I have a theory that the key to a successfully kept New Year’s Resolution is to aim low. One New Year many years ago, my husband and I formally resolved to hang up the bathmat after a shower – and we’ve been doing it every since.
Big projects are harder: losing weight, doing more exercise, cutting down the booze, giving up Candy Crush – finishing the book.
The trouble with academic work, particularly the important stuff, which is research and writing, is that it is so huge and amorphous. All those filing cabinets (real or virtual), all those words to write, all those versions of the same chapter already written – gah! It needs to be broken down into manageable gobbets.
Walter Stevenson Davidson.Portrait by Ferdinand Mulnier in Mitchell Library, Sydney
So here’s the plan. As the blogosphere is my witness, I have resolved to spend a minimum of one Pomodoro a day working on my book. Continue reading
There has been a spill of contaminated material at the Ranger uranium mine in Kakadu. It’s still not clear how bad it is (or if it’s the only one) but Energy Resources of Australia (ERA) assures us that no one was injured and no uranium leaked from the site. Who knows? As always, there are many conflicting interests, but everyone will no doubt be on high alert, especially now, during the wet season.
I visited Kakabu in the 1990s, so these photos are nearly 20 years old, but there is – or should be – something timeless about this beautiful place. But of course the environment is vulnerable. Nothing stands still, and this is an area already affected by various environmental catastrophes. Continue reading
It’s probably not the most important scientific research project to come out of Queensland, but it may well be the most famous. In 2005 the University of Queensland Physics Department’s ‘pitch drop experiment’ won the Ig Nobel Prize. According to the 2002 Guinness Book of Records, it is the oldest continuously running scientific experiment in the world. It has its own YouTube site.
What is the difference between a solid and a liquid? For most materials, the answer is simple – water is a liquid, ice is a solid – but for some materials, the answer is less straightforward. Which category does glass fit into, for instance? It is often thought that it flows very slowly, so that gravity gradually distorts the shape of stained glass windows so that they are discernibly thicker at the bottom. This seems to be disputed: hand-blown medieval glass panels are distorted, but it may be that cathedral builders very sensibly placed the heaviest, thickest parts of the glass on the lower side of a panel as this would be the more stable arrangement.
In 1927, Professor Thomas Parnell, the first professor of physics at the University of Queensland, set up a demonstration for his students of the way that something apparently solid, pitch, is capable of behaving like a liquid, though a very viscous liquid. He heated a sample of pitch until it was liquid and poured it into a large glass funnel with a sealed stem. He waited three years for it to cool and consolidate back to its solid state. Then, in 1930, he cut the glass stem of the funnel and the pitch began very slowly to flow. Continue reading