Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Weeknote #20 (w/e/ 26/9/10)

Better late than never...

It's hard to believe that our NanoInfoBio project is a year old, but it's true. We held the year end workshop last week, attended by twenty-four participants (a very decent turnout, given that it was held on the first day of freshers' week...) We're now well clear of the initial "explore and engage" phase, and are beginning to investigate how we might make nano-info-bio science a sustainable research area at MMU. Obviously, in order to do this, we need further funding, so the main focus of the second twelve months will be the development of research programmes and proposals. Four good project ideas emerged (or were dusted down!) at the meeting, and Naomi's job will be to coordinate the teams responsible for bringing these to fruition.

Exciting news to report on the writing front; back in August I was invited by Ra Page of Comma Press to consider a new collaboration between scientists and writers. A previous volume, When It Changed, contained short stories that emerged from discussions between authors and scientists, and offered "fictionalised glimpses into the far corners of current research fields". The book was very well-received, and they've decided to do another one (with a different focus, and I'm not sure how much I'm allowed to say about this). I was invited to propose one or more ideas for consideration by the set of authors they've signed up, and I was absolutely delighted to hear that one of mine was chosen by Jane Rogers. I'll act as a "scientific consultant", while Jane actually writes the story, and I'm very much looking forward to starting our collaboration next week, with an initial meeting in Manchester.

I'm now installed in my new office, so a trip to Ikea is very much on the cards. Room on the Broom in Buxton was a tremendous success; they're coming to the Lowry at the end of October, and I'd highly recommend it if you have young children (or even if you don't).

Monday, September 20, 2010

Weeknote #19 (w/e 19/9/10)

Exciting times ahead, as we've just appointed a research assistant to work on our DNA hash pooling project. He'll be starting next month, and I'll post progress reports as we start to test the idea in the lab.

Another two Ph.D. students have started in my Group; Ben and Matthew will be working with Andy Nisbet, myself and others on hardware-based approaches to novel computation, with specific reference to the CUDA platform. They are both MMU graduates (in fact, they did their Honours projects with me, each gaining a first class degree), and I hope they'll prove to embody the "grow your own researchers" ethos that we've tried to encourage with NanoInfoBio (no pressure, lads).

I'm currently in the process of moving to a newly-refurbished (and, finally, single-occupancy!) office; this, combined with decorating work at home means that I feel a bit like the Queen, smelling fresh paint wherever I go.

On the family front, this weekend we're off to visit friends for the New Mills lantern parade, followed by Room on the Broom at Buxton Opera House. Rehearsals are well underway for the "BUZZ OFF! That's MY witch!" moment.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Weeknote #18 (w/e 12/9/10)

A big week in the Ashby-Amos household, as the little one started primary school on Tuesday. She was a lot braver than her father, who tried to use the excuse of "worms on the path" in order to avoid going on his first day.

Various commitments meant that I was only able to pay a fleeting visit to the BIC-TA conference in Liverpool. It was really just a question of turning up, presenting the paper and shooting off again, although it was good to briefly catch up with Dave Reid, a colleague from my time at the University of Liverpool.

A story with NanoInfoBio connections attracted quite a lot of attention this week; Gavin Bingley, a Ph.D. student working with Jo Verran, presented some work on microbial degradation of historical cine film, and it was covered quite extensively. Jo and her team will be working with MMU chemists Craig Banks and Lindsey Munro to develop the nano-sensor mentioned in most reports. This project is one of the three 25K "Large Projects" supported by NIB.

Yesterday, I took the little one bike shopping in Halifax, and we made a detour on the way back so that she could have a little snooze in the car. I decided to drive home via Cragg Vale, which is an interesting place, not only for the views, but for the fact that it is the location of the longest continuous gradient in England.

Monday, September 06, 2010

Weeknote #17 (w/e 5/9/10)

The past week was mainly spent on European business. In addition to attending a negotiation meeting in Brussels, we finalised the International Advisory Board (IAB) for our BACTOCOM project, which started in February, and is supported by the European Commission Seventh Framework Programme. The IAB will play a vital role in acting as a "critical friend", as well as advising us on scientific strategy and helping the project to develop connections with other international projects. We're delighted to welcome a number of distinguished colleagues to the project, and they are (in no particular order):

Prof. Måns Ehrenberg, Professor of Molecular Biology at Uppsala University, Member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, and Member of the Nobel Committee for Chemistry.

Dr Jane Calvert, Innogen RCUK Research Fellow at the University of Edinburgh.

Prof. Natalio Krasnogor, Professor of Applied Interdisciplinary Computing at the University of Nottingham.

Prof. Mike Simpson, Distinguished Research Staff Member and Theme Leader, Center for Nanophase Materials Sciences, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, and Professor of Materials Science and Engineering at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville.

Prof. Jeff Hasty, Associate Professor in the Departments of Molecular Biology and Bioengineering, and the Director of the BioCircuits Institute at the University of California, San Diego.

We look forward to working with all of our IAB members in the next two-and-a-half years.