Latest from Birmingham Post science...
Great news from the University of Birmingham this week. They've appointed their first Professor of Public Engagement with Science (good news indeed), and it's Dr Alice Roberts (even better news).
Welcome to Brum, Dr Alice Roberts!
In the University PR blurb accompanying the announcement of her appointment, she's quoted as saying:
"I am very excited about this appointment. This new professorship emphasises Birmingham's commitment to public engagement in science, to a dialogue between scientists and the wider public. Science is so important to our economy, to politics and education, but perhaps more than anything, I'm keen to promote science as a integral part of our culture."
Integral part of the city's culture. Yes!
Imagine knowing that you can get across Birmingham anytime of day within 40-45 minutes maximum by public transport, and journeys half-way across within 20 or so minutes.
How would that change your travel patterns? And how, do you suppose it'd affect communities in this city? That's what Londoners have . . .
Looking at these two maps, one of Brum, t'other of London (courtesy of the brilliant crowd-sourced OpenStreetMap), and you can begin to grasp some of the social impact that connectivity has.
See the circles? Their diameters represent 10km.
About 90% of you isn't actually "you". In terms of cell count, a typical human being is outnumbered roughly 10 to one by the microbes that reside in and on their body. You and the microscopic beasts inside you are a complex ecology; mess about with one part, and unexpected things might happen.
When we take antibiotics, we're hammering that ecology, sometimes not for the long-term good of us or the beasts.
There was a truly remarkable article on just this topic in Nature a couple of months ago: "Stop the killing of beneficial bacteria" by Martin Blaser of New York University (Nature 476 pp 393-4; see also article about it in the New York Times.).
It's that time of year when all and sundry (especially journalists, hacks, pundits and loudmouths) make predictions about the future, and in particular the next twelve months.
So here's my personal take on what will happen next year: some is informed guesswork, some is speculation, and some will accidentally turn out to be fact.....
I try and write a piece for the first of every month - this month I've spectacularly failed. Part of this is because I decided to 'update' my computers, which seemed to do exactly the opposite.
In October 2009, the now-defunct WM Regional Observatory published a 10-essay collection under the title West Midlands: Fit for the future: Positioning the region for economic recovery which was discussed at their Annual Conference that month.
At the time, I wrote a blogpost about it. It's still relevant today with all this talk about food futures for Birmingham 2050, so I've reproduced it here:
Only one contribution adds something surprising, even startling to the debate. It is by Roger Levett.
But let's start with the Foreword by Ian Austin MP. I quote: we know what we need to do to make the region the workshop of the world again.
We know? Eh? Workshop of the world? Which century is this man in? Or is he merely pandering to some vague nostalgia about what went on in Matthew Boulton's time?
Black Holes conjure up a variety of images for people. To some, they are beautiful, celestial objects that drift through the cosmos whilst to others they are fierce, destructive forces that seek out and destroy other worlds in an attempt to satisfy an insatiable appetite. To yet others, they are imaginary; made up by astronomers to fill gaps in what we think we know. To those people that came to the December Birmingham Café Scientifique, a new understanding of Black Holes was formed, that brought together current research from a variety of fields, in an evening that was entertaining and fascinating in equal measure.
Backed by Birmingham City Council and regional universities, the New Optimists Forum is doing a year-long scenario planning exercise looking at food futures for Birmingham 2050. It's all good stuff and will greatly inform the city's long-term strategic decision-making.
This video of Jim Parle talking about food deserts in Brum generated a lot of interest, and Richard Burden MP dropped a line to Sainbury's boss Justin King as a result of various reactions to Ian Nabney's interview about supermarkets and data -- the story of that is told in this Podnosh blogpost.
Then last Tuesday, I sat in on the APPG on Agroecology at the House of Lords, and here's a summary of the brilliant stuff that happened there -- and the opportunities for Birmingham.
No question about it, Birmingham is behind the curve when it comes to food issues. We have nowt like the APPG speakers' stuff: Rosie Boycott's London's Capital Growth, Mary Clear's Todmorden's Incredible Edible and Clare Devereux' Food Matters in Brighton & Hove.
Yet because we've been tardy, we can learn a lot from everyone else. And here's The New Optimists starter-for-ten about the opportunities for Birmingham. . . Among all that, anyone up for:
Finally, here's my take on why it's so important.
Recently, I've been discussing various aspects of computer science and technology in the media - beyond this blog - and have discussed social media for the tv and local radio stations.
One of the things that I've noticed, and now got used to, is that I'll do a 15 minute interview, with (for tv) chatting and walking and talking and acting out using the computer - and maybe 15 seconds will get shown.
Radio is better - if live, then all is used, whilst for pre-records then maybe half appears. A number of conclusions can be drawn from this, mostly unscientifically.
Either I'm not photogenically good for tv; maybe I have a voice (and a face) for radio; perhaps I don't say that much interesting; maybe media coverage of science is superficial.
If I were wanting to defend my personal construct, I'd perhaps be plumping for the latter, and this would be a tirade against the lack of science in our lives, the shallowness of media, and so on.
However, it isn't going to be that (and nor am I going to argue that I should be seen on tv for my ravishing good looks, either).
The E.coli superbug has hit Aston - but this one won't make you ill. It's a huge scientific model on display in the foyer of Aston's main building. The model is not only scientifically interesting, it is also very beautiful.