Archive for the ‘Science’ Category
So ends Margaret Thatcher’s one and only published scientific paper. Many people have contributed less to science. But not many of those became Fellows of the Royal Society.
‘The saponification of α-monostearin in a monolayer’ was published in 1951 in the Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture (not open access…) and describes the results of a series of some somewhat fiddly-sounding temperature- and pressure-dependence studies of the saponification of a glyceride.
Paul Nurse railed a couple of years ago against the modern style of paper writing, preferring the simpler times and terms of his youth. This paper reads as though it should have an list of apparatus at the beginning. Instead it opens with a cursory overview of the context of the experiments – the monostearins studied have found use as emulsifying agents, and their properties in this context are not well understood. The young Margaret Roberts was seemingly tasked with elucidating these for J. Lyons, the food manufacturer. A contemporary in the company recalled that Roberts had the job of “improving the over-run [air content] of ice cream”, which ties in well with the emulsifier work she published (in ice cream, emulsifiers can act as both stabilisers and aerating agents). It ends as all good science should : “The reason why equation (3) is not obeyed at higher temperatures is obscure. … no satisfactory explanation was found and it is felt that there are insufficient data to warrant a discussion of this problem.”
So, no, as everyone knows, she didn’t invent Mr Whippy. Not least because soft-scoop ice cream was already well-established in the US by this time, also because it seems unlikely that any one person could invent such a thing. But it is likely that she worked in the ice cream group and undertook research relevant to the product. And so went Thatcher the Chemist.
But what of the co-author, Hans Helmut Gunter Jellinek ? Much more interesting, if less well documented.
Hans Jellinek’s career began in England, possibly at Lyons itself, and at some point over the new twenty years he and his wife moved to the USA where he took up a post at Clarkson College of Technology in upstate New York. While holding down a job at what is now Clarkson University, he went to Japan and also seems have gained some local notoriety, and an excellent local-paper headline in the Schenectady Gazette.
He published over 160 articles and books over a 40-year career that ranged from the kind of food research he did at Lyons, to studies of the degradation of plastics, to the interfacial properties of ice and snow.
He retired a professor in 1982, seemingly so that he could spend more time with his work. At this point he received a lovely note from his co-author of 1951. Maybe it is just formality, properness, but I do wonder if, in all the time from joining him as a junior colleague to writing to him as a Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher had ever called him by his first name.
One thing I missed when noting the passing of my dear old research group was the disappearance of something with a bit more history : with the retirement of the doyen of diamond science Alan Collins, went the last vestiges of the venerable Wheatstone Physics Laboratory.
Named for, as you might suspect, Charles Wheatstone, it was the home of Rosalind Franklin and Ray Gosling, also of Maurice Wilkins’s co-authors on his coincidental paper. It was the home address of an awful lot of academics for at least 60 years.
To be honest, I don’t know very much about it, other than that it was also my academic address. I assume that it used to be a physical place, rather than just a slightly fancy name. Most of my colleagues used the more prosaic ‘Department of Physics’.
It may well have come into being when they rebuilt after the war. It might have been what ended up as the old teaching lab. Or they might have just re-used the door signs.
That’s gone now too, a lovely old wooden lab replaced by a gleaming white plastic one.
Simple, elegant things. Yet somehow very hard to explain. (Also prone to wonderfully spurious precision — less than a second in 138 million years !?) Getting from frequency to time is not necessarily an intuitive thing (also, frequency is a Bad Word). Many years ago, after writing the thing in the first link above, I spent an hour trying to explain it to someone. Working from analogy, getting time from distance travelled a car, was the best I could manage. Pretty sure it didn’t work.
Had a bit of ‘downtime’ in Dublin this morning, so had a quick wander round the Human+ exhibition on “augmented abilities and authored evolution” hidden at the back of Trinity College.
(Conditions not the best for phone photography.)
Very polite, quite funny. Need to work on their timing. Video here.
Stelarc had a Bluetooth cell-cultivated ear implanted in his arm.
(It didn’t last long.)
“Die with elegance and euphoria”. Also screaming.