Subtext issue 2
Endnotes
1 ‘Frog Chorus’ by Simon Hall is one of
the images issued from current research
at the School of Chemistry and used
as the basis for the 2006 [email protected]
competition. The pictures were sent to
schools to act as stimuli for creative
writing and poetry. The project,
supported by the Alumni Foundation,
the Royal Society of Chemistry and the
Engineering and Physical Sciences
Research Council, was a great success
and [email protected] 2007 is under way.
2 Third-year medical student, Hugh
Sims Williams, came second in the Sail
for Gold regatta in Weymouth last
October. This international Olympic
classes regatta is being held every year
up until the 2012 Olympic Games, at
which Sims Williams hopes to compete.
Aged 23, he is the youngest windsurfer
in one of the UK’s most successful
Olympic teams, Skandia Team GBR.
3 The art world was left reeling by the
discovery by Michael Liversidge of the
Department of History of Art of two
paintings by early Renaissance artist
Fra Angelico. Mr Liversidge was shown
the paintings by the owner, a Bristol
alumna, at her house in Oxford. He
identified them as the two missing
panels from the San Marco Altarpiece,
dating from between 1439 and 1443.
Subtext
6 One of the highlights of the Wickham
Theatre’s autumn season was TNT
Music Theatre’s touring production
of Shakespeare’s tragedy King Lear.
Live music was incorporated into the
performance, as would have been done
originally at The Globe. TNT founder
members Phil Smith and Paul Stebbings
are graduates of the Department of
Drama. The Guardian described the
performance, directed by Stebbings,
as ‘one of the most interesting
developments on the current
theatrical scene’.
4 A greater horseshoe bat (a sedentary
species that rarely travels far) has been
found by PhD student Jon Flanders of
the Department of Biological Sciences
to have flown 100 miles to a new roost.
The baby female flew from her colony
in Gloucestershire to Purbeck, where
Flanders is conducting a ‘Bats in the
Landscape’ project.
Spring 2007
7 Student Community Action (SCA)
provided fun, games and face painting
at the 12th annual kids’ party last
term. The event, sponsored by the
Co-operative Membership, is aimed
at schoolchildren from the Bristol
area, including Hartcliffe, Knowle,
Southmead, Avonmouth and St Paul’s.
SCA has more than 800 student
volunteers working on dozens of
projects throughout the year.
5 The University’s new Botanic Garden
was awarded the West Country TV
Cup for best Outstanding Special
Project in this year’s South-West
Regional Final of the Britain in Bloom
competition, organised by the Royal
Horticultural Society.
A touch of glass
Blowing new life into
an ancient art
1
Better living
through chemistry
Two professors discuss
molecules, music and
breadmaking
SIMON HALL
Anatomising Alice
Archaeology? Arthritis?
Paging Dr Roberts
3
RICHARD LANGDON/SKANDIA TEAM GBR
2
DANIEL RUSHALL
4
6
NICK WRAY
5
GARETH JONES
If you need all
or part of this
publication in an
alternative format,
such as in Braille,
in larger print or
on tape, please
telephone
+44 (0)117
928 8895
7
Fighting talk
When politics and
academia meet over
the microphone
2
txetbuS
Welcome
2
What is this place? Besides being a leading
centre for higher education and research,
I mean.There are over 5,000 members of
staff at the University of Bristol.Who are
they? Why – and how – do they do what
they do? How did they get here?
Subtext tries to come up with a few
answers and,in the process,to introduce the
University to itself.Our online news pages
at bristol.ac.uk/news are the place to go
for the latest about research,achievements
and so on;Subtext takes a more leisurely
approach.We want it to be a good read,but
also to be as thoughtful and enquiring as a
university magazine should be.
Our thanks to those of you who sent in
comments after the first issue.One reader
remarked that it was ‘refreshing and exciting
to see real people at the heart of the
University’s new publication’.This issue
features another selection of real people,
of whom we ask searching questions.How
did an academic deal with an argumentative
MP on live TV (p14)? How does a quietly
spoken administrator in Senate House see
the world (p6)? And what was day-to-day
life like for a couple of undergraduates who
went to Cuba (p16)?
For a few answers,read on.
Nick Riddle
[email protected]
Put the Vice-Chancellor on the spot
The next issue of Subtext will include a page or two
about Professor Eric Thomas. Email your questions to
[email protected] and we’ll put the best ones to him.
There are no rules other than keep it short, don’t be too
rude and make it interesting. Thus ‘Are you prepared to
review Car Parking Regulation 3c?’ probably wouldn’t get
through, but ‘Do you ever miss delivering babies?’ might.
Subtext
Spring 2007
A touch of glass
Blowing new life into
an ancient art
Better living
through chemistry
Two professors discuss
molecules, music and
breadmaking
Anatomising Alice
Archaeology? Arthritis?
Paging Dr Roberts
Fighting talk
When politics and
academia meet over
the microphone
Subtext Spring 2007
2
Subtext is produced termly
by the Public Relations
Office, which is a
department of
Communications and
Marketing Services.
Communications and
Marketing Director
Barry Taylor
Assistant Director/
Head of the Public
Relations Office
Jill Cartwright
Subtext editors
Hilary Brown, Nick Riddle
Design and production
www.pelotondesign.co.uk
Print and reproduction
APB Colour Print. Printed
on 50% recycled, elemental
chlorine-free material from
sustainable forests.
Contents
How I got here
4
Tear gas, cocktails and a cold shower:
Lorena Barba describes her childhood
in Chile and a crisis in California.
Bristol in pieces
6
Ian Dunnachie answers 20 questions;
we admire a pair of eureka moments
set in stone; and two books get a plug.
Student profile
7
Being a mature student takes
determination and, sometimes, a bit
of brass. Sarah Rigden has plenty of
both. Especially the latter.
Feature: Anatomising Alice
8
If the secret of a long life is to keep
busy, Alice Roberts – presenter of
BBC2’s Don’t Die Young – will outlive
us all.
Feature: Better living through 10
chemistry
Meet Terence Cosgrove and Julian
Eastoe, two chemistry professors
who can’t even go to the beach
without thinking about molecules.
Another string
What’s that? Iggy Pop’s on the
phone? Sorry, Jez Butler’s busy
doing his day job.
13
Tales from the field
16
Water, water everywhere, but only
40 per cent of it stays in the pipes:
Bristol students visit Havana to help,
get culture shock, and narrowly
avoid an electric one.
Other people’s jobs
17
It may be a dying art, but John
Rowden puts glassblowing to new
and exciting uses.
Why I became …
… a neuroscientist
18
Anne Cooke explains how her interest
in the brain and the nervous system
suddenly became a lot more personal.
From the archives
19
Before motion pictures, there
were picture lanterns. The Theatre
Collection is cataloguing a hoard
of Victorian lantern slides.
Next issue due out June 2007
14
The scholar and the soundbite 14
Three minutes can be a long time in
politics, especially when you’re being
grilled on the Today Programme. Just
ask Sarah Childs.
6
Subtext is available online at
bristol.ac.uk/university/
publications/subtext
For the latest news about
the University, see
bristol.ac.uk/news
For an insight into research
conducted at the University, see
re:search magazine and visit
bristol.ac.uk/researchreview
Public Relations Office,
Senate House, Tyndall Avenue,
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Tel: +44 (0)117 928 8895
Email: [email protected]
Subtext No 2, February 2007
© University of Bristol 2007
Extracts may only be
reproduced with the permission
of the Public Relations Office.
4
18
How I got here
LORENA BARBA
Dr Lorena Barba, lecturer in the Department of
Mathematics, was born in Valparaíso, Chile. Her path
to Bristol took her via Pasadena, and along the way
she experienced early bereavement, discovered a skill
for inventing cocktails, and got an academic wake-up
call in California.
I went through my schooling and my undergraduate degree under
the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet. Fortunately, my family did not
suffer during the times of oppression. My grandfather retired from
the army one year before Pinochet took power. His five daughters
may have had socialist opinions, but knew how to stay out of trouble.
My mother sometimes
had to queue for hours for commonplace items such as oil, or flour,
or sometimes toilet paper. Other products were in bizarre abundance:
powdered milk, for example.There was a rumour that schools had
so much of the stuff that students used it to mark the football field.
I also remember the curfews; when I was a teenager, the only parties
you could go to were ones that lasted all night.We called them ‘fiesta
toque-a-toque’, or curfew-to-curfew parties.
There were always shortages in those days.
It wasn’t until I went to university that I realised the level of repression.
Several outspoken students disappeared, presumably to a detention
camp. Protests occurred often, and the police would storm the
campus in riot gear. One of the physics teachers used to pass out
salt to put under our eyes (it’s supposed to help with the tear gas).
I’ll never forget the smell and taste of tear gas.
When I was 13, my father was sent to the United States, to serve in
the Naval Attaché. We spent two years in Maryland, and the most
important result of that experience for me was learning English.
Being bilingual has changed my life.
My father died in a plane crash when I was 17. He was a flying
instructor in small, single-engine airplanes. He was teaching me to
fly; I was always the last one on his list of students for the day, so
I would wait for him at the airport.This time I waited and waited
until it got dark.The other pilots didn’t let me go on the search
flights.A friend of my father, who was always very composed and
formal, came to speak to me with tears running down his face. He
drove me home, and we faced my mother. Here was this 50-year-old
man, without a word coming out of him. I had to tell my mother
myself that Dad was dead.
When I was young, everything came easy to me; not so now! Research
is really hard work, but still fun. I enrolled at Universidad Tecnica
Federico Santa Maria in Valparaíso with the year’s second-highest
admission scores.The student with the highest got a full scholarship, but
there was nothing for the second highest. I was so upset about this,
especially because I knew that my mother couldn’t afford the fees.
PAUL GROOM
During my university years in Chile, I took any job I could find to
make a little money: teaching assistant, private teacher, and various
4 Subtext
Spring 2007
summer jobs as a waitress and a bartender. I invented several cocktails
that were quite popular one summer: one was called Pink Floyd and
it had rum, cream and a red syrupy thing called ‘granadina’ on
crushed ice.
When I turned 21, I left home. This is certainly not common in Chile
(at least back then), especially for a girl. It was quite risky because of
the financial concerns and being still at university. I do feel proud
that I was successful at being economically independent at a young
age, but boy was it hard!
After I graduated in mechanical engineering, a couple of classmates
and I opened a small consultancy business. At first we did a lot of
heating, ventilation and air-conditioning projects for industry. Later,
we did more challenging projects in process engineering, and also
machine design. But we worked long hours, and after running costs,
salaries, investments in marketing and growth, and taxes, there wasn’t
much left! For seven years we struggled. In the end we provided jobs
for seven people, and we had a consortium with other firms. It was
exciting and challenging. But it wasn’t what I wanted.
All this time, I continued studying. I took part-time postgraduate
courses in renewable energies, and I started thinking about doing
doctoral studies abroad. It took two years to prepare for this move:
researching universities, taking the required tests (English and other
topics), and saving money. Days before taking a plane to Los Angeles,
I was paying off the last of my student debt.
I was ecstatic to get a place to do a PhD at the California Institute of
Technology (Caltech) in Pasadena. I thought that, once I got there,
the sky was the limit. I hope I never forget the thrill that I felt during
the shuttle ride from Los Angeles to Pasadena: watching the palm trees
poking everywhere above the rooftop level, and feeling the speed on
the freeway and the warmth in the air. I felt happy and proud.
Then came the cold shower. My ego was shattered after my first
exam, only two months after arriving. I got 21 per cent! I called my
mom and cried on the phone like a baby. It was the first time in my
life that I felt studying was not easy. I was used to being always at the
top; but at Caltech, everyone was the very best, and most were better
than me. It was crushing. I still can’t believe the amount of hours that
I put in to catch up! I had a support network of Latin American
students in my class, and I became very good friends with a girl from
Argentina.We worked together almost every night for the first year,
and in the end I passed all my courses.
The reason I came to the UK was – simply – love. My partner was
offered a job here in Bristol, and it was a good offer. I could have
stayed behind and made it easier for myself, but I would always have
wondered if we could have been happy together.That’s just not the
way I operate. I take risks; I’ve done it many times in my life, and I’ve
paid the price, but I’ve also reaped rewards. He and I are still together,
and it’s been totally worth all the troubles that I’ve put myself through.
England has offered me opportunities, and I’m grateful for them.
I can’t say I’ve adapted completely: the cold weather and the cultural
differences are still difficult. I grew up in the main beach resort in
Chile! I also have a very loud and obnoxious personality, which is
normal for an opinionated Latin American woman, but which totally
clashes with the British manner.This is not a plus, if you know what
I mean. Especially in a male-dominated science department.
And while we’re on that subject, let me just say that there is still a
long way to go for women to be equals in UK science! Not that it’s
any better in Latin America, but it certainly is better in the US. Here,
it’s very subtle: women are encouraged on the surface, but in reality,
your male colleagues would rather ignore you.
Spring 2007
Subtext 5
TWENTY QUESTIONS
Ian Dunnachie is Senior
Assistant Registrar in the
Academic Registry. He also has
a private hypnotherapy practice
(www.iandunnachie.com) and is
an experienced Reiki Master.
Probably simpler just to banish
myself. A desert island has its
attractions.
What is your favourite meal? Hot
yak butter tea and a stale chappati in
a camp somewhere in the Himalaya.
What is the University of Bristol for?
Providing my hypnotherapy practice
with a steady stream of clients.
If you were offered one
superpower, what would you
choose? The ability to communicate
with all people in their first language.
What has been your biggest
life-changing experience (so far)?
Walking the pilgrimage route around
Mount Kailash in Tibet (and getting
there and back).
Which historical figure would you
invite to dinner? Temujin (Genghis
Khan), with interpreter, please
(unless I’ve been granted my
superpower).
What do you sing in the shower?
The blues.
What is your greatest character
flaw? I’ll confess to impatience, and
keep quiet about the others.
Native Americans believe we all
have a Spirit Animal. What would
yours be? Jaguar, I suspect.
Least favourite spot? The economy
cabin of an aircraft, sitting behind
some inconsiderate person who’s
put their chair into the recline position.
One book, one piece of music,
one film. A Child’s Garden of Verses
by Robert Louis Stevenson;
Mr Tambourine Man by Bob Dylan;
and if I have to choose just one film,
it must be Casablanca.
Who would you banish to a desert
island? How big is the island?
Spring 2007
Sport in the USSR: Physical
Culture–Visual Culture by
Mike O’Mahony
Sport pervaded the cultural life of the Soviet
Union. Dr Mike O’Mahony, Lecturer in the
Department of History of Art, looks at the
development of state-sponsored fizkultura
(a neologism derived from the Russian word
for physical culture) and its role in forming
the Soviet New Person. The book examines
presentations of Soviet sportsmen and women
in popular culture, from literature and film to
crockery and paintings, and explains the
eventual collapse of the Soviet sports machine.
Something you wish you’d known
about life when you were 18? How
quickly it passes after you are 18. And
the dangers of inherited behaviours.
‘My philosophy is this…’ Breathe
in, breathe out. Put one foot in front
of the other (if you can). Smile,
always smile, and be as kind as you
are able. Everything else follows.
When and where were you
happiest? Early childhood in
Glasgow, playing with my late sister.
A brief interlude of innocence.
Where will you be ten years from
now? Running an inspiring
hypnotherapy practice and retreat in
South West Ireland – West Cork or
Kerry – with the occasional night off to
play banjo or guitar in the local pub.
How would you sum yourself up in
one line? Another fine personification
of the Caledonian antisyzygy*.
A DIFFERENT NOTE
THINGS YOU NEVER NOTICED
2. THE PHYSICS CARVINGS
These carvings have adorned the spandrels
over the main entrance of the HH Wills Physics
Laboratory since Sir Ernest Rutherford opened
the building in 1927. The idea is believed to
have originated with Arthur Tyndall, Professor
of Physics at Bristol from 1919 to 1948.
The carvings represent two discoveries in
experimental physics. The image on the left
shows the dispersion of sunlight by a prism
(as discovered by Isaac Newton in 1666); on the
right are the tracks of alpha particles from radium,
commemorating the work of the physicist CTR
Wilson, who in 1911 became the first person
to see the tracks of individual alpha- and
beta-particles and electrons.
S
Is there a question you’d like to be
asked? The Chieftains wonder
whether you’d like to join them on
a track for their new album?
*‘The Caledonian antisyzygy’: A personality rife
with contradictions – a defining trait of the
Scottish character, according to writers such
as G Gregory Smith and Hugh MacDiarmid.
Smith wrote in 1919: ‘Oxymoron was ever
the bravest figure, and we must not forget
that disorderly order is order after all’.
JAMIE CARSTAIRS
Cat or dog? Fond of all animals,
but only keep cats at the moment –
low maintenance, affectionate and
utterly ruthless.
What does the world need more
of? Robust compassion and
resonator guitars.
same time as my eldest daughter.We were
on holiday in France and the pair of us
would have to stay behind to revise while
everyone else went down to the beach. I
was astonished when I got a C in Maths,
and even more astonished when I got an
A in English.’
She went on to do an Access course at
City of Bristol College and suddenly the
possibility of going to university was real.
‘I applied to Bath Spa, the University of
the West of England [UWE] and Bristol
but I never believed I’d get into Bristol. I
was born here and we’d always been in
awe of “the building at the top of Park
Street”. My dad was a car mechanic and
my mum a care assistant and no one in the
family had been to university.’
Now she’s here, she couldn’t be more
comfortable.‘When I imagined being at
university, I did think it would be strange
to be surrounded by 18-year-olds, but it’s
not an issue. I’m a student ambassador and
go out to schools to talk to pupils about
applying to university, and those kids think
it’s a bit odd that I’m the same age as their
mums. My eldest son is at UWE and his
friends always assume I’m a postgrad. I’m
glad he went to UWE and not Bristol, as
I would draw the line at having to meet
him for lunch.’
It can be tricky juggling a degree
course with the demands of four teenagers
all living at home:‘I can be up studying till
three o’clock in the morning, as that’s the
only time the house is silent.’ But it has
benefits.‘I think my studying has
encouraged the kids. My younger son
already knows he wants to be a teacher
and which subjects he wants to study.’
Sarah Rigden is like any other student – she just happens to have four
Are there any advantages to being a
mature student? ‘I don’t know that older
teenage kids and play half a dozen brass instruments. She talks to Hilary
necessarily means wiser. But you have
Brown about the trials, tribulations and triumphs of being a mature student. more life experiences to draw on. My
brother Andy died of alcoholism when he
was 38 and this inspired my dissertation,
which is about people who have been in
done things by halves. She even failed her ‘I can be up
arah Rigden has snatched an
residential rehab for drug or alcohol abuse
hour for a cup of tea and a chat O-levels spectacularly.‘I took nine and
studying till
failed eight of them,’ she remembers
between taking her youngest
three o’clock and how their housing situation
daughter to the orthodontist and without a hint of embarrassment.And
in the morning subsequently affects their recovery and
racing off to finish an essay.Then she’s got why should she be embarrassed? She’s
as that’s the abstinence.When Andy came out of rehab
he went into a flat in the centre of
now in her final year of a Social Policy
to get to band practice.
only time
Gloucester near all the pubs, which was
degree and loving it.
Somehow she finds the time to play
the house
the worst place for him to be. He had no
‘I hated school,’ she confesses,‘and work is silent.’
the flugelhorn in three brass bands. She
professional support and although my
wasn’t much better. I did five years as a legal
took up brass playing when she was 11,
mum tried to help he wouldn’t talk to her,
at the same time as her father, who was 45. secretary but it bored me to tears.’ She
and it was a downward spiral of drinking
He accumulated a collection of instruments became a full-time mum – there wasn’t
and rehab until he died.’
much choice as her husband worked away
that he left her when he died – a
Her ability to empathise with people
a lot. By the time her third child started
trombone, a tuba, a flugelhorn, a cornet,
has helped with case study interviews for
senior school, she was beginning to think
a soprano cornet, several harmonicas and
her dissertation.A caseworker at one of the
there might be something else out there –
an ocarina (an ancient flute-like wind
hostels in her comparative study said she
but what? ‘I had no idea what the options
instrument).‘He developed Bell’s Palsy
would make a good support worker.
were, so a friend whisked me off to my
and kept trying different instruments to
‘That’s all very well, but you don’t need a
local college, Soundwell, and sat me down
accommodate his paralysis. I’ve played all
degree for that,’ she says.‘I’m still not sure
of them, but the flugelhorn is my favourite. for an interview.’
what I’ll do but now that I’ve gone to the
She enrolled on a Return to Study
There’s only one of them in a brass band,
trouble of doing a degree, I’d like to use it.’
course and studied Maths and English
and I like to stand out from the crowd.’
Suggestions on a postcard, please.
GCSE.‘I did my English GCSE at the
Forty-one-year-old Rigden has never
TIM GANDER
Anna is a researcher into historic gardens;
Oliver is heir to a splendid 18th-century house
and garden. Anna delves into the garden’s
past, and begins to realise that her own
future is bound up with the mysteries she
encounters. Nice Girls Do is the second
novel by Sarah Duncan, a lifelong learning
tutor in the English Department. Her first
novel, Adultery for Beginners, was shortlisted
for the Joan Hessayon New Writer Award.
DAVE PRATT
Bristol in pieces
Nice Girls Do by Sarah Duncan
Favourite spot in the world?
Lake Mansarovar, western Tibet –
magical.
6 Subtext
Student profile
THE PLUG
Spring 2007
Subtext 7
COLIN BELL
Feature
D
COURTESY BBC
ANATOMISING ALICE
COURTESY BBC
Could Alice Roberts, Senior Teaching Fellow in the Department of Anatomy, be the ultimate
all-rounder? Barry Taylor talks to her about the many strands to her life.
8 Subtext
Spring 2007
r Alice Roberts is a whirlwind
of a person who packs an
unfeasible amount into life.
Try this for size: she’s a medical
doctor and bio-anthropologist with a
strong interest in evolution and
embryology; she conducts archaeological
and forensic research on human skeletal
remains; she’s only a year away from
completing a PhD on arthritis; she
teaches anatomy to everyone from firstyear medics to Oxford postgraduates and
senior consultants; she’s involved in
projects to enthuse state-school children
about science; she’s a successful television
presenter and author; she’s an artist, a
surfer, a climber.And she’s only
33 years old.
At the time of this interview, Roberts
is still filming her anatomy and health
series for BBC Two, Don’t Die Young,
which is to be screened early in 2007.
In the programmes and the book of the
same name, she explains how our vital
organs work and how we can improve
our chances of avoiding disorders.As in
Time Team, Extreme Archaeology and both
series of Coast, her presentational style is
calm and authoritative.There is real
substance, too – producers know that if
they want ‘science lite’, Roberts is the
wrong person to call.
Not that everyone is convinced. She
acknowledges that for some academics,
serious science and popular television just
don’t mix. But like fellow Coast presenter
Dr Mark Horton and Rough Science
front-person Professor Kathy Sykes, who
also work at Bristol University, Roberts is
driven by a passion to share knowledge
with the public as well as with students
and other scientists.
‘In Don’t Die Young, I wanted to get
over the wonder of anatomy,’ she says.‘It’s
difficult because I’ve got quite a high
gore threshold, whereas most people
don’t.We’ll see how much dissection
and surgical detail make it into the
programmes – especially since they go
out before the nine o’clock watershed.’
If television is the glamorous end of
Roberts’ work, forensic science can be
‘In Don’t Die
Young, I wanted
to get over the
wonder of
anatomy’
the opposite. Not long ago she found
herself donning protective gear and a gas
mask to sort through tons of pig carcasses
in an underground vat on a local farm.
The police had had a tip-off – false, as it
turned out – that a human body had
been secreted there.
Roberts, who was born and raised in
Bristol, arrived at the University in 1998
as a 25-year-old medical demonstrator,
having qualified in medicine at Cardiff,
gained another degree in anatomy and
worked as a hospital doctor.‘It looked
like I was going down the surgical path –
teaching anatomy is very good training
for that – but then my boss moved on
and I got the lectureship,’ she explains.
She still sounds excited.
She has always been a strong advocate
of the use of cadavers in the study of
anatomy.‘There’s a deep, primal instinct
against taking a sharp knife and cutting
into a human body,’ she says.‘In fact,
dissection was banned between Roman
times and the Renaissance. But there’s still
no substitute for it. Manikins are very
useful tools and medical imaging has
come on in leaps and bounds, but they
should be used alongside traditional
cadaveric anatomy because it really
deepens understanding.’
It is an approach that stands Bristol in
good stead. Roberts says that while some
other universities have shrunk their
anatomy departments and closed
dissection rooms, anatomy is thriving
here.The subject will get a further boost
later this year with the opening of a new
Clinical Anatomy Suite combining
cadaveric anatomy with the latest
technology.The suite will form part
of the groundbreaking Applied and
Integrated Medical Sciences (AIMS)
Centre for Excellence in Teaching
and Learning.
But while Roberts loves teaching,
research has never had to play second
fiddle. Even when she was a medical
demonstrator, she would ‘nip down to the
basement of the Bristol Royal Infirmary
and open dusty boxes of bones’ to pursue
her investigations into various diseases.
So where will she be in ten years’ time?
‘I don’t make plans like that,’ she replies.
It does seem, though, that Bristol has a
good chance of holding on to her: she’s
clearly stimulated by her students and
colleagues, including the archaeologists for
whom she does some teaching and the
earth scientists and biologists with whom
she likes to explore aspects of evolution.
And that hints at the subject matter
of a TV series she may make one day.
‘I’d love to do something on comparative
anatomy,’ she says.‘If you go back early
enough in embryology you can see
where things have been tweaked to turn
you into a land animal. Did you know
that a human embryo at five weeks has
things on the side of its neck that look
like gills?’The fact that at Bristol, medical
teaching takes place in the same building
as veterinary teaching makes it that much
easier for her to pursue such questions.
In case you were wondering, Roberts
does manage to have a private life as
well. She and her partner, Dave, a field
archaeologist, met when they were
both students at Cardiff University.They
bonded over several memorable summers
spent excavating an important Viking site
on Anglesey.
Recently, they moved out of their
cramped Bristol flat with its tiny patio
garden to somewhere more spacious
just outside the city.There, Roberts
has discovered yet another passion:
growing vegetables. It sounds idyllic,
although the wild deer that live
nearby have developed a taste for the
produce. Fortunately, the couple’s
border terrier – ‘Bob; he’s a bit feral’ –
is there to repel invaders.
Opposite: Top and middle: on the set of Don’t
Die Young; bottom: on location for Coast
Spring 2007
Subtext 9
Feature
BETTER LIVING
THROUGH CHEMISTRY
DAVE PRATT
Professor Terence Cosgrove and
Professor Julian Eastoe, members
of the Colloid Research Group
in the School of Chemistry, have
known each other for over 15 years.
Nick Riddle sits in on their wideranging discussion which begins
with memories of their first close
chemistry encounters.
Above: Professor Julian Eastoe (left) and Professor
Terence Cosgrove in Bristol ChemLabS, a new HEFCEfunded Centre for Excellence in Teaching and Learning
Left: Professors Eastoe and Cosgrove share a passion for
research in colloid and interface science, from nanodrops
on surfaces (far left) and the physics of neutron scattering
(centre) to surfactants and all things ‘soapy’ (right)
Chemical beginnings
TC: In second-year Chemistry, at school, we were making some different
materials, and they were all brightly coloured. I loved the colours, and I
wanted to know how they were made.And then I realised I could make
them myself.
JE: I got turned on by the coolest experiment in chemistry: making nylon.
You take two totally different liquids and you make a solid. If you put these
two liquids together, they tend to separate, but where they meet – at the
interface – they react and form a disc of polymer.That’s the nylon. If you
poke down with some tweezers through the top liquid, and you start to
pull that disc upwards, you start to expose new molecules, so you get more
reaction.The more you pull it away, the more new molecules meet and
react. It’s called the Indian Rope Trick. I’ll never forget seeing that; it’ll
probably flash before my eyes when I come to the end of this mortal coil.
TC: I used to do that as a demonstration in my lectures – it’s quite
impressive. But the ammonia it gives off… They had to evacuate the
lecture theatre.
JE: I did a Physical Chemistry course in my final undergraduate year at the
University of East Anglia, and there was this one experiment that amazed
me.You take some simple gases, which existed at the dawn of the earth’s
history, and you seal them in a jar.When you pass a very high voltage
through the gases, some solid material forms at the bottom. If you scrape
that stuff out, you find that it’s got the very building blocks of life in it:
amino acids, these complex molecules that eventually generate living beings.
And that’s when I went,‘Oh – that’s what it’s all about’.
10 Subtext
Spring 2007
on research, but also we work together on the dayto-day running of the Colloid Science Groups, and on the teaching of
the undergraduate programme, which is the root of it all – you need to
inspire the students. So having someone like Terry is a great asset
because he walks into a room and talks about chemistry, and science, and
you can’t help but leave that room saying,‘I’ve been in the presence of
someone who’s essentially crazy’. About science, I mean. If you don’t get
turned on to chemistry by a man like Terry Cosgrove, then there’s no
hope for you – you should try some other subject.
TC: But Julian’s exactly the same.We’re very similar.
JE: We travel a lot in our business, which is one of the perks of being
a university academic.And about once a year I bump into Terence
somewhere; I’m in Ohio or something, in an airport, and there he is,
and we both ask,‘What are you doing here??’You turned up in San
Diego once. I’m walking down the street, and there you are.
There are university chemists who probably haven’t made anything
since they were undergraduates. Not every chemist sits in a white coat
with safety glasses and making smells. But if you want to make a new
semiconductor, for instance, you need a chemist, because it involves putting
atoms together in a complicated way.
JE: If you want to understand about global warming, you need a chemist.
TC: And if anyone’s going to solve the global warming problem, it’s going
to be chemists.
JE: Although chemists get blamed for causing the problem…
TC: But what you’re really blaming is society’s need for more energy,
regardless of the cost.All the chemist is doing is answering a need.
JE: The main questions are: Can you make something, and how quickly
can you do it? It’s no good if you discover a cure for cancer but it would
take you a billion years to make it.A chemist might find a route that could
generate this cancer-curing material, but then you’d need another bit of
chemical insight to work out how to generate this wonderdrug quickly.
What is chemistry, anyway?
TC: It’s very difficult to capture chemistry in a soundbite. For me, it’s making
Why do it?
JE: I was walking the dog in the rain last night, and I was thinking
molecules. I collect my atoms and my toolkit and put them together to
make a new molecule.That’s what we’re good at – joining atoms together
in ways that can be useful.And those uses cover everything from smoke
detectors, shampoo and lubricants to drug delivery and new kinds of fabric.
JE: It’s the same for me.We take the earth’s resources and fashion them into
new, exciting and potentially useful material.
TC: But the beauty of the subject is that everyone has their own definition.
about why you would want to become a research scientist in a university
environment.And it’s because the possibilities are totally endless.You’re
creating new forms that could have potential use – in other words, you’re
contributing to the growth of civilisation, in material terms.
TC: This morning I was doing a computer simulation with molecules.
Tomorrow I might be in the lab mixing up something.You can be a cook
one day, and you can be doing electronics the next day.
Collaborating
JE: We collaborate
Saying something wrong
TC: With your students, you’re
looking forward to the day that they
challenge you.Then you feel you’ve overcome something, an
intellectual barrier, for them to realise that you’re not always right.
JE: I’m a visiting professor in China, and that’s a great challenge.
In a deferential society, it’s extremely difficult to get an open and
honest discussion going. People don’t want to say something wrong,
so they’d rather say nothing. I’ve always tried to make it clear that I’m
not frightened of being exposed for misunderstanding or ignorance.
In fact I’d rather that happened, because that way I’m going to learn
something. I’ve been going there for about five years, and this year
I felt I’d cracked it. But that’s only in one group.The minute I stepped
outside of that group, into the wider culture, my heart sank and
I realised how much more work there was to be done.
Getting it across
TC: I’ve got a thing about entropy. It’s a very complicated thing, entropy.
If you put a rubber band between your teeth and pull it quickly it heats
up – and if you let it go quickly it cools.And that’s to do with entropy
and the second law of thermodynamics, one of the universal laws that
help you an awful lot in chemistry.The word ‘entropy’ is everywhere
these days – there’s a stage play about it, and there’s a pop group called
Entropy. But it’s a really dense concept and it’s incredibly difficult to
explain without getting a piece of paper out and covering it in scribbles.
JE: It’s hard enough to explain what a molecule is.You mention the
word ‘molecule’ and all of a sudden you’ve lost a lot of people.
Spring 2007
Subtext 11
Feature
Another string
The chemical life
JE: As a scientist, you’re
never really off duty. It doesn’t mean to say
you can’t have normal human relationships. My wife has no scientific
background whatsoever.
TC: Chemistry is your life – it becomes your way of looking at the
world. Like looking at nanoparticles in dispersion: if two or three
particles come together, they might love each other and combine to
form a bigger object, or hate each other and fly apart. So it’s these
molecular forces that govern matter. But if you look at the universe,
it’s basically the same thing – a dispersion of planets in the cosmos…
JE: Be careful – the physicists might take issue!
TC: I like the fact that there are lots of aspects of chemical reaction that
we still don’t understand. It seems unscientific, but if you try the same
reaction over and over, you’ll always have some attempts that just don’t
work... nobody knows why.
JE: For example, I make bread by hand every Sunday. It’s really
therapeutic to work on the dough with your hands. I’ve done it for
about 20 years, and even now maybe once a year it’ll go wrong and
you can’t work out what happened.You keep the recipe the same,
and sometimes it rises too fast and the whole thing becomes top-heavy
and it kind of splurges out. It’s impossible to cut as well.
TC: But you get that lovely smell. Most chemical smells – around
here anyway – are not very pleasant. But if you’re cooking food, it’s
completely different.
JE: I get quite attached to some of these chemical smells, though.
I quite like diethyl ether, for some reason.
TC: I like toluene.
JE: Toluene’s horrible! It’s like rank petrol.
TC: Well, I did my PhD in toluene, so…
JE: So it has an association for you.
TC: Yes.Anxiety and pain. (Laughter)
DAVE PRATT
In my experience, anyway. Maybe I’ve got the wrong way of saying
molecule. I should try saying merrrla-cule. (Laughter)
You know how a sandy beach is made up of individual grains?
Well, all materials are made up of individual molecules. It’s just that
a molecule is about a million times smaller than a sand grain.
I see public engagement as a challenge – I think we’ve got to
get better at it.And we’re definitely better than we used to be.About
12 years ago, we started giving public lectures on chemistry.The first
year was hopeless; we tried to explain about molecules and so on –
and we got nowhere.The next year we changed our approach; we
got undergraduates to come up with a liquid formulation for making
bubbles, using washing-up liquid, distilled water and glycerine.You
could take away a recipe card and make this stuff at home.That worked
a lot better. If anybody asked ‘Why does that work?’, that was our cue
to say ‘How much do you want to know?’ Everyone’s seen bubbles, so
we take it from there. In some of these conversations we got down to
the molecular level. But if you come in at any other level than the
everyday, you have a difficult job getting anything across.
TC: You can start with simple questions: How do you get drunk on beer,
which is 95 per cent water? Or why can a few picograms of polonium
kill you? There are so many interesting questions in chemistry.
JE: It took us years to get to a point where we realised what was
needed.That was in the early days of public engagement at Bristol.And
now it’s so much better – we’ve got a Professor of Public Engagement
in Science, Kathy Sykes, for example.
TC: You also need to get things across when you’re trying to explain a
project to a grant-making body or a sponsor.And they say,‘Okay, say
you’ve got a million dollars; how are you going to spend it?’And you’ve
got to be able to distil all this stuff.This guy’s got a million-dollar
cheque book there and his pen is poised, and he says,‘Just explain to
me how this thing of yours works…’
POP GOES THE
WEB TRAINER
Nick Riddle meets Jez Butler to discuss his 20-year career in
indie pop and the rewards of being big in Japan.And Spain.
LIBRARY OF CONGRESS
CHEMISTRY –
THE MUSICAL
Left: Professor Eastoe
emphasises the importance of
algebra using a song by Johnny
Cash (1932-2003) who, although
not a chemist, was no stranger to
barbiturates
Music and chemistry might seem to make for an unstable compound,
but as Professors Cosgrove and Eastoe point out, the two elements
have been known to combine rather well.
TC: Did you know that several composers were also chemists?
Borodin is the famous one. And Elgar had a chemistry lab in a
shed behind his house.
JE: I sometimes use a Johnny Cash song to try to teach students
the importance of mathematics. It’s called ‘Straight A’s In Love’,
and he’s singing about how his teacher says, ‘Learn your algebra’,
but he only gets C’s and D’s. So even Johnny Cash knew the
importance of algebra.
Right: Alexander Borodin (18331887), a member of the group of
Russian composers known as
the Mighty Handful, was also a
respected chemist noted for his
work on aldehydes
TC: There’s a Flanders and Swann song about the second law of
thermodynamics.
Left: Sir Edward Elgar (1857-1934)
invented a device for making
hydrogen sulphide gas. He called
his laboratory ‘The Ark’
(Photograph by permission of the Royal
Society of Chemistry)
12 Subtext
Spring 2007
JE: Which you absolutely love, don’t you? You played it during
some lectures.
TC: They didn’t really take it in. Then there’s Tom Lehrer’s ‘The
Elements’, about the periodic table. Actually, that song put my career
back years, because he sings them in the wrong order!
‘I was really looking forward to getting this’, says Jez
‘We were booked
Butler, taking a yellow folder down from a shelf in his
to play with
office. On the cover, Bugs Bunny lounges against a giant
Hawkwind, but
Warner Brothers logo.‘I signed a publishing deal with
we got axed.’
Warner Chappell and they sent me the sheet music for
my songs. It’s like something out of My First Recorder Book.’
He shakes his head.‘They must have fed the music into a
computer and it came up with this.’
Luckily, Butler makes music for the love of it. He’s also
accustomed to the false promises of the entertainment
industry, which is one reason why he hasn’t given up his day
job as Web Trainer at the Computer Centre (another is that
he actually quite likes his work).
Butler was born in Grimsby to musical parents.‘Dad
learned to play the piano during the war in POW camps in
Germany,’ he says.‘He was taught by Vic Hammett, a famous
Wurlitzer organ player – if you go round charity shops you
can still find his records.’ His mother also played piano, so
when he started learning, giving up wasn’t an option.
‘Actually, it was my Mum who suggested I learn the drums,
and that became my main instrument.’
He was hooked on pop music at the tender age of seven.
‘I saw Wizzard on Top of The Pops in 1973 when “See My
Baby Jive” was No.1,’ he remembers.When Butler arrived in
Bristol as an undergraduate at the Polytechnic – now UWE
– he formed his first proper band.‘We did a few local gigs
and we were booked to play a festival with Hawkwind at
Worcester Racecourse in 1987, but we got axed because
they ran out of time.’
Butler’s move to the University of Bristol’s Computer
Centre coincided with his joining a local band, the Groove
Farm, and for the next two years he spent all of his work
holiday driving a van around the country.‘We had some indie
chart success, and some fairly big gigs, supporting bands like
The Wedding Present – it was a really amazing experience.’
The Groove Farm’s album, Plug, became a John Peel favourite.
But life on the road was tiring him out.‘Driving to Brighton
for a gig and getting back to Bristol at four in the morning,
then getting up for work … I was completely shattered.’
Phase two of his pop career began when he left the
Groove Farm to plough his own furrow. He put out a single
in 1997 on see-through turquoise vinyl (the sleeve was
designed by school chum Jez Conolly, who also works in
Information Services at Bristol).And on the other side of the
world, somebody took notice.
‘We pressed 500 copies, of which 200 were imported to
Japan by Cornelius (aka Keigo Oyamada, a highly successful
musician and producer).The record had a cult status in
Japan.The first I knew about it was when a Japanese A&R
man emailed me and said,“You should work with Mike
Alway at Cherry Red Records”.’
Here we enter an eldritch world of svengali businessmen,
light psychedelia and mysterious vocalists. Butler produced a
string of albums for various labels, all by bands that, strictly
speaking, didn’t exist. Mike Alway would come up with a
name – Tomorrow’s World, Death by Chocolate, Mild
Euphoria and so on – and Butler assembled a backing band in
a makeshift studio in Bedminster. Singers would turn up to do
the vocals, among them a former Downing Street secretary
called Angie Faye-Tillett, Radio Four Wimbledon
commentator-cum-chanteur Louis Philippe and Simon
Turner (Britain’s answer to David Cassidy in the early ’70s).
The time has come to pin Butler down: how does he
describe his musical idiom? He takes a deep breath.‘It’s a
late-’60s light psychedelic jazzy pop, basically.There’s a big
French influence, especially Serge Gainsbourg.’ Gainsbourg
has never been especially popular in the UK. It follows, then,
that Butler’s output doesn’t shift many units in the home
market. But in mainland Europe, Japan and, increasingly, the
US, it’s a different story.‘The European labels we’ve worked
with have both been Spanish,’ says Butler,‘and in the USA,
our label mates have been bands like Mogwai,Arab Strap
and Black Box Recorder.’
In 2002, Butler again scored high on the hip-o-meter,
when Iggy Pop nominated the second Death by Chocolate
album for the prestigious Shortlist Awards (the US equivalent
of the Mercury Prize).That came at the end of two
productive years, during which Butler released nine albums
(‘I’m not sure how I packed it all in – weekends, rainy
lunchtimes, things like that’).
The University has benefited from Butler’s musical skills:
he recently supplied the music for an online video on the
Bristol website. But mostly, these two strands of his career
remain separate. His most recent album is Continuous Electric
Now, and soon to be released is a Butler-produced album by
Japanese pop star Hideki Kaji.
Aptly for someone whose day job is based in IT, the last
few years have seen Butler’s musical career progress thanks to
digital technology.‘The Bedminster studio had to close, so
now I’m completely PC-based,’ he says.‘I’ve tried to recreate
the sound we had, with a lot more success than I expected.
Virtual studio technology has made huge advances.’
The same can’t be said of Warner Chappell’s transcription
software. Butler closes the yellow Bugs Bunny folder with a
bemused chuckle and re-shelves it, next to a batch of his
recent albums and a copy of the single that started it all,
shining quietly in all its translucent turquoise splendour.
You can hear some of Jez Butler’s music at www.boum.co.uk.
Left: Listen to the colours… psychedelia spills out of Butler’s
albums and onto the covers
Spring 2007
Subtext 13
The scholar and the soundbite
Spring 2007
‘Journalists want
you to be blackand-white about
your conclusions
but you’re trying
to hold on to all
the nuances.’
DAVE PRATT
FIGHTING TALK
14 Subtext
Here’s where a little preparation comes in handy.At a media
training day run by the Political Studies Association, Dr Childs
learned some valuable strategies,‘such as finding out what they
want from you before you start, and how they’re going to use
the information they’re asking you for.Then for the interview
itself, there’s the “ABC” approach: you answer the question,
bridge it, then continue in the direction you want to take it.
That’s great advice – it gives you confidence.’
On radio and TV, at least you know when you’re on air;
when a print journalist calls you up for an interview, you need
to be wary of a clever but not very endearing Fleet Street tactic.
‘They’ll start chatting to you, being very friendly, and you’ll
make an unguarded remark – maybe something about your
For academics studying politics, being
own politics.And suddenly that becomes part of the piece. But
a lesson you learn very quickly.’
interviewed by the media can feel more like that’sJournalists,
after all, have their own agenda, and it’s not just
a wrestling match. But they can also find
the tabloids that want a hook.‘Someone from a broadsheet
themselves advising public figures and getting interviewed me for an article about the experiences of
Labour’s new women MPs, and I asked them not to use the
an inside view of politics and broadcasting.
term “Blair’s babes” in their headline. But they, or rather their
sub-editors, used it anyway.A more experienced academic
Dr Sarah Childs, Senior Lecturer in the
once told me that if you’re not prepared to have your
Department of Politics, talks to Nick Riddle friend
research misrepresented, you shouldn’t speak to a journalist.’
about the pros and cons of media appearances In other words, you’re taking a risk, but it’s usually worth it.
‘I think it’s been really useful for my work,’ agrees
and the value of a little preparation.
Dr Childs.‘It makes the research visible to political actors –
whether that’s parties or pressure groups – and to the general
public. Last year, I appeared on Woman’s Hour with Ann Jenkin,
Let’s say you’re listening to the radio. BBC Radio Four,
who is married to the Conservative MP Bernard Jenkin. She
perhaps, or Radio Bristol.A discussion is under way: some
then called me, and we met to talk about the lack of
meaty issue torn from the headlines.The presenter brings on
Conservative women MPs.A few months later she launched
an expert from the University of Somewhere who offers a few Women2Win, a campaign to increase the proportion of
snippets of commentary.A second interviewee, probably a
women in the House of Commons.That was a good example
politician, takes issue with most of the points raised by the
of how appearing in the media meant that I was able to
first.A restrained altercation follows.The presenter closes the
develop relationships with political activists and politicians, as
interview and moves on to the next piece.The whole thing
well as contribute ideas. I also got invaluable insights for my
has taken three minutes, and as far as you’re concerned, it’s
own research.’
now eddying downstream, part of the flow of radio.
Sometimes, the insights are to do with the medium itself.
But if you’re the academic in this scenario, you take away a Dr Childs and a colleague from Birkbeck College, Dr Rosie
different experience. Dr Sarah Childs has ‘done’ national radio Campbell, recently contributed to a series of Woman’s Hour
several times – the most recent instances being Radio Four’s
programmes which marked its 60th anniversary, and got the
Today Programme and Woman’s Hour – as well as numerous
chance to eavesdrop on the production team.‘Once we’d done
interviews on local radio, and a handful of TV appearances. She our bit on air we went through to the control room while the
confirms that the demands of the media can be a challenge.
other guests were being interviewed, and watched the
‘Journalists want you to be black-and-white about your
production team working.And they’d talk into the presenters’
conclusions,’ she says,‘but you’re trying to hold on to all the
earpieces, saying things like “Pull it back, they’re getting too
nuances and qualifications.’These are the parts that academics
technical”, or “They’re going off on a tangent here”. It was
find so absorbing, and it’s also what makes the research robust; really interesting to be on the other side of the glass.’
but it’s exactly those fiddly bits that journalists find a nuisance.
Interesting – and enlightening.‘It made us realise how
‘They’ve got their job to do, and that means getting the main
hectic and pressurised it is,’ says Dr Childs.‘As soon as they
points over quickly and clearly to the audience without getting start one piece, somebody else is planning the next piece
bogged down in details and competing interpretations.’
and watching the timing so that everything comes in on
Conciseness is one thing; conflict is something else again.
cue.You also get a sense of why they ring you up and say
The BBC’s Today Programme and Newsnight are renowned for
“We want to talk to you now”. Because that’s the way they
their adversarial approach to interviewing, and Dr Childs still
work – they’re running on a hamster-wheel, and there’s
can’t recall her own on-air encounter with Today’s Sarah
always the next piece to worry about. It’s very different
Montague without a sharp intake of breath.Appearing as a
from the way we do things in academia.’
politics expert in the media can draw you into the debatingLeft: Dr Sarah
society world of British politics – to the extent of having to
Childs appears
on Sky News
square up against some rather splenetic opponents.
‘I did a programme on Sky TV when my book came out
(New Labour’s Women MPs:Women Representing Women), and the
producers’ approach was to pick somebody in the House of
Commons who’d be most likely to disagree with what I said.’
They picked the late Eric Forth, the right-wing Tory MP.
‘His opening line was “I think it’s outrageous that you’ve even
called your book this”. So that put things on a combative
footing straightaway. I had to restrain myself from arguing back
and make sure that the more important points got an airing.’
Spring 2007
Subtext 15
Tales from the field
Other people’s jobs
A TOUCH
OF GLASS
When is a glassblower not just a glassblower?
When he’s applying age-old techniques to
cutting-edge research. Hilary Brown meets
the Physics Department’s John Rowden,
who is taking his craft to new heights.
Above: Havana street scenes; far right: Robert Cottrell and Hayley Sharp
GAMES, DRAINS AND
AUTOMOBILES
A timetable-free public transport system, a diet of beans and rice,
showers that shot sparks … these were just some of the challenges facing
Engineering undergraduates Rob Cottrell and Hayley Sharp when
they went to Cuba to help reduce the 60-per-cent leakage rate of Havana’s
water system. Hannah Johnson hears their travellers’ tales.
C
16 Subtext
Spring 2007
rice, beans and fruit and many students
have a five-hour round trip to campus
every day.‘Public transport isn’t exactly
reliable,’ Sharp says.‘There are no
timetables.You just turn up and wait.’
As a result, the Bristol team frequently
had to get up very early to allow time to
travel to their meetings with the local
water company.‘The Cubans are very laid
back, particularly about timekeeping. It’s
partly the national character but a lot of
it has to do with the transport system.
We would joke about whether we were
meeting at nine o’clock “Cuban time” or
“UK time”.They were always surprised
how much effort we made to be punctual.’
Although usually dependent on buses,
Cottrell and Sharp also enjoyed a
memorable ride in one of the old
American cars that fill the streets of
Havana.‘A lot of people supplement their
day job by offering an unofficial taxi
service in their own car. Our driver was a
doctor during the week and gave rides at
weekends. He had this amazing big blue
car. But halfway through our journey, we
had to pull over so he could open the
bonnet and work out what was smoking.’
From vintage Cadillacs to pictures
of Che Guevara, Cuba certainly lived
up to many of Cottrell and Sharp’s
expectations. But, increasing tourism is
having a marked effect on the island’s
‘What an
engineer
makes in
a week,
a musician
can make
in a couple
of days.’
character and economy.Two currencies
exist: the Cuban Peso (CUP) used by
locals, and the ‘tourist dollar’, the Cuban
Convertible Peso (CUC), which is worth
far more.When Sharp tried to explain
why someone in the UK would choose
engineering rather than music as a career,
the locals were surprised.‘In Cuba, if you’re
an engineer you get paid a state wage,
which isn’t much,’ she says.‘But if you’re
a musician and you play for the tourists
you can make so much more.What an
engineer makes in a week, a musician
can make in a couple of days.’
Some things will never change,
though – including the Cubans’ passion
for football.With the 2006 World Cup
in full swing during their visit, the
engineers were inspired to stage their
own international matches.And they
didn’t let the lack of a proper pitch stand
in their way.‘We played on a basketball
court,’ says Cottrell.‘It was obviously
going to be a really nice court once, but
like so much else it was never finished.
Instead, they’d knocked up a couple of
metal goalposts. In Cuba you’ve got to
improvise – that was one of the biggest
lessons we learned.’
For more information about the Havana Water
Project, go to www.ewb-uk.org/node/1892
or www.mondialogo.org/265.html.
‘We’re taking
the same old
technique that is
used to make a
simple lightbulb
to develop highresolution field
emission displays.’
DAVE PRATT
uba presents unique challenges
for the engineer, as Rob
Cottrell and Hayley Sharp
soon found out. Having only
collaborated with their counterparts at
the Polytechnic University of Havana
(CUJAE) by email before, nothing
prepared them for what lay in store.
‘Before the USSR fell, there was
massive investment in the Cuban
infrastructure, and part of this was building
CUJAE,’ Cottrell explains.‘But when the
USSR fell, the money ran out. So instead
of finished buildings there are empty
concrete shells everywhere. Now the
university can’t finish the construction or
cover the cost of taking them down.’
This lack of investment and
maintenance was all too apparent in the
university’s water system. Poorly
maintained water networks are a serious
problem in Cuba, and CUJAE uses five
times more water than it actually needs.
The plumbing certainly left a great deal
to be desired:‘They’d clearly had plans
to install these brilliant bathrooms, but
only the basics were there,’ says Cottrell.
‘Temporary showers had been put in
with a plumbing fixture to turn them
on and off. But when you tried turning
it to hot, sparks would fly out.’
Life at CUJAE contrasted with Bristol
in other ways too.The standard diet is
here is something of the
demonic about John Rowden’s
glassblowing workshop in the
bowels of Physics: billowing
flames,work benches laden with giant coils
of crazily twisted tubing,a bright red curved
neon rope,beakers sprouting finger-like
protrusions filled with copper wire,like
some kind of medieval instrument of
torture.If it wasn’t for the radio playing the
Arctic Monkeys in the background,you
might think twice about entering.
But fear not, Rowden welcomes
visitors, especially those wanting to have a
go at making a glass bead.‘People just can’t
help wanting to get their hands on molten
glass,’ he says, brandishing a jar of efforts
that have literally gone pear-shaped.
While Rowden could rustle up a
perfectly formed necklace in the
twinkling of an eye, his mind is usually
on higher things.‘Glassblowing is a
dying art,’ he says (he is one of only 60
or so glassblowers in the country).‘It’s
not just a case of manipulating hot glass
any more. Glassblowing can only survive
if you find other applications for it.’
That is exactly what Rowden is doing
in collaboration with Dr Neil Fox of the
department’s micro- and nanostructural
materials group.‘We’re taking the same old
technique that is used to make a simple
lightbulb, that is, putting electricity inside a
vacuum, and using it in high-voltage
applications, in this case to develop highresolution field emission displays.’ Such
displays are everywhere – in computers
and mp3 players, for example – and in
future will use diamond emitters to
achieve better resolution.
It suits Rowden’s inquiring mind to
get involved in research projects such as
this.‘I’m interested in the science behind
glassblowing.Working with glass is what
T
gives me ideas, helps me work out new
ways of doing things – it doesn’t really
matter what I’m making.’
Rowden trained as a chemist, and
worked for 20 years in a chemical
company in Avonmouth.‘Fifteen years into
the job, I saw a colleague making glass
chemical apparatus for the research
department and was completely taken with
it.’ He qualified through the Technicians
Training Scheme at what was then Brunel
Technical College and followed this with
an HNC in electrical engineering.When
his colleague retired, he took over the job.
Now into his 14th year in the Physics
Department, a typical day is still
something of a mystery.‘I never know
what I’m going to be asked. Questions
about any one of dozens of techniques
could crop up from colleagues.’
As well as the normal lab equipment
you’d expect a glassblower to make, such
as a Liebig condenser (a straight glass
tube surrounded by a water jacket), he
might be asked to cut a 100-micron (a
very thin) sheet of glass to specific
dimensions to make a sensor or to fit a
particular instrument.
‘I make unusual glassware all the time
– spiral tubes, multi-layered glass,
cryostats [apparatus for maintaining very
high temperatures].The most difficult
thing I’ve ever had to make is curved
fluorescent tubing for Richard Box’s
artwork.’ Local artist Richard Box was
formerly artist in residence in the Physics
Department, and is well known for his
1,000 fluorescent light tube sculpture,
‘Field’, powered from overhead power
lines.‘Richard is very critical of the
shapes – things have to look just right.’
Rowden is keen to encourage people
to try glassblowing for themselves:‘It can
be fun and relaxing, as well as educational.’
To demonstrate this, he took part in last
year’s Science Alive, a hands-on public
engagement science event in Broadmead
shopping centre, and ended up making
glass animals with schoolchildren.‘They
loved it – we had the younger ones
squashing molten glass with a carbon tool,
and putting a face on it. Some twin girls
wanted to make an elephant each, so I
made the body and they put the eyes, ears
and legs on. One of the twin’s hands was
shaking so much that she put an eye in the
middle of the elephant’s head, so her
elephant ended up with three eyes. She was
quite happy with the result, though,
because the models were identical
otherwise, so now she could tell hers apart.’
Which brings us to one final,
necessary, skill – the ability to hold your
arm in the same position for several
hours at a time.You don’t have to have
biceps of steel to be a glassblower, but if
you’re fussy about how many eyes your
elephant has, it helps.
Spring 2007
Subtext 17
Why I became ...
From the archives
nervous system, and medical research. It wasn’t
that I had unrealistic notions of finding a
miracle cure, but I did want to play a part in
medical research, and in building our
knowledge of how the nervous system works –
As a student, Dr Anne Cooke, Research Facilitator for Bristol
and ultimately, helping people with a similar
diagnosis in years to come.
Neuroscience, wasn’t sure which branch of science to pursue – until a
That tilted the balance. I specialised in
close family member was struck by a fatal neurological disease. She
Neurophysiology, then did a PhD in
Neuroscience, then a postdoc. But I began to
talks to Nick Riddle about her path to Bristol, her change in direction,
think that it wasn’t my forte to be a career
and the pleasure of making connections – neural and otherwise.
scientist. I liked working at the bench, but I felt
confined by the narrow focus of lab work. I love
talking to people and finding out about what
they’re doing, and seeing opportunities to work
I went to Cambridge University and did Natural In my second year at Cambridge I was doing
with others, and making connections. I wasn’t
Sciences; if you want to do any kind of science at neurophysiology, but still not sure of what I
wanted to do.Then my uncle was diagnosed
getting the chance to do that where I was.
Cambridge, that’s how you start.You start off
with motor neurone disease, or amyotrophic
In 2002, I applied for a newly created post in
looking at all the sciences, and by the third year
lateral sclerosis (ALS). Sufferers have progressive
the School of Medical Sciences at Bristol that
you’ve chosen your specialised area.When I
took me away from the bench.There was plenty
started, I had no idea what I wanted to specialise paralysis, but only of their skeletal muscles, so
their cognitive abilities are intact.The prognosis
of neuroscience research going on here, but no
in, though I knew I was leaning more towards
is usually three to five years.This had a huge
Neuroscience Department.The research was
biology than physics.
impact on me – my uncle was a wonderful man, spread across three different faculties and many
What attracted me to neuroscience to begin
a very talented musician, and one of the first
different departments, and there wasn’t a lot of
with was the challenge of it.When we covered
communication between them. Professors
nerve cells, it took me ages to get my head round things that happened was that he couldn’t play
the piano any more. It was very difficult to see
Stafford Lightman and Graham Collingridge,
it, so I put a huge amount of work into that –
with the support of the Vice-Chancellor, had the
reading around, and getting drawn into it. I think him go downhill so quickly.Thankfully, he died
before reaching the final stages of the disease.
idea to create this new post – someone to
studying the brain is the most fascinating and
His cousin had also died of the same disease connect all these bits of the Bristol brain. I had a
amazing area in science; you’re delving into what
remit to set up the Bristol Neuroscience Institute
it means to be human, and starting to cross from a couple of years earlier. So that’s my Mum’s
cousin and her brother – you do start
(now shortened to Bristol Neuroscience, or BN),
science into philosophy.And where else do you
wondering about the heredity of it. But that
and see if I could make the idea work.
try and work out how something works using
drew me in a personal way towards studying the Something went right, because I’m still here!
the very thing you’re trying to understand?
Neuroscience has become one of the
University’s research themes, and there are now
‘I think that
collaborations that came about through BN.
studying the
My work runs the gamut from small things
brain is the most
– how do you use this, or has anyone got suchfascinating and
and-such equipment – to getting people coamazing area in
authoring papers or applying for grants
science; you’re
together. I’m also trying to create more links
delving into
between the basic neuroscience research going
what it means
on here and some of the clinical neurosciences
to be human.’
at Frenchay Hospital, which is the regional
referral centre and does some terrific work.
One of the things I’m proudest of is
introducing scientific speed-dating at a BN Away
Day.We had 250 people in the Wills Memorial
Building, and in between the traditional
presentations we mixed in a few unconventional
things.All these academics in the Great Hall had
to move on to a new partner every two minutes
– there was some scepticism beforehand, but it
worked really well. I like getting the chance to
mix things up a bit.
... A NEUROSCIENTIST
THE MAGIC
LANTERN SLIDE
COLLECTION
DAVE PRATT
Left: Dr Anne Cooke in
front of a print by artist
Simon Whitehead
Right: Her uncle, Peter
George Russell, examines
a butterfly at a nature
reserve a few weeks
before his death
18 Subtext
Spring 2007
Among the extensive holdings at
the University of Bristol Theatre
Collection are some 400 magic
lantern slides. Magic lantern
shows were used to educate,
entertain and mystify audiences
in the nineteenth and early
twentieth centuries; the Bristol
collection covers a wide range
of subjects including dramatic
performance, art history, classics,
archaeology, geography, social
history and theology.
These four images are part of a set
of 25 fragile hand-coloured slides
that tell a story of vice, dissolution
and redemption. The set, entitled
‘Christmas in Paradise’, was
produced in the 1890s to illustrate
the virtues of temperance.
be made available online. Funding
for the project comes from the
Bristol Institute for Research in
the Humanities and Arts (BIRTHA)
and the Arts Faculty Research
Directors Fund.
The Illumination Project is now
ensuring that this previously
inaccessible visual resource is
conserved, catalogued and
digitised, and in due course it will
Spring 2007
Subtext 19
Endnotes
1 ‘Frog Chorus’ by Simon Hall is one of
the images issued from current research
at the School of Chemistry and used
as the basis for the 2006 [email protected]
competition. The pictures were sent to
schools to act as stimuli for creative
writing and poetry. The project,
supported by the Alumni Foundation,
the Royal Society of Chemistry and the
Engineering and Physical Sciences
Research Council, was a great success
and [email protected] 2007 is under way.
2 Third-year medical student, Hugh
Sims Williams, came second in the Sail
for Gold regatta in Weymouth last
October. This international Olympic
classes regatta is being held every year
up until the 2012 Olympic Games, at
which Sims Williams hopes to compete.
Aged 23, he is the youngest windsurfer
in one of the UK’s most successful
Olympic teams, Skandia Team GBR.
3 The art world was left reeling by the
discovery by Michael Liversidge of the
Department of History of Art of two
paintings by early Renaissance artist
Fra Angelico. Mr Liversidge was shown
the paintings by the owner, a Bristol
alumna, at her house in Oxford. He
identified them as the two missing
panels from the San Marco Altarpiece,
dating from between 1439 and 1443.
Subtext
6 One of the highlights of the Wickham
Theatre’s autumn season was TNT
Music Theatre’s touring production
of Shakespeare’s tragedy King Lear.
Live music was incorporated into the
performance, as would have been done
originally at The Globe. TNT founder
members Phil Smith and Paul Stebbings
are graduates of the Department of
Drama. The Guardian described the
performance, directed by Stebbings,
as ‘one of the most interesting
developments on the current
theatrical scene’.
4 A greater horseshoe bat (a sedentary
species that rarely travels far) has been
found by PhD student Jon Flanders of
the Department of Biological Sciences
to have flown 100 miles to a new roost.
The baby female flew from her colony
in Gloucestershire to Purbeck, where
Flanders is conducting a ‘Bats in the
Landscape’ project.
Spring 2007
7 Student Community Action (SCA)
provided fun, games and face painting
at the 12th annual kids’ party last
term. The event, sponsored by the
Co-operative Membership, is aimed
at schoolchildren from the Bristol
area, including Hartcliffe, Knowle,
Southmead, Avonmouth and St Paul’s.
SCA has more than 800 student
volunteers working on dozens of
projects throughout the year.
5 The University’s new Botanic Garden
was awarded the West Country TV
Cup for best Outstanding Special
Project in this year’s South-West
Regional Final of the Britain in Bloom
competition, organised by the Royal
Horticultural Society.
A touch of glass
Blowing new life into
an ancient art
1
Better living
through chemistry
Two professors discuss
molecules, music and
breadmaking
SIMON HALL
Anatomising Alice
Archaeology? Arthritis?
Paging Dr Roberts
3
RICHARD LANGDON/SKANDIA TEAM GBR
2
DANIEL RUSHALL
4
6
NICK WRAY
5
GARETH JONES
If you need all
or part of this
publication in an
alternative format,
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in larger print or
on tape, please
telephone
+44 (0)117
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7
Fighting talk
When politics and
academia meet over
the microphone
2
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