The CERN Song


For Upulie, (and all of the team, friends and followers of Real Scientists).
To the tune of Tina Arena’s Burn.




Do you wanna be a particle, and collide?
Do you wanna be a neutrino, faster than light?
Do you wanna be a physicist, and win the Nobel?
Do you wanna meson to muon?
Do you wanna plasma, quark and gluon?
Or whoosh around the 27 k tunnel?



Be anyone you want to be
Bring to life your fantasies
But I want something in return
I want you to CERN, CERN for me baby
Like a candle in my night
CERN for me
CERN for me



Are you gonna be a proton, and get smashed?
Are you gonna be a boson, and give mass?
Or go to Scotland and touch Higgs’ face?
Are you gonna be an strange, charm flavour quark ?
Are you gonna tell us, what is matter dark?
Or a test
Of supersymmetry


Ill lay down on your standard model
Offer up my safety goggles
But in return
I want you to CERN
CERN for me baby
Like a candle in my night
Oh CERN, CERN for me, CERN for me
I want you to CERN baby ooh


Laugh for me
Cry for me
Pray for me
Lie for me
Live for me
Die for me
I want you to CERN
CERN for me baby
Like a candle in my night
Oh CERN, CERN for me, CERN for me



#ChemMovieCarnival – On teenage angst and the importance of a great science teacher

Here we go with another of the bloggy doggy’s great Chemistry-themed carnivals, and this time it’s the #ChemMovieCarnival.

Although it’s not really chemistry-related, I’ve chosen a scene from the 2001 Richard Kelly cult classic, Donnie Darko. This is possibly my most favourite movie ever, definitely top three, and I’ll even admit to enjoying the director’s cut more than the original film.

The really short (~20 s) scene in question involves the main character Donnie (Jake Gyllenhaal) walking home from school with the new kid Gretchen (Jena Malone) and they have a conversation about an assignment Gretchen has been set by the science teacher Professor Monnitoff (Noah Wyle).

Gretchen Ross: Look, I should go. For physics, Monnitoff is having me write this essay. Greatest invention ever to benefit mankind.

Donnie Darko: It’s Monnitoff. But that’s easy. Antiseptics. Like the whole sanitation thing. Joseph Lister, 1895. Before antiseptics, there was no sanitation, especially in medicine.

Gretchen Ross: You mean soap?

Leaving aside any factual errors in Donnie’s statement, you can see from the screencap below that Gretchen has this completely incredulous look on her face, awash with teenage attitude.  I think part of the reason I was so drawn to this movie initially is that the interactions between the characters are so authentic and believable against the backdrop of some out-and-out batshit craziness.


I really like this scene, and the question it poses, because although I’d largely prefer to forget the bulk of my high school years, I was lucky enough to have had one or two passionate teachers like Monnitoff (although nowhere NEAR as good looking) who would set assignments or class discussions around these kind of ‘big questions’ topics. For me, it was these types of lessons, early introductions to philosophy of science, critical thinking and the scientific method which really propelled me towards science as a career.

The importance of a strong grounding in the sciences in school is something I feel can’t be overestimated. The science teacher in this movie is an ex-academic, and the students find him approachable and knowledgeable. He is happy to take Donnie’s questions after class, and also lends him a book which plays a critical part in the plot of the movie. In another scene with Donnie and Prof Monitoff, we see the portrayal of the unfortunate position of public school science teachers in the US. Donnie is a bright and curious young man looking for guidance from a teacher, but on the question of God and religion, Monitoff is forced to end the discussion for fear of being fired. It’s unlikely that Kelly’s intention was to demonstrate the importance of an enthusiastic science teach on young minds, rather it is a by-product of his careful character development in this film.


Another ‘big question’, and one of the main themes of the film is time travel. But I’ve already not talked about chemistry in this post, so I’m certainly not going to not talk about physics as well!

Chocolate Chip Cookies – Science Style

Because we can just never get enough chemophobia, See Arr Oh from the Just Like Cooking blog has alerted the chemblogosphere to some more ridiculous scaremongering about the chemicals in our food. He has rightfully ridiculed the advertising and you should go there and read it (and about what the pseudonymous dog has for breakfast himself!).

However, the post made remember something I did ages ago (maybe 6-7 years?) which I had completely forgot about and I will share with you below:


The biscuits made from this recipe actually won me a baking competition at the place I worked at the time. Although of course they were tremendously delicious, I attribute my win to the fact that I displayed this recipe along with the cookies, and the judges all had chemistry degrees. A lesson in knowing your audience 🙂

***Update 13-01-2013

Reader @markemer has pointed out that vanilla essence (reagent #7) is not pure vanillin, and usually is a solution containing a number of other compounds, including water, ethanol, and methyl carbinol. Thanks Mark, corrections always welcome.

The Modern (Gas) Chromatographer’s Song

Full credit goes to my boss for coming up with this idea, however all the wording is my own. Don’t ask me to sing it.


The Modern (Gas) Chromatographer’s Song

I am the very model of a modern Chromatographer

I’ve information vegetable, animal, but volatile,

I know the phases of columns, and I quote them all historical

From injection port to detector, in order categorical;

I’m very well acquainted, too, with matters mathematical,

I understand equations, both Gaussian and quadratical,

About temperature programming I’m teeming with a lot o’ news,

With many cheerful facts about the carrier gas you should use


I’m very good at integrating all of the peaks numerous;

I know the scientific names of organic chemiculuous:

In short, in matters vegetable, animal, but volatile

I am the very model of a modern Chromatographer


I know our mythic history, Van Deemter’s and Sir Kovats*;

I can do the hard extractions, I’ve a pretty taste for paradox,

I quote in journal papers the crimes of other’s poor analysis

I’m not afraid of making the injection aqueous

I can tell the chemical’s identity from just retention indices

I think that STD’s a standard and not venereal disease

Then I can hum the order of which compound will elute before

And whistle all the airs from that infernal LC I abhor

Then I can make a splitless injection that will no doubt perform

And tell you every detail of a split ratio that’s the norm

In short, in matters vegetable, animal, but volatile,

I am the very model of a modern Chromatographer


In fact, when I know what is meant by the absorptive travelling

Of the analytes whose identity I’m un-a-ravelling

When such affairs as how to decide where the baseline’s drawn at

And when I know precisely what is meant by the mobile phase’s effluent

When I have learnt what progress had been made in column ‘fficiency

When I know the film thickness, diameter, peak capacity

In short, when I’ve a smattering of chemical strategy—

You’ll say a better Chromatographer has never done GC


For my chromatographic knowledge, though I’m plucky and adventury,

Has only been brought down to the beginning of the century;

But still, in matters vegetable, animal, but volatile,

I am the very model of a modern Chromatographer


*artistic license, Ervin Kovats was not knighted, as he was Hungarian.

Two Nobel Laureates in Two Weeks Makes for One Excellent Fortnight

I recently had the pleasure and good fortune of meeting two science Nobel Laureates in a fortnight. First was Professor Peter Doherty (Physiology/Medicine 1996) and secondly Professor Dan Shechtman (Chemistry, 2011).

Doherty was included as part of a panel discussion ‘The Story of Science’ which was held as part of the Melbourne Writers Festival. A bunch of the local twitterati all attended, and my friend Vanessa (@andanin) did up an excellent summary of the event with a Storify of our tweets, which you can find here. The panel members stuck around afterwards, signing books and talking people. I went to buy Sentinel Chickens, Doherty’s latest book with the mission of getting him to sign my copy. Purchase completed, I was amazed to find him quietly sitting on his own against a wall, rather than surrounded by other Nobel Groupies like myself. I guess I should stop being surprised that laureates don’t draw the same type of fans as Beiber et. al. Anyway, he was lovely and asked me about my work, of which I promptly thoroughly bored him with details about, and he also knew how to spell my name correctly, with the acute over the second last ‘e’. I’ve since discovered that opera singer Renée Fleming is mentioned in Sentinel Chickens, and this is how he must have known.


The second encounter with Professor Shechtman was at a lecture held at Monash Uni. The small lecture theatre was full to the brim, with people sitting in the aisles. I live tweeted the lecture, and you can see the Storify of them here. I apologise for all of the spelling errors, especially seeing as I have been reasonably consistent in mis-typing Shechtman’s name. I went prepared and took with me his famous Phys. Rev. Lett. paper and a Sharpie. After the lecture I asked him to sign it, and was duly rewarded. I also tried to ask him if he’d seen the Penrose tiled floor in the chemistry building at UWA, but unfortunately he is deaf and couldn’t hear my question properly.


Two more signatures to add to my collection, and new Laureates to be announced in just under a month. Exciting times!

Scientists in Schools – Term 3 2012

I had another visit to my partner primary school this week which was loads of fun. The lead up however involved quite a bit more thinking and planning than I anticipated. I was visiting the prep class and the teacher told me that their science topic for this term was ‘animals’. I’m finding it quite difficult to think of experiments and demonstrations that are appropriate for 5 year olds, especially related to animals. They really need hands-on learning at this age. My first thoughts for a science experiment related to animals was a dissection, in particular a squid dissection. I thought this would be a good choice, given that squid don’t have blood, and very few organs, yet still have interesting features like the beak and ink sac. It’s also likely that many of the kids would’ve eaten squid before. Anyway, as great as I thought this idea was, it was vetoed by the teacher because of the paperwork required to do a dissection at the school (really, Education Department!? DISAPPOINT).

So moving on from the dissection idea, I’d seen some footage of a science class on Catalyst, of a demonstration of how yabbies breathe underwater. You place some food dye in the water in front of them, and can then see the dyed water filter through the yabby’s gills. Great idea, right? WRONG. Turns out it’s not yabby season and there are no yabbbies to be found. Thankfully I can say that the old cliché ‘third time lucky’ came through for me this time. My colleague recently acquired a couple of spiny leaf insects as office pets. I managed to get hold of an adult female, and took her in for show and tell. The kids loved it, and I let them keep her as a class pet – although they already have a bird – so I hope they keep them apart! After a Q&A session about the insect, most of the kids wanted to have a hold (there were a couple of resisters) and I was really impressed with their bravery. I have to admit that when I first picked it up, I thought it was pretty creepy and weird. After everyone became acquainted with the insect (who has since been christened ‘Sticky’) we did a bug walk around the school grounds, looking for insects, spiders and other creepy crawlies. At first it surprised me that the teachers were happy to let 30 or so preps run wild around the school looking for bugs, but I guess they’re not going to go anywhere. Can’t wait to go back next term when I’ll be visiting one of the older classes.

postscript. I’ve always had a small (or large) amount of disdain for children, but damn, these preps are adorable. I can’t resist when one of them comes up and holds my hand, it melts my cold, cold heart. Stupid biological clock.

New Directions

It’s been a while since I’ve updated this blog, so I’ve decided that it’s time to take things in a new direction.

Over a year ago now, one of my colleagues gave a presentation at work about his volunteer work with CSIRO’s Scientists in Schools program. It’s something I had been interested in for a while, and now that I find myself in a permanent job, with a boss supportive of such endeavours, I decided to sign up on the spot. After much to-ing and fro-ing and several delays, I have now been partnered with a primary school in Melbourne’s inner south eastern suburbs. This week I’ll be making my first visit to the school, on World Science Day.

So my plan is that this blog become a journal of my experiences in the Scientists in Schools program, and a record of any experiments and activities that I might do with the kids. Stay tuned for an update at the end of the week.