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Robert H OlleyRSS Feed of this column.

Until recently, I worked in the Polymer Physics Group of the Physics Department at the University of Reading.

I would describe myself as a Polymer Morphologist. I am not an astronaut,

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Two letters

Two letters

Sep 21 2009 | 2 comment(s)

One sometimes gets frustrated reading our Daily/Sunday Telegraph.  So many of their columnists, and those who comment on blogs, think that "Global Warming" is a man-made political scam, a another appendage to the giant bloodsucker that is the Treasury, and a gravy train for politicians.
Having returned from a Polymer Physics conference a couple of days ago, I felt the need to read one of the masters of the subject, Nobel laureate Pierre-Gilles de Gennes.   I came across this gem:

Fragile Objects: Soft Matter, Hard Science and the Thrill of Discovery by Pierre Gilles de Gennes and J. Badoz (read the link for a description).

Here I found this gem within a gem, a chapter entitled The Imperialism of Mathematics, which starts:

I have just read a letter in Chemistry World (September 2009, p40) by A J Dijkstra, who has just translated the first ever book on lipid chemistry from French into English. This book is Recherches chimiques sur les corps gras d'origine animale, Paris, 1823, by Michel Eugène Chevreul. His long life (1786 – 1889) took him from before the French Revolution to the inauguration of the Eiffel Tower. Chevreul had a long and varied scientific career, as his Wikipedia biography relates. 

Ploughing through the Codex just now, I come across this (with particular reference to MRSA), by Brigitte Nerlich of the University of Nottingham, England:

Words matter in public health

... media coverage of hygiene and cleanliness in hospitals tended to portray doctors and nurses engaged in a heroic "battle" against "intelligent super bugs. This was personified by the modern matron wielding the weapon of "cleanliness." Interviews with hospital matrons revealed a gap between the media portrayal and the reality on the wards. Matrons said that the limitations in their authority over contractors, and time constraints made it impossible for them to spend even half their time as a "visible presence" on the wards. ...
I have often found reference to medieval and early modern folks most helpful in debugging things that have bugged me since I did science when I was a student in the Sixties (for me they did not swing). One particular bunch are the Oxford Calculators, also known as the Merton scholars. As the Wikipedia article states:

Until recently, I had only known of Thomas Carlyle as a writer, mightily significant in the 19th century, but somehow superannuated by the time I heard of him.  However, recently I learnt that he is responsible for that famous English mis-definition:

A straight line is the shortest distance between two points.

which he gave us while translating the Eléments de géométrie of Legendre.  The great French mathematician actually wrote

"La ligne droit est le plus court chemin d'un point à un autre."