Monday, 18 August 2014

Ah, the holidays are upon us: no time to write ...

I seem to be accumulating a growing pile of ‘post-its’ and notepad scribbles with ideas for pieces I want to write here. One of the hindrances to getting it done arises from the fact that I dislike writing in short snatches of time - but the busy joys of a holiday, followed by the inevitable 'catching-up' process and then our University’s resit exam season seem to have left me with only the odd half an hour here or there when I'm not too tired to focus. Oh well, c'est la vie I suppose.

What I can do during this hiatus is cite an article I wrote for the monthly magazine Laboratory News and which appears in their current (August) issue. It's science-based, but mostly about the history and use of a particular experimental technique first demonstrated by someone who was influential in my early career, Professor Sir John Enderby FRS, and a couple of his colleagues. (We're talking mid/late '70s should you wish to know - I did a final year undergraduate project with him in '74-5 and then joined his research group as a PhD student.) Anyway, if you're at all interested in this important part of my research team's toolkit you can read the article here; I tried to write it without a lot of specialised language. There's an earlier guest post I did for the same magazine here (with a slightly expanded blog-post version here) which is on glass: the class of material at the very heart of my team's research for the last decade or so and the target of several experiments using the technique described in this most recent article.

In passing, and vaguely linked to this reflection because it's on the topic of glass, I stumbled across a video clip last week which was made a decade before I was even born. Although not on ‘my’ regions of the fundamental science of glass as such – rather, it's geared to what we might think of as excellent R&D – it nevertheless provides a fascinating introduction to manufacturing methods as they existed just after WW2 and is held on the British Council's web site (here). This was at a time before Sir Alastair Pilkington had perfected his float glass process for making the plate glass we now take

for granted - a process invented in the UK and then replicated across the globe. The British Council's 1943 movie shows very clearly why large windows were so expensive back then, and hints at why they were more expensive still in even earlier days.

Now, to test the boundaries of my developing theme even further, allow me to recommend that you watch the film Slow Glass by artist John Smith if you get the chance (details here). Sadly, for copyright reasons, all I can point you to in order to whet your appetite is a six-minute clip (here) – the full version is of course part of the artist’s portfolio. I take issue with his central definition of what a glass is, but leaving that aside this is a wonderful short film: do watch it if you are given the opportunity*. Glass art has of course been around for a very long time indeed and those fortunate to live in a beautiful place like Canterbury have copious evidence for this in the form of large areas of lovely stained glass windows. At this juncture I hope you'll allow me to promote a well-illustrated book on this very topic by my friend and near-neighbour Martyn Barr: Paintings in Light. However, we must not to overlook the more modern work, including that in Canterbury Cathedral (e.g. these by artist Emma Lindsay and by Alison Eaton). Can I push the limits of my meandering theme further? Why yes, of course. We could get into music with a glassy theme: Heart of Glass by Blondie, or perhaps Breaking Glass by Nick Lowe; and if we stretch it to breaking point, if you’ll forgive the pun, we might even get to the music of Philip Glass (perhaps his Glassworks album? SciFi fans would almost certainly recognise his Metamorphosis variations).

Enough; I must by now have demonstrated my point that writing a post with only a short period of time available is not such a good idea – despite the fact that I enjoy the writing process and have had some fun along the way. Hopefully there'll be a more considered reflection in due course ...

* I am grateful to Ayisha De Lanerolle for letting me watch her copy a couple of years ago.

P.s. I first drafted this post online yesterday at the Blogger site – but due to some unknown/freak event it suddenly disappeared, irretrievably, leaving me only the title and a print-out of an unfinished earlier version. What appears above is an edited version of a scan of the print-out using OCR (optical character recognition software): if I have missed some of the many typographical errors induced by this process, I apologise.