To study and encourage popular interest in all branches of Science.

Newsletter April 2019

Dear member,

May Talk

The next talk is on Thursday 16th May and will be given by Dr Elizabeth Liddle from the University of Nottingham. She will talk about:

Brain Oscillations and Mental Health

In the human brain, billions of neurons are connected via trillions of synapses. Each neuron receives thousands of inputs, and transmits to thousands more, including some that connect back to themselves. The result is a complex system of oscillating information networks that enables us to navigate and make sense of our physical and social environment. Neuroimaging techniques such as MEG (magnetoencephalography) can help us understand more about this complex oscillating system, how it can go wrong, and how we can help the brain restructure itself to restore healthy function.


The last event of the current session is the AGM on 20th June. The AGM agenda will include reports from officers and section leaders and the election of the Society's officers and 5 ordinary members of Council. Council proposes the following:

Secretary Dr. Julie Atkinson
Treasurer & Membership Secretary John Tennant
Programme Secretary Jim Brightwell
Ordinary Members (Max 5) David Brandt, Dr. Kevin Devine, Anne Watson, Jonquil Florentin, Martin Williams.

Under the Constitution, Council must replace at least one ordinary member, from those who have served longest, each year. This year, David Markham volunteered to retire after serving for more than 4 years. He was originally co-opted to join Council part way through a year when there were fewer than 5 ordinary members. We thank David for his work for the Society.

Council invites further nominations for the above posts. Such nominees should be duly proposed and seconded and should have agreed to serve if elected. The nomination should reach the Secretary by email or by post by 16th May 2019.

As you know, the Society also elects two independent examiners, one to check the accounts for the following year, and the other to stand in if the first is unable. The Charity commission does not require an examination unless our income goes above £25,000, but our constitution does require a check. The Commission says:

"While previous experience will be very helpful, where receipts and payments accounts are prepared, any person with financial awareness and numeracy skills should be competent to act as an independent examiner provided they have read and understood Independent examination of charity accounts: examiners (CC32) and apply it when reviewing a set of receipts and payments accounts."

If you feel you would be able and willing to do the checking, please let the Secretary know before the AGM.

Royal Institution Visit

Kevin Devine has volunteered to take a group of 10 members to visit the Royal Institution on a date to be agreed. Anyone who would like to join him please contact him at KevinTripToRI At by 20th May 2019, preferably with an indication of availability. First come, first served.

Clive Shortell

We were sorry to hear of the recent death of member Clive Shortell, who had been suffering from leukaemia. Clive was a regular attender at our talks and also came along for informal further discussions at the Flask afterwards. We shall miss him.

British Science Association

Julie Atkinson

The British Association for the Advancement of Science was founded in 1831. At that time, Britain held science and technology in contempt, according to one of the prime movers, David Brewster. He said:

"Bribed by foreign gold, or flattered by foreign courtesy, her artisans have quitted her service – her machinery has been exported to distant markets – the inventions of her philosophers, slighted at home, have been eagerly introduced abroad – her scientific institutions have been discouraged and even abolished".

The first of the Association's annual meetings was held in York, and agreed on their aims:

"to give a stronger impulse and more systematic direction to scientific inquiry, to obtain a greater degree of national attention to the objects of science, and a removal of those disadvantages which impede its progress, and to promote the intercourse of the cultivators of science with one another, and with foreign philosophers."

Annual meetings developed into the British Science Festival, held at different cities each year, where leading scientists can announce and communicate their research to the public. Over the years, the Association evolved. It now organises British Science Week, promotes scientific literature, encourages school science through the Crest programme of activities, and other Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) projects. It operates the Science Live web site which aims to link volunteers and speakers with those organising science related events, as well as advertising such events.

The Hampstead Scientific Society was affiliated to the British Association for some of its early years, but the relationship lapsed. Then in 2002, we were approached by the BA as having aligned aims to promote an interest in science. At the time they were trying to extend their branch network, and the Society agreed to affiliate to the BA at the AGM in 2003, and act as their North London Branch. We were wary of being inundated by BA members at the beginning, but that has not transpired, and we have continued as an acting branch since then.

The Society gained by the association, obtaining several grants from the BA towards producing its regular programme of talks. We were supported in organising Science Week events with local schools in the early years of the affiliation, but our involvement was curtailed when the active members moved away or suffered illness. One or two Council members each year have been able to meet other branch representatives at an annual branches meeting, to swap experiences in organising events, and see how differently the different branches operate, and what resources they found useful. We have found there is a variety of branch activities, from regular talks like ours, to occasional big events or local science festivals, and have discussed interesting use of social media, and engaging different audiences. We use the Science Live site to advertise our talks. Some volunteers have contacted the Society through the BA.

Our affiliation did involve some minor extra administration for the Society's Council – reporting on attendance at meetings, for instance. Or dealing with the regular changes in logo – affecting our programme cards, newsletter headers, correspondence and website!

The Society has seen the BA change name. It was too often confused with British Airways, and so became the British Science Association, with a grand launch and new logo in 2009. We have seen turnover in BA/BSA staff over the years, as branch officers come and go, and new executives or chairmen take over and the Association's vision is revised to adapt to new social and monetary environments.

The latest update to the BSA vision is of a world where science is at the heart of culture and society. The BSA mission is to transform the diversity and inclusivity of science; to reach under-served audiences; and increase the number of people who are actively engaged and involved in science. By unlocking the potential of a more diverse group of people, they hope to increase the country's ability to tackle some of the world's biggest challenges and shape our future for the better.

The BSA expects to closely support a specific sort of Local Partner, where these groups would focus solely on activities which target audiences who are not engaged with science.

Although they recognise the valuable work done by the branches network, the BSA's latest mission is not always closely aligned to typical branch activities. So they are now separating from their branches while helping the branches to establish themselves as separate organisations to continue to offer high quality public engagement in their areas.

This applies to the Hampstead Scientific Society. As we are already autonomous it does not affect us radically, but it means the end of our sixteen year affiliation.


An Update on the Observatory

Simon Lang

Things are progressing and we have managed to do many of the jobs that were created by the Thames Water works. Sadly a big dent in the plans was the discovery of dry rot in the floor of the observatory annex. The said floor has been replaced but the building structure also needs to be assessed and dealt with.

We worked on the place from last September up to December and repainted the railings on the right of the steps, from the gate to the top in preparation for the new rope lighting housing which is to be fixed to those railings. The front door and its frame have been reinforced and all the timbers outside repaired and painted; all that remains to complete is some tinkering with the lock.

The mains electrical intake box had to be made good and it now has a new boxing attached to the old, to provide more room for the equipment, to protect the intake from the weather and to seal all sides because unwanted muck was getting into it. This then allowed the mains to the building to be reinstalled and we've added sockets inside the dome section to allow for computers and imaging gear to be used in future, which was something a number of volunteers have expressed an interest in.

The BBC's Inside Out London visited to produce a 10-minute piece on the Observatory that was aired in January and we hope to put it up on our website.

The new light housing and lights will be installed in June, after Thames Water have fenced off the railings on the reservoir side. At the same time, we'll gain access to the support timbers of the annex to assess and rectify any dry rot in them. We fear this work will take a while but we have 3 months and so it is achievable.

We have permission to lay our proposed new paving to increase the footprint for observing and once the exact specifications for this have come through, they'll be done.

The light is at the end of the tunnel (so to speak) and providing we get the volunteers in to help this summer, we'll have a much improved building to allow our long suffering visitors back in, come September.


EN VACENCE and my first view of the Universe

Doug Daniels

I brought the letter home from school and gave it to my mother. “What's this?” she said. “I hope you've not been getting into trouble!” “No, ” I replied, “it's about the school trip. This year we're going to Brittany, in France, can I go Mum pleeease?” The letter gave details of the location, dates and times, what was needed in respect of clothing and above all the cost. “Oh not more expense! I don't think we can afford it, I'll have to talk to your father”. Of course they couldn't afford it.

I can't recall what the cost was then (1954), but whatever it was, it was going to be too much. After serving in two world wars, my father never had the chance to embark on any serious form of career; there wasn't time. When he was demobbed in 1946, employment prospects for returning ex-service men were none too rosy. He had to take any job he could get. It was exactly the same when he returned from the 1914-18 war to a 'land fit for heroes'. What a bloody joke! In 1954, I suppose he was earning less than £10 a week! But I was very lucky in that my father considered that my education was most important and he would move heaven and earth to see that I got as much as possible. By doing extra overtime, making savings and anything else he could think of that was legal, the money was obtained and off to France I went.

This was probably the first real holiday that I had apart from a brief visit to a windswept Blackpool towards the end of the war and a single visit to my aunt in Whitstable in Kent and it was certainly the first time in my life that I was to be away from home without my parents – for two whole weeks!

The weeks leading up to the excursion were filled with mounting excitement. A passport had to be obtained and spending money was lodged with the teachers for converting into Francs. This money was to be doled out in controlled amounts so that students did not 'blow' it all at once. French lessons took on a new dimension as we learned about the customs and history of the region that we were about to visit and numerous 'useful phrases' were committed to memory.

The arrangements for the journey were learned in detail. We would go by train to Southampton. There we would embark on the Brittany Ferry the Falaise, which we learned was French for cliff, scheduled to depart at 10 pm. The crossing was to be the long route – Southampton to St. Malo, an all-night crossing! What an adventure! Today, of course people from all walks of life routinely journey abroad for holidays on the continent, we are all Europeans now – but maybe not for much longer! But for young Eastenders living in austere post war Britain with war-time rationing only just ended, their only maritime experience was the boat trip round Victoria Park Lake; this was going to be the holiday of a lifetime!

We were accompanied by three of our teachers, our French teacher, 'Bill' Engledow plus his wife and teenage daughter, our English teacher, 'Ken' Jardine and his wife and the games master 'Jim' Hollyhock. I can now appreciate the apprehension that they must have been feeling making sure that none of their boisterous charges fell overboard during the night!

I took leave of my parents on the doorstep at home. I couldn't face the embarrassment of any tearful farewells at the station. As I left, lugging my suitcase to the bus stop, my mother pressed a packet of 'Quells' – seasickness tablets – into my hand. “Just in case dear,” she said. At Waterloo station I met up with friends Art Tanner and Terry West. I don't remember much about the train journey except that as we approached Southampton we could see the lights of the huge Fawley oil refinery with its methane burn off flare flickering in the gathering dusk.

The channel crossing was magical. We had no proper berths and had to make do with sleeping on the couches in the ship's lounge. But not many of us were inclined to do much sleeping anyway! The sea was as calm as a millpond so the 'Quells' were not needed. At around midnight I went up on deck. The sky was jet black and ablaze with stars, so much so that I had difficulty in discerning the familiar constellations. From the ship's stern I could see the wake glowing with the phosphorescence produced by the billions of microscopic diatoms and algae living in the sea. I then went and stood right up in the bow.

I raised my eyes to the vault of the heavens. After a few minutes my eyes became fully 'dark adapted' and the wonderful view took my breath away. The Milky Way was arching high overhead, brighter and more detailed than I had ever seen it. It resembled a pale river and I could actually see it reflected in the flat calm sea! The dark dust lanes and bi-furcation through the constellations Cygnus and Aquila were clearly visible. As the ship gently rose and fell, I could see more of it rising up over the curved southern horizon. The bright stars seemed so close that one might actually reach up and touch them and the great star clouds in Sagittarius, towards the centre of our galaxy, looked like powdered diamond dust sprinkled on black velvet.

Standing there was like being suspended in space, I was surrounded by stars, I felt enveloped by the Universe and I could imagine how ancient mariners must have felt experiencing such sights on a regular basis. Out of sight of land and with no adverse effects from light pollution, you really could understand that you were on the surface of a planet slowly turning in a Universe of majestic beauty. I felt a sudden surge of joy within myself, my skin was crawling with goose bumps and I could feel the hairs on the back of my neck standing up in response to an overwhelming natural 'high'. What a truly wonderful place our Universe is and I am a part of it – not just a part of it, but I felt somehow connected to it!

I don't know how long I stood there alone gazing awe struck at that wonderful sight – just a split second in eternity, but it was long enough for me to realize that I would never tire of looking at the stars; those so remote twinkling sparks which made everything in the Universe, me, you, everything; we are all made of stardust!

We passed the Channel Islands as dawn broke and the last stars faded from the brightening sky. A 'rosy fingered dawn' – (Homer, I think?). Then the sun slowly rose above the eastern horizon, now shrouded in a tenuous mist. It looked like a huge under-inflated red balloon and silhouetted against it were the dark shapes of tiny sailing boats. As the sun climbed higher the red brightened to orange then yellow and all the while the sky became bluer, taking on an intensity of colour never seen in smoky London. It was going to be a beautiful day.


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Last updated   15-Jun-2019