Back From The Dead

2 Dec

I’ve decided to resurrect the posts I made on the now defunct Labtattle blog.

My postings there mainly focussed on glassware which has a special place in my heart (Heart Of Glass?) since my early days at Bibby Sterilin and then later VWR.

I put quite a bit of effort into those posts so was disappointed when I saw that the Labtattle blog had lapsed and was now lying dormant. Thanks to the Wayback Machine Internet Archive I was able to dig up the posts and I’ll add them on here.

Ten (or so) Great Gifts for Scientists – 2013

11 Dec

It is definitely christmas time, I’ve dragged an enormous piece of dying wood inside my house, covered it with sparkly tat and attached one hundred blinking bulbs to it. My kids are going crazy with having to memorise their parts in the school nativity, constantly hyper about what Father Christmas is going to bring them and there seems to be a magically self-replenishing stock of sweets and chocolates that they are raiding whenever our backs are turned. So without further ado… and before I have to run off to tend to the next “fizzy tummy” I’d like to share with you my top ten (or so) great gifts to try and cover all ages and all budgets for the scientists, science-lovers and general boffins in your life.

1. Build Your Own Robot Arm (about £30)

At last! A mechanical servant to do your bidding – muhahahaa! Well maybe not quite. Looking very industrial in it’s black and yellow, this arm is a build it yourself kit that will keep the recipient occupied while building it and then while commanding it to do their bidding.

Build Your Own Robot Arm

Build Your Own Robot Arm

1.5 Hot Air Stirling Engine

You could always try this if your recipient is more fond of pistons and wood than USB and code.

Hot Air Electricity Generator

Hot Air Electricity Generator

2. Goldie Blox & The Spinning Machine ($30+)

Get girls building” That’s the aim of Goldie Blox the Kickstarter success story toy company with a line of products designed to “tap into girls’ strong verbal skills” by combining construction with story telling. A fantastic aim and one I can totally support. Their Rube-Goldberg video featuring a crew of three intrepid  went viral (over a million views on YouTube) a few weeks back, only then to have the sound track re-dubbed with a new song following a bit of a spat with the Beastie Boys (who also love the idea but don’t allow any of their music to be used in advertising).

GoldieBlox Pack

Goldie Blox and The Spinning Machine

Unfortunately it seems Goldie Blox have been a victim of their own success with the toys selling out and now going for more than double the original price on Amazon and Ebay, they’ve also experienced a bit of a backlash over helping the “princess” stereotype to persist and that perhaps having a story narrative alongside the nuts and bolts doesn’t fire up the creativity as much as a straightforward pieces+instructions sort of kit like LEGO.

2.5 LEGO City Starter Set (about £20)

If you’re going to build things and are willing to risk the inevitable barefoot+brick casualties then maybe good old LEGO is the answer after all. Completely customisable, infinitely expandable and equally appealing to both boys and girls.


Classic LEGO

3. Chemex Coffee Maker (from £40)

I’ve got to hold up my hand and admit to being a bit of a glass geek – I’ve even written a series of blog posts over at LabTattle about it! – and a coffee lover too, so there’s a special place in my heart for the Chemex coffee maker. The beauty is in the simplicity: made from borosilicate glass, leather and wood. The Chemex was designed in 1941, hasn’t changed since and can be seen on display in Corning’s Museum of Glass and the MOMA in New York City. As far as a simple cup of coffee goes you can’t really refine it much further than this.


The classic Chemex

4. Modernist Cuisine At Home (£85)

In my previous Christmas list I mentioned the rather expensive but beautiful Modernist Cuisine set of books, which at £300 was probably out of many people’s budgets. They have now come out with the (slightly) more affordable “At Home” version, the key here is the techniques are more accessible to people who don’t happen to have a readily available supply of liquid nitrogen or a 0.1°C accurate waterbath sitting on their kitchen counter.

4.5 Molecular Gastronomy Kits (from £20)

Kalys Molecular Gastronomy Kit – Cuisine Initiation Kit Everything you need to try your hand at Molecular cooking. Natural ingredients in handy pre-measured sachets with a set of tools and recipes.
Molecule-R Cocktail R-Evolution Kit, Multi-Color Learn how to deconstruct your favorite cocktails and serve your mojitos in a large bubble that will explode in your mouth, bite into a layered martini or add a touch of airy lime foam to your tequila shots. This “do it yourself” molecular mixology kit allows you to recreate the atmosphere of the most trendy and modern lounges in the comfort of your home.

5. “Appy Christmas” (from Free)

Smartphones, tablets and phablets are pretty much ubiquitous now so why not give an app as a gift this year? Here’s a few of the neatest ones.

The Elements

Theodore Gray’s The Elements

The Elements (iOS) – A gorgeous interactive look at the building blocks of everything from Actinium to Zirconium (US version also available).

Science Friday (Android) – The latest science news: health, climate,technology, and the arts.NPR’s Science Friday®, with Ira Flatow.

National Geographic Dinopedia (iOS) – with info, stats, art and videos on over 700 dinos this will be a great gift for anyone who loves a bit of paleontological action (US version).

6. Customised Chemistry Onesie (from £45)

Fancy something to stay warm when you’re not in the lab but still need to express your scientific awesomeness? Then a customised onesie (or hoodie, or polo shirt) with your science-fan’s favourite molecule from KC-Workwear will be a real treat. They’ve got mugs too!

Onesie with Caffeine

Custom Clothing from KCW

7. Giant Microbes (about £10)

Give a loved one the clap this christmas (Neisseria gonorrhoeae), the cute cuddly STI in its very own presentation petri dish. Not on such intimate terms, then maybe E. coli, S. aureus or even a whole Christmas Tree full of deadly pathogenic friends.

Giant Microbes

Neisseria gonorrhoeae in a petri dish

8. Pro Weather Station (£89)

This weather station really has it all, including a PC interface to upload to your computer. Measure windspeed and direction, temperature pressure and rainfall. Track changes and make forecasts.

Weather Station

Next step… controlling the weather!

8.5. Science Museum – Weather Station (about £13)

Great for if your meteorologist is aged 8+ and wants to see something growing at the same time, even in the snow.


Includes terrarium for growing in all weathers

Includes terrarium for growing in all weathers

9. Science Cat Greeting Card (£2.50)

Greeting Card

A poor career choice for cats?

10. Breaking Bad – Complete Box Set (£50)

One of my favourite TV series ever, and was really sad to see it come to a close earlier this year (no spoilers here folks). The story of the somewhat wimpy chemistry teacher Walter White who goes into business with a former student manufacturing and selling their mythical blue meth.

Whether you want to relieve all those moments of brilliance or introduce someone to the world of Jesse and Walt and their beat up RV, this is a classic.

50 hours of additional content!

50 hours of additional content!

So there you have it  – my own little roundup of ten (or so) great gifts for 2013. Have I missed something off the list? Comment below or find me on Twitter @photovoltage

Happy Christmas!

Blogging on the road

29 May

Have awoken this morning in Edinburgh to be confronted with a dense cloud of damp fog hanging over the whole city.

This is the famous Edinburgh fog known as the “harr”, and is already erasing the memory of the last few scorching days.


Still, at least tomorrow I will be back in Manchester, a city well known for pleasant weather. Did you know that Manchester’s humid air was one of the key ingredients for success in the cotton industry when the industrial revolution began? This damp air prevented the cotton thread from breaking on the mechanical equipment used to make cloth. In fact one of Manchester’s many nicknames is “Cottonopolis”, and many of the old mills are still in existence today.

Ten (or so) gifts for the scientists and science lovers in your life

6 Dec

With the shopping days for Christmas rapidly ticking away I wanted to share some ideas for gifts to give to the scientists (or science lovers) in your life. This list covers a range of budgets and a range of ages so hopefully there’s something for everyone in here.

1. Cleaner Science – Etsy Petri Dish Soaps (approx £4.60 GBP)

Hand made petri dish soaps “making science a little cleaner” – I was blown away when I first saw these due to how lifelike the soaps are, these really do look like cultures. All your favourite bugs are in there from S. aureus to P. aeruginosa. Now you can give your loved ones E. coli this Christmas without having to go anywhere near a badly defrosted turkey.

1.5 Partridge in a Petri

Another Etsy creation with a distinct microbiological twist are these neat Christmas cards from Hawk Gerber, Ink.

2. BuckyBalls (from $34.00 USD)
Who doesn’t love magnets? According to the FAQ on the website

Buckyballs are a set of 216 Powerful Rare Earth Magnets that can do just about anything”.

Well I’m not sure about anything but these are a lot of fun, whether for a bit of stress relief at the office or for creating an exquisitely beautiful something. The original gold silver and black range has been extended to include colours (purple, orange, pink and blue) and a special Christmas collection in festive hues (red, green, silver and blue).

3. Think Geek Babygrows – Biohazard and Building Blocks ($12.99 USD ea)

As a father of two I know that babies can be a source of joy, worry, sleeplessness and a whole plethora of excretions and evacuations that, were they to be concocted in a laboratory rather than the inner-workings of your own children, would certainly be in contravention of the Geneva Convention. This bright yellow babygrow with black biohazard symbol will ensure that people know to take the correct safety precautions when in proximity to your precious little WMD.

If you’d prefer your children not to look like sacks of laboratory waste ready for the incinerator then you can choose the Building Blocks babygrow with cartoon DNA strands and the text “brought to you by the letters G, C, A and T and the number 23.

4. Science Museum – Tableware (approx £20 GBP)

The Science Museum in London is home to exhibitions of the finest science and technology from throughout history and across the globe. Here you can see the development of aviation, get hands on with experiments and see a 1956 Ferranti Pegasus – the oldest working computer in the world!

There’s also the obligatory gift shop, but in addition to the postcards and novelty pencils there are tons of cool toys and gifts. Can’t make it to London? Don’t worry you can visit virtually through their online shop. Their whole inventory could be included in my run-down of the scientific gifts, but I’ve picked out the Erlenmeyer style oil and vinegar; and salt and pepper.

4.5 Science Museum – Table & Floor Lamps (£260 GBP)

If you’ve got a slightly larger budget you could surprise a very special scientist in your life with one of these table and floor lamps made from oversized glassware and “authentic Portuguese cork”. There’s no detail on the site about how large they are but at £260 each – I would hope a little bigger than your traditional 1 litre flask.

5. – Science Ties (from £11 GBP)

Novelty ties and Christmas go together like potassium and water, a lot of fun for a short amount of time. This website has a hand picked selection of neckwear from the totally outlandish to almost-wearable. They feature periodic tables, Einstein, and equations from the world of physics. My favourite of the lot is the DNA tie which is available in both a synthetic and luxurious black silk versions.

6. Venn That Tune – Andrew Viner (£8.99 GPB)

Bringing the Poetry of Maths to the Magic of Pop! This book of diagrams, graphs and pie charts pit lyrics against logic to shed fresh light on classics such as, ‘Eternal Flame’, ‘Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag’, and ‘Give Me All Your Loving’. Ingenious, inspired and utterly addictive – Venn diagrams have never looked so cool …

7. Bletchley Park – Enigma (£9.99 GBP)

The Enigma machine was a tool used by the Germans for the encryption and decryption of secret messages during World War II. Bletchley Park in Buckinghamshire was the secret location for British intelligence to concentrate on cracking the Enigma (and other) codes. Now with this Enigma kit (containing two Enigmas) you can build your own enigma machine to code and send messages that you’d like to keep private, just like the original machines.

8. Modernist Cuisine – (£295.00 GBP)

Molecular gastronomy, culinary physics or experimental cuisine – call it what you like. It’s more than just snail porridge, liquid nitrogen ice-cream and waterbath steak. The (six-volume, 2438 page) book  “Modernist Cuisine” takes techniques from the laboratory and combines them with the art and science of food. At nearly three-hundred pounds it is not a simple stocking filler, but a real treat for the passionate gastronaut. Some of the photography, especially the scenes of food cooking in dissected pans , is just amazing!

If your budget can’t quite stretch to Modernist Cuisine then there are also some other highly rated books in the same genre available, these include

9. Threadless – Lab Partners T-Shirt ($20.00 USD)

Threadless (in case you haven’t come across the site before) is a sort of social/design/clothing store for t-shirts, hoodies and other kit. All the designs on the Threadless are submitted and selected by the community through a voting system. This shirt doesn’t have much detail on what inspired the cute critters in test-tube design, but I can tell you it was submitted by Threadless community member Hagit Hash.

10. Brain Freeze – Ice Cube Tray (£3.99 GBP)

At Christmas time there’s always one thing I forget to have ready in the house for impromptu parties and unannounced guests, ice-cubes. Now with these very anatomical brain ice-cube moulds I’ll be sure to always have a little grey matter available for our visitors (from neurobiologists to brain-chomping zombies) to chill their drinks.

Hope you’ve enjoyed this exploration of gifts for the scientist in your life – if you’ve got any comments or would like to make a suggestion for other cool presents then please leave a comment below or contact me on Twitter @photovoltage.