Thursday, April 27, 2006

Pen's April Talk (Four Scientists in Search of an Author)

On Tuesday night there were many firsts for me:

my first Pen meeting;

my first encounter with a zebra fish embryo. This is a fast growing creature - in just a few days it turns from a single-celled fertilised egg to something differentiated and clearly living. It is also conveniently transparent - under the microscope it is possible to see the blood-cells shifting around in bursts which had some sort of strange chaotic order. Dr Kate Lewis, a Royal Society University Research Fellow at the University of Cambridge, gave a talk which I found quite enthralling - in eight minutes she communicated her enthusiasm so effectively that at the end I felt quite desperate to learn more.

my first encounter with a radioactive glow-in-the dark fruit bowl courtesy of Dr Mark Miodownik, a lecturer from King's College, London. He was also very enthusiastic. I have his card because he showed us new materials that ordered themselves on an atomic scale - as I guess most things do - table salt, for instance, always forms a giant lattice stretching out in all directions like an enormous cage; whereas sulphur tends to form itself into molecular rings of eight atoms. The difference with Mark's project though, as far as I could see, is that he aims to be in charge of the way the molecules link together - rather like cutting a tree so it falls just so - into the clearing, not on your car.

I also gained my first very limited understanding of those fundamental particles that are smaller than neutrons, protons and electrons. At last I have a glimmer of insight of what exactly they do at CERN - only a glimmer though, I'm afraid. The idea that you cannot know everything for certain is something I came across in my undergraduate course, and always found the thought uncomfortable. At CERN the particle physicists think they may be making very small black holes - and one person in the audience said that some people are concerned that this could start off something catastrophic. But I am going to try and forget that because I have more than enough to keep myself awake already - instead of counting sheep I tend to count catastrophes - global warming, that volcano under Yellowstone Park, the possibility of a comet striking...But Dr Tara Shears's talk was very interesting nevertheless;

and finally I had my first out-of-the-blue encounter with a person who has read one of my books - I suppose a geologist might be expected to have an interest in Alfred Wegener - but still Dr Michael Welland had read it, and was kind enough to say he'd enjoyed it although he'd disagreed with some of it, so I was pleased. Michael is a consultant geologist who looks into the relationship between geology and wine and had a lot of interesting things to say about creativity - in science and writing - a subject of some fascination to me at the moment.

It was an absorbing session which gave me much to think about. It was organised by the novelist and scientist Dr Ann Lackie who has developed a scheme I have mentioned before called SciTalk which aims to bring scientist and writers together - and I have found it of much use already.


Blogger Kelvin said...

Kia Ora (Hello) from a krazy blogger down under in New Zealand. I had never heard of the "pen" club until I read your post.

Fri Apr 28, 08:07:00 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Kelvin: Kia Ora again to you too - I'm delighted you know about them now - I haven't been a member long but it looks to me like they do some important work.

'afp 763389' : how wonderfully mysterious - almost as if a black hole has found a voice. Thank you for speaking to me.

Fri Apr 28, 09:08:00 pm  

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