U3A Science & Technology Seminar 2016

Four Salisbury members attending this seminar that took place over 4 days in mid August  at the Harper Adams University near Newport Shropshire.  It is set in a wonderful peaceful campus.

On arrival we were straight into a talk from John Marriage [Lyme U3A]. This was curiously titled "Lichtenberg & Trouvelot". It concerned static electricity and the findings of Lichtenberg in the 1760s & Trouvelot in the 1870's. See this short video to see how Lichtenberg played about with static electricity and dust https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nlBrf-S7ihg.
Étienne Léopold Trouvelot was a French artist, astronomer and amateur entomologist. He is noted for the unfortunate introduction of the Gypsy Moth into North America. This devastated woodlands and still is expanding its range.  He was a whizz at drawing astronomical objects. Some of these look a lot like the Lichtenberg figures. That is like the patterns made by lightning strikes. On the internet you can see many examples of people who have survived a strike with a fractal like pattern.

Vernon Griffiths talked about The Bible and Modern Science. So he told us of the influence of Erasmus with his books novum intrumentum. Then John Calvin who was an influential French theologian and pastor during the Protestant Reformation. He was a principal figure in the development of the system of Christian theology later called Calvinism. The main idea here was predestination. "By predestination we mean the eternal decree of God, by which He determined with Himself whatever He wished to happen with regard to every man." Calvin encouraged the study nature.

Following Vernon Aline Cumming gave us an illuminating talk on New Zealand and its Geology specifically for White Island.  This is 48km offshore and is an active volcano and very difficult to make a landing. Sulphur mining started in 1885 and stopped in 1914 when part of the crater collapsed and destroyed the mine killing 12 people.

Next day Ralph Timms intrigued us with his talk called Doves and Fairies. It was a talk delving into what chemicals are in everyday chemicals such as Fairy Liquid and Dove soap. His talk ranged over the accidental discovery of mauveine dye and aniline by Perkins. When purple dye was made Mr Perkins made a fortune. It was the colour for crinolines. Alizarin was a red dye he found too. To contain chemicals packaging made of plastic are needed. This began with Celluloid or Parkesine still used in table tennis balls. Walter Carothers invented Nylon in the 30's but committed suicide in 1937 so he never saw how Nylon swept the world of stockings. Polythene, the most common plastic, was discovered by accident in 1898. Not until March 27, 1933, when the first industrially practical polyethylene synthesis was discovered by Eric Fawcett and Reginald Gibson, again by accident, at ICI (Imperial Chemical Industries) in Northwich, England. It was kept a secret during WW2 because it was a useful insulator for radar sets.

At this point we went on a visit to the National Brewery Centre in Burton on Trent. This is based on the Bass brewery. They treated us well with some free beer and a super buffet [best chips ever]. Then a tour of the museum. No beer made here now sadly but an excellent 2 hour guided tour.

In the evening we had a series of interesting demonstrations including microscopy, geology, colour in light, the impossible triangle, the Lenz's Law demo [i.e. a copper tube and a magnetic ball bearing].

Next day Susan Slater a regular speaker told about the development of two wheeled Chariots.  The wheel had to be invented and the oldest known is 3100BC found in Ljubliana.


Only when horses and spoked wheels were made were used were chariots useful as the Egyptians showed. Scythian horses were the best steeds.

Stopping High Speed Trains. Have you ever considered the immense stresses and strains needed when stopping a 400 ton railway train? Colin Rowe took us on an amazing and almost unstoppable journey describing how it is done. This was a talk everyone wished had gone on longer. But as I remember the best way today is to brake every axle using a blend of methods including vacuum, compressed air. Signals to warn drivers are no longer trackside but in the cab.

Adrian Lees showed us how to put our Best Foot Forward. Videos showed how wrongly people walk  and where the power to walk comes from. Also when we age how the muscles waste away giving the characteristic gait. He showed how useful in reducing the load on the joints trekking poles were especially on hill climbs and descents.

Near to my heart was the talk on Electric Cars. John Lilly went through history from the first car in 1837 using zinc acid batteries. By 1859 lead acid batteries were used since they lasted longer. In 1881 a speed record of 39.24 mph was recorded. In 1900 38% of cars were electric in the USA. Until the electric starter motor was invented the petrol car languished. Since then the perennial drawback of limited battery capacity and hence range has held back this clean and simple technology.

When it comes to statistics Brian Way can explain it with wit and humour.  Are Statistics Really Useful? Yes of course they are but they are badly used. Brian briefly touched on many statistical mathematical tools but the one that struck me was Confidence Interval which is a measure of your measurement's accuracy. He suggested asking your Doctor what this is when he tells you your latest blood pressure or cholesterol levels. Most Doctors will not have a clue and yet this is essential for knowing whether the levels are significant or not.

Ann Rattue gave the last talk on Sir Henry Wellcome and the Foundation. The Foundation is the largest UK charity funding organisation giving £556m in 1915 to worthy causes. Sir Henry met Silas M Burroughs and together helped the indigenous poor. Later in 1878 Burroughs came to London and made a pill making machine. Wellcome joined him in 1886 and business boomed. In 1895 Burroughs died . Nowadays the Wellcome Foundation have large offices in London with a museum.

As always a brilliant week spent in the company of like minded folk from all over the UK.  Thoroughly recommended. Next year the dates will be 7th to 10th August 2016 at Nottingham University.

Peter Read - U3A Subject Adviser Photography.




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