green in Cottenham.

Having seen the starburst lighting effect in fellow photographer Peter Haigh’s photo of the same scene, however, I thought I’d grab my tripod and have a go at reproducing that effect too. I didn’t want to copy his lovely composition so had to duck and dive about, avoiding the odd looks from dog walkers on The Green and Christmas shoppers jumping off the city bus.

The starburst effect is not a filter nor an app nor any 雷竞技炉石传说 hop trickery. As with much in photography (even digital) it is is a scientific phenomenon. The formation of the starbursts where lights are bright in the photograph is down to diffraction of light around the edges of the fins that make up the camera’s “iris”, the aperture.

The effect works best when you have a very small aperture, in this case, f/22, which means you need a long shutter time (for this shot 30 seconds), which in turn means you have to use a tripod to keep the camera properly steady. To balance the exposure ISO was 1600 on this particular photo, which even with a Canon 6D DSLR is on the edge of noisy.

You can just see the red rear lights of a car that passed as I was taking the photo (around the tree on the right-hand side). The light trails from cars and buses were much more sensational in some of the other shots, especially ones I took looking towards Cottenham Village College. One in particular embedded the College’s steel sculpture and looks like some kind of futuristic biker racing past.

Helen Arney updates Tom Lehrer with new elements

My good friend Helen Arney has updated every chemist’s favourite Tom Lehrer song The Elements often referred to as the periodic table song, bringing in the new elements discovered or synthesised since 1959 and including the recently announced official names of elements 113, 115, 117, and 118 [nihonium (Nh), moscovium (Mc), tennessine (Ts), and oganesson (Og), respectively].

According to Helen, she recorded this in a single take while her nine-week old baby had a nap. “Thanks to her for keeping quiet, plus even more thanks to Tom Lehrer for writing the original song to Arthur Sullivan’s tune, and keeping the whole thing singable in under two minutes,” Helen says.

Elemental Discoveries

Back in 1995, my blog (before they even called them web logs, letalone ‘blogs and thence blogs) was a chemistry news site called Elemental Discoveries, which had started life in the newly launched young chemists’ magazine from the RSC, which I renamed “New Elements” (It used to be called Gas Jar, back in the, back in the, back in the day). Anyway, at the time, chemists were trying to fill the gaps in the Periodic Table…today IUPAC, the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry, announces the official naming of new elements 113, 115, 117, 118 as nihonium (Nh), moscovium (Mc), tennessine (Ts), and oganesson (Og), respectively.


With thanks to Lars Öhrström for the idea for the graphic.

Future History

Time travellers with nothing better to do just sent me a GCSE history exam paper from the summer of 2066…makes for interesting and yet worrying reading…


GCSE History Paper 2 23rd June 2066

World War III (20 January 2017-21 January 2017)

Answer all questions in this section. You are advised to spend 90 minutes of the two-hour exam on question 3

Question 1 In what way did Jeremy Corbyn’s inadequacies as an opposition leader contribute to the succession of Boris Johnson as Prime Minister following Theresa May’s abduction for anal probing by aliens on Christmas Day 2016?

Question 2 Was Russia’s Vladimir Putin given the go ahead by US President-elect Donald Trump to annexe Lithuania on New Year’s Day 2017. Discuss in the light of the attached Wikileaks document from Ecuadorian premier Juliano Assangito.

Question 3 Lord Nige of Watney was not to blame for the rapid emergence of an alt-right (also known as the neo-Nazi movement) in the US, Australia and post-EU Europe during the autumn of 2016 despite the boasts of his House of Lords inauguration speech. Discuss.

Beam me up for Christmas

Calling Trekkies and ubernerds everywhere…fancy an exact replica of the original Star Trek communicator just 50 years after the show launched and hopefully in time for Christmas. The Wand Company who first brought you a universal remote control Harry Potter wand and a Doctor Who Sonic Screwdriver to change channels (oh, and a phaser!) have now surpassed even the hypergeek’s wildest dreams with a Communicator that couples to your Bluetooth phone and lets you receive calls and make calls using voice dialling with a compatible phone .


Perfect for ultra-realistic cosplay events. The Communicator was created from high-res 3D scans of the last known prop from the show. It pairs with Bluetooth phones, flips open to let you answer calls from Scottie or anyone else. Has a 1 million kilometre range when communicating with the starship Enterprise (available from 2260, hopefully) but can reach almost any phone on planet Earth via coupling to a smart phone (coupling works at < 5-metre range), up to an estimated 20000 km range. It features die-cast zinc, CNC machined aluminium, iridescent coated jewels and contactless charging. It also has 20 authentic voice clips and Original Series Communicator sound FX. Comes with a moulded foam lined transit case and leatherette pouch (whether the latter is warm or otherwise is down to you). In the US, you can get a Communicator from Best Buy,,, Hammacher Schlemmer or In the UK, it's available from, or Forbidden Planet. For Australia, it's Latest Buy or Yellow Octopus and in New Zealand: Mighty Ape.