Field of Science

A relatively close baby Black Hole

This evening NASA's CHANDRA team (the X-RAY telescope) have discovered something 50million light years away from earth.... A 30 year old black hole!

Still in it's infancy, the remains of a supernova SN1979C, not only is it's discovery great... we've also seen this baby black hole's birth.

When a large star dies it expands forming a supernova, all the gases are burnt up and the star forms either a dense neutron star, that is small but contains the star's mass - therefore very dense!
In some cases the mass of he star is so great that the star collapses in on it's self forming a black hole. Black holes are known as dark matter and basically engulf space matter, not even light can escape! (Hence the name!)

This baby black hole is exciting for physicists as it means they have a relatively close infant black hole which they can study. This means they can learn more about black holes and the way they're formed.

Exciting stuff! Let's hope they don't find any more too close for us to start panicking!


The future of Science

I was lucky enough to give a talk during health care week (15th - 19th November) to a bunch of year 9s at Moat Community College in Leicester.

I talked to them about the 'tiny world of microbiology' including what microorganisms are, diseases and career profiles. I was expecting a few cringes at some of the 'gross' pictures, however I wasn't expecting so many questions! I've never seen a group of school children so interested in a subject, that has only a little place in the national curriculum. 

I thought Science subjects were 'dying out' and none of the younger generation were taking it further than GCSEs. Well after visiting this school and seeing their enthusiasm to a subject I find fascinating was magical, perhaps Science isn't dead.

If a few deadly bacteria and a tiny virus can ignite such interest, then I'm sure the physicists with their large hadron colliders (LHC) and the Chemists and their explosions can do just that too!

These students are the future.. all it takes is to show them a 'little' something amazing.


I'm not one for high performance exercise and I definitely wouldn't be found in a sports team. In fact I've rarely set foot in a gym other than to sit an exam.

I personally hate gyms as they smell of B.O. and are full of males looking at themselves in the mirror whilst trying to 'pick-up' girls. This made me cringe and want to vomit..
As for sport teams? I joined the Hockey and Rowing teams at university during my undergraduate. I found this pointless as both sports lived by the rule 'Only the cool girls who worship the seniors will actually get in the team.' Unfortunately if you were like me and wasn't deemed 'cool enough' you were shoved to the back, forgotten about and was just one of those girls who went to training.

This probably makes me sound like an incredibly un-fit, cynical about sports individual who sits at home watching soaps in the evening. Well, the watching soaps part is right, but I do have TWO highly demanding Labradors who go mental and start jumping around like frogs when you even mention the word 'walkies'.
Therefore I spend most my evenings doing the one physical education sport I pretty much hated at high school.. 'cross-country'.
This daily activity has, however, grown on me and I much prefer running in the countryside, in the fresh air than in a hot sweaty room in the gym. Also with 2 dogs you don't feel too insane when you start talking to yourself,'re talking to the dogs!

So exercise doesn't need to involve you having to endure the gym, I find running in the country waaay better!

This is all good, in fact exercise releases dopamine (the happy neurotransmitter) that gives us a sense of satisfaction, reward, energy and the 'feel good' factor, making exercise to seem like a real reward.
I have been a victim to the 'feel good' factor.. I went running and to the gym every day for a week after a nasty 'break-up'. My flat mates thought I was drunk when I returned in the evenings, in a way I suppose I was.. drunk on dopamine!

A nice image to show how these 3 main neurotransmitters act (norepinephrine=noradrenaline, synthesised from dopamine

I'm sure most of you have felt like this after a good session, however after a certain time period dopamine levels decrease and seratonin levels rise (the not so happy neurotransmitter). Serotonin is responsible for sleep, muscle contraction, obsessions, anxiety and mood. Therefore with an increase in muscle contraction it makes sense serotonin increases during excersise. However, it is a target for anti-depressant drugs and was hypothesised to be responsible for chronic fatigue syndrome (Meeusen. R, Watson. P et al. 2006). It also explains the obsession with excersise that some people get (my one week binge!). However, serotonin has been found to have little effect on fatigue in tests and dopamine is thought to have more of an effect(Meeusen. R, Watson. P et al. 2006).

So for all you budding athletes, something that prevents dopamine from re-uptake and decreasing could keep you possibly excersising for longer? Well tests have been done, and at 18degrees there was no improvement! (Roelands. B, Hasegawa. H et al. 2008). So, the happy neurotransmitter alone obviously isn't responsible for us not fatiguing.
However, at 30degrees the dopamine re-uptake inhibitor allowed athletes to perform 16% longer than the control (Roelands. B, Hasegawa. H et al. 2008). So if we have this drug then we can perform longer in the heat? Yes and no. This study shows at fatigue your core temperature reaches 40degrees, if you pro-long this time with drugs then it could cause heat related illness, that could result in death (Roelands. B, Hasegawa. H et al. 2008).

So, if you had a dopamine re-uptake inhibitor you could exercise for longer in the heat, however in cool conditions we can excersise for longer as there's more heat exchange between our body and the environment (Maughan. R. J, Shirreffs. S. M. and Watson. P 2007), therefore cooling us down more effectively so it takes longer to get to the magic fatigue temperature of 40degrees.
This is why you can often exercise longer in the winter than the summer! Pretty interesting? So if your wanting to excerise for longer, dont jump for drugs as that's stupid! Just lower your temperature, or excerise when it's cool outside. I know i'll be taking the heat advice (as well as drinking lots of fluids, which also cool the body and provide nutrients) when I hopefully participate in the cancer research UK 'race for life' next year. In the mean time tho, i'll keep running and talking to my dogs!

My two maniac dogs Molly and Tasha

Roelands, B. Hasegawa, H. Watson, P. Piacentini, M.F. Buyse, L. De Schutter, G. Meeusen, R. The effects of acute dopamine reuptake inhibition on performance. Medicine and Science in Sport and Exercise (in press).

Maughan, R.J. Shirreffs, S.M. Watson, P. Exercise, heat, hydration and the brain. Journal of the American College of Nutrition 26; 604S-12S, 2007.

Meeusen, R. Watson, P. Hasegawa, H. Roelands, B. Piacentini, M.F. Central Fatigue - the serotonin hypothesis and beyond. Sports Medicine 36; 881-909, 2006.

A fun website...

Just to put things in perspective...This is EXACTLY what MRSA looks like ;)

(Buy yours at:

Hand dryers.. a pain?

Most of you have probably noticed an increase in 'paperless technology' and automated systems, particularly in public toilets. 

In some places you don't even touch the flusher, and you then end up stand there frustratingly waving your hands to get the automated taps to work (and you probaly end up getting water splashed all over yourself!). Then you arrive at the hand dryer, and if your lucky enough to use a Dyson one then you practically feel like your hands are in the middle of a wind tunnel.

Yes paperless technology is a small step in saving the planet, and none of us want to feel responsible for killing the polar bears, but is it as effective as the paper alternative? Especially at reducing bacteria?

Dyson Airblade (

Published in the September 7th edition of the Journal of Applied Microbiology (via is an article that compares how good these 'ultra rapid' hand dryers are and compares them to other methods.

Everyone carries large numbers of bacteria on their hands due to daily activities with most being completely harmless, known as commensals, which just essentially 'chill out' on our skin. However if we do activities such as; touching raw meat, going to the toilet and digging in the dirt, then these increase the chance of us having harmful bacteria on our hands, such as some MRSA, E. coli and Salmonella species. Hand washing with soap and water decreases the number, but does not neccessarily elliminate the bacteria. If appropriate hand drying does not occur then these bacteria are easily transferred to other surfaces.

So the hand dryer vs. paper towels. The research was conducted at the University of Bradford and they looked at a variety of hand drying techniques and their effect on the number of bacteria on the participants' hands. 
The methods used were rapid velocity dryers (Dyson), conventional hand dryers and paper towels. The researchers measured the number of bacteria on the hands of volunteers before and after different drying techniques so that the reduction of bacteria could be calculated. 
SLS Paper towels (

The participants dried their hands with the above methods, with and without rubbing their hands and Dr. Snelling and her team found that rubbing your hands together whilst using traditional dryers was worse and did not reduce the bacteria after hand washing compared to 'non-rubbing'! 
This is beacuse when rubbing the bacteria are spread over your hands, instead of removing them. If hands still contain moisture then they are more likely to be transferred to other surfaces. Also, the rapid velocity dryers were more effective after 10s compared to conventional dryers (30s) therefore if all moisture is removed then you are less likely to transfer bacteria to other surfaces. 

However, when hands are rubbed with a  paer towel this removes bacteria from the skin and gave the best results overall, "the most hygienic method of drying is using paper towels." - Dr. Snelling

So, those Dyson hurrican machines are actually better than the old hand dryers then? Well they definetly feel like they're getting rid of all your moisture! So using one of them, without rubbing is the best automated drying technique, and no doubt the quickest in 10s. 
I won't, however, rush into installing one of those 'beasty' machines in my house tho(even if they are now available in 'white').... I'll stick with my pink towel ;-)