All posts by Glyn Davies

Particle Physics — Understanding the Universe’s ‘LEGO Bricks’. — Professor Lee Thompson — 25th September 2017.

One of the reas­ons for research­ing the make-up of atoms is that look­ing closely at the smal­lest things can tell us much about the largest things, such as suns, stars and galax­ies.

Only 5 or 6 types of ‘bricks’ can make lots of dif­fer­ent things.

A clearer under­stand­ing of the atom was made by Thomson in 1897 when he dis­covered that cath­ode rays are elec­trons, and that elec­trons exist at the ‘edge’ of atoms and are not tightly bound to the atom.

In 1909 Rutherford, Geiger and Marsden, made an appar­atus that would fit on a desk top.

It was a cyl­in­der, sur­roun­ded by pho­to­graphic film, with a small gold foil taget in the middle.  They dir­ec­ted a beam of alpha particles at the thin sheet of gold and the photo film would detect the alpha particles.  As it was thought that the interior of atoms was mainly empty space they expec­ted that the beam would pass through the foil without devi­ation.  However some of the particles were scattered and some even appeared to bounce back.

In 1911 Rutherford con­cluded that there was a very tiny, very dense centre to the atom.  He called this the nuc­leus.

Nowadays we want to look inside the nuc­leus and to do this we need a lot more energy so we use particle accel­er­at­ors.

The largest accel­er­ator is at CERN on the Swiss/French border.

This is housed in a large cir­cu­lar tunnel that is 27 km in cir­cum­fer­ence and is 150 metres under­ground.  In it particles are accel­er­ated to near light speeds and are smashed into each other to find out what comes off so soph­ist­ic­ated particle detect­ors are required.

Four dif­fer­ent types of detector are used made up of gas, liquid and plastics.

The ATLAS detector is enorm­ous and weighs over 70,000 tons and is 44 metres wide.

Phenomenal com­put­ing power is needed to ana­lyse the particles given off after col­li­sion.

At school I was taught that atoms were made up of elec­trons orbit­ing the nuc­leus, which con­tained pro­tons and neut­rons.  If elec­trons were stripped of the atoms they were called beta particles.  A helium nuc­leus, con­sist­ing of 2 pro­tons and 2 neut­rons, was an alpha particle.

Now we have:

  • Electrons
  • Muons — heav­ier elec­trons
  • Tau — even heav­ier elec­trons

Inside Protons and Neutrons we have Quarks, iden­ti­fied as Up Quarks and Down Quarks. Quarks come in pairs or threes — Protons have 1 Up Quark and 1 Down Quark, Neutrons have 1 Up Quark and 2 Down Quarks.

Other particles, called nutri­nos, have been detec­ted and  there are sev­eral sources of these particles — the Sun, nuc­lear power sta­tions and CERN.  Earth is con­tinu­ally bom­barded by showers of nutri­nos, but they pass through us and pen­et­rate the Earth without appar­ently caus­ing us any harm.

The Japanese are research­ing nutri­nos.  They aim a beam of nutri­nos at a research centre 293 km away, which has a detector con­sist­ing of  a huge spher­ical tank con­tain­ing 50,00 tons of water.  The tank roof is lined with a huge number of light detect­ors cost­ing mil­lions of dol­lars.  If a nutrino hits and reacts with atom in the water a tiny flash of light is emit­ted and detec­ted.  This is a very rare event.

The point of all this research at CERN and Japan is that it has brought many advances to the man in the street.

The World Wide Web was devised at CERN to allow inter­na­tional com­mu­nic­a­tion for phys­i­cists. High per­form­ance com­put­ing hand­ling large data volumes. Medical phys­ics has developed dia­gnostic tools for NMR and PET treat­ments and Hadron ther­apy and the pro­duc­tion of iso­topes.

Cosmic rays inter­act in the atmo­sphere to gen­er­ate muons, which can be used to detect illegal imports of terrorist-owned nuc­lear mater­i­als in con­tain­ers at our ports. Also muons  tomo­graphy can be used to exam­ine the interi­ors of pyr­am­ids and magma cham­bers and vol­ca­noes.

It was an inter­est­ing talk, con­tain­ing masses of mater­ial, that Prof. Thompson made as straight­for­ward as he could for the non-physicists!

Fix-My-PC — Jonathan Frost — 17th July 2017.

Jonathan began by warn­ing us not to trust anyone who rang up claim­ing to be from Microsoft who said that they have detec­ted a fault on our com­puter.  They offer to cure the fault if we allow them access to the com­puter.

It is a scam.  Microsoft, our banks, HMRC etc. will not con­tact us by ‘phone if they need to deal with prob­lems affect­ing our equip­ment or accounts so say, “Thank you for call­ing.” then hang up the ‘phone.

He asked how many of us back up our com­puter using an external hard drive.  If we have sev­eral hun­dred photos stored in the com­puter memory and it crashes we could lose all those memor­ies if they could not be retrieved.  In fact, he sug­ges­ted, it is better to back up onto two external hard drives because they are easily dam­aged by a knock or being dropped.

USB memory sticks should be used for trans­fer­ring files or photos, but not for stor­ing them, because memory sticks or flash drives can also be easily dam­aged.

Someone said he backed up his com­puter using the Cloud.  That is a slow pro­cess if you try to put in a lot of photos at once but is O.K. if you are adding  a few at a time over a longer period.

Modern tech­no­logy is advan­cing so rap­idly that com­mu­nic­a­tion and stor­age meth­ods are fast becom­ing out of date.  Audio tapes and VHS and even CDs are becom­ing use­less because you soon will not be able to buy a machine to play them.  Writing on paper or prin­ted photos is often the best way to keep inform­a­tion for any length of time — they don’t need machines to inter­pret them!

Passwords are often easier to guess than we might think.  Criminals may be able to log in to your com­puter and get a super com­puter to guess yours.  Because these com­puters can per­form mil­lions of actions in a short time, they may be able to try enough com­bin­a­tions to determ­ine you pass­word in as little as three days!

Jonathan sug­ges­ted that a more com­plex pass­word of the type   ‘cor­rect   horse   bat­tery  staple’  would take even a super com­puter about 550 years to guess!   Obviously you would have to choose a sequence of words that you could remem­ber.

He asked if anyone had com­puter ques­tions that he could help with.  Antivirus soft­ware?  None would be good for a long time because more and more vir­uses occurred.  He recom­men­ded Avast free.    Avoiding  hack­ers and vir­uses?
1.Too many free apps on your phone may make you vul­ner­able  to both.
2. Never click on a link in an e-mail unless you trust the source.
3.If you still use XP don’t use it on the Internet — it is not safe.

He said that he and his son con­duct a free com­puter clinic each Wednesday from 10am to 12pm at Broomhill lib­rary.

Finally he asked how many of us look at our web­site and did we have com­ments?   Most looked at blogs or future speak­ers, not many used the Forum.  Some blogs (like this one?) were too long.

A very good present­a­tion that was help­ful, but I think I need to attend  free clinic to get the full bene­fit!


So you think you are British, do you? by John B Taylor. 10th April 2017

John’s aim was to show that being British means that we are des­cend­ants of immig­rants even if we do not like the present form of immig­ra­tion.

What do we think are sym­bols of Britishness?

He showed a series of ‘British’ sym­bols:  Winston Churchill, The Union Flag, The Coat of Arms, Buckingham Palace, Tower Bridge, The Tower of London (where many exe­cu­tions were car­ried out), Shakespear, Edinburgh Castle, Snowdonia and the Giant’s Causeway.

He asked if these are what we think of as ‘British’.  He told us that bills that are passed from the Commons to the Lords and back are writ­ten in Norman French even today.  The statue of Richard the Lionheart (another ‘British’ symbol) was sculp­ted by a man from Turin, who also made the Trafalgar Square lions.  (Richard the Lionheart was King of England for 10 years but spent only six months in England).

Who are the British?

Migrants had been coming to Britain for thou­sands of years, before the islands became sep­ar­ated from main­land Europe.  Tribes came from all over Europe from as far away as Iberia and the bor­ders of Russia.  After the islands formed there were as many as 45 dif­fer­ent tribes living on the main island of Britain.  (This may account for the many dif­fer­ent dia­lects we have today).

The Romans invaded in around 55BC with 20000 legion­naires and another 20000 retain­ers.  They brought the seeds of their civil­isa­tion with them: run­ning water, toi­lets, bath­houses, lib­rar­ies, taxes and roads.  Towns were developed with linear roads.  The Romans stayed for 350 years and when they left many stayed on, per­haps they were mar­ried and had fam­il­ies in Britain.

Many other inva­sions of these islands happened.  The Jutes, Angles, Saxons, and in 793AD the Vikings, invaded and in 1066AD the Normans came.

The English lan­guage.

The lan­guage was prob­ably Celtic but Germanic dia­lects were intro­duced by the Angles, Jutes and Saxons.  The Romans intro­duced Latin and later the Vikings brought new words: the days of the week, skull, scarf, murder are thought to be Viking.  Later still, after the Norman Conquest, the mother tongue of the kings and queens Norman French was used in the Royal Court and in many parts of Britain.  In fact, English was not adop­ted in the Royal Court until 1362AD by Edward III.  Even today we still have echoes of other lan­guages in our system — the law­yers use “habeas corpus” and sim­ilar expres­sions in their legal doc­u­ments.

After 1066AD all the Royals, from William I, William II, Stephen etc. up to Prince Albert, were for­eign born.  Even St. George, the patron saint of England, was based on a Roman cen­tur­ion who was born in Palestine.

We have a his­tory of wel­com­ing for­eign­ers to Britain.  When the king of France made it illegal to be Protestant in Catholic France many Protestants were exiled to Britain.  William of Orange brought hun­dreds of retain­ers with him to Britain.  The slave trade intro­duced black African ser­vants and, in the Fifties, West Indians were invited to Britain to work here.

John fin­ished with a poster:

BEING BRITISH means: driv­ing a GERMAN car to an IRISH pub to drink BELGIAN beer and, on the way home pick­ing up an INDIAN curry, and, at home, sit­ting on SWEDISH fur­niture watch­ing an AMERICAN cop show on a JAPANESE tele­vi­sion.


A Matter of Honour Christopher Jewitt 20th February 2017

The Lieutenancy is headed by the Lord-Lieutenant.  One of his or her roles is to vet anyone who has been nom­in­ated for the Honours List.

South Yorkshire is very under-represented on the Honours List com­pared with the London area.

The Honours System ori­gin­ated in Tudor times and the Lord-Lieutenant is the Sovereign’s rep­res­ent­at­ive in the County.

His first duty is to uphold the dig­nity of the Crown.

Since 1921 the Lord-Lieutenant has lost the power to call on all able-bodied men to fight for their coun­try.

Originally all Lord-Lieutenants were ex-military men, but since 1960 non-military men and females can be selec­ted for the post.

The Lord-Lieutenant per­forms cere­mo­nial and social roles on behalf of the Crown.  He is appoin­ted for life or until he is 75 and the post is hon­or­ary and unpaid and he has to provide his own uni­form.

Duties of the Lord-Lieutenant.

  • Arrange visits for the Royal Family and escort Royal vis­it­ors.
  • Represent the Queen and present medals, hon­ours and awards and issue invit­a­tions to Royal garden parties.
  • Assess nom­in­a­tions for Honours, both per­sonal and for Queens Awards.
  • Liaise with local units of mil­it­ary and emer­gency ser­vices.
  • Chair the Magistrates Advisory Committee.

The present Lord-Lieutenant for South Yorkshire is Andrew Coombe.  The Vice Lord-Lieutenant is John Holt and there are more than 30 men and women who are Deputy Lieutenants, one of them being our speaker Christopher Jewitt. The Lieutenant Officer is Mike Smith and the Lieutenant Coordinator is Lorraine Beevers at the Mayor’s Office in Barnsley.

Over the years there have been some ‘scan­dals’ about busi­ness­men being hon­oured so in 1993 John Major intro­duced reforms.  He ended auto­matic award­ing of hon­ours and allowed public nom­in­a­tions.  In 2005 tony Blair’s gov­ern­ment wanted more trans­par­ency and intro­duced inde­pend­ent Chairs and made sure that inde­pend­ent mem­bers of the Honours Committee were in the major­ity.

The Honours Lists.

There are two lists per year — the Birthday List and the New Year List.  Honours are awar­ded to recog­nise achieve­ment and excep­tional ser­vice.

There are sev­eral ele­ments:     the Prime Minister’s List, the Defence Secretary’s List and the Foreign Secretary’s List.  Then there are Expert Committees for Arts, Media, Science and Technology, Sport, Health, Education, Civil Service, State and Parliamentary all making nom­in­a­tions.  The gen­eral public can also make nom­in­a­tions.

The Honours.

  • BEM      awar­ded for com­mit­ment to local char­it­ies or for vol­un­tary or innov­at­ive work.
  • MBE      awar­ded for ser­vice that is out­stand­ing in its field for the regional or county-wide com­munity.
  • CBE       awar­ded for ser­vice that is out­stand­ing in its field for the national com­munity.
  • Knight/Dame    awar­ded for recog­ni­tion by a peer group.
  • Companion of Honour

The Honours that were awar­ded in the 2016 New YearList.

There were 1196 awards of which 329 were BEM, 472 were MBE and 243 were OBE.  Honours awar­ded in South Yorkshire made up only 2% of the U.K. list.  Chris thinks that this area is miss­ing out because we do not nom­in­ate enough people from the County for Honours for whatever reason.  Perhaps we are slightly sus­pi­cious of anyone who lives south of Watford Gap?  It seems that Honours are not dis­trib­uted fairly around the coun­try.

Those who are miss­ing out are:

  • Women
  • The North of England and the Midlands
  • Ethnic minor­it­ies
  • Retail and Service sec­tors   (Bosses of big com­pan­ies get Knighthoods and CBEs but the small busi­ness entre­pren­eurs don’t.)

The public in South Yorkshire should be nom­in­at­ing more can­did­ates for Honours.

You can do so by:

  • going to
  • being pre­pared to submit at least two inde­pend­ent letter of sup­port
  • being patient — it can take 2 years
  • not using any person or com­pany that says they can increase your chances of suc­cess

The Heart of the City Project — Colin Farmer — 5th December 2016

Colin is an archi­tect who was employed by Sheffield Council.  He ran   the prop­erty func­tion of the Council with the aim of making the Council’s prop­erty work more effi­ciently.  Colin was involved in the Heart of the City Project as archi­tec­tural adviser from 1994.

He explained that it is import­ant to get the design of a build­ing cor­rect at the start because a build­ing is a very expens­ive under­tak­ing and it may have to last for many dec­ades.  He told us that if the design of a build­ing works then nobody notices the design, but if the design doesn’t work then every­one notices it.  He showed us slides of many impress­ive build­ings and bridges in sev­eral European cities to demon­strate his point.

The Heart of the City Project (HOTCP) aimed at increas­ing employ­ment oppor­tun­it­ies and pro­ductiv­ity in Sheffield.  Sheffield lagged behind Leeds in terms of GDP since the steel­works closed, with Sheffield’s GDP being only 71% of the national aver­age com­pared to Leeds 95%.  The pro­ject hoped to rec­tify this.   He men­tioned that the Peak District National Park is the second most vis­ited park in the world, with only Mount Fuji attract­ing more, and the aim was to get many of those vis­it­ors to the Peak to come into Sheffield.

Not every Sheffielder sees the Town Hall and its sur­round­ings as the city centre.  As a boy, living in Shiregreen, the centre to me was the area around Fitzalan Square and the Castlegate mar­kets because that was where our bus dropped us.  However, the HOTCP saw the Town Hall area as the centre so that was where the devel­op­ment was aimed.  The Project was always going to be con­strained by the city’s fin­ances.

The Council owned the land and build­ings around the Town Hall and decided to start there.  Colin showed us many draw­ings and plans for the area but the Peace Gardens devel­op­ment was the first step.  The build­ing oppos­ite the Town Hall was valued at £200,000, but after the Peace Gardens were fin­ished the value increased and the Council sold it for £2.25 mil­lion.  The plan for the Town Hall exten­sion (the ‘Egg Box’)  was to change it into a shop­ping mall, but this was dropped as being too expens­ive and also because it would block the way to the city centre from the sta­tion.  The ori­ginal idea was to direct sta­tion arrivals along a tree-lined walk­way from the sta­tion to the city centre, but the traffic depart­ment ran a dual-carriageway along Arundel Gate and cut it off to some extent.

The ‘Egg Box’ was sold to developers, who demol­ished it and erec­ted the cur­rent build­ing for the Council and a hotel.  Also the Winter Gardens and the Millenium Gallery were planned and erec­ted, although there were some alter­a­tions to the Gallery.  This was because the V&A, who were involved in stock­ing the Millenium Gallery, required her­met­ic­ally sealed gar­ages where they could unload their stock, so plans were changed to accom­mod­ate them.  The light­ing planned for the gal­ler­ies was dif­fused, reflec­ted day­light but the V&A covered the roof win­dows and blocked out day­light. The Council offices were designed to have a com­fort­able, calm­ing atmo­sphere in the wait­ing and inter­view­ing areas because people vis­it­ing are usu­ally there look­ing for help.  Colin also men­tioned that the Town Hall and the Central Library build­ings (and others) are show­ing their age and will be expens­ive to ren­ov­ate.

Altogether an inter­est­ing and enlight­en­ing talk with such a volume of slides and inform­a­tion that it is dif­fi­cult to cover it all.

The Well-Dressed Knight. — Peter Lawton — 31st October 2016.

Where did the medi­eval knight come from?
Most people have seen suits of armor in museums, and even parish churches have carved effi­gies of knights on tombs, so the pic­ture of a knight is well known. In England the first knights were Normans who came with William the Conqueror.  They fought on horse­back, unlike the Saxons who were mainly foot sol­diers.

William gave his faith­ful knights large estates to reward them for their ser­vices and also to main­tain con­trol of the coun­try.  They star­ted as armed retain­ers (‘knit’ is Saxon for ‘retainer’ or ‘ser­vant’) then began to do offi­cial duties and, as their status began to rise, they became sher­iffs and magis­trates.

They advised the King on mil­it­ary and other mat­ters. They began to claim des­cent from well-known lead­ers like Alexander the Great to increase their status. Geoffrey de Charney (the ori­ginal owner of the Turin Shroud) wrote a book about knight­hood in which he said that the qual­it­ies required were:

  • Loyalty
  • Generosity
  • Courtesy
  • Prowess

but, most import­antly, a knight should have prowess at arms.

We are famil­iar with tour­neys and jousts from his­tor­ical films show­ing knights train­ing for war­fare on horse­back to improve bal­ance and accur­acy, but in real­ity the train­ing was much more viol­ent with crowds of knights fight­ing each other in a melee.

Talhoffer pro­duced a book of draw­ings show­ing dif­fer­ent meth­ods of fight­ing with swords, poleaxes (pol­lacks?) and also fight­ing without arms.  Even today there are groups who prac­tice armed mar­tial arts.

Arms and Armour.
The changes in weaponry over the cen­tur­ies caused changes in armor. In 1100 the sword (the symbol of knight­hood) was the main weapon, but by 1400 the poleaxe was more com­monly used and by 1600 the musket was in use.

William’s men wore chain mail coats but would give if  hit with a sword and trans­fer the blow to the body. By the 13th and 14th Centuries cross­bow bolts and espe­cially long bow arrows could pen­et­rate a chain mail coat, so better armor was needed.

At first many small metal plates were fastened to a leather jerkin to pro­tect the chest, then as metal-working improved so did armor.  By the mid 14th Century larger pieces of metal like the breast­plate and the bassinet (a metal collar that pro­tec­ted the neck and shoulders) were in use and by the 15th Century full armor was used.  Of course this was only pos­sible because of the improve­ments in iron-making foundries and metal-working during medi­eval times.

German armor was very light with flut­ing to give it strength.  The German knights fought on horse­back against poorly armed enemies, whilst Italian armor was heav­ier and the side meet­ing the enemy first was thicker and stronger the rest of the armor. The Italians knights were bat­tling other city states whose armor was sim­ilar. English armor how­ever had a longer skirt and was more sym­met­rical because English knights often fought on foot.

What did it cost?
In the mid 13th Century a full suit of armor cost £16  (about £10,000 in today’s money). In 1397 Thomas of Woodstock bought armor (prob­ably more than one set and pos­sibly with dec­or­a­tions in gold) cost­ing £403 (about £68,000 in today’s money).

The body armor all hangs on a padded leather doublet with many laces which are used to tie the armor plates to it. Peter demon­strated get­ting dressed in his armor with the help of two ‘squires’ (mem­bers of the club).  He already had the greaves and demigreaves (cover for his calves), wings (cov­er­ing his knees). The breast plate,  cuisses (cov­er­ing his thighs) on his legs, and the vam­braces (fore­arms) , couters (elbows) and rereb­races (upper arms) on his arms were all added by the squires  which took over 20 minutes to fully dress him.

The armor weighed about 60 lb and this is less than a modern sol­diers’ full kit, much of which he would carry on his back,  However, the prob­lem an armored knight in battle had was that the build up of heat inside the padded leather and metal around his body allowed him only about 15 minutes fight­ing time, then he would have to drop back out of the front line.

Peter explained how chain mail was first made.  The iron was drawn (by hand!) into wires by pulling the metal through a series of dies.  Then the wire was wrapped in a spiral round a thin metal rod then cut along the rod to get a series of open rings.  Each ring had a small hole drilled in each open end and these were joined by a tiny rivet as the rings were ‘knit­ted’ one at a time into a chain mail sheet. This was a tough, labor-intensive, time-consuming task and was later mech­an­ized using water power for the wire draw­ing.

He also showed us how a knight would hold and fight with a poleaxe (a weapon that I have heard called a hal­berd), a com­bined spear and battle ax with a point at each end of the shaft, and said that this is where our expres­sion “poleaxed” comes from.  He said that if he was a knight fight­ing on foot he would choose this weapon rather than a sword every time.

This inter­est­ing talk was full of inform­a­tion and his dis­play of weapons and armor quite amaz­ing.