Apollo 13- re-enactment

What fun! I am so pleased to be able to run a skills course. I am teaching Physics through the medium of Modern Foreign Languages and communication. We have just watched some of Apollo 13.

While the lunar module had enough spare oxygen to accommodate Swigert as well as the intended lunar module crew of Lovell and Haise, carbon dioxide was beginning to build up. Normally lithium hydroxide (LiOH) canisters absorbed the gas from the air and prevented it from reaching dangerous levels, but the canisters on-board the Aquarius were being overwhelmed. The Odyssey had more than enough spare LiOH canisters on-board, but these canisters were square and couldn’t fit into the holes intended for the lunar modules’ round canisters.

Mission control needed a way to put a square peg into a round hole. Fortunately, as with the lunar module activation sequence, somebody was ahead of the game.

Ed Smylie, one of the engineers who developed and tested life support systems for NASA, had recognized that carbon dioxide was going to be a problem as soon as he heard the lunar module was being pressed into service after the explosion.

For two days straight since then, his team had worked on how to jury-rig the Odyssey’s canisters to the Aquarius’s life support system. Now, using materials known to be available on-board the spacecraft–a sock, a plastic bag, the cover of a flight manual, lots of duct tape, and so on–the crew assembled Smylie’s strange contraption and taped it into place. Carbon dioxide levels immediately began to fall into the safe range. Mission control had served up another miracle.


I have 20 students across two rooms. The only means of communication is through Edmodo messenger. One group have a model in front of them, the other are having to build the model from instructions given over the internet.

The frustration on both sides is evident. Caps com has changed hands several times as different people type and give the orders (flight director). I am desperate to go and see what is happening downstairs. I’ve used the phone twice, once to check the students were logged on (a massive delay between switching on and getting logged on). The instructions given weren’t always as clear as caps com thought. The second time was to tell them time was up and to bring up the models to compare.


Just couldn’t wait to see the models, and by all accounts both teams did a brilliant job. I must find another course to fit this into. It is excellent for showing communication, frustration, team work, and all manner of other soft skills.

IMG_20160830_125625420  IMG_20160830_125604868_HDR

And the winning team was….



Well done to you all. I had fun, I hope you did too, and I learned so much!



Mostly Harmless has new neighbours on the pontoons, a wide beam one side, called Dungraftin. The other side sat a beautiful kingfisher. See the photo below. It was just 5m away. We saw it catch a fish. It didn’t even appear to be looking in the right direction.


Back on Mostly Harmless for the 2016 Canal festival. It’s so wet, I’ve written the blog for the Royal Society that I promised them.

Well the results are in!

SQA cert

Well folks! The results are in! You should now be the proud owner of an SQA certificate for the year 2016. How do you feel about your results? Before you jump for joy or drown your sorrows, just step back and think about what your certificate says. If you are very able and achieved an A, then well done. Did you honestly work as hard as you could? Do you have the skills to continue on for when subjects get trickier?

If you didn’t get the result that you hoped or expected think about why that was? Do you really think the SQA got it wrong, or was it down to lack of focussed revision? Did you really ask your teacher to go over every question that you got stuck on?

And if you feel really down because you might not have passed, have you looked at your potential, the score you were expected to get and did you perform as well or better? If you did, then well done to you. You’re the ones I want to celebrate most.

If it was down to lack of effort, learn from your mistakes, pick yourself up and show the world what you’re really capable of achieving.

If you didn’t do as well as you hoped, all is not lost. The world is a funny place. You might become Prime Minister!

Keep in touch, and remember exam results are one aspect of life marking you. I’d rather you were a kind, generous and warm hearted person. That’s what we need most of in this world.


Not for the faint hearted- its Biology!

Gall bladder


thanks to akh for this image

The gall bladder is a pear-shaped organ, between seven and fifteen centimetres long, that sits just under the liver and shares the common bile duct with the liver. The gall bladder stores the bile, a yellow-green fluid  containing water, cholesterol, phospholipids and bile acids to aid digestion, as well as waste products for excretion via the bowel, such as bilirubin. Bile, which is produced by your liver, acts as a detergent, breaking up the fat from food in your gut into very small droplets, so that it can be absorbed. It also makes it possible for your body to take up the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K from the food passing through your gut.  The gallbladder is empty and flat after a meal, like a flat balloon: but before a meal it might be the size of a small pear and full of bile. In response to signals, the gallbladder squeezes stored bile into the duodenum (small intestine) through a series of ducts. In the duodenum, the bile breaks down fat.

What are gallstones?

Gallstones, lumps of solid material  are formed in the gallbladder when the different elements, which make up your bile, become imbalanced.  They usually look like gravel, but can be as small as sand or as large as pebbles, sometimes filling the gallbladder. They may take years to grow and there may be one or several.

Gallstones are formed from the chemicals in bile and may be:

  • pure cholesterol stones – these are the most common type of stone and are made up of cholesterol, a type of fat. They form when cholesterol levels in your bile are much greater than your bile acid levels, causing the cholesterol in your bile to solidify.
  • pure pigment stones – these consist of calcium and bilirubin (a pigment from broken down red blood cells) which have solidified. Pigment stones may form when the amount of bilirubin in bile is excessive.
  • mixed stones – these are a combination of cholesterol and pigment stones.

Gallstones are more common in women than in men because cholesterol is a component of oestrogen, and the fluctuating levels of oestrogen need to be broken down to cholesterol and excreted in bile.

Gallstones can also form when the flow of bile is reduced. This may occur due to:

  • damage to the liver (cirrhosis) or damage to the biliary tract which affects the secretion and flow of bile;
  • long periods of fasting during which there is less requirement for bile, leading to a decreased flow of bile.

What are the symptoms of gallstones?

Many people live with gallstones without symptoms and are unaware they have them until the stones show up in tests performed for another reason.

The most common symptom of gallstones is pain in the abdomen, known as biliary colic. This is a pain that usually lasts between one and five hours (but sometimes up to eight) and varies from mild indigestion or discomfort, to severe pain. Sometimes the pain may be mistaken for a heart attack or a peptic ulcer; due to strong contractions as the gallbladder tries to expel a stone. The pain usually begins after eating fatty foods, though it can also wake you up during the night. These attacks are usually infrequent. Other symptoms may include nausea, vomiting or excessive sweating.

Symptoms indicating complications include:

  • a high temperature of 38°C or above,
  • persistent pain,
  • a rapid increase in the rate of your heartbeat,
  • jaundice – a condition in which the whites of the eyes go yellow and, in more severe cases, the skin also turns yellow (for more information see useful words),
  • itchy skin,
  • diarrhoea,
  • shivering attacks – a sudden chill with severe shivering and a high temperature, similar to ‘flu’, is a sign that infection is building up,
  • mental confusion,
  • a loss in appetite.


If gallstones have been discovered incidentally and are not troublesome, they are usually monitored and left alone. Some people may have one mild attack of biliary colic and no further trouble, while others have continuing problems. Painkillers, may be prescribed to control the symptoms of an attack.

The gallbladder is usually removed by keyhole surgery in a process called laparoscopic cholecystectomy which is performed under a general anaesthetic, using a fibre-optic tube with a tiny camera and a light on the end, called a laparoscope. A small incision is made and the abdomen inflated with carbon dioxide gas. Inflating your abdomen gives the surgeon a better view of your organs and more room in which to work. Instruments are then inserted into the abdominal cavity through three small incisions and controlled very precisely by the doctor, who is able to view your organs via a TV screen. The gallbladder is removed through a small cut in your navel. Afterwards the patient will have four small scars.

Mrs Physics’ Run in with a Gallstone!

Mrs Physics had this very problem and underwent the procedure mentioned. There was so much Physics to learn about during the whole process, e.g. the ultrasound scan, X-rays, CT scan, MRI scan, fibre optic laproscope, thermometers, stethoscopes, EGC devices and that is just the equipment.

However, before the gall bladder was removed a gallstone had to be extracted from the bile duct. Researching this, the duct was approximately 4 or 5 mm diameter (from which you astute ones can work out her age). However, the wonderful Mr Apollos, said that the stone in Mrs Physics’ duct was 28mm diameter, just over the size of a sixer marble. You can imagine how difficult that was to extract and all Mrs Physics can remember was waking up during the middle of this extraction to be told by all those around to keep still. A few complications arose, not least a puncture wound to the pancreas, which led to a two week stay in Ward 6; during which time Mrs Physics developed an admiration for the nursing staff, who not only were mentally but physically exhausted after their shift, an immense gratitude to Mr Apollos and Dr Greg and lots of new friends. She also felt that she was quite knowledgeable about all things gall bladdery; as it appeared most people on Ward 6 had the very same problem.

I dedicate this post to all those people who nursed me and the amazing friends I made whilst on the ward, but especially Karen and Jean.

This is the only picture of Mrs Physics that she has been pleased to show to others. It is pure brilliance, snapped my the surgeon on his camera. The second shot shows what will not be missed. Can you count the large numbers of stones and notice the different sizes. To quote Shrek

“Better out than in!”

Gall bladder

Gallbladder Open

Teachers: If you are looking for copyfree pictures of the gall bladder- feel free to use as desired.


Off to Edinburgh

Mrs Physics is taking to the stage!

(Yes, I know the joke…. “You should be on the stage: there’s one that leaves in five minutes”).

It appears I am going on the stage appearing with two far more distinguished people than I. I think I am there to make the numbers up. The info about the event is given below.

The Science of Writing for Young Readers

Mon 22 Aug 7:00pm – 8:00pm, Baillie Gifford Corner Theatre, £8.00, £6.00
The Science of Writing for Young Readers
Gill Arbuthnott

Experimenting with Words

Quality popular science books can be an interesting way to liven up lessons. Using the Royal Society Young People’s Book Prize shortlist as an example, author and teacher Gill Arbuthnott, teacher Mrs Physics from Lockerbie Academy and education researcher Ruth Jarman discuss how the segue from literature to science, or science to literature, can engage school age children on new and exciting levels.

Now, I wasn’t sure what I’d let myself in for when I signed up for this. I was quite terrified but put it to the back of my mind behind the gall bladder removal. (Which reminds me I must write a post about that soon.)

However, I’ve had to think about this event. So off Gill Arbuthnott came for a morning on Mostly Harmless and we had a really good chat. She’s a very interesting lady, with a love of Science and books and it was a privilege to share a coffee, few cakes and a salad (but not all together). It has totally got me thinking about Science books: no, not text books- books that students can read for pleasure, and there are plenty of them. I realised that apart from the Royal Society Young Peoples Book Prize and a few reviews in Science in Schools, we don’t actually get to know about Science books unless we spend hours in the bookshops, and that’s not easy in rural areas and it isn’t always clear where to find them. Well, that’s where the other person on the panel comes in. I hadn’t realised that, education researcher, Dr Ruth Jarman is aiming to increase the profile of Science reading and literacy for fun.

ruth jarman

I am not sure about having the audience there, I think the three of us will have a wonderful chat and share some great ideas: I am quite looking forward to finding more about what they do. I think I had better go and prepare something and make sure that I keep fairly quiet, as these two ladies will be very interesting and have loads to say! I am a bit worried about the blurb for the Festival, as it talks about it being full of experts, so I don’t know why I was asked.

Students at Lockerbie Academy have been very fortunate to have participated in the Royal Society Young Peoples Book Prize for several years and it is really interesting. Many students don’t know that you can buy or borrow interesting Science books and read them for fun!

Do come and say hello if I see you, although I might have to rush off, it will be double higher first thing Tuesday morning!



Web on the go.

1469476267547-32194288This is my neighbour.
Locked up on the Scottish canals. Mostly Harmless is very Harmless as we can’t go anywhere until we get some important repairs done. That’s three new batteries and the shower to fix. I’m quite content though as I get to catch up with my Higher, Nat 5 and BGE notes. The boat is only six feet ten inches across and fifty-six feet long, so even I can keep it tidy. Anyway over the last week I’ve managed to work the website through my phone as I’ve no internet connection from my computer. The first time I tried using my phone I managed to delete most of my post, so was grateful that it stores all my previous versions. Over this week I’ve managed to create new categories, upload finished notes and make and adapt posts, all on my phone. I think I’m getting the basics, but I wish I’d got the hang of my new glasses as I really can’t see very much. Good night, time for Mostly Harmless to be closed up for the night.

Haven’t seen the swans and seven cygnets tonight. It’s obviously the lettuce, which might be good for them but they certainly won’t eat it.

Here they are, very fickle, left within one minute of the food being gone. Lots of hissing, but didn’t sound threatening. Not that I risked it!



I’m not looking down my nose, it’s my varifocals!


Mrs Physics is getting old! She’s just taken ownership of her first two pairs of varifocals. There is so much Physics and Biology framed within two small pieces of glass. I’ll be carrying out lots of optics experiments on them when I get back to school. Hopefully, by then I will be used to them. Luckily, I’ve had good advice from  Mr Physics, who has recently got himself a pair. I can get the looking up to see distances and looking down to read: but it feels like my head is now in the wrong place to see. As for going down the stairs: I’d been warned to look down but wasn’t prepared to see the floor at the bottom of the stairs sloping at an angle of 35 degrees.

So if you think I’m looking down my  nose at you, please realise that I am trying to get you into full focus and as sharp and clear as you would have been when I was eighteen, although you probably hadn’t been born then.

Ha! Update, I think the long distance part of the varifocals are too high. It looks like I am getting replacement lenses. Hopefully I will then be able to look you straight in the eye.

New pair of varifocals are doing the business. Hope to get the second pair fixed too. Thanks to all who helped me see again.


Is anyone there?

Good evening,

As the snores start above I suddenly wondered if anyone had read any of this website and blog! I believe there is a way of counting visitors but I haven’t found it yet. Someone let me know that you’re out there.  Hope you’re relaxed and chilled. I am still trying to put the Heat topic resources together and then start on Higher and N5- oh to go boating!

Did my first bit of code today to get my gravitar to show at the bottom of a post, hopefully like this one! Building a website can give you loads of satisfaction as well as frustration.



I’m stuck!

No still can’t see what I’ve done wrong! I’ve linked the posts to the categories but I don’t seem to have clicked something so that my categories are visible! What a problem solving exercise. If I can get it to work you ought to be able to click on one of the categories above and that should take you to a classified set of posts, unfortunately as of 15/07/16, I haven’t worked out how to do that. I am currently trying, unsuccessfully the copy rule (it’s working for the BGE section, so what is different!) I wish I had time to start at the beginning with wordpress and follow through a simple learning. Not my style though, which I know I will regret. I’m struggling…..

about two hours later…..

Ha! I’ve done it! That is very satisfying. Once I had a static home page, it all came good!