Thursday, June 23, 2011


OK, so its my birthday tomorrow, thought I ought to get in 1 last ride before I'm a "whole year" older. Being struggling with a sore neck for a few days so was going out with the mentality of not doing anything too strenuous; and as it will be my 20th birthday U thought 20 miles would be a good place to start.

But, once I got on the bike it became apparent that taking it easy wasn't an option! I was pushing hard from the start, only a couple of miles in I started to feel pretty rubbish and by the 5 mile mark I nearly turned round and went home but I carried on. Then it started raining, just a bit drizzly but I soldiered on through the wind and rain - just trying to think about why I like cycling.

39 minutes later I reached my destination, 10.4 miles from home. Not a great TT time, but not bad, and having surprised myself with that I thought I should try and beat it on my back home again. I spent 10 or 15 minutes off the bike before heading back. Started out quite fast, keeping my eye on the speedometer. Then I hit the hills, they worked much more in my favour on the way out as it was short, sharp climbs followed by reasonably long descents, obviously on the way back this was reversed - so plenty of long draggy climbs (NB: I don't do hills, these are probably nothing to most road riders but definitely enough of a hill for me to know about it!). But I kept plowing onwards. And the the rain started, not just drizzle this time, that would have almost been a pleasant cooling experience. Nope, this was a full on apocalyptic torrential downpour! I was soaking wet, and struggling to see where I was going, every time a car went past I got attacked by spray (not that it mattered because I couldn't get any wetter!). I started the climb up into one of the villages and the amount of water pouring down the road was almost enough that I could have used a boat! The rain stopped and I carried on, still constantly checking my speed and the time. Half a mile from home and the sun came out, just for a minute, but it seemed to dry my jersey a little bit (no difference to my very wet shoes though, every time I tried to really put the down I was just squeezing water out of the sole!). The end of the ride is a nice downhill followed by a climb, and then into the village. I made sure to push hard on the way down to give me the momentum to get back up. Time to get home: 35 minutes.

Pretty happy with that, although means I need to work harder to get a sub 30 minutes 10 miler! Came straight in and had a long hot soak in the bath to warm me back up again.

So why do I like cycling? I'm not going to say that that was the best ride I've ever had, nor that I enjoyed getting drenched but I got some very strange looks from pedestrians in one of the villages. I'm soaking wet, my legs are feeling the pain after the hill, I know I'm only half way home and yet the expression on my face still had a hint of a smile. There's just something satisfying about riding a bike; I may not be fast enough to be the one winning all the races, but cycling, even to just an average person is full of achievements - a new top speed, conquering *that* hill or just getting out and finishing a ride.

So everybody go and ride your bikes!

Not a very good picture (the iphone 3g camera doesn't seem to like anything less than perfect weather conditions!), but I like to take a least 1 photo when I get out on my bike...

And just to illustrate the point about smiling...

Monday, June 20, 2011


The countdown the my 20th birthday begins, not that I'm having a birthday - I'm not sure I want to leave the realms of being a teenager behind me just yet. Its safe to say I never really fitted in to a true teenager mould anyway. I'm as good as tea total, I don't really do late nights and I'm a bit of a geek. But hey, thats just who I am!

Having spent yesterday at work I thought I'd spend this afternoon relaxing, not only have I rediscovered a childhood favourite - the N64 (I'm currently working my way through Zelda -Ocarina of Time), but I've also found some time to sit and have a quick look through this months Chemistry World. They've been stacking up to be honest, they always seem to be delivered when we're in the midst of a coursework crisis and extra chemistry is the last thing I want to do, but now I've had a few weeks off uni I thought I'd have a read through.

Having been a member of chemnet during sixth form, and now a student member of the RSC I've been receiving chemistry world for over 3 years and its amazing how much more I understand now. The issues I read during my a-levels made little sense, with just the odd article being about something I knew about. Although I'd still read it, as it was always quite interesting anyway! Now there is so much more that I know, I tend to just flick through and read a couple of articles rather than going through the whole thing cover to cover but there are aways some interesting stories.

Something that caught my eye today is perhaps not the most ground breaking or exciting article in the magazine but definitely worth a read for the budding organic chemist. It is about the synthesis of a molecule called "conophylline" which has potential as a treatment for tyre 1 diabetes as well as playing a possible therapeutic role in pancreatic cancer.

I'm not going to lie, although I could maybe come up with some sort of retrosynthesis and possibly a forward synthesis it would most likely be incomplete and definitely wouldn't be the most efficient way to do it, but as a second year (very nearly third year) I accept that, because I just haven't practised enough yet. But this article also provides the steps of the reaction, many of which are the sort of reactions that I have carried out myself (just on less complicated molecules). Although I can't quite follow everything that's going on there are things like a Diels-Alder, a Mannich and Michael reaction, as well as the use of mCPBA

Seeing something like this really shows that the hours we have spent during curly arrows and learning what seems like an endless amount of reaction mechanisms is actually applicable to real world scenarios. So I may have slightly missed the point of the article, which was to do with the use of the Polonovski-Potier reaction but it has got me thinking about organic chemistry in my summer holiday, so thats something right?

The article can be seen here , its also where I have taken the diagrams from as I didn't fancy redrawing them!

Saturday, June 18, 2011


Since my last post there have been numerous rides including nature reserves, I think I've been bitten by the bird watching bug. Although I am not brilliant at identifying a lot of the birds I could just sit and watch them for hours, all interacting with each other in their different ways. Many photos were taken, so I'll just give you some of the highlights...
This is a very vocal reed warbler, until I worked out what it was me and my friend just referred to it as "the loud bird"

A very cute young mallard which I followed around for a while:

And a wren (I think):

The big news of the week however, is results! I had a very nervous couple of hours yesterday morning waiting for 10am to roll round so I could go to my feedback meeting. My year average was 72, so not only is that a 1st I improved on last year so happy with that. My best achievement was getting 85% overall in the inorganic module, getting this overall means that, due to coursework counting for 30% of the module) that I got 91% in the final exam so very pleased with that! I got 65% in the organic module, so again very pleased with that as I knew coming out of that exam that getting past the 60% mark was going to be touch and go! Slightly disappointingly (but made up for my all the good bits) were the physical chemistry modules which I got 61 and 64 in, I came out of the exams feeling confident so was expecting slightly more, but still happy.

It was also the announcement of marks from labs and the literature and communication project. I got a safe 74% in labs which again I was very pleased with - I'd been hovering consistently around the 70 mark with the results we'd previously been given but I had some disastrous experiments as well (which means there must have been some good ones to balance them out!). Got a solid 80% in the communication project. Can't grumble with a mark like that, although I think our group project was awesome enough to earn more points than that (but I would say that!)

For anyone that hadn't seen it, part of the project was to make a kind of wiki page about Grignard reagents, so for that little bit extra we made a video of a reaction in progress, there were a few changes and corrections made after this but it shows the effort we went to!

So that's it. Second year is all over - 2 years left now. Well probably. There is much thinking about the future and stuff going on at the moment, but I'm waiting to see how labs go this year, we will be much more independent and coming up with routes to get to final products by ourselves so hopefully I'll enjoy that, if not I may end up ducking out of 4th year and leaving with a BSc instead of an MChem (and maybe a phd to follow!). Haven't had a lecture since April, and it sounds a bit sad I know, but I already miss it! Will hopefully have an awesome summer to make up for lack of chemistry though!

Ciao for now!

Saturday, June 11, 2011


After being stuck inside yesterday thanks to bad weather I decided to go for a ride today. My original plan was to ride up to Sherwood Pines, do a lap, and then ride back but I then found out that the trails are closed thanks to a rally going on. As it would have been a 40 mile round trip I decided it wasn't worth it without the fun of the trails in the middle!

Next plan was potentially riding down to Loughborough, but again, decided against that one thanks to there being a few potentially hairy bits on the roads, so a new plan was formed. Ride round the corner to the canal and then follow the path as long as I can. Did some scouting on google maps and could see a path going all the way to the M1, and some potentially cheeky paths extending beyond that. So half 8 this morning I set off, lunch and my camera in my bag.

Unfortunately couldn't get as far as I had hoped as there was a big no cycling sign, but I think I'd ridden (no cycle computer!) about 12-13 miles by this point so turned back, and followed the path into the nature reserve, rather than the canal.

The twitcher in me emerged as I found the bird hide, a few evil looks as I attempted to quietly wheel my bike instead (didn't want anyone stealing it!). Weather depending, I might ride over to the other nature reserve tomorrow morning as I had such a good time this morning.

And now I've worked out how to get photos at the right size, here's some of my better pictures from the ride:
This is where I joined the canal path, at Castle Marina

Here's a common tern, I watched him (or her) for a while, lots of diving down and splashing but didn't see it catch anything!

Always used to keep an eye out for herons at the local park with my Grandad when I was little, so its always nice to see one now - saw quite a few today at various points (although none actively fishing in the water), here is one of them:

Whilst in the bird hide with the angry man there were a few squirrels terrorising the bird feeders, here's one of those too:

Flowers are something I like taking pictures of, perhaps because they're pretty, and tend to keep still! So some poppies I stumbled across:

And just in case you didn't believe there was a bike involved:

If you want to see the rest of the pictures (well the best 34) from today you can see them in my flickr gallery -

Thursday, June 9, 2011

9/6/11 - Life of a raindrop....

Just as I was about to finally head out on my bike yesterday, I made it as far as the shed before a very loud clap of thunder and a sudden torrential downpour. So I retreated back into the house and thought I'd see what pictures I could take from my window.

I didn't get anything brilliant showing the storm clouds, this was my best shot...

Having taken a few pictures hanging out of my window I then noticed the water dripping down, many failed attempts eventually led to this shot:

It just got my thinking, I captured a single drop of water, a drop made up of an unthinkable amount of molecules. We've all learnt about the water cycle in geography back in the days of secondary school, but it goes further than that. There is more to it that the simplistic rain - soaks into land - eventually gets to a river or sea - evaporates - clouds - rain - repeat that we were taught.

There is a huge amount of water in each of us, in the food we eat and in plants. The molecules in that small drop may have once been part of a raging river that shaped the landscape, that puddle that you jumped in as a young child, the sweat that you brushed from your brow after a hard days work in the sun. The molecules will have existed for years and years, and will have seen so much in that time.

And as a chemist (well a chemist in the making) water is so important, not only have we studied its unique properties for many years, discovered why ice floats and what holds water together when so many similar molecules are gaseous at atmospheric temperature. Its also an amazing solvent and used in many reactions, as well as being used to heat up reactions, or cool them down, and to clean all the glassware at the end of the day!

So next time you're sat inside watching the rain outside, or having a glass of water, think about where it has come from, and why it is so important.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011


So today it a quick update on what I've been up to, plus some actual science, kind of what I started blogging for really, I just needed some inspiration...

Yesterday saw me and a friend tick off a fairly local tourist attraction from our list of things we ought to do before graduating. We visited the Heights of Abraham, despite it being a bit nippy, and quite wet and windy too it was a really good day.

It was really interesting seeing the caves, there were 2 separate tours, one to learn about the geology and one to learn about the miners (with a bit of incorrect science thrown in for good measure!). There were many great photo opportunities, none of which I was able to really take advantage of as I may have...erm...forgotten to put my memory card in my camera (again!). But apart from that it was a good day, and we didn't even get lost driving there and back!

Was contemplating a bike ride today, with the camera (and memory card!), but there's some ominous looking clouds, if I'd gone out a couple of hours ago it would have been fine, but hey, I've got a week and a half until I go home so there's still time!

So instead, I've spent my morning browsing the net, I still haven't watched the latest keynote from apple because I *really* want a macbook pro, this want it turning into a need as this poor laptop is dying, and living in 2 places means my iMac can't always be with me. Either need to find a generous benefactor (anyone want to buy me a macbook?) or save up my wages earned over the summer and hopefully will be able to afford one before uni starts again!

In my internetting I came across the picture, I imagine its going to become quite widely publicised as its such a good shot taken in a rare opportunity...

If you want to read the full article you can see it here:

Its not the specific story that I want to talk about though, rather our apparent lack of progress in the space race. It was over 40 years ago that we first put a man on the moon, and it wasn't a lot before that when the first man was put into space, and yet it seems we haven't really achieved much more since then.

Sure, the technology on the shuttles has become much better, but surely, in this age of technology we should be able to engineer a shuttle fast enough to put people on Mars, at the very least. In the last generation we've seen computers appear, people thought to get more powerful they'd have to be the size of your house, but can get desktops and laptops that are hugely more powerful than the early PCs but so much smaller and lighter! We have games consoles, smartphones, super cars, eco-houses etc. And still the majority of trains, planes and ships just haven't developed to be faster, more efficient, cheaper, better.

But we're still in the midst of an economic crisis I hear you say. Yes, money is tight for the masses at the moment, but the rich are still getting richer. A bit more investment in science, both in the public and private sectors and we surely will see huge leaps in technology available? Perhaps not the hover cars the people were expecting to see in the 21st century, but amazing things none the less; things that will mostly likely regenerate that initial investment plus a whole lot more.

That, is why I am glad to call myself a scientist. Hopefully as myself and many other graduate, and our careers develop the world will realise the importance of science. Now is the time to come up with the ideas that may appear to be distant dreams, but if you can develop that idea over time, it could become a reality...

Monday, June 6, 2011


OK, I was a bit slower in getting round to this than I'd planned but I have been busy!

Exams finished on the 1st June, 3 out of the 4 exams I had went OK (I'd go as far as 2 say 2 went pretty well!), one (yes you guessed, organic!) was less good, a bit of generous marking should get me the points I need to do the modules I want next year though!

We will soon find out - results / feedback meeting is scheduled for 10am on the 17th June!

After a few days recovering from all my hard work (yes, I worked hard!) I've had a busy few days. Saturday night was my first night out of 2011 (and quite possibly my last!), had a great night with friends, and watched my housemate's boyfriend sing and play the guitar which was good. Very tired yesterday morning as we didn't get back until after 1am!!

As I made the decision to stay in Nottingham for the 2 weeks between now and results (rather than going home which I normally would have done) my parents came up to visit me yesterday. Had a nice few hours - we had a nice pub lunch and then had a nice walk along the canal before a bit of shopping. My brother bought a very odd hat...

Spent the rest of the evening vaguely half asleep but 101 dalmatians came on so I did stay awake until 9.30!! (yes, very late!)

Bit of last minute planning this morning meant a ride at Sherwood pines, it was awesome, really dry and dusty, and this time we did the whole of the red route, plus quite a chunk of the blue. Best riding I've done in a while (mainly because I didn't crash!), but being Sherwood it's not big and scary with lots of drops and rocky bits, just smooth, fast rolling, flowy singletrack for miles and miles. If it didn't cost £4 to park I'd be there every day, I don't think there was a single section that I didn't finish thinking I could have gone faster so will definitely be back again before I'm home as it is only 20 miles from here.

Weather permitting off to the Heights of Abraham tomorrow. One of those places I've been hoping to get to for a while so it should be good. Hopefully some good photo opportunities too :)

Now, the biggest piece of news is that I now have a hamster. He is only 3 months old but is absolutely huge for a hamster and is also very fluffy. I've had Ned for less than a week but he's already getting very tame, just keeping a close eye on him at the moment as I'm not sure he's eating or drinking as much as he ought to, but he does seem OK so I'm sure all is well!

I think you're now up to date with everything in my life so I will update again soon! (I promise this time!)