Finding DNA sculptures in London

On Sunday, a group of friends and I set out to find the DNA sculptures that are scattered around London this summer.

The weather wasn’t the best, and we started the journey in heavy rain, but it got a little bit better later. We didn’t make it to all 21 schedules, but we saw 19 of them and you can see them all in this video.

2015-07-26 17.01.10My favourite sculpture was Bios, by Nick Gentry. (Watch us search for and find it.) From a distance, this sculture in the Barbican cinema looks like it’s covered in vines, but when you get closer you see that all the “stems” and “flowers” are made of ethernet cables, film strips, and other mand-made technological materials. If you only have time to see one of the sculptures, make it that one!

DNA sculptures in London – walking tour

This summer London is host to another series of artist-decorated sculptures. After elephants, buses, and book benches, this time the theme is DNA! Join me and other local science communication folks on a walking tour on July 26.


The sculptures, in support of Cancer Research UK,  will be on display around London until early September.

A group of science communicators will be talking a walk along the sculptures on Sunday July 26. We’re using the #ukscitweetup hashtag on social media to coordinate. There were a few requests for a later date, so if you want to do the same walk on another day, feel free to use the same itinerary as below and organise a walk on another day, using the same hashtag. (Anyone can start a #ukscitweetup meetup!) The weekend of August 15/16 was when the other batch of people was available, so that would be a good time.


The itinerary for July 26
There are a few points where you can join in during the day. If you plan on coming along, please leave me a comment below or use the #ukscitweetup hashtag on Twitter to let us know where to expect you.

We’ll be following the route described below, and you can join at sculptures 1, 6, 16, 17 or 20 at the marked times.The map with all sculptures is on the CRUK website.

If you just want to come to the pub, meet us at sculpture 20. Exact pub is yet to be determined, but it will be near Kings Cross & St Pancras station.

If we’re running late for a meeting point, someone will tweet using the #ukscitweetup hashtag, so keep an eye on that if you’re trying to find us halfway.

Walking times are based on Google Maps, with some added time for pictures, searching, buying drinks and food, etc.

You can also download the itinerary as PDF


Sculp1START and Meeting point for leg 1:

Join here to see 20 or 21 sculptures, and walk for about 3 to 3.5 hours

11:20 at sculpture 1, located at the South steps of the Royal Albert Hall (SW7 2AP)

Walking route: Sculptures 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6 (in order)

Duration: about 1 hour


sculp6Meeting point for leg 2:

Join here to see 15 or 16 sculptures, and walk for about 2 to 2.5 hours

12:30 at sculpture 6, located inside Victoria station, near WH Smith (SW1E 5ND)

Walking route: Sculptures 6, 7, 8, 16

Duration: about 40 minutes


sculp16Meeting point for leg 3:

Join here to see 12 or 13 sculptures, and walk for about 1.5 to 2 hours

13:15 at sculpture 16, located inside Waterloo station, near M&S (SE1 8SW)

Walking route: 16, 15, 14, 12, 13, 9, 10

Duration: about 1 hour


Optional detour to Sculpture 11 (by Ai Weiwei) or have a lunch break J

Walking route: 10 (Bond Street station) to 11 (near Goodge Street station) to Oxford Street Station.

Duration: about 30 minutes. This sculpture is near a lot of restaurants, so lots of opportunity to grab a bite to eat here as well.


sculp17Meeting point for leg 4:

Join here to see 5 sculptures and walk for about half an hour. If you were on the previous leg, you get here using the Central Line from Bond Street, or from Oxford Street if you did the detour.

3:30 at sculpture 17, near St Paul’s cathedral (EC4M 8AD)

(Note: there are two sculptures near St Paul’s. This is the one by Andrew Logan, called “Birth of the Universe”, shown to the right.)

Walking route: 17, 18, 19

Duration: about 15 minutes


sculp20Final meeting point for last two sculptures and the pub

Join here to see 2 sculptures and walk for just a few minutes.

Get here from the previous leg by taking a tube from Barbican to Kings Cross.

4:15 at sculpture 20, inside Kings Cross station (near Leon)

Walking route: 20, 21, PUB!



Interrailing through Europe with Borodin and Mendeleev

This post first appeared on The Finch and Pea.


Long ago, in a kingdom that no longer exists, a bohemian traveller was mistaken for a fugitive revolutionary, and arrested.

Screen Shot 2015-06-01 at 22.02.33The traveller was Russian chemist and composer Alexander Borodin, who was on his way to Italy with his friend Dmitri Mendeleev. Both men were researchers in the chemistry department of the University of Heidelberg, where they learned the ropes from Robert Bunsen (inventor of the bunsen burner) and Emil Erlenmeyer (inventor of the erlenmeyer flask). In a few years, Mendeleev would develop his own classic staple of chemistry labs – the periodic table – but now he was taking a break from science, and making his way to Italy with his friend.

They travelled light, and brought very little clothes with them. “We wore only blouses, so that we would look like artists”, Mendeleev has said of this trip. “That’s not a bad idea in Italy, because you can get along very cheaply that way. We took hardly any shirts with us, and had to buy new ones when the need arose; we gave these away to the waiters in place of tips. We absolutely let ourselves go in Italy, after the stifling cloistered life of Heidelberg.”

LombVenPicture these two men, dressed in their artists blouses, walking across large parts of Switzerland. Looking nothing like the academics they were in Heidelberg, they reached the Kingdom of Lombardy-Venetia. This kingdom no longer exists. The area is now Northern Italy, but was then part of the Austrian Empire, and Austrian police were on the lookout for a political fugitive.

Seeing a bohemian figure who matched the description of the revolutionary they were told would cross the border that day, the police arrested Borodin.

He was not at all the man they were looking for. Borodin had led a quiet and privileged life, filled with books, music, and education. After graduating from medical school in St Petersburg, he moved to Heidelberg to study chemistry. He spent all of his free time making music, and had already composed several pieces for piano, voice, or string ensembles. Much later, years after his untimely death at a costume party, Borodin would posthumously win a Tony Award for composing the original score used in the musical Kismet. He was a chemist, a musician, a Russian prince’s illegitimate son, a women’s rights activist, and an educator – but not a member of an Italian revolutionary movement.

By the time the police realised their mistake, the real fugitive had taken advantage of the distraction, and crossed the border. When Borodin and Mendeleev finally boarded their train, they were greeted with cheers and applause by the Italian passengers, for unwittingly helping a member of the revolution escape.

We don’t know the identity of the mysterious fugitive, but at the end of the Austro-Prussian War in 1866, the Kingdom of Lombardy-Venetia was no more. The region became part of Italy, which it still is. And somewhere along the way, two Russian chemists on a low budget holiday may have played a very minor role in shaping the political situation in 19th century Northern Italy.


Source: the book “Borodin”, by Serge Dianin, translated by Robert Lord (1963). Mendeleev’s words about their outfits are quoted in the book, but originally from another book by M.N. Mladentsev and V.E. Tischenko, called “Dmitry Ivanovich Mendeleev. His Life and Work, Vol I.” (1938). The photo of Borodin and Mendeleev is a crop from a larger photo including two other chemists – Gitinsky and Olevinsky. The original photo was taken in 1860 – the year this story takes place. Lombardy-Venetia map in the public domain, via Wikimedia.


I finally had a chance to visit Barcelona last week, on a holiday with my family. Some photos and video below, and many more photos on Flickr.



Barcelona street

Patatas Bravas


Street escalator

Guitarist and pigeons

Park Guell

Park Guell

Sagrada Familia

Miro museum

Montjuic castle

La Boqueria

La Boqueria


Rambla de Raval


The seventeen most Portlandia things I saw when I was in Portland earlier this month.

17. Portland time capsule idea box (also very “Parks & Rec”)
Portland time capsule

16. Keep Portland Weird
Keep Portland Weird

15. Community cycling center
Community cycling center

14. Zine symposium
Zine symposium

13. This guy on a fixie bike stapling posters to poles.

12. Carbon neutral compostable cup

Carbon neutral and compostable

11. Things with birds on it. (Many. Just one pictured.)
Bird book

10. Food cart pods
Food carts

9. Instructions on how to look after this tree on the sidewalk
How to look after tree

8. A-O river!
(Bonus: the boats in the distance are a tiny floating pirate community.)

7. Portland-themed children’s books in a kids store.
Kids book

6. The urban farm where I stayed for two days

5. This event for and about women
Women's event

4. Local marionberries

Marion berries

3. This ad

2. A well-organised tree hugging event
Tree hugging schedule

1. These women in a coffee shop. One was making music with her drum pad, with headphones on. Then her friend came, and the friend took the headphones to listen to the music.
Music in coffee shop


I’ve started my second year of blogging for The Finch and Pea, and this year I’ll be focusing my science travel posts on places I have NOT been. The first one I wrote is about Yellowstone National Park, and the history of the discovery of Thermus aquaticus.

Brock took samples from springs at different temperatures, and found many more microbes than he originally thought possible. Some of them even lived at temperatures higher than 73°C, which was at the time thought to be the upper limit for life. One of the sites he studied was a spring in the Lower Geyser Basin, called Mushroom Spring. In October 1966, Brock isolated culture YT-1 of a new micro organism, from a sample he had collected in Mushroom Spring at a temperature of 73°C on September 5th. He initially called his new discovery Caldobacter trichogenes, but by the time the first article about the discovery was published, the name had already changed to Thermus aquaticus.


Read the rest at The Finch and Pea.

I’m one of eight bloggers on The Finch and Pea, and we cover all the fun sides of science. Travel, music, art, cooking… even LOLcats!

Follow the blog on Twitter or Facebook to keep up with everyone.

Finch and Pea travel post round-up

I’m almost out of places I’ve been, to write about on The Finch and Pea. Don’t worry – I’ll keep writing there, just from a slightly different angle. If you’re not caught up on my science-themed travel posts there, here is a round-up of the ones I’ve written so far:

If you only have time to read some, my favourites are: Museum of Jurassic Technology, La Brea Tar Pits, Biodome, Platypus, John Snow pump, Baldwin Steps, yak, Eden Project. Or why not just read them all?

Travelling, catching up

I’m in Newcastle at the moment. Tomorrow I’m speaking and exhibiting at a conference for postgraduate students. I came here on a train from Edinburgh, where I spoke on Friday as part of Open Access Week. That same week I had also been in Sheffield and Zurich, and the week before I gave a talk in London, and before that I was at a workshop in San Francisco and I was also in Bristol not too long ago. It has generally been crazy with talks and travel for a while now, and it will stay like this for another few weeks.

All of the talks have been about F1000Research. A large part of my job involves going out to institutes and conferences to  talk to people about the journal, and there have been a lot of those opportunities recently, which is why I’ve been so busy.

Travelling is interesting and necessary, and I generally like it, but I haven’t had time to properly reflect on anything for months now. I haven’t even had time to do all the work I need to do, because for some things I just need to sit at my desk for a prolonged period of time, and that hasn’t happened lately.

This weekend I stayed in Edinburgh, because that’s much closer to Newcastle than London is and going back on Saturday and then up North again on Sunday would have been silly. That gave me a chance to explore Edinburgh a bit. I’d never been before, but it was on my list of cities I’d been meaning to visit, so that was convenient. I loved it! There were lots of little side streets and lots of places to sit and just have a coffee, which is what I spent a large chunk of the weekend doing. As a result, I’m now finally catching up a bit on this blog. I’ve scheduled three blog posts for the next ten days or so. Two overdue book reviews, and some thoughts from TEDxAlbertopolis.

Feeling slightly less stressed now that those things (and several of my talks) are off my plate, but I still have some much bigger side projects waiting for me to find even more of my spare time back. I still have four conferences/workshops until end of November, and who knows what will pop up in December, but it is slowly winding down a bit for the next few weeks at least.

Japan video diary

Had to use my phone to record the narration, because my precious audio recorder is broken… I’m going to send it for repair as soon as I have time to go to the post office, but that might not be until Friday the 13th. Hm, hope that doesn’t mean the repair won’t work…


Science news reporting is generally slow. Unlike sports reporting, for example, you won’t hear something until months after it happened.

Today, the New York Times reports on the exciting find of a mammoth underneath a Los Angeles parking garage, but this mammoth was actually found as early as 2007.

I already heard about it when I visited the Tar Pits this summer, and saw the tusks:


I also saw many, many crates with parking garage soil, crammed onto the small area of the Tar Pits park. Crates so full of interesting paleontological finds that it will take the pit scientists years to go through it all. Remember, this is in L.A.. The fossils came from underneath a parking garage. I tend to think of North America as a place with little history, and especially L.A. is something that is very “now” to me, which somehow makes its paleontological treasures even cooler.