Monday, 22 December 2008

S205: Book 5 - Chemical kinetics and mechanism

Book 5 is all about reactions and how they work. Yet again its a split book.

Part 1 is about rates and involves a lot of graph plotting and analysis. We get to use some graph plotting software which makes finding gradients to curves nice and easy, but you have to plot quite a few graphs of varying stuff.

Part 2 looks at substitution reactions, and we get to look at nucleophhilic reactions and how they work. This is quite interesting as it shows right at the molecular level some of what is going on when two things react, and how electrons move around the molecule. Some of them work in single steps, and some in more complex steps, and often you can work out whats going on by looking at rates and products.

Part 3 then looks at elimination reactions, which have some similarities with the substitution ones.

Finally there is a cased study on zeolites and what they can do for you and makes for interesting reading.

S283: Planetary science and the search for life starting-

In 2009 I have a few things going on, so decided not to complete the 3rd level courses I was planning. Instead I decide to go for the S283 course which will complete me a certificate in astronomy, which would be good.
S283 is called Planetary science and the search for life, and seems like a fun course, although its alleged to have a certain amount of geology in it, my least favourite of the hard sciences. Anyway, I signed up and the books arrived in short order! Very similar sized books to the S282 course.

What you get is:
Book 1 - An Introduction to the solar system
Book 2 - An Introduction to astrobiology
A course handbook
A study calendar
A guide to submitting electronic assignments
An applications CD.
A DVD specific to the course

The books are very similar in layout to the S282 - lots of pictures and quite readable, and I can't help starting on them despite the ongoing chemistry assignments!

Wednesday, 17 December 2008

S205: TMA-1

Time to tackle the first TMA in this course, of which there are a number.

There are 4 questions in this TMA, each at 25%, so nice and simple.

Question 1 has a-d sub parts and is about identifying a couple of mystery elements. You are given some details about them, such as the electron shell configuration and you have to identify them. Then draw lewis diagrams of their bonding with F and Cl, including some ionised variants.
Following that, you have to use VSEPR theory to say what sort of shape the molecule would appear as in 3 dimensions. Then finally, draw the structure of the 3-d molecule using flying wedges.

Question 2 is about crystals and has parts a-g. You are given a molecular picture of pyrite, and have to measure various properties of the unit cell. This I find rather hard to pin down the unit cell, but eventually I come up with something. You then have to measure angles and interatomic distances, comment on the coordination number of the atoms, count the number of each atom in a unit cell (more tricky than it sounds as most of the atoms are shared between multiple cells). Finally, given the atomic mass of the atoms, the distances and the atom counts you are in a position to work out the density of the substance.

Question 3 - organic nomenclature - oh my!!! Two parts, firstly name 4 molecules they have drawn for you. Tricky - particularly those with rings and chains, which do you start with??
Then part two - the opposite, they give you some names, and ask you to draw them. Some of these are chiral so flying wedges are important.

Question 4 - you are given a two chiral center molecule, and have to label each chiral carbon with the appropriate R/S tag. Then give it a systematic name with thje appropriate chiral bits.
Next you have to draw an entaniomer of this molecule, and then draw a diastereomers of it.
For the last two parts you are asked to consider the optical activity of the system in various mixtures of the various molecules given and drawn.

Well done, and posted now!

Wednesday, 26 November 2008

S205: Book 4 - Metals and Chemical Change

So book 4. This one is all about why reactions happen. Why do some things when you mix them together react, some require heating, and some just never bother.
It has the potential to be a very boring book, as it discussing a lot of stuff about entropy, enthalpy and Gibbs free energy.
There are a number of videos that accompany the book and help bring it to life a little. Some of the chemical equations and calculations I find a little confusing, especially around metal ions. The crown ether stuff is also a little esoteric I found, but in the end with a bit of practice its possible to make some sense of the calculations.
Its quite interesting to see that given all this detail you can make some predictions about what reactions are possible and which aren't.
However all thats said there is a lot of equation manipulation in this bit - all relatively simple but there are enough steps that its really easy to miss off a coefficient here, or a plus sign there.

The book wraps up with a case study on batteries which is quite interesting. Going into the details of dry cells, NiCd and so on giving the design decisions around each.

Friday, 14 November 2008

S205: Book 3 - The Third Dimension

Book 3 is a little weird, it is actually two books it seems to me.

Part 1 looks at crystals in some depth.
It goes through the various forms of crystal structures that can be made, and looks at ionic bonding that is prevalent in crystals.
I found this quite hard going, there is a lot of 3-d visualisation to get the ideas, but its not always easy as there is a lot going on in some of the structures. Trying to work out the common patterns is not easy, and I found the 3-d visualisation software though good, didn't really help as it lacks a good perspective. You get to make one or two models too, which sometimes helps, but the complex ones can't be made. There are a number of videos also showing you how they are constructed, so you can't fault them for trying - but really none of it made much sense to me until the tutorial.

Part 2 looks at stereochemistry, and chirality.
First it starts by looking at the effect double bonds can have on structure. Because double bonds stop the free rotation of molecules, you can have two different forms of the same molecule, and then you get into the whole "how do you name them" discussion. Having worked through this and got some rules on exactly how to name things which look different but have the same components, you get into chiral chemistry. This is where typically a carbon has 4 different things attached to its different bonds, and this allows two possible configurations of the molecule. These structures also have interesting optical properties as they rotate polarised light.
However it doesn't end there, as you can have molecules with more than one chiral center, and then things get really complicated with stereo isomer, diastereomers, entaniomers, and meso formations. If crystals gave you a headache, well you haven't felt anything yet!

Finally the book finishes up with a case study on liquid crystals.

Monday, 10 November 2008

S205: Book 1 and 2

I have to say the chemistry books are slightly confusing at first.
Book 1 and 2 for this course are actually two sections of a single physical book.
Book 1 - or sub-book1 - is entitled "A prologue to the course" and is more or less what it says. Its presumably designed to suck you into the chemical world as it describes the great successes and progress that has been made in chemistry over the last few hundred years.
It covers diverse applications from forensics to ball lightning and mostly its just an enjoyable read - nothing too heavy anyway.

Then the second half of the book is "An introduction to the molecular world" gets into more details of chemistry. It looks at periodicity, electron configuration, VSEPR, bonding and reactivity. Its not too heavy, but the course has definitely begun in this book. Some of the topics covered, such as the VSEPR theory and the different types of bonding are useful. The idea that a noble gas configuration is not always required is a little disturbing in some ways, but one of the deeper truths that you have to contemplate.

Friday, 17 October 2008

S282: The exam

Time to face the decider, the exam for this course where all hopes and aspirations live or die.

After getting to the exam centre in plenty of time, and finding my seat and unloading all my stuff on the desk, and then having forgotten my watch and had to go back to the bag dumping ground to fetch it, I started on the admin tasks of filling in all the ids and stuff on the answer book.

Then one of the invigilators came over to the two of us taking this exam and gave us a couple of corrections to the exam paper. Basically a couple of the multi choice answers were telling you to pencil in the wrong rows.

Then it was time to start. Eight multiple choice questions that all have to be answered. Some of them are ok, work out a value and tick the right box. Others are much more tricky given eight statements and pick out the two right ones or two wrong ones. These are tricky as sometimes it all hinges on one word. Some most of the sentence is correct, but a small word somewhere like always can make the whole thing untrue.

Then part 2 - four questions, answer 3 - mostly on the life and death of stars, and often something specific about the Sun.

Part 3 - four more questions, answer 3 - this time on galaxies and cosmology.

I got through the multi choice in about 20 minutes, the paper says to allow 50, but there were 3 of these that I wasn't very sure about and didn't have a good answer, so I left them hoping inspiration might strike.
Then I did 3 of part 2, and followed by 3 of part 3. Then back to part 1 again and this time narrowed it down to at least the right number of answers. Some of them I just couldn't get to gel, and had to guess between two possibilities. Then I still had 30 minutes time, and as they take the best marks from section 2/3 (allegedly anyway) I did the two question I hadn't done, as it filled in the time.
I got stuck on one of them, when I couldn't find the equation for rotational mass/velocity to derive the weight of a black hole. I tried first working it out in terms of an unknown which you needed for the next part, so it would end up as something like 3.4 * M (where M is the answer I couldn't work out for the previous part).
However at some point the equation more of less jumped into my head, and after working the numbers the result didn't look out of place, so I went with it and gave a figure for an answer.

So now - over to the markers - hope they can read my scrawl!

Monday, 13 October 2008

S320: The exam

Well, the day finally came. It was an afternoon exam, which I find the worst. You are pumped up with adrenalin but nothing to use it on for most of the day. I decided after a few attempts at abortive studying to just relax, and watched a film instead. That worked quite well.

After lunch it was off to the exam room. We waited in the hall until the invidulator called us to come upstairs and sit down. There was a wall chart showing a seating plan, and after a false start I found my desk, and unloaded pens, pencils, rubbers, rulers, sharpeners, and calculator. Also my passport for identification, and the exam allocation letter. Not all the seats in the hall were full, but I think all the S320 ones were.

Whilst waiting for the official start, we were allowed to fill in our identifiers and other details like calculator make. I requested a second answer book, as I wanted to put down an essay plan if possible. Then the fatal time came and we all turned over.

I turned straight to the final question, and read up the title. It was a comparison of MRSA and C.diff asking why C.diff was doing so much better. I started to unload all my facts into a quick plan in note form on the 2nd answer book and planned to add to these as the missing facts hopefully drifted in during working on the other questions.

That done, I turned back to the start of the paper and read through the 16 questions, of which we had to do 10. I circled a few likely looking candidates and got eventually to 9 I thought I could do ok, and scratched around for a 10th.

Then I set off answering 1 per page. They went ok and I was doing OK for time, I generally find either I can answer them, in which case I can write down the details in a minute or two, or else I can't so thats that. I finished the 10 in just over an hour, and you are advised 90 minutes, so I was a bit ahead of the game.

Then the part B data analysis question, and a bit of a suprise. It was based on data we had used in TMA-1. It was nice to feel at home a little with that, although there was still pause for thought. The question had also come up in a past exam paper, but I didn't quite think it would occurr again!

Then onwards to the essay, and I skipped the title and abstract and wrote the main body of the article, with conclusion and intro. I managed to draw a reasonable graph of some statistics about the diseases, and a less than average cycle diagram of infections which I don't think worked very well. I finished off the title and abstract (10 and 40 words respectively) which are quite tricky to think up something relevant in that tight a word limit.

I now had about 40 minutes left, and started to check back through my part A answers. I always struggle with this, getting rather bored doing it. I know its important but by now I've about had it with the whole thing! I added the odd sentence here and there. Suddenly decided my answer to one of the questions was probably not answering it at all.
On quiet reflection, I thought there were a couple of other questions I could answer at least part of - so wrote something for those. Even asking for another answer book.
Then it was just checking all the admin was filled in, the number of answer books reported, everything tied together and then the exam was over, and in the hands of the markers.

Wednesday, 1 October 2008

S282: CMA

This is the last bit of coursework for S282, and it doesn't actually matter. Its informational to give you practice in filling in a Computer Marked Assignment, which is what will have to be done in the exam.

There are 12 questions in all, each with several possible answers - typically A-H. Sometimes there is just one right answer, sometimes two or three. The questions vary across the whole spectrum of the course, and are pretty tough in places.
Some get you to do a calculation and see if there is an answer that matches. Sometimes these are a little tricky, like working out energy and some of the answers are in joules, and some in electron-volts. So you have to calculate both potentially.
Others try and catch you out - asking you which is a true statement out of the 8 given. However at first glance at least 4 of them look correct, and then its looking for detail words like all, or always. These are sometimes a giveaway like "All stars of the mass of the Sun have the same luminosity".
Anyway, it takes a while but it got there. So now - just the scary exam.

Monday, 22 September 2008

S282: TMA-4

Its the last of the TMAs for this course. This is probably one of the more scary ones, as I found the first book much easier to digest in terms of concepts and ideas than book 2. Anyway, onwards...

It starts, conventionally enough, with question 1.
This consists of an image of a galaxy, and a spectral diagram of the same, and then there are a variety of questions on it. Firstly, just from the image you are asked to work out if you think this is a regular or active galaxy. Also what galaxy classification would you give to it?
Then there is a collection of data which has to be plotted as a graph to give the spectral signature of the galaxy. Again you have to discuss whether this looks like data from a normal or active galaxy.
The next part asks you to pick between a radio-loud and radio-quiet active galaxy, so rather giving the game away!
Next you have to make some more connections about a small part of the spectrum which is given to you as a graph. Looking at broadening of spectral lines and so on to work out what each shows.
Then some calculations on the broadening values to try and determine velocities.
Finally all the information has to be put together to determine what classification this galaxy is.

Question two is all about cosmology, and FRW models. It starts by getting you to define some FRW assumptions, then to imagine a universe with some given properties, and sketch out how the scale factor would change with time.
Then some algebra and stuff to work out if the curvature of space in this universe is negative.
A couple more calculations of other quantities such as the deceleration parameter and so on.
Then the last part throws in another observation and gets you to refine the model in the light of this new data.

Question 3 is only 5% and just asks you how you plan to revise for the exam. Not really any wrong answers here, although according to the tutor some interesting ideas are forthcoming!

This was a ratehr tough one for me, as cosmology is probably the weaker subject for me, and there hasn't been a lot of time for it to bed down in my mind. Still - its done now. I have a CMA to practice on - which is marked but not assessed, and then its just the exam left.

Friday, 19 September 2008

S320: TMA-3

The last TMA of this course, and its a big one. Its big because it counts double, so you can easily win or lose on this one. Its also big because there is not really a question to answer, but a paper to write.

So what you have to do is write 1500 words on a given topic, and include plenty of references and notes about it too (1500 again). There are also some constraints that you have to take care of.
  • First - the word limits are hard limits - in that you should not exceed them, and there are penalties if you do.
  • Second - you need a punchy attention grabbing title of up to 10 words. 10 words!!
  • Third - an abstract of 40 words. Again quite mean.
  • Then the usual introduction, conclusion, content, and some diagrams/tables/graphs.
There are several topics available, and this year its one of
  • The spread of West Nile virus in North America
  • Outbreaks of E. coli infection in the United Kingdom
  • The emergence of multidrug-resistant pathogens
In this case, I picked the third one, and focused on MRSA and C. difficile as two pathogens that are resistant to drugs. It took a while to read up what was current and what the literature said and how medical professionals are dealing with the outbreaks.

Eventually it was all put together, and sent of, with not a little crossing of fingers. Now it's just revision - however there is one extra thing. The exam includes an essay to be written on a topic disclosed in the exam. However the general subject of the essay is given ahead of time for you to research. This year its something to do with C. difficile - so that was lucky!

Wednesday, 3 September 2008

S320: Book 7 - Treatment and control

So the final book and its a bit bigger than the last one. This one looks at various options for the control and treatment of infectious diseases. It starts off by looking at simple strategies for controlling disease. Then it moves onto chemical attacks - looking at things like selectivity of chemicals and the development of them. After that we are into vaccination and how to make successful vaccinations. The next chapter looks into public health issues and how disease can be controlled from that aspect.

Finally there is a case study on the rather gruesome guinea worm which is one of the targets to be eradicated.
Its a good wrapping up book - now there is just a double weighted TMA to do, and the exam to revise and research for.

S282: Book2 - Chapter 8

The last chapter of the book, and it is here where we are treated to some ultimate answers, although as it turns out they are not ultimate answers. However after several chapters of "this constant might be this" and "space might be flat or might not" its nice to have something a little more solid feeling.
Anyway it discusses such topics as
  • What is of dark matter
  • What is dark energy
  • The horizon and flatness problems
  • Where did structure come from
  • Why is there matter and not antimatter
  • What happened at the big bang
  • The anthropic Universe
So actually there is no real answers - just best guesses and ideas, but its nice to know these abstract things we've been looking at may become more concrete. Anyway - that's the end of the text books.

Tuesday, 12 August 2008

S205: Starting - Oh no!!

So with the end in sight for my current courses, and the exams to prepare for, thoughts turn to next years study. For the first time, the S205 chemistry starts in September and runs to June, rather than the more normal Jan to Sept. So I've been thinking about this for a while, my chemistry is weak, and it would be nice to get more familiar with this stuff so I can understand molecular biology better, so after some vacillation, I decide to sign up. I expect the books will arrive some time in Sept, and hopefully the first TMA will be after my exams.

So I sign up on a Thursday, and come the following Monday morning there is a large box on my front door step! Already? - You haven't given me time to hide!!

Unpacking the box is a mixture of excitement and fear. There seems an awful lot in this first package, have I really done the right thing? Lets see - what do you get?

  • A DVD called Molecular Science - Physical Methods
  • A DVD called Molecular Science - Periodic Table
  • A DVD called The molecular World - Pack 1
  • A set of bookmarks for the first 3 books
  • Book 1-2 (both in the same volume), A prologue to the course, and Introducing the Molecular World
  • Book 3 - The Molecular World - The Third Dimension
  • Book 4 - Metals and Chemical Groups
  • A calendar for the course
  • A course guide
  • A course index
  • A course glossary
  • A data book full of weights, measures and so on
  • A leaflet about transferable skills
  • A molecular model kit (looks like fun!)
  • A document describing how to make molecular models
  • A document describing how organic chemicals are named
  • A royal society of chemistry guide to Getting the message across
  • A ring binder (with no pocket for insert!)
  • A ring binder insert?
  • A set of 4 TMA submission forms
  • A guide to the videos
  • An online applications CD-ROM
Wow! That does look a little on the scary side! The good news is the first TMA is in November, so I will have time to do my exams first before tackling that, so that's good. Well it will have to stay mostly on ice for now, as I have to finish these current courses (well OK I might have a little peek and really scare myself).

Monday, 4 August 2008

S282: Book 2, Chapter 5, 6 and 7

In these chapters we get deep into cosmology, and I find it quite heavy going at times. There are the various models of the universe, based on FRW parameters. From these and some other stuff various things are calculated theoretically. This includes the echoes of the big bang, whether space is curved, how fast the universe is expanding and if it is decelerating or not.

Some of this stuff is ok, some is a bit mind blowing. Lots of calculations that you are lead through to predict things like the proportion of hydrogen to helium predicted by the big bang theories.

Then in chapter 7 it considers attempts to measure the Hubble constant, the Hubble Time, the deceleration parameter, the cosmological constant, and the various density parameters.

My head hurts!

Friday, 18 July 2008

SXR376: Summer school Day 7

The last day dawns - and there are now labs. There is only the presentation to do, and it has been worked on hard, and is foremost in our minds!
We finish up the writing and last minute adjustments in the lab, and it is a work of art I have to say. Dave has put a lot of work into the formatting, but we're all a little nervous.

The fats people go first, and there is a usual mix. Some people are good, so people not so good - and some just go on too long! Then the plants people did there bit, and overan a little so there were no questions as we needed lunch. Mark remarks over lunch that he was wondering if his presentation was too short, but then decided there is no such thing as a too short presentation at this sort of event - and that is very true!

After lunch it was our turn. Again we had some good and bad bits, but the presentation did look good. By the time it got to my bit we were running behind schedule, so I spead through my slides mentioning only a few salient points.

We wrapped up, and the week was done. We got our attendance slips, collected our luggage, said our goodbyes and left. Suddenly we were back in the real world - how weird!

Thursday, 17 July 2008

SXR376: Summer school day 6

Its the last but one day, and the last day that we can complete our experiments.
We start by getting the tray out of the fridge and washing off antibodies, before adding more. Its quite a time consuming job to go through the procedure to get everything stuck to everything else - although of course we can't see any of this happening and are just hoping its going to come out well when we look at it under the microscope!

Anyway, when it is finally washed and incubated in all the different solutions, we have to extract the cell coated cover slips from the wells we've been using. This is no mean feat, with them being almost invisible and fearsomely difficult to get out of these wells.

Then they are mounted on the slide and we take them over to the microscope to see what we've got. Has the two days spent washing and dousing these cells with various chemicals been worth while or not. At least there is a clear brown hue on the ones we want - the positive controls and the ones dosed with the ligand. They look rather similar though by eye!
Time to have a look.

Positive control, negative control, and experimental data.
Its difficult to say if the experiment worked, and it takes a while with the tutors to understand what we are actually seeing. Anyway, we have some data for the presentation at least.

The rest of the afternoon we spend on the presentation and doing some practising in the lecture theatre. The time for tea, and no tutorials tonight. there is a disco, but I decide with a few others to give it a miss, and we have a good time in the bar going over the weeks events! Now its just the final presentation to finish and then present and we're done!

Wednesday, 16 July 2008

SXR376: Summer school day 5

Well - as today dawns we start a new set of stuff. We've now finished all the core activities, and we need to go on and look at the further experiment set. In this there are a number of topics which you can pick, although they want all areas to be cover by someone. We elect to do an experiment involving immuno-cytochemistry. This is basically about attaching antibodies to the surface of cells using some amplification to get them to show up.

There are quite a few steps, but each of them after the first few take an hour or more to wait for the incubations. So by lunch time we discover that we didn't have enough time in the rest of the day to finish the procedure, so the tray was put in the fridge and left while we did some graphs and stuff. We also took a few other readings and prepared some slides for the upcoming talk.

There was a tutorial after tea on presenting a talk, and then on dividing up the talk. After that we went to a tutorial on the ECA itself, so we'd know what to write up.

Tuesday, 15 July 2008

SXR376: Summer school day 4

Day 4 dawns, and it looks initially like a bit of a rest day. We are to run PCR machines and then look at DNA tracks in gels. These are apparently much easier than the SDS-PAGE gels to get right, and the initial stuff goes well. There is some really tricky diluting, we have to pipette one micro-litre of DNA - which is almost impossible to see if you have anything at all in the pipette!

While the mixture we make up is in the PCR machine, we poured out the agarose gels to let them set. These are quite easy to do, the liquid is at 60C and you pour it smoothly, move any bubbles that appear to the side out of the way, and then leave it to set. As it has a flourescing agent in it - it has to set in the dark so it doesn't bleach.

After lunch, we came back and loaded up the gels with DNA to see what we'd got. After running them for a while, we took a look at them in the UV viewer, and we had only very faint bands. In fact they were practically useless. So we decided to rerun the procedure and see what we could do. We ran out of time, but luckily the demonstrater was able to finish it off and the results were good this time - very clear.

After tea - another tutorial. We swapped partners and had to prepare a quick talk on a given topic to do with the procedures we had used. We did a quick poster on paper and then had to present it to the group. This was clearly practice for the main symposium on Friday. After that there was a quick chat about the ECA we will have to do, and then a review of the data we had collected, followed by the further experiments.

Monday, 14 July 2008

SXR376: Summer school day 3

Its day three already, and we continue on with the gel stuff. SDS-PAGE is harder than it seems to do the first time - but luckily enough has been salvaged from the first day to make progress.

The gels were run and blotted overnight by the tutors after our small disaster and we actually got some reasonable results. We managed to get all the stuff off the gel, and then stained it for what was left and despite it tearing a little, we actually got something recogniseable.

Then we set to work on the blotted paper to see if we could use antibodies to pick up CCR5 and CD4 on them, and after a while we got that too! It takes a lot of washes and other stuff to get there but we could see bands in it.

What's more they almost make sense.

At the same time as all this was going on, we made up an ELISA dish with a number of standard protein concentrations and also put in our three cell lines at different dilutions and then after adding all the reagents, popped it into a machine which produced a set of results, in seconds!

After this, there was much plotting of graphs and interpolation to try and find out what we had got. Then it stopped for tea.
After tea we had two more tutorials, one on HIV infection methods and its life cycle, and the 2nd on how to read a science paper - which went rather quickly as we were all too tired to do much with the material we were suppose to be interacting with.
And so to the bar...

Sunday, 13 July 2008

SXR376: Summer school day 2

Day two - and the first real lab day. We are going to be doing some western blotting and protein analysis from some sample T cells. We're going to be looking for CD4 receptors as a control, and CCR5 receptors to see if different cell lines have different amounts of that receptor.

We started by getting our samples out of deep frozen state into a form we could work with. This involved some washing and centrifuging, and then some extraction buffers to break down the cells to get at the proteins.

After that we had to make up a polyacrylamide gel to do the runs on. In this we had a bit of a disaster, as we made our first gel up OK, but the stacking gel on top vanished when we pulled the comb out. So we had to start again which put us a couple of hours behind everyone else. We managed to get the second gel to work, and start to run, but then we had to leave the lab, and hope that the tutors could do the transfer and other stuff that we didn't have time to do.

After tea, it was time for a tutorial. The first was on HIV and the genetic susceptibility of various groups and associated issues, given by our tutor Chris. The second was by the course directory on presentation techniques for the final presentation.

Retire to the bar to discuss the day and drown our sorrows!

Saturday, 12 July 2008

SXR376: Summer school day 1

Day 1 at the summer school on "The molecular basis for human disease".

After turning up with the family (its only 10 mins from our house) and registering for the course, we walked around the campus a bit to find the lab and other things. We found the biology building and even wandered around it a bit looking at the set of various animal skeletons they had. Also found the lab I'll be calling home for the next few days.

At 4:10 we all went into the lecture theatre to learn about general things about the week. Then we split up into the three different courses (SXR374 and SXR375 are in the same building) and met up with our tutors and assistants. We went off to our lab and had briefings and lab manuals handed out and picked up lab coats and stuff like that. Then we did a bit of practice pipetting with the automatic pipettes wearing gloves and safety goggles. You can set these up to deliver various sizes and we tried dispensing droplets of water of the appropriate amounts.

Then, back to the hall for a spot of tea, and some time to ourselves until a lecture on GM crops.
This was very interesting and very well presented and we all enjoyed it with a number of question and answers going on. Then to the bar, where I got to meet a number of the people involved in the residential school informally as well as meeting up with some old, and new friends.

Thursday, 10 July 2008

S282: TMA-3

It can't be put off any longer - another TMA to submit.

Question 1 (25%) looks at stellar evolution and reactions - and its in three parts.
Part a) gives you 6 nuclear reactions and then asks a number of true/false type questions. However the joke in the pack is that if you think it is false, you have to give a reason why it is false. So this means getting your reasons in order.
Part b) is similar, in that you are given 8 statements, and told to pick out two that are false, and then explain why they are false. All the questions concern binary star systems in one way or another.
Part c) is another list of 8 statements about stellar evolution, and again pick out the true ones, and explain why the false ones are incorrect.

Question 2 (20%) is split into a-c with subparts for each.
Part a) looks at the stability of stars and you need to draw a diagram showing the forces in balance in a star, then to consider what forces are important in various sized stars.
Part b), with 4 subparts, looks at the collapse of a stellar remnant to a white dwarf and a neutron star and what conditions each are formed in.
Part c) takes the part b) further and introduces black holes into the mix and you have to do some calculations on back hole radii.

Question 3 (18%) looks at supernovae, and its just 4 subparts. Its based around a given table and you need to consider what type or supernova each represents, what they can be used for, and what would happen to the remnant left over.

Question 4 (22%) is a little different in that you are given a spreadsheet of cepheid data from M81 and you have to calculate various equations and end up with a value for its distance. There are a few formulas to rearrange and some averaging to be done, and then some general questions about the results.

Question 5 (20%) is again different in that you have to read one of three recent articles published on the website and then write a short account of its significance

Its not too bad as there is a bit of variety in amongst it, although I found the first question dragged on a bit as I trawled through various pages looking for clear refutation of this point or that.

Tuesday, 8 July 2008

S282: Book2 - Chapter 3 & 4

Book 3 continues with some more chapters about galaxies. In chapter 3 we are considering active galaxies. This looks at all sorts of the more weird end of the galactic spectrum. It considers galaxies that have active cores - these include Seyfert galaxies, quasars and blazars - and whether they are the same thing viewed from different angles. Active galaxies appear to be associated with early galactic structure, at least in some cases. I found it all a bit dull to be honest after the first few pages. Maybe galaxies aren't my thing - or I'm missing the point!

Then chapter 4 looks at the distribution of galaxies. The fact that the milky way is just one of a local group of galaxies that includes a number of others. Then our local group is part of a supergroup of groups grouped together. Beyond that there doesn't seem to be any further discernible structure to the universe.

Wednesday, 2 July 2008

S320: TMA-2

Another TMA comes around. There are only 3 in the course, but the 3rd counts double. Anyway, time to tackle this one.

Question 1 (14%) is about immunology. We have to draw a diagram with Interferon-γ in the middle of it, and around it all the things it affects and produce it. IFNγ is used a lot for signalling, and has over 20 interactions, but luckily the book doesn't list most of those, and I confine myself to those given in the book.

Question 2 (18%) we have to do a search of the literature to find a couple of papers that look at HLA haplotypes and their effect on tuberculosis.

Question 3 (8%) is about pathogen identification and asks you the steps you would take to identify a bacterial pathogen. Its rather a general question as the steps depend quite heavily on what you suspect it might be.

Question 4 (10%) is like in the last TMA where you are given two statements one true, and one that might be true, might be explained by the first, or might not. 5 sub-questions, related to worm infections, sterilisation, bacteriology, antibodies and PCR.

Question 5 (50%) you have to read a published article about dengue disease and:
(a) Comment on the general style of the article.
(b) Define a number of terms (with references) used in the article.
(c) Draw a diagram of the life cycle and intervention points of the disease.
(d) Write a 200 word summary of the article.

Its still hard to spot the marks in these TMAs and to ensure you have written enough points for the number of marks on offer, but I did ok on this one.

S320: Book 6 - Modelling epidemics

This book looks at how epidemics happen, and what can be done to stop them.
It starts by looking at some very basic maths. It revolves around a number called R0, which is the average number of people who will be infected by a infective individual.
If the R0 is less than 1, then the infection will die out, if its greater it will survive.

It also looks at the affect of Herd Immunity. This has a big effect on diseases. Its brought on either by lots of the population having caught the disease and so being immune, or else through vaccination. The key thing here is that it is related to R0, if enough of the population is immune, then the R0 will drop below 1. This is because obviously most people an infected individual meets will be immune so will not be infected themselves. So with something like smallpox, you only need to get more than 85% of the population immune, and the disease will die out. This doesn't work so well with zoonotic diseases, as there is a reservoir of infections.

On the other hand, partial herd immunity can sometimes be a bad thing. If only a fraction of the population are immune, then the disease still thrives, but not as well. However the age at which one becomes infected tends to move up. This can be a problem, as some diseases caught in childhood (mumps for instance) can have much more severe consequences in adulthood.

Its a balance, and not always obvious what is going to be good in the long run!
An interesting book - and at only 70 odd pages, not too difficult to digest.

Wednesday, 18 June 2008

S282: Book2 - Chapter 1 & 2

Well - another weighty tomb awaits us in the shape of Book 2, An Introduction to Galaxies and
(435p). The first book was all about the birth, life loves and death of stars. In this book we take a step back and look at the bigger picture of how galaxies are born, live and die.
If you thought finding out details of stars which are all tiny pin pricks of light was hard, well its much simpler than galaxies. Galaxies are orders of magnitude further away than stars so the amount of light you can capture is typically smaller.

Anyway - we start the book with Chapter 1 looking at the Milky Way - our own galaxy. This allows us to explore what it is made up of (and stars are are pretty minor component!), its shape such as the halo (including the dark matter one) and the bulge, some of the oddities within it such as open cluster and globular clusters.

Then Chapter 2 looks at regular galaxies. There are a lot of different galaxies out there and naturally the first thing the early people did was to lump them together into categories. So we have spirals (with and without bars), ellipticals, lenticular and irregulars. These are classified according to the Hubble scheme (or other variants).
Then there is quite a section on how we work out the distance to these galaxies - which is pretty hard work. Many techniques are not very accurate but give a good appreciation of the order of magnitude.

Friday, 13 June 2008

S320: Book 5 - Evolving infections

Book 5 now and at about 100 pages not too bad either.

It considers some of the theoretical basis of disease. The arms race between pathogen and the host and how they both evolve over time. It also looks at things like the manipulation of the host, particularly by some pathogens that can have a quite large effect on the behaviour of the host. This also considers the patterns of virulence and how the life of the pathogen is affected by the life of the host.
Transmission mechanisms also are looked at in detail, and how effective they are.
Finally in the last chapter it looks at a theoretical model for a host/pathogen infection in a population and how that can be modelled. This is apparently setting us up nicely for the next book on epidemiology.

Monday, 2 June 2008

S282: Chapter 8 and 9

The final two chapters of this tomb relate to the death of stars and what happens to them afterwards.

The death throws can result in stars doing all sorts of things. Some of them eject large rings of material called planetary nebulae. The bigger and brasher stars go out with a bang in a supernova explosion, which as a by product generates most of the common elements with atomic numbers greater than Iron. Supernovae can occur in a couple of ways, mostly its big brash stars blowing up, but occasionally its a white dwarf in a binary system given a second chance to shine.

The death of a star depends largely on how big it is. The smaller stars like our own after going through a red-giant phase tend to start to fizzle out into a white dwarf. In this stage, they are basically out of fuel, and all they can do is sit there and glow with the heat saved from their glory days. They eventually cool down to black dwarfs, but this takes so long to happen, that it probably hasn't had chance yet. However they are rather faint objects so they are difficult to see at the best of times. There is a fairly hard and fast limit (the Chandrasekhar limit) to the size of a white dwarf, and most stars sneak under this limit by blowing off much of their mass in their death throws.

Bigger stars end up as more exotic objects, including neutron stars, quark stars (possibly - the jury is still out on the existence of these) and the more famous black hole.

With that, book 1 is done, and book 2 beckons, but a TMA needs to be finished first!

S320: Book 4 - Diagnosing infection

Well this is a much easier book after the alphabet soup of the Immunology.
It goes into some details of how infections can be diagnosed in practice. This is not the GP having you "Say ahhh" type of diagnosis, but the methods of isolation pathogens.

There are sections on how to culture bacteria, how to breed viruses and so on. What media you can grow them on and how you can tweak this to give you a pure culture. There is also an interesting video on life in the diagnostic lab.

After that, it moves onto the more high tech techniques. These generally involve antibodies, or gels and stuff. So it covers immunofluorescence, Enzyme-linked immunoabsorbent assay (thankfully abbreviated to ELISA) and then things like gel electrophoresis, SDS-PAGE, blotting, and PCR.

The final chapter takes you through the diagnosis of some common diseases, such as cholera, HIV, flu, malaria and flukes.

As I say, positively relaxing after book 3, but I bet the exam questions will be digging around in this material.

Monday, 12 May 2008

SXR376: Molecular basis of Human Disease

Uh oh - this years residential material has arrived. I've opted for one of the 3rd level biology residentials which will take place at Nottingham. The pack arrived with:
  • An introductory letter
  • A course calender
  • A course guide
  • A ring binder and insert
  • A stack of reading (well 180 pages worth)
  • A CD-ROM with more stuff on and a virtual lab.
As the title says, its an investigation to the molecular basis of Human Disease. Now I'm not entirely sure what we're going to be doing in the weeks work, but I have a fair idea it will involve some PCR machines, and some immunoblotting, also known as western blotting.

The 3rd level residentials take a step up in pace, as you have to pass a computer marked assignment (CMA in the OU jargon), which is a 20 question multi-choice paper before you even get to the place. This, the lady assured me last year when I was scoping the place out, is to ensure you have fully read all the material beforehand. SXR103 I suspect you can wiggle your way through provided you have a bit of background and some luck without reading the materials, especially if you are doing S103/4. SXR270 it certainly helped to read the materials beforehand, but here they want to make sure!

The first few chapters of the material are great, as they are almost revision for the S320 course I'm doing at the moment. A whole batch of immunology, and the theory of PCR and blotting techniques. Then there is a whole load of stuff on the mechanisms of the HIV virus and how it attacks cells, and the mutations that can help or fight it. There is also a paper to read on the discovery of CCR5-delta32 mutation which renders some people almost immune to HIV.

The CD-ROM gets you to work through a simulated lab procedure for running PCR DNA amplification and the western blotting for proteins. This is quite useful, as most of my first experiments in this I messed up by using the wrong concentrations, picking the wrong temperature or the wrong primers. One click and you can try again. An inexpensive way to make mistakes!

There is also a mini-lecture on HIV infection and some PDFs on the disc, but most of the material, including the CMA has to be loaded from the course web site. There is the usual first class forum, and I've noticed a few people I've met on previous residential course. I think there are only a small number of people that can fit in the lab, so its typically only 20-30 people per week - which is somewhat smaller than either of the other two residentials. It's also the reason I signed up for this course at 7:30am on the day registration opened to ensure a place!

So - onwards trhough the reading, the CD and then the CMA (which you can submit online - yay!).

Friday, 9 May 2008

S282: TMA-2

Its time to do the second TMA on this course and this one is relatively involved.

The first question is to write up an experiment you have performed, either on calculating the luminosity of the Sun, or on the sidereal day. I chose the former. For this we had to compare on a sunny day the output of a 150W lightbulb with the sun using a piece of paper with an oil spot on it. You move the paper in between the sun and the bulb until the oil spot is not visible anymore - then you have similar luminosity values. Unfortunately 150W lightbulbs are pretty much phased out especially the clear ones that are required and 100W clear are hard to find but I did managed to find a 100W clear eventually. I ended up with about 1/3 of the accepted value for the luminosity of the Sun, which considering there was some very hazy high level cloud around, and it was early in the year (and I was using 100W bulb) I didn't think was too bad. I've learnt not to expect too much from physics experiments without doing a fearsome amount of work.

This question is worth 40% of the marks. It means of course you have to do the experiment first, and then write it up using the appropriate section headings, titles, abstracts and stuff like that. It requires analysis of data, error calculations and how the experiment could be improved and so on.

Question 2 is another relentless one. Its split into 3 sub-questions on parallax measurement, doppler measurements and some planisphere work to work out rising and setting times. Each sub question is made up of 3 to 5 parts, so that's 11 questions you have to answer, for 24% of the marks.

Question 3 is similarly made up of 3 subsections on spectral classification, spectral measurement and magnitudes. Its again 11 questions in all and is again 24%.

Question 4 is about dust clouds and collapse to form suns. Three sub parts again looking at collapse conditions, Hertzsprung-Russell diagrams for forming clouds, and finally a wild card on detection of planets orbiting other suns. Only 7 questions in total to answer here for your 12%.

Saturday, 26 April 2008

S282: Chapter 5-7 Formation, Main Sequence, and decay

The next three chapters are all about the main sequence for stars. This is the thick band of stars that is evident on the old Hertzsprung-Russell diagram. Most stars appear on this main sequence somewhere, hence if being the main sequence...

Chapter 5 - The formation of stars - covers how stars assemble themselves from clouds of dust, and how they first appear. It looks at some of the maths of dust clouds, first work out by James Jeans. He worked on a number of areas, but in this one he looked at the dynamics of gas clouds. He found if they were above a certain density depending on temperature, a cloud of gas would contract and depending on how much was present, form a star - sooner or later. Such stars then start life initially off the main sequence, such as the T Tauri stars, but rapidly hop on following Hayashi tracks and then spend most of their time there.

Chapter 6 - The main sequence life of stars - covers the general structure of stars as they spend their life on the main sequence. It looks at the main nuclear reactions, such as the 3 main ppi types, and the CNO cycle which kick in at different temperatures and pressures. It also considers a minimum and maximum size that stars can reach and how long such stars live for. Broadly speaking, the bigger the star, the shorter its life.

Chapter 7 - The life of stars beyond the main sequence - covers what happens towards the end of a stars life. Stars reach the end of their lives when they run out of fuel. This is basically hydrogen that is in the core of the star. Thats the hottest and densest part, and the only place fusion can take place. As it uses it up, things get increasingly desperate. If the star is big enough, it runs out, contracts, warms up a bit more, and can burn a small shell of hydrogen around the core. It can also start to burn helium if things get warm enough, using the triple alpha process, which burns 3 helium -> 1 carbon. At this stage it swell up into a much larger Red Giant star, which is the fate of our Sun. After this, things get increasingly desperate. Carbon burning is possible and will keep a large star going for 10,000 years maybe, followed by neon burning (1 year), oxygen burning (6 months) and finally silicon burning lasting a day. At this point there is nothing left to burn! What could possibly happen next.

Thursday, 24 April 2008

S320: Book 3 - Immunology

OK - now this book is a bit of a struggle. There are an awful lot of molecules and proteins introduced here, and any number of interactions between them. There is also the two disk interactive CD to take in, and all in all there is a lot going on here.

Let me see what I can remember. Well first there are the leukocytes, which come in all sorts of flavours. There are
  • Macrophages - which attempt to gobble up bacteria and similar agents and kill them with bursts of free radicals.
  • B cells - which were first discovered in the Bursa of chickens, hence B, but happily are manufactured in the bone in humans - so can still be called B cells without anyone getting confused. B cells produce antibodies, when requested to. They start as naive cells, and then go through a selection process where their antibodies are refined and the best survive to become plasma B cells which produce antibodies. Some also go on to become memory B-cells.
  • NK cells - these are natural killer cells, licensed to kill. They inspect cells of the body, and any that are not presenting the right documentation are terminated. This often happens under viral infection when MHC presenting is turned off by the virus in an attempt to avoid Tc cells. They usual kill by triggering the self destruct sequence built into all cells, but they also carry a gun, a protein called perforin which can punch holes in the cells surface and so start it leaking its contents.
  • Basophils - help in the control of inflammation.
  • Neutrophils - mainly used for anti-bacterial defence.
  • Eosinphils - used for defence against parasitic worms.
  • Mast cells - produce histamines and cause inflammation responses.
  • Dendritic cells - look a bit like nerve cells. They consume stuff and present it for inspection using MHC2. They tend to hang around in lymph glands.
  • T cells, of which there are many, and are produced in the Thymus - hence the T.
    • T helper cells, which come in at least two varieties. TH1, TH2. They use MHC1 and CD4 receptors for detection.
    • TH1 cells work in conjunction with macrophages, recognising antigens presented by macrophages, and releasing TNF and IFNγ cytokines that activate macrophages (but damp down TH2 activity).
    • TH2 work with B cells, recognising antigens presented on them, and activating them with various interluekin cytokines, and so help to make antibodies. They also prompt B-cells into class switching behaviour.
    • T-memory cells, which help in the memory of infection and so help ward off subsequent attacks.
    • Tc cells, also know as cytotoxic T cells, which are killers. They sample the MHC presented fragments of proteins presented on the cells surface. If they recognise one of these fragments as foreign, they press the cells self destruct button. They also carry the perforin guns as backup. They use the CD8 and MHC1 together for detection.
So TH1 work with macrophages (cell mediated response), and TH2 with B cells (antigen response). The body will usually use one pathway or the other, and if it chooses TH1, then the interaction between TH1 and macrophages acts to shut down the TH2 and B cell pathway, and vice versa.

There is also a number of antibodies, which can appear in several different forms, such as
  • IgA - produced by B-cells and makes its way across mucosal surfaces to help block infection.
  • IgD, helps activate B cells, but not used much elsewhere.
  • IgE - produced by B cells, they attach to mast cells and basophils. When these then pick up antigen using these antibodies, they release inflammatory cytokines which attract macrophages.
  • IgG - produced by B cells, and found in plasma, and attaches to bacteria to labelled them to be attacked.
  • IgM - expressed by naive B-cells as receptors.
(no - I'm not sure what happened to B,C,F,H etc.)

The main signalling is done via the Major Histocompatible Complex, in two versions, called MHC1, and MHC2. All cells express MHC1, and the MHC1 contains within a groove bits of proteins found in the cell during cleanup. So all cells display what they are currently using, which allows Tc cells to check they are valid. MHC2 is expressed by macrophages, B-cells and dendritic cells, and is used to show bits of proteins that they have ingested recently. So in the case of macrophages, this might be bits of bacteria or viral particles. Its important they don't use MHC1 for this, or else the Tc cells would come round and have (fatal) words with them.

Then there is a profusion of chemicals that are produced by these cells and work with one another. Signalling molecules which include
  • interleukins (ILs) - produced by TH2 cells to kick B cells into action. This also slows down macrophages, so they don't fight too much.
  • interferons (IFNs) - produced as a result of viral infection to signal to other cells they are under attack. Also produced by TH1 cells to kick macrophages into action. This also slows down B cells.
  • colony stimulating factors - that bits a blur
  • chemokines - lots of these
  • tumour necrosis factors - another signalling molecule
Then there is the complement system. This is yet another arm of the immune system, which encourages macrophages to come towards the site of infection, and can also promote its own attack using a membrane attack complex that punches holes in the cell walls.

All in all there is a lot to keep straight, and to keep track of what influences what.

Wednesday, 23 April 2008

S282: Chapter 4 - Comparing Stars

This chapter is a major overdose on the Hertzsprung-Russell diagram. Its a popular diagram in astrophysics, and by the end of this chapter, and a few subsequent ones, you'll feel right at home with it. It looks at the location of the main sequence stars, like our Sun, which is towards the more insignificant end of the chart. Also at things like Red Giants, SuperGiants and white dwarfs which fall off the main bad somewhat.

You also pick up a few other lesser known types, such as Cephids, and T-Tauri stars, which turn out to be a bit more important later on.

After the H-R diagram has been done almost to death, the remainder of the chapter focuses on the interstellar medium and its affects on observations.

Tuesday, 8 April 2008

S282: Chapter 3 - Measuring the stars

Chapter 3 is all about how the stars are analysed from the Earth. So here we meet all sorts of remote analysis techniques.
It starts with a look at how we can measure the distance to the stars, starting with measuring parallax. This allows distances to the nearer stars to be measured. It also discusses the proper motion of the stars, and also the radial and space velocity from these details.

Following that there is a look at how other things can be worked out. If you know the distance, you can work out the luminosity of the star. From this you can also work out things like radius, temperature and some other things. Spectroscopy features quite highly here, as there are a number of things that can be worked out from this. Radial velocity is one thing based on the Doppler shift. However there are a number of other things you can work out from this, including some clues to the mass and temperature.

This leads to the categorisation of stars into the stellar classes such as O,B,A,F,G,K,M etc.

Tuesday, 1 April 2008

S320: TMA-1

Its time to face up to TMA-1 for this course. What is a level 3 TMA like?

Well firstly its a bit relentless. There are 7 questions in all, and most of them broken into sub parts.

Question 1 gives a table of data relating to bacterial infection rates. It gets you to do some simple statistics derived from these, such as working out case fatalities, and so on. It then gets you to write a few sentences on why the data may not be fully accurate. 18 marks for this part.

Question 2 is more simple, in that it is 12 marks to discuss three reasons why bacteria are likely to cause hospital acquired infections. This isn't too bad, except I struggle to find 12 worthwhile points in just a few sentences.

Question 3 looks at the disease syphilis, and the pathogen that causes it. The question ranges across the cause, change in incidence, and treatments for the disease. There are 22 marks available here, and again I struggle to find enough points to account for all the marks.

Question 4 covers Koch's postulates, and how it might be applied to the evidence that influenza might cause atherosclerosic plaques. 12 marks available here, but there seems precious little related information in the course book about this so I trawled through a number of papers..

Question 5 is a bit of a change. You are given a set of cases where the first sentence is true, and the second sentence may be true. You have to decide if the 2nd is, and if it is whether this is explained by the first statement. Another 12 marks here.

Question 6 is more descriptive asking why a knowledge of a pathogens biology might be useful in treating it. Another 12 marker.

Finally question 7 looks at viruses and what morphological changes there infection can cause.
Once again 12 marks.

I've spent quite some time on this TMA in fits and starts, but I'm struggling to pin down the connection between marks and salient points to make.

Oh well, its done now.

Friday, 14 March 2008

S282: TMA-1

Time for the first TMA. As I flip through the pages, metaphorically as its actually delivered in PDF,my first though is it looks pretty long. Its got 5 questions, which doesn't sound that much, but it is. For instance the first question, has sub parts a), b) and c). Then part a) has sub-sub parts i) and ii), b) has i), ii) and iii) as does c). So that is 8 questions to be answered for 18 marks, in the first question alone, and a number of them are in the "explain why" category requiring more than just a number.

Question 1 (18 marks) is about black body and other radiation features such as peak wavelengths. Some calculation required, with a dose of explanation. .

Question 2 (25 marks) requires you to look at a photograph of the sun taken through a number of different filters and interpret the data. 4 sub questions, and 10 sub sub questions. Its about temperatures and emissions.

Question 3 (35 marks) you need to look at a sequence of photographs and do some work based on the images of what I think is a coronal mass ejection. This one requires calculation and a drawing to illustrate some features on the sun.

Question 4 (4 marks) is an exercise in using the planisphere to predict various starts rising and setting. You have to explain how you worked it out too.

Question 5 (18 marks) is about forward planning. TMA-2 requires one of two possible experiments to be done and this question leads you through explaining how you are going to run these experiments and when you are going to do it etc. Hopefully it is easy marks but is clearly designed to get you in the groove to run the experiment so there are no surprises.

Anyway - that's the first one down, and posted. Hope for the best!

Wednesday, 5 March 2008

S320: Book 2 - Infectious Agents

On to book two. This looks at all things infectious. The work done in S204 is a good grounding for this, and there is some new information for me, but quite a bit is revision.
It looks at various infective agents (as the title implies)
  • Bateria -types of bateria such as gram positive/negative. What makes them virulent, and what sort of infections they produce and a bit about combating them.
  • Viruses -similar stuff to bacteria. It considers the various types of virus and how they work and what they do to you.
  • Prions are next, and apart from a history and some general comments about BSE and so on there isn't a huge amount ot say about them.
  • Then on to protoctist, what use to be protozoa and are also known as protoists. Basically mostly single cells eukaryotic cells that can infect.
  • Fungi are next, considering things like thrush and athletes foot.
  • Finally the bigger parasites, such as tapeworms and roundworms and the flukes.
So this book basically considers the range of things that cause infection and disease, with one or two rather yucky photographs included.

Thursday, 21 February 2008

S282: Chapter 2 - The working sun

This chapter moves from observation of the sun into the inner workings and how it all is thought to work, and what we can deduce. Things like models of the interior and how well they compare with measurements. Radiative and convection zones, stellar "earthquakes" and so on all feature.

Also covered are some of the reasons for the more visible things such as prominences and mass coronal ejections - which includes some tricky magnetic field stuff.

Finally the sunspot cycle and the 22 year general cycle.

Wednesday, 23 January 2008

S282: Chapter 1 - Seeing the sun

The text book An Introduction to the Sun and Stars is a great book, although there is a lot to it. There are lots of full colour pictures, and scattered through the text are questions to check you're understanding - which is very like the S103 course.

Its very much like the S194 course, but MUCH more detailed. Also the questions you have to answer, such as how many kilograms of hydrogen does the sun consume a year (its about 5.8 × 1011 kg s−1 in case you're interested), are not handed to you on a plate. You are given some figures, but others you may have to find from earlier in the text or deduce from other information and formulae. I find this all quite invigorating at this stage - and I know that may make be a little weird.

Anyway, this first chapter considers observations of the sun and its various components (yes, I thought the sun was just a yellow thing, but its much more complicated than that!). It has pictures of the sun taken in everything from visible light to x-ray to radio waves. It looks at the theoretical structure and what is going on deep in its depths based on what can be seen on the surface.

Monday, 21 January 2008

S320: Book 1 - Pathogens and People

Well book one is all quite general. There is a reasonable amount in it although its only 88 pages long. You only get two weeks to read it following the course schedule.

It's at this point that you also have to go through the Malaria CD. There is a lot of information in the CD, and I'm not really sure how much I need to know. We covered Malaria in quite some detail in S204, so there isn't a lot new to me - at one point I could recite most of the parasite life stages and forms.

The first chapter is a general introduction to the topic, and makes for interesting reading.

The next is a case study on influenza and looks at various aspects including its habit of reoccurring in new and more virulent forms every so often, and even touches on the H5N1 bird flu variant.

Chapter 3 is very short as its about Malaria, and just directs you to the CD.

Finally chapter 4 is all about hospital acquired diseases. Things like MRSA and so on are introduced here and how hospitals are a hot bed of infection, although compared to even a hundred years ago things have improved immeasurably. In those days you were lucky ever to come out of a hospital.

Friday, 11 January 2008

S320: Starting

The S320 Materials arrived on the same day as the S282 - which do I pick first! Both boxes were about the same size, so no help there! Anyway, on investigation the S320 box contains:
  • An A4 folder
  • A folder insert for the course
  • A study calendar
  • A welcome note
  • A course guide
  • Book 1 - Pathogens and People.
  • Book 2 - Infectious agents.
  • A bookmark for Book 2
  • Book 3 - Immunology.
  • A bookmark for Book 3
  • A large DVD pack about immunology
  • A DVD about syphilis
  • A syphilis case study booklet
  • A tuberculosis case study booklet
  • A cholera case study booklet
  • A Malaria CD
  • A CD reference library
  • 2 PT3 forms
You also have to send off for a couple of extra CDs about tuberculosis and AIDS/HIV, which is a little strange as usually everything comes together.

All in all it looks quite a list of rather dodgy topics! I suppose its book 1 first then...

S282: Starting

Well what a day - both the S282 and the S320 materials arrive on the same day!
The initial mailing contains the following:
  • An introductory letter
  • A Planisphere - the same as the S194 one.
  • A study calendar
  • A Large book called An Introduction to the Sun and Stars
  • A rather large activity book
  • A DVD with course materials on plus some video sequences.
  • An applications CD ROM
  • A glossy colour A4 picture of the Jewel Box cluster.
  • A course guide
  • 2 PT3 Forms
The book looks interesting with lots of pictures but is nearly 400 pages thick. Oh well, onwards and upwards!

Friday, 4 January 2008

More course decisons

It suddenly dawns on me as the new years starts that I'm only taking on 30 points - all be it at the 3rd level, plus a residential school. This is probably sensible, but I'm wondering if I can do 2 30pt 3rd level courses at once next year.

In the meantime I'm quite taken with astronomy, and suddenly it occurs to me that another 30pt course at level 2 might be doable, and in a sudden frenzy of possibly misplaced enthusiasm I sign up with just a couple of days to go for the S282 astronomy course.

Will this be a big mistake? That will be two exams come October time... but then I did manage to take several exams at once back in school days.

The good news is that I passed both S204 and SXR270, so I have 2nd level points in the bag so to speak.

Thursday, 3 January 2008

A251: The ECA

So I've gone with the 2nd of the two ECA topics of:
  1. In the archaeological record, what has happened when cultures have met?
I've decided that, well, fighting is the main event that happens when two cultures meet. Sooner or later it breaks down into fisticuffs.

I've borrowed some examples from TMA-3, and then expanded by looking at lots of other cultures, particularly the Romans as there is a lot written about them, and lots of examples of them meeting other cultures.

Two thousand five hundred words turns out to be a lot for me to get up to, and it takes a number of sessions of editing to get close to that goal. I included some pictures to break up the text a bit and to illustrate a few points. I had lots of references thanks to zotero (which also has an A251 style I wrote specially).

However despite the rest of the course being eTMAs and the like, the ECA still has to be printed 3 times and posted. The instructions are also for double spacing so it comes out at quite a healthy weight of paper by the time its all packaged up - in fact 60p's worth 2nd class!

I can't say its been my favourite course, but it has had its interesting points. I've learnt a lot about various cultures, but not much about what I think of as archaeology - digging stuff out of the ground and evaluating evidence.

Well, its done now, and the markers will have their final say.