IC Reporter ISSUE 19 (23 JANUARY - 5 FEBRUARY 1996) Staff Newspaper of Imperial College of Science, Technology and Medicine

IC Reporter


Geologists brave icy fiord to explore underwater columns

PhD student Paul Seaman, Geology, had his exciting account of a diving expedition to a Greenland fiord published in the Independent (19 December). More recently he appeared alongside footage taken from his dives on all the day's BBC TV news and BBC radio programmes (10 January). The IC students' expedition was to study the strangely formed underwater columns of Ikka Fiord. These are composed of a rare form of chalk known as ikaite, which melts at a couple of degrees above 0C. The excitement of their original research had a price, however, as the divers found that the captivating columns kept them in the icy water too long. With throbbing and numb sinuses and fingers, they would surface to spend some minutes in agony.

Owners' risk to businesses

Bad management rather than bad luck causes the downfall of small businesses reported The Times (12 December) following the publication of a report into the reasons for business failure by Professor Sue Birley of the Management School. Also covered by The Guardian and FT, Professor Birley's report suggested that less businesses would fail if action was taken to curb autocratic and emotionally-driven owners.

Thought patterns link subjects

Professor Colin Caro, Centre for Biological and Medical Systems, took part in a stimulating discussion about 'metapatterns' on The Afternoon Shift, on BBC Radio 4 (12 December). Metapatterns emerge as a manner of visualising and organising the links between subjects. Professor Caro's response to the idea of metapatterns was that he hadn't yet discerned them in his own work, but pointed out that a similar way of thinking had long existed among scientists: 'This has moved many great scientists. It's the interest in extrapolating from one system to another. It's the perception of parallels.'

Crystal growth break through

In order to study the structure of a protein using x-ray analysis, high quality protein crystals need to be grown. A technical refinement discovered by Dr Naomi Chayen, Physics, which would allow her to grow the best crystals possible without resorting to a space mission, where the microgravity environment improves results, was reported in Science (22 December). Her team discovered that using a droplet of oil would prevent air contamination and evaporation of protein solutions. However the new 'microbatch' technique yielded no crystals for two months, so the experiments were set aside. When Dr Chayen was clearing out the cabinets four months later, she found that the samples had crystallised, albeit very slowly. Later tests showed that by carefully selecting the type and quantity of oil, the evaporation process could be carefully tuned.

(c) Imperial College of Science, Technology and Medicine, 1995

Last Revised: 20 January 1995