TSI Friday 8 28/2/14

With apologies to Mike who sent me this report over two weeks ago, here’s a run down of the most recent #TSIFriday.

As we start to see more and more Lower sixth stepping up to the mark to give a TSI talks, we were honoured with a cool/hot (depending on your preferred pun) talk on temperature by first time speaker Katy Welsh followed by an excellent explanation of the rare phenomena of quantum tunnelling given by TSI veteran Mat Pardoe.

Now we are all familiar with the definition of temperature; essentially it is the average kinetic energy in a material, but temperature hasn’t always been about how shaky the particles are. Katy informed us of some of the more obscure scales including one which contained a healthy mans armpit and the hottest temperature someone could survive in a bath as notable points on it. Also some cooking temperatures of note were used including when butter melts and a fire hot enough to roast vegetables. But these seem fairly logical when you put them alongside the arbitrary units scale; It’s 10 outside right now! Enough of the nonsense, we want to know about Kelvin, Celsius and Fahrenheit. Well as a Brit, Fahrenheit may as well be one of those obscure scales as we would never use it here! In terms of scales to rule them all, Lord William Thomson Kelvin (the inventor of Kelvin would you believe) created a monster of a scale. It has no negative in it as it starts at absolute zero (≈-273.15oc) and is used in most scientific equations as it is the SI unit for temperature. The hottest temperature theorised is at about 1032K but apparently as humans are so feeble, we have only recorded temperatures of about 1012K. As long as we can cool helium to 4.22K and see that its super fluidity allows it to flow through glass I am happy with the lows of 1 trillion Kelvin.


Mat chose to venture in to a slightly lesser known part of science, so few experiments have been successful that the phenomena still only occurs at a sub-atomic level, but it occurs none the less, no matter how silly it is. Now it relies on us forgetting classical physics as it is just too realistic to use; we have to look at general relativity which takes into account both wave and particle natures of things.  You may be wondering what quantum tunnelling is; it is when a particle passes through a barrier that previously was not possible to pass through, this does not include when police men kick down a door; that’s a different phenomenon. Quantum tunnelling is a probability accounted for in some big equations, that someone managed to ‘solve’ in 1928. It was somehow proven to work by a guy, Ivar Giaever, who won a Nobel Prize for it… wait… It’s been proven… to work? It must be true then! Quantum Tunnelling has many features that make it so awesome; part of radioactive decay, can be the cause of spontaneous DNA mutation, Cold Emission, Tunnel Junctions and Scanning tunnelling microscopes. It has been seen to complete a current when electrons that pass through insulators complete a circuit and Is a pretty impressive phenomena we should all appreciate. If you would like to give it a go, put a target up on a wall, run at it and if you pass through the wall without breaking it, you have quantum tunnelled! Good Luck!

(If anyone gets injured due to partaking in the last experiment they only have themselves to blame and no injury can be linked to or treated by the TSI talkers or Reigate Grammar School in general)



TSI Friday 6 – 24/1/14

After a long break from exciting science talks in the TSI community we were given a welcome return from two excellent speakers, Mr Byfield on model organisms and the ways in which we can manipulate them, and Mr Saunders on the aerodynamics of the Frisb… flying disc… It is definitely not called a Frisbee (unless of course you’re talking about a Wham-O brand flying disc, then you’re fine).


Mr Byfield gave us an insight into what he had studied at University for his final year project; the c elegan a type of model organism. The four main model organisms are a type of plant (not that exciting), a mouse (again we see them tested all the time), but the coolest model organisms are the fruit fly and a type of worm called Caenorhabditis elegan (or c elegan for short). We have all seen the fluorescent protein used from jellyfish to make worms glow under UV, well that’s the kind of thing these little critters get used for, testing out lengths of DNA in abnormal ways. Now the fluorescing pigment effects the nervous cells and makes them glow green, due to GFP (green fluorescent protein), in the worm. This allowed the scientist working on the worms to work out where there head was as there was more nervous activity occurring at one end. I also particularly liked the fruit fly who had been genetically changed to have a leg grow instead of its antennas… then it had another leg growing out of the knee of the face-leg and then an eye growing in the knee of the face-leg-knee-leg.


The second talk, by Mr Saunders, was on the famous Frisbee which started life as a pie dish for Mr Frisbee’s pies. Actually the talk wasn’t about Frisbees at all, it was about flying discs; the Frisbee is actually a genericised term for flying disc and Frisbee is a trademark brand by Wham-O, so I should be putting TM after Frisbee™.  After clearing up the branding issues of the flying disc, we were told about the aerodynamics of the Frisbee™. It flys like a plane and whirls around like a gyroscope. So essentially it keeps going straight for a while, unless you throw like Mr Dare and it actually fly’s any direction but straight! The key to throwing a Frisbee™ is to get a good spin; without spin it will flip up nearly instantly. But why do we have grooves on a disc? Well it causes the pressure drag to be decreased as it breaks the flow of the air so there is less of a vacuum behind the disc. This also is why golf balls have dimples, which interestingly was discovered by old balls flying further than new ones as chunks were missing from overuse.

Mr Saunders’ talk was certainly not just a chance to advertise the sport of Ultimate to another group of people. Although, if you want to have a go at manipulating a flying disc and seeing how remarkable they fly then pop along to Ultimate after half term, Thursday after school on Broadfield Lawn. Open to 5th Form and above and a popular games option in the summer term. Or pop along to Croydon and play some disc golf; although RGS ultimate seems closer and have a handy twitter account to follow too: https://twitter.com/RGSUltimate

If you want to do a TSI then talk to the heads of science, I highly recommend it, its not often you get to talk for 15 minutes without being interrupted!

TSI Friday 5 – 29/11/13

TSI Friday was kicked off by an intriguing presentation on how birds see with a 4th retinal pigment by George Brill. This was then followed with two mini TSI talks, one by Catherine Huntley on her time at GSK, a healthcare company that test and produce Pharmaceuticals, the other by Mr Roberts on scientific gap year work you can do.


George kicked off by explaining how human eyes detect light; we have 3 retinal pigments, long (red) medium (green) and short (blue), together they allow us to detect the full range of the visible spectrum. This makes humans trichromatic. Birds have one more retinal pigment which detects waves in the UV spectrum. This UV sensitivity allows birds to see UV reflecting foods such as fruits, nuts and insects that with trichromatic vision may be hard to spot; so the 4th pigment is probably selected for by evolution. Plumes of birds and their scent marks will also reflect the UV rays so also provides a platform for intraspecific competition. George then went on to explain how oil droplets in front of the cone cells of the eye mean that detection of specific colours is more defined so better colour vision is achieved.

Catherine’s work experience at GSK gave her an insight into the process behind testing new drugs and the size and scale of the project behind it. At GSK workers look to test and produce new drugs and vaccines so they can be used by the public; they also work to improve current drugs. During her time in the labs Catherine was able to use some of the expensive analytical equipment that scientists use to test concentrations of drugs to a very precise level. She finished up by saying that the work experience was really useful and that others should look into getting some. Lots of large companies and university departments now offer work experience so you should look into this if you are interested.

Mr Roberts informed everyone about a great opportunity for gap year work called a Year in Industry. It involves a paid year in a scientific or engineering based job where you get great experiences that can improve you as a candidate applying for uni, and possibly secure you a job after a degree. For more information on how to get involved in this see Mr Roberts.

As always we invite you to do your own TSI talks especially the Upper 6th as it is a great thing to bring up in interview. Contact any of the heads of house in person or by email if you want to do a talk.

PAS@reigategrammar.org                    EDR@reigategrammar.org                TSD@reigategrammar.org

Mike Ellis

TSI Friday 4 – 15/11/13

This week’s TSI Friday was a coffee fuelled, time consuming extravaganza on the day of Children in Need; James ‘Scotty’ Scott presenting the pros and cons of coffee and how it works, and Mr Reid explaining the possibilities and problems of time travel.

Scotty started off by shocking the coffee drinkers in the room by revealing that their favourite hot beverage actually contains over 1500 chemicals, with 20 possible carcinogens alongside caffeine being the stimulant we all know, and seem to consume… a lot. However, it’s not all bad; many positives arise from drinking coffee. It oxidises fatty acids in the blood (but not in the adipose tissues much to Mr Reid’s dismay). It also helps many problems such as asthma by dilating airways and lowering risk of type II diabetes. But as many may know, coffee can cause sleep problems, but it doesn’t matter, because if you’re tired you can have a coffee to wake you up. The problem being it will only take effect after about an hour. Recommendations by scientists seem to be 0.3 to 4 cups a day to get as many positives without too many negative effects.

We were then enlightened by Mr Reid that time travel is in fact possible… BUT we must not break any laws of physics, create any paradoxes, and of course someone must be clever enough to make a time machine, but all drawbacks aside we looked at what we could do. If you travel really close to the speed of light, let’s say you are constantly moving at 269,813,212m/s or in other words 90% of the speed of light, then you could age at about half the rate of everyone around you travelling at a feeble 5m/s walking speed. Not the cheapest or most efficient anti-ageing method, but it would certainly work. As long as someone works out how to travel at 90% the speed of light we’re all set. Unfortunately the TARDIS is out of the question as worm hole based time travel breaks certain laws of physics. You could use the gravity of the sun or a black hole to speed up time for you; all you need to do is get really close, not get sucked in, or burned and then bob’s your uncle, you are time travelling!

I’m sure we will all be struggling to sleep at the excitement of another TSI Friday, or perhaps it’s that we drank too much coffee… and will be using our time wisely as we all now know there’s no going back to relive the moments we wasted (unless you’ve built your time machine first).

You are invited to come and do your very own talk on anything science related. From aeronautical engineering to zoology it’s all good. All you need is some link to science. I would highly recommend them as always and believe there is nothing more rewarding than doing one. But it is up to you to make the first move. You can contact all Heads of Science to find out more by speaking to them in person, or failing that drop them an email:

PAS@reigategrammar.org                    EDR@reigategrammar.org                TSD@reigategrammar.org

Mike Ellis

Light Materials – an evening lecture at Charterhouse School

A Talk on Materials Science at Charterhouse

On the 3rd October, 19 chemistry students and I took a trip to Charterhouse. When we arrived, it felt like we had taken a trip to Hogwarts with the looming old fashioned buildings and we soon realised that this was a great place to explore the depths of chemistry and physics.

Professor Howard Colquhoun’s aim was to discuss the ins and outs of nuclear and molecular structure of materials – something which was a little scary to a physicist! He spoke very well and gave a detailed account on the different materials which make up specific aircraft; comparing old with new design and the advantages of each. His case study on the polyethene bag was particularly interesting, especially when he shone a laser through it and explained why it created a haze. I also enjoyed learning about tensile strength of polyethene. One of his demonstrations was to pull a strip of polyethene along a horizontal axis making it stretch and extend, but not snap! It was fascinating to learn that the extension was caused by the molecules lining up in the plastic, hence changing a flat material into a wire like form which could not tear after stretching.

Finally, he went on the discuss composites which have a much larger impact in today’s world compared to that of our grandparents generation. Comparing tensile strength against extension of materials showed that Kevlar (a composite consisting of fibres bound together by epoxy resin) has almost ten times the tensile strength of polyethene per unit of extension!

Overall, Professor Howard Colquhoun gave an enlightening speech on Materials Science and I am so glad I have applied for it at Uni! Thank-you to Mr Roberts for organising the trip, along with Mr Saunders and Mrs Hood who came along too!

Fiona Harrington

Mr Roberts asking the deep, important question. "What's your favourite polymer?"
Mr Roberts asking the deep, important question. “What’s your favourite polymer?”


Note to self: bring better camera to evening talks.
Note to self: bring better camera to evening talks.

TSI Friday 26/9/2013

This week TSI Friday showcased two chemistry talks with Helena enlightening us on the various uses of bicarbonate of soda and Claire explaining the Poisoner’s Corridor and the history of some decidedly unpleasant poisons.

Photo 27-09-2013 14 10 42 (HDR)

Claire Kicked it off with a little tail of cadmium, the lightest of the poisonous elements in the corridor; after being mined with zinc from the earth, the cadmium would then dissolve into nearby water and seep into the paddy fields. The rice would then get contaminated with cadmium and consumers of the rice would get brittle bones along with aches and pains; Not good for the locals. Thallium, also known as ‘The Prisoners’ Poison’, was used by one poisoner to spike food and drinks. Considering it’s almost undetectable, Thallium is a very effective poison. Claire talked about Graham Young, a serial killer who poisoned his own family, was detained under the mental health act, was released and went on to poison 70 more people before being arrested again. Lead, Bismuth and Mercury also lie in the corridor, each with their own toxic uses.

We then had the joy of hearing about sodium bicarbonate from Helena. Not only can it be used for baking cakes and making mini volcanoes, but it has some other pretty cool uses. Bicarbonate of soda can be a way of trapping carbon dioxide produced in power stations; it can also aid sportsman performance by reducing acidity in the muscles from lactic acid. NaHCO3 has some possible uses such as cleaning silver and gold, your teeth and even uranium if you ever happen to have some lying around. It’s a useful fire retardant and can even be used to remove bad smells from your fridge. Oh and if you ever get stung by a bee whilst in the kitchen, apply the bicarbonate of soda from your draw on the affected area and that should sooth the symptoms… BUT! do not apply to wasp stings as it will just make it worse.


It was great to see a good audience in the second TSI session of the year; hopefully this can continue through the term and into the new year. It was also great to see lots of new faces in the crowd. Everyone left smiling with a cake in hand, baked by Helena herself… hopefully not poisoned cake.

Any sixth formers wanting to do a talk can contact any Head of Science; trust me, from experience, they are very satisfying to do. Here is a photo of a Head of Science in case you’re not sure what they look like:

Photo 27-09-2013 14 07 37

Alternatively you can email them:

PAS@reigategrammar.org                    EDR@reigategrammar.org                TSD@reigategrammar.org

Finally, here’s the video which wouldn’t play for Helena

Mike Ellis

Living in Space – an Institute of Physics Lecture given by Lieutenant Colonel Duane Carey

James chats to Digger.
James chats to Digger.

After descending from the Physicsmobile where the Raspberry Pi, quantum tunnelling and other scientific stuff had been discussed we headed to the lecture theatre. At the start of the talk we were told about the early part of Duane “Digger” Carey’s life which included being desperate to get out of school and then going around America on a motorbike.

However, it then went on to how he decided to become a fighter pilot, after talking to a pilot in a bar. To do this he had to go and get a degree to be allowed into fighter pilot training. Having just scraped in by getting the minimum requirement in the maths test, and being well behind his classmates in the first few years, he got a his degree and then in the year between that and being able to start pilot training he went for a masters, even though it normally takes two years, because ‘it felt like the right thing to do’.

He then went through the planes he flew from the A-10 to the F-16. From there he applied for test pilot training, because those were the people selected by NASA for the space program, which is what he had set his sights on. After three and a half years testing the F16 he joined NASA, the mission that he flew into space was to the Hubble telescope (STS-109) on the Space Shuttle Columbia. The very next mission was STS-107, the Columbia Disaster which resulted in the loss of all seven astronauts on board.

During their flight they set a record for the most consecutive days of space walks, at five days and a total of thirty-five hours of EVA. Their mission was to make improvements to the Hubble space telescopes with new instruments and solar arrays. On the mission where both the world’s tallest and the world’s shortest astronauts (on the official picture they stand next to each other). After the work on Hubble was complete, the crew had a day of rest in which Carey and Mission Specialist Mike Massimino made a short film showing the answers to all the important questions their kids might have, such as how and what they eat, how they sleep and of course how they go to the bathroom. However, up until recently it had been classified, since the design of the loo was top secret, even now parts had to be edited out. The film ended with a tribute to the families of the crew of flight STS-107.

The floor was then open for questions, which included a question on whether he thought that the moon landings were faked, and his argument basically said that if it had been faked the KGB would have known and let it out. We then left ascending back into the Physicsmobile for the return journey to school.

By Mat Pardoe