Umwelt – a concept important in D&T and Science lessons – YES, REALLY

Recently, purely by chance, I found myself listening to an abridged version of Ed Yong’s brilliant book An Immense World, on Radio 4 Book of the Week. The key idea that Ed brings to his book is that of ‘umwelt’; a word coined in 1909 by zoologist Jacob von Uexkull. Umwelt refers to those parts of an animal’s surroundings that the animal can actually sense and experience – its perceptual world if you like. We have our own such world defined by our sense organs which detect sound, light, or chemicals which convert them to electrical signals which travel along neurons towards our brains. In our brains these signals are interpreted to give us our perceptions; of what we see – a sunrise, of what we hear – birds twittering or what we smell – early morning dew on grass. Remarkable; but even more remarkable is the idea that each sort of animal has sense organs different from ours and hence live in their own unique umwelt. 

Whilst we cannot experience their umwelt, we can begin to understand to some extent what their particular worlds are like and marvel at just how wonderful they are. This insight enables us to treat animals in our care in ways that support and enhance their world experience. So, when teaching about different animals in biology there is surely much to be gained by considering these animals’ umwelts. How they perceive the world may well provide insight into how our sense systems work. When teaching about the possibilities of biomimicry as a design strategy the umwelts of different creatures will surely provide intriguing and stimulating examples. 

Ed is not dismissive of these motives, but he is critical. “I’m not interested in either. Animals are not just stand-in for humans or fodder for brain storming sessions. They have a worth in themselves“. He cites the American naturalist Henry Beston:”They move finished and complete, gifted with extensions of the senses we have lost or never attained, living by voices we shall never hear. They are not brethren, they are not underlings; they are other nations, caught with ourselves in the net of life and time, fellow prisoners of the splendour and travail of the earth.” 

I think seeing animals in this way, changes one’s view of the world, such that one sees all animal life as precious. This has the potential of influencing and enhancing the way humanity responds to the challenge of being stewards for Planet Earth. Definitely something that we should be teaching about in D&T.

As always comments welcome.

The Robots are coming for transport! But what about jobs for human drivers?

By coincidence I’ve had two conversations recently about robots and transport. The first, with my friend Nick Givens was about automated air taxis. Apparently, the company Ehang is already operating electric autonomous aerial vehicle (AAV) aircraft in China on about 100 routes under a special permit. And Wisk, a joint venture of Kitty Hawk and Boeing have signed a memorandum of understanding with the New Zealand government to begin passenger transport trials using its autonomous ‘Cora’ once it is certified. 

Nick’s view is that whilst there may not be a human pilot on the plane somewhere in the background there will be humans in a traffic control centre with an overview of proceedings and the option of intervention. More about this at the aviation today website 

It’s not just air vehicles that are becoming autonomous. As Nick told me, something similar applies to automated trains. At the moment there needs to be a central control monitored, if not operated, by humans. RioTinto Zinc in Australia claims to be running iron ore trains on an 800km round trip which includes a number of road level crossings, and it seems certain that there will be a human operated central control somewhere. Nick wasn’t sure what difference that would make- if someone runs across in front of several-thousand ton train no brakes are going to stop it in time. 

New trains. New Locomotives and wagons operating in the Pilbara region of Western Australia. Always credit Christian Sprogoe Photography when published.

And that particular line did – and maybe still does – hold the record for the worlds heaviest train: over 99,732 tons. We wondered why they didn’t squeeze in another 270 tons to reach the hundred thousand.

On the same day I had a conversation with my friend John Spencer who lives in Milton Keynes and he told me that he gets his groceries delivered by a robot. The company involved is called Starship Technologies. It was Launched in 2014 by Skype co-founders, Ahti Heinla and Janus Friis, and today operates in several cities across the world completing tens of thousands of autonomous deliveries every day. Starship’s robots move at pedestrian speed and weigh no more than 100 pounds. 

According to the company they’re inherently safe and can navigate around objects and people.

For security, the cargo bay is mechanically locked throughout the journey and can be opened only by the recipient with their smartphone app. The location of the robots is tracked, so the customer knows exactly the location of their order and receive a notification at the time of arrival.

We must ask what is happening to those who used to fly the air taxis, drive the trains, and make the deliveries. In the short term an answer is that these developments are at the cutting edge and will only be operating in a few locations so their immediate impact on employment will be minimal. But this is short-sighted. Kevin Kelly, in his provocative book, What technology wants, argues that one of successful technologies features is that they become ubiquitous. And a question we should always ask about a new and emerging technology is, “What will be the consequences of this technology becoming ubiquitous?” This moves me to wonder whether this is the underlying issue in the current rail strike. The companies running the rail networks are under pressure to achieve ever more financially efficient operations and one way to accomplish this is to lower costs by reducing the workforce and rely instead on automation. The RMT union are resisting this by arguing for better pay and guarantees of future employment. If one holds Kelly’s view that technology is to a large extent autonomous and will, through its intrinsic nature, move towards greater efficiency, then the RMT’s efforts can be seen as a futile resistance. But their resistance should, perhaps, be put into the context of the bigger picture of considering the impact of automation, through robotics and AI, on employment prospects generally. Perhaps steps should be taken to ensure that companies who introduce automation in order to become more financially efficient are under some obligation to guarantee that those who become unemployed through this introduction of automation should be offered compensation and training for work in other fields.

As always comments welcome.

Why D&T Teachers might find reading the Economist worthwhile

By chance I saw a copy of the Economist in my local library open at the Science and Technology section (March 19th, 2022, edition). I hadn’t realised that it had such a section and was surprised to see an article on 3D printing entitled A Guttenberg moment. It points to the problem 3D printing has in competing with conventional high volume production processes – the inverse relationship between resolution, which governs the level of detail that can be printed, and the speed of the process. Hence some large components with fine detail can take days, if not months, to print. Enter James DeMuth and his colleagues at Lawrence Liverpool National Laboratory in the US. They have developed a Laser Powder Bed Fusion (L-PBF) printer that can fuse a square of metal powder at one go. The printer can fuse 40 squares adjacent to one another every second. The size of the square depends on the metal; aluminium requires 15 mm squares, titanium 13 mm and steel 10 mm. The layers are just 25 microns (millionths of a meter) thick and can be printed at a rate of 3 kg an hour, ten times the rate of conventional L-PBF printers. The expectation is that future generations of this machine will operate at 100 times faster. James believes that by 2030 it will be possible to produce stainless steel cutlery for $25 a kilo which is cheaper than you can stamp them out and at a comparable speed. Hence 3D printing will be able to compete with conventional production processes. The printing press, initially developed in Guttenberg in 1440, disrupted the production of books, producing up to 3,600 pages per workday, compared to forty by the hand printing method commonly used at the time. This heralded in an era of mass communication. The long-heard hype about 3D printing disrupting conventional manufacturing might just be coming to fruition and the article suggests we are on the verge of another Guttenberg moment.

So, I looked for another copy and found in the 21st May 2022 edition three pages devoted to graphene. First isolated in 2004, graphene has intriguing properties: 200 time stronger than steel, lightweight, flexible, excellent conductor of heat and electricity plus interesting light-absorbing properties. But as yet no killer app. Recently it has been discovered that the addition of less than 0.1% of graphene by weight to concrete increases its strength by 30%. Stronger concrete means less of it is needed, with a consequent reduction in its carbon footprint. Researchers are currently looking at using graphene to enhance the performance of batteries which could allow EV batteries to be lighter, longer-lasting and faster-charging. If this pays off, then graphene will have found itself another important market. But the production of green concrete seems the most likely killer app to date. 

Turning over the page I found myself in the Culture section and reading an article on interspecies. A review of the book Ways of being (by James Bridle published by Farrar, Straus, and Giroux) which considers how AI might be used to bridge the gap between human and non-human minds and act as a translator between human and other biological life forms. Heady stuff but given that we are realising more and more that all life on Planet Earth is precious then this is a potentially very important possibility for the use of AI.

Schools that teach business and economics will almost certainly take the Economist so I think it might be a good idea if D&T teachers asked for back copies to be passed on to them as it seems likely there will be items of considerable interest.

As always comments welcome.

Amazon’s till-less grocery stores – part of a flawed trinity?

A trinity for progress?

There has been a strong relationship between science, technology and capitalism since the 17th century. It began with the Enlightenment. Yuval Harari, in his book Homo Sapiens, points out that it was not until the Enlightenment that humans realised that they were ignorant and that that there was much new knowledge to be discovered and exploited. He explains that this is where the relationship between science and technology developed apace. Discovering new knowledge and then exploiting it is expensive. It requires significant funding and this is where a third party enters the relationship – capitalism. Those with funds to invest paid for scientific discovery and its exploitation with the expectation that they would make a significant profit some of which they could re-invest in finding and exploiting new knowledge. Hence there has been an alliance between science, technology and capitalism (through both private and government investment) that has enabled science and technology to develop a significant synergy that has led to the world we have today.

A trinity in crisis?

Tim O’Reilly, in his book WTF What’s the future and why it’s up to us, writes an interesting critique of capitalism and the way it has most recently used technology in the pursuit of profitability. Three quotes are of particular significance. 

The algorithm is the new shift boss. What regulators and politicians should be paying attention to is the fitness function driving the algorithm, and whether the resulting business rules increase or decrease the opportunities for workers, or whether they are simply designed to increase corporate profits.

Mistaking what is good for financial markets for what is good for jobs, wages, and the lives of actual people is a fatal flaw in so many of the economic choices business leaders, policy makers and politicians make.

It isn’t Wall Street per se that is becoming hostile to humanity. It is the master algorithm of shareholder capitalism, whose fitness function both motivates and coerces companies to pursue short-term profit above all else. What are humans in that system but a cost to be eliminated?

Jacques Ellul, in his book The Technological Society, argues that the intrinsic nature of technology with its emphasis on efficiency and standardisation as inimitable to the human spirit and the wide ranging influence that technology is having, and continuing to have, on society as both dehumanising and outside human control.

Where does this leave Amazon’s till-less grocery store?

Amazon sees this initiative as providing a more ‘frictionless’ experience than that of other retailers enabling them to expand into the high street. This will undoubtedly be followed by other retailers mimicking the ‘frictionless’ experience. Tim O’Reilly’s critiques of ‘the algorithm’ are relevant here particularly humans being a cost to be eliminated. I have often been in my local supermarket and eavesdropped on the talk between the person on the till and customers. The till operators are highly skilled at processing the shopping and maintaining conversations with minimal interruption of customer flow through the checkout. Some of this talk may be the only conversation that lonely folk, not always elderly, have that day. The frictionless experience offered by Amazon is, as Jacques Ellul would say, dehumanising.

As always comments welcome


There are other issues with regard to the till-less grocery store. Civil liberties groups, such as Big Brother Watch, group has raised concerns.

“[It] offers a dystopian, total-surveillance shopping experience; Amazon’s intense tracking of shoppers will create larger personal data footprints than any other retailer. Customers deserve to know how and by whom these records and analytics could be used.”

Check out this item on BBC news.

STEM across the World

STEM book cover 2nd edThe 2nd Edition of David’s and Frank Banks’ popular book Teaching STEM in the Secondary School: Helping Teachers Meet The Challenge, is due to be published early in 2021.

For this edition David asked colleagues from around the world to write about STEM education in their countries. These authors were:

  • Australia: David Ellis, Southern Cross University  and P John Williams, Curtin University
  • Belgium: Didier Van de Velde, Catholic Education, Flanders
  • Brazil: Vitor Mann, Pedagogical Coordinator (Junior High) ORT School
  • China: Yang ChunLing, and
    Ke Shan, Beijing Haidian Teachers Training College
  • Israel: Osnat Dagan, Beit Berl College
  • Russia: Dr. Sergey Gorinskiy, Autonomous Non-Profit Organization ORT-Russia
  • Taiwan: Kuen-Yi Lin  and Yu-Jen Sie, Department of Technology Application and Human Resources Development, National Taiwan Normal University
  • USA: John G. Wells, Virginia Tech

The resulting papers were too long for the book so David and Frank extracted a summary from each of the longer papersHowever they didn’t want to lose all the valuable material in the full papers, so we are publishing them on this site, for anyone interested in how STEM plays out in these countries to read.

The full papers can be found at STEM across the World.

Reading for D&T Teachers


I always enjoy listening to Dr. Alison Hardy’s Talking D&T podcasts and I was intrigued by the one concerning reading for D&T teachers. Alison commented with her usual flair on the usual suspects; books about teaching, learning and assessment. But I began to wonder about books that were tangential to D&T; books related to D&T in the wider and perhaps future world. So I thought back about my recent reading. Of course there were some great science fiction novels:

All systems red  AllSystemsRedA bit on the young adult fiction side but the first in a series in which the gender of the main protagonist (a killer bot) is never revealed. Apparently female readers cast it as female, while male readers cast it as male. The thoughts of the bot drive the narrative.





Dogs of WarDogs of war in which AI meets synthetic biology in the creation of intelligent ‘warrior animals’ one of whom becomes conflicted with regard to obeying orders and loyalty to other warrior animals.





If you are particularly interested in the way robots are impacting on society  then these next two I think you’ll find intriguing:

US RobotThe American Robot A Cultural History A fascinating account of how robots have challenged what it means to be male (and to some extent female) in the context of manliness as defined as being imbued with the frontier spirit, independence and capability enacted recently through work that is becoming more robotic in its nature i.e. not requiring manliness. Compounded of course by the displacing of opportunities to work.





IMG_4520Machines like me An alternative history set after we’d lost the Falklands War involving a near-perfect robot who is is beautiful, strong and clever involved in a love triangle with his owner and the owner’s partner. It explores some profound moral dilemmas in the context of the human-robot relationship. Can you design the perfect partner? What makes us human? Our outward deeds or our inner lives? Heady stuff!






WeaponsAnd I should mention Weapons of Math destruction which I read some time ago. It paints a bleak picture of the way algorithms are being used with particular detriment to minorities, so pretty topical at the moment.





I guess all the above can be seen as informing the teaching of technological perspective. I wonder if there is a place for a D&T Department Book Club that met once a month? Would teachers have time? Would it be worthwhile? I’m of the view that the stimulation such a book club might provide makes it worth finding the time amongst the myriad of other things D&T teachers have to do. And it would almost certainly promote innovative curriculum development. I talked about this with Alison and she wondered whether a virtual book club would be easier to organise now that we are all “zoom competent”? I can see the argument but having watched The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society which features a book club in WW2 occupied Guernsey and afterwards I think face to face would be more invigorating if it can be achieved.

As always, comments welcome.
















£100.00 for a book? BL**DY RIDICULOUS!!!

IMG_5192As you may imagine I was very pleased when Pedagogy for Technology Education in Secondary Schools was published and available in hard copy. Comments on social media of which there were many were, in the main, positive and congratulatory. But there were some, especially from teachers, which balked at the price. No way we can afford this. What are you thinking, charging this amount of money? I have a lot of sympathy and think it’s worth exploring further. First to put the record straight it’s the publisher who decides on the price not the editors and the authors don’t get paid for their writing. Why do they do it? Well partly because it looks good on their CVs but mainly to provide help and support for the subject and those teaching it. I think all of the authors started their careers as teachers. The authors and the editors spent a lot of time and effort in identifying topics of relevance and writing about them in ways directly related to the classroom, design studio or workshop. It was written as a book for teachers as well as for those in initial teacher education and those studying for higher degrees. With all this in mind I approached the publisher with the question, “What about a paperback edition?” The answer was very clear.

“We have quite strict pricing regulations because we don’t find that cheaper paperbacks make financial sense for us. We do produce paperbacks 2 years after publication but there isn’t a price difference. Our sales team is leveraged towards institutional customers.”

Institutional customers, that’s code for University Libraries. Well I’m pleased to say that many colleagues involved in teacher education have informed me that they have ordered copies for their University Library. Then I thought, well may be there is another way to get round this. So I asked the publisher another question.

“If a trainer wanted to run a session on, say teaching and learning about systems, and had a class of say 20 teachers, would the trainer be able to get some sort of discount on the 20 electronic copies of the systems chapter?”

The answer was an unequivocal “No!

So where does that leave us? Trying to find a silver lining on this particular cloud I wonder if this example might move D&T departments to have greater contact with University Libraries and borrow a copy of this and similar books as needed. Perhaps a useful professional development activity might be for two teachers in a department with a particular interest in a topic addressed by one of the chapters to borrow the book, extract key messages from the chapter and then use these as the basis for in-house CPD. Not in any sense ideal but better than nothing and maybe easier to accomplish than trying to worm £100.00 out of the governors!

As always comments welcome.

Pedagogy for Technology Education in Secondary Schools

IMG_5192There is nothing quite like getting the hard copies of your new book into your own hands. Well it’s not actually my book. I’m the joint editor with my colleague P. John Williams. What is exciting about having the physical artefact is that it embraces the scholarly thinking of over a 20 academics and teachers who have spent most of their professional lives working in technology education and thinking about how best to teach the subject. It is probably not a book to be read in one sitting but one to be dipped into on an as needed basis when you are thinking about how you will teach a particular aspect of technology. The book is wide ranging and this post will, I hope, give you a glimpse of its riches. So in the order of the chapters in the book we have:

  • Technology Education: The Promise of Cultural-Historical Theory
for Advancing the Field by Marilyn Freer
  • The Case for Technology Habits of Mind by Janet Hanson and Bill Lucas
  • Making the Invisible Visible: Pedagogies Related to Teaching and Learning about Technological Systems by Jonas Hallström and Claes Klasander
  • Maker Education: Opportunities and Threats for Engineering
and Technology Education by Gerald van Djik, Arjan van der Meij and Elwin Savelsbergh
  • Signature Pedagogies for Designing:
A Speculative Framework for Supporting Learning and Teaching in Design
and Technology Education by Kay Stables
  • Pedagogies for Enabling the Use of Digital Technology by Deborah Winn
  • Developing a Pedagogy of Critiquing as a Key Dimension of Design
and Technology Education by Steve Keirl
  • Question-Think-Learn: A Pedagogy for Understanding the Material World by Belinda von Mengersen and Terry Wilkinson
  • Pedagogy for Technical Understanding by Torben Steeg and David Hills-Taylor
  • Capability, Quality and Judgement: Learners’ Experiences of Assessment by Richard Kimbell
  • Technology Education Pedagogy: Enhancing STEM Learning by John Wells and Didier Van de Velde
  • Teaching Problem-Solving in the Digital Era by Moshe Barak
  • Pedagogical Approaches to Vocational Education by P. John Williams
  • Teaching Technology in “Poorly Resourced” Contexts by Mishack Gumbo
  • Pedagogy Involving Social and Cognitive Interaction Between Teachers and Pupils by Niall Seery
  • Philosophy of Technology for Children and Youth by Stephen Petrina
  • Synoptic Review by David Barlex

The chapters in this book reveal a rich tapestry of pedagogical options from which educators can choose, based on a rationale that is appropriate to their educational purpose. The rationale may derive from theory (constructivism, sociocultural theory, critical theory, critical pedagogy, activity theory), it may derive from an element of design and technology education (design, making, systems, digital technology, critiquing), or it may derive from a related issue (STEM, problem-solving, the material world, poorly resources environments, vocational-general technology education, pupil teacher interactions). Regardless of its derivation, the discussions throughout the book begin with a particular rationale for design and technology education, and from that base, explore aligned pedagogies.

As with all academic publications it is expensive £109.99 for the hard copy and £23.00 per electronic chapter but given its breadth and insight into how to teach a Head of Department should be able to make a good case to his/her Board of Governors for the funding needed to place a copy in the departmental library. For those institutions training future technology teachers, offering Master’s courses in technology education or engaged in technology education research several library copies would be in order.

More information is available on the Springer website

As always comments welcome.

Food technology – the case for curriculum development

IMG_4765I was delighted to contribute to the recently published Food Education and Food Technology in School Curricular International Perspectives edited by Marion Rutland and Angela Turner. My chapter ‘A curriculum developer’s perspective on the place of food in the secondary school’ started by exploring the importance of food education in secondary schools England in the context of the obesity crisis and the role of meat production in contributing to global warming. It continued with a discussion on how young people might be taught to cook and eat well. This was extended with a consideration of the role of science learning in meeting these objectives. Then the chapter discussed the possible content of a secondary school food technology course and it is on this I want to concentrate in this blog post. The place of food in design & technology has since the inception of the National Curriculum been controversial. Some within the D&T community of practice thought it should not be there, others fought hard for its presence including the both the Nuffield design & Technology Project and the RCA Technology Project. However it has to be said that many teachers found the requirement to design and make with food challenging. This was compounded by an almost complete lack of continuing professional development for food teachers compared with the substantial and sustained professional development made available for CADCAM in other focus areas and the support provided for electronics. Food within design & technology has in my view suffered considerably through the considerable emphasis on teaching children and young people to cook. It is not that teaching to cook is unimportant, quite the reverse but it seems to me that this gained such significance that it became difficult for food teachers to deal with this to the standard expected alongside the other aspects required by a design & technology course of study. This was perhaps compounded by the Licence to Cook Scheme which again seemed to privilege the teaching of cooking through following recipes. So wearing my curriculum developer’s that I asked the question “What if learners were taught to cook somewhere on the timetable other than in food technology?” And if this could be achieved, “What would a food technology course that was not burdened with teaching to cook look like?

I took the position that such a course should be true to the nature of technology in reflecting the four ways of thinking about technology as  identified by Marc de Vries in his chapter in D&T for the Next Generation.

  • Technology as artefacts
  • Technology as knowledge
  • Technology as process
  • Technology as a property of humans

I found that each of these ways of thinking could be included in a food technology course. In addition it would be useful to include Brian Arthur’s view that technology might be viewed as the exploitation of phenomena revealed by science, indicating that science knowledge and understanding would play a key part. I thought that a useful way of framing these features into a course would be to consider the narrative of food in the world which starts with its production through agriculture and moves on to include storage, processing, sales and distribution at individual, local, regional, national and global levels and ultimately its consumption. Each of these stages in the narrative could become a key part in a food technology course. In the chapter I only had room to focus on one of the stages and I chose production which led me to argue that growing food should be a required component of any food technology course. I acknowledge that this will not be easy to achieve. The activities of planting, growing, tending and harvesting are underpinned by an understanding of the following Big Ideas concerning the needs of plants:

  • Fertile soil in which to grow,for some soils fertilisers might be needed;
  • Appropriate weather conditions to supply sunlight and water at temperatures that do not harm the plants. In adverse condition additional water, protection from sunlight and cold might be required;
  • Protective measures against pests and disease which effect yields;
  • Drainage to prevent the soil becoming waterlogged and preventing growth;
  • Appropriate planting to maximise yields and enable harvesting.

To my mind this experience and the associated learning would be an educationally worthwhile, interesting and formative experience for learners. There would undoubtedly be the opportunity for learners to cook what they had grown but the skills necessary to do this would, in my model, have been learned elsewhere. And the learning associated with school based food production could act as a springboard for considering food production in the world outside the confines of the school allotment with particular reference to the way technologies, particularly new and emerging technologies are being utilised indicating that, in short, food production is become ‘smart’. A similar exploration of the other stages in the narrative of food would I believe reveal equally rich veins of learning.

So is this exploration of a food technology course just a pipe dream or might it become a reality. At the moment the academic study of food exists for learners aged 14 – 16 years in the shape of the Food Preparation and Nutrition (FPN) GCSE which has as a major focus the teaching of cooking. For learners aged 16+ there is no academic study of food available. I wonder if GCSE FPN might provide a preparation for an A Level food technology course along the lines I have suggested? If you are interested in the possible content of a food technology programme at 16+ I’d be very interested to hear your thoughts.

As always comments welcome

If you only read two books over the Easter holidays, these are they.

Happy Easter! I hope that you and yours are all staying safe and keeping well.

In this time of isolation reading is a great boon and I’ve recently come across two books IMG_4520that I see as an absolute must. The first is Machines like me by Ian McEwan. It’s an alternative history, a common feature in much speculative fiction writing. I remember my first such novel, Pavane by Keith Roberts which starts off with the assassination of Elizabeth the First leading to Catholic Church dominance of the western world with a clamp down on the development of the technologies that are familiar to us today. McEwan’s piece is set in Britain at a time when we have just lost the Falklands War, all the Beatles are alive and well and just reformed and Alan Turing did not commit suicide and through his work highly sophisticated robots have been developed. The novel centres on a ménage a trois involving a human male, Charlie, a human female Miranda and a male robot Adam. It explores what it means to be human and in love and asks whether it is possible for a machine, such as Adam to become a person in the way that humans do. It is a gripping tale of love, betrayal, revenge, redemption, and asks profound questions about the way we might treat and be treated by machines who may be considered persons in their own right if not exactly human in the way we are. If you teach about robots and robotics in D&T or CS and the implications of future developments this book will give both insight and pause for thought; we almost certainly will be able to develop robots that are sentient persons in the future; but should we?

The second book is The world according to physics by Jim Al-Khalili. It deals with physics IMG_4523post Newton i.e. all the physics that happened since the early 20thcentury most of which isn’t taught in schools. It is an impressive read written in a conversational style and deals with mind twisting ideas that are counter-intutive in the extreme. There was much I didn’t understand and I will have to revisit on several occasions. Many of the passages in this book are worth many reads. What I found particularly impressive was learning that our modern world is dependent on what will be for many ‘new’ physics.  Here is an example. Einstein revealed that the stronger gravity is the slower time is – so what? Well …

Where you are on Earth relies on your phone sending and receiving signals from several GPS satellites in orbit. The time it takes for these electromagnetic waves to cover the distance has to be known to within just a few hundredths of a microsecond (so that your location can be pinpointed to within a few metres). But this doesn’t work if we assume that time runs at the same rate everywhere. In fact, the highly precise atomic clocks on board satellites gain around 40 millionths of a second each day and so must be deliberately slowed down in order to match the rate of slower Earth-bound clocks. Without this, satellite clocks would gain time and your GPS location would drift by over ten kilometres each day – rendering the information useless.

I have always been interested in the connections between science and design & technology and this book has reinforced that interest particularly in the way that the interfaces between physics, biology and chemistry are likely to play out in the development of new and emerging technologies, many of which are likely to prove disruptive. A final thought; if Jim Al-Khalili was to write a school physics curriculum I wonder what it would look like?

As always comments welcome

PS – If all the above becomes overwhelming then Blue Moon, the latest Jack Reacher thriller to be published in paperback may provide some  relief.