Category Archives: General

UK may fall behind in science

mad There is always some worry that government cut backs will effect the status of UK science. The latest warning comes from the Campaign for Science and Engineering (CaSE) which represents 100 scientific bodies and businesses.

If you look at what other countries are doing they are investing heavily. They are all going upward. Unfortunately the UK’s (investment) is going downwards.

Dr Sarah Main Director, Case speaking to the BBC.

The UK government has invested less in science than the European Union average for many years. The EU average rose from 2.04% of GDP in 2011 to 2.07% of GDP in 2012. The UK investment dropped from 1.78% to 1.72% of GDP.

This makes me worry about the UK loosing its place in science, though like make things for a small country we punch above our weight. I just hope we can continue to do so in science. Moreover, this downwards trend on funding is worrying for science students and especially PhD students. The situation with postdoc positions is difficult enough without further erosion of UK science.

UK science ‘losing ground’ to rival nations, BBC NEWS

Campaign for Science and Engineering

How English became the language of science

English today is the main language of science across the globe. It has not always been like that, a mixture of English, French and German in about equal proportions was the norm in the 19th century. Before that Latin was the language used across western Europe; from the late medieval period to the mid-17th Century.

It may be no surprise that German was cast out as a common scientific language after the first world war. It is not that English rose to the top of the pile, but rather than German was cut down. Then after the second world war the United States of America became a leading scientific power and that for sure influenced the choice of international language.

Almost of today’s scientific discoveries will be published in English. Moreover, English seems to be the language that scientists who do not share a common mother tongue will use. For example, here in Warsaw international visitors will tend to use English when conversing with Polish researchers.

You can find out more details about the rise on English via the link below.

Nobel Prize: How English beat German as language of science BBC News Magazine

Polish foods you must try

Here is my list of Polish food that I have enjoyed in Warsaw. In no particular order



Polish blood sausage made with pig’s blood and buckwheat. It is like a cross between a haggis and a black pudding. It can be boiled, grilled or fried. Very delicious, I had one from a BBQ recently.

Biała kiełbasa


The domestic or common white sausage. To be found in every food shop in Poland. Best grilled or fired. The meat filling is more coarse than the typical British banger and contains cubes of fat. May not be the best for your waist, but you will enjoy it.

Ogórek kiszony/kwaszony


There are (at least) two kinds of dill pickles in Poland. Ogórek kiszony are pickles preserved in wooden barrels. They are a little salty and the taste can change as they mature. I like the mature ones that have started to lose their colour. Very very popular in Poland.

The second kind ogórek konserwowy is preserved in vinegar. Also very good and nothing like the British gherkins that are far too sour.



The word mean cabbage, though it commonly will refer to the Polish version of sauerkraut. It has a distinctive sour taste and does very well with any of the above. Generally I would say that it is more palatable that the German versions and that you should seek it out in the Polish section of the supermarket.

Sznycel (Kotlet Mielony)


This is a flattened cutlet of port that is breaded and then fried. Very delicious and goes great with fries for lunch. They do a great sznycel in a restaurant near my flat.

Kaczka Pieczona z Jabłkami


Roast duck with apples, it can also be served with a beetroot mash and a red berry sauce. This is my wife’s favourite. You really have to try this in a restaurant in Warsaw, I insist.

Befsztyk tatarski


Polish style stake tartare, not to everyone’s taste, but here in Warsaw it is popular. It should be served with finely chopped ogórek, chopped preserved mushrooms and onions. Often it will also come with a small piece of fish to mix in and a drop of olive oil. I also like to add a little Maggi seasoning sauce to mine. I recommend it and you can buy packs of the tartare in the supermarkets in Poland to enjoy at home. That said, it is great for a starter in the restaurants here.



Polish hunter’s stew, made with kapusta, various cuts of meat and sausages, mushrooms and dried plums. Very good and should be eaten if you get the chance. However, avoid the ready made versions in jars that you can find today. It is best eaten in a small restaurant in Warsaw.

That is just a flavour of the great food you can get in Poland. Maybe I should look at Polish deserts next week…

Thyroxine levels while pregnant and offspring's mathematics capability

Flag A study presented at the European Society for Paediatric Endocrinology annual meeting in Dublin suggests that the thyroid function of pregnant women is associated with poorer mathematics skills in their offspring at primary school level.

Low levels of thyroxine are known to effect the mental development of the baby. The result of Dutch researchers’ study are that children whose mothers had low levels of thyroxine during pregnancy were twice as likely to have below average mathematics scores. Interestingly, language skills were not effected in the same way and there was no difference at the age 5.

Maternal Hypothyroxinemia in Early Pregnancy is Associated with Poorer Arithmetic Performance in a School Test in Offspring at Age 5 Years, ESPE Abstracts (2014) P-D-1-2-253.

The future of Scottish research?

Flag I have not yet really thought about this, but Scottish independence must bring with it the question of the role of the UK research councils in Scotland. I imagine that Scotland would have to set up its own research councils independently of the UK councils.

This then brings in the question of the future of science in Scotland, especially in the short to mid term during a transition period. It would then be a question of if the Scottish government and the people see science as a worthwhile investment. Coupled with that must be the long term stability of science funding.

Nearly everybody that has spoken to me is very worried if there’s a yes vote.

Prof Sir Paul Nurse, President, Royal Society talking to the BBC

There are some fantastic people in Scotland working in mathematical physics and related subjects, for example there is the Edinburgh Mathematical Physics Group, which part of the Maxwell Institute for Mathematical Science. It would be a shame if the already tough job of getting funding becomes harder for mathematicians and physicists working in Scotland.

Worrying times for researchers based in Scotland I would say.

Scottish independence: Future of science contested, BBC News.

My brother on Knotweed News report

My brother, Dr G.W. Bruce appeared on the local news in relation to the Japanese knotweed (Fallopia Japonica) problem. Scientists at Swansea University are conducting the largest field trials in Europe to find new ways of killing knotweed.

Fallopia Japonica

Follow the link below for the news report.

Swansea University scientists trial knotweed killers BBC Wales News

UPDATE You can read more about the project, and see a picture of my little younger brother here.

The Polish breaking of the Enigma code

The working rebuilt bombe at Bletchley Park Image courtesy of Wikipeda.
Mathematicians from the Polish Cipher Bureau, Marian Rejewski, Jerzy Różycki and Henryk Zygalski broke the German Enigma cipher machine codes in the 1930’s.

Working with engineers from the AVA Radio Manufacturing Company, they built the “Bomba”, which was the first machine to break Enigma codes. By working with a commercially available version of the Enigma machine, they laid down the mathematical foundations that were essential for the British work at Bletchley Park in breaking the German military codes. In particular Alan Turing helped develop the British version of the Bomba and the story from here is well-known.

The efforts of Rejewski, Różycki and Zygalski are far less well-known and were never really appreciated in their lifetimes. There is a small memorial at Bletchley Park in honour of these three.

In August 2014 the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), as part of their Milestones commemorations have honoured Rejewski, Różycki and Zygalski with a plaque outside the Institute of Mathematics of the Polish Academy of sciences. I was lucky enough to be present at the unavailing ceremony which was hosted by IEEE President Prof. J. Roberto B. de Marca. There were several diplomats and representatives from the Polish military. Janina Sylwestrzak, the daughter of Marian Rejewski, was also present and gave a short speech (in Polish of course).

The Rejewski, Różycki and Zygalski memorial stone.

The plaque reads as follows;


You can find out more about the Polish work on breaking the Enigma codes by following the links below.

Milestones:First Breaking of Enigma Code by the Team of Polish Cipher Bureau, 1932-1939 IEEE website.

The Breaking of Enigma by the Polish Mathematicians
, Virtual Bletchley Park.

Poland’s overlooked Enigma codebreakers, BBC News.

I am sure this was known about for donkey's years

Researchers at the University of Sussex have published their research on how horses communicate [1]. It seems that they use their swiveling ears to aid in communication.

Talking to someone who is not a scientist, but has lots of experience of working with horses, said that the horse riding community knew this already. However, a scientific study was needed as anecdotal evidence is not enough.

That said, this was known about for donkey’s years*!

*Non-native speakers may find this link useful.

Horses’ mobile ears are ‘communication tool’ BBC News

Jennifer Wathan & Karen McComb, The eyes and ears are visual indicators of attention in domestic horses, Current Biology , Volume 24, Issue 15, 4 August 2014, Pages R677–R679.

Happiness is a long equation

As you can imagine as a mathematician, the bigger and harder the equations the happier I am. Not really, we look for pattens and elegance rather than just difficult equations, though of course difficult equations can be elegant and contain a lot of interesting structure.

Anyway, scientists now have an equation for happiness and here it is

Taken from [1].

Now we just need to apply some calculus to find the maxima (local or global I’m not fussy) and find out just how happy a mathematician can be!

[1] Robb B. Rutledge, Nikolina Skandali, Peter Dayan, and Raymond J. Dolan, A computational and neural model of momentary subjective well-being, PNAS 2014 : 1407535111v1-201407535.

Equation ‘can predict momentary happiness’ BBC News