Website tidy-up

My website has had a bit of a tidy-up, long overdue. I tried to organise the music page better, and reduce general clutter etc.


Crick Institute Summer Student programme

You don’t need to be a biologist to work at the Crick Institute! I’m not. If you are an undergraduate, here’s a way to sample the life of a biological physicist…

As an undergraduate, I hadn’t considered working in research until I fell into a summer research project with the excellent Mike Evans at Leeds. He actually ended up being my PhD supervisor, but in a broader sense the placement opened my eyes to the process of doing “new stuff”; the feeling that what you’re doing hasn’t been done before is quite a special one.

Anyway, this year I’m part of the Crick’s summer student programme, and have a project open on applying quantitative and physical principles to a biological system. Details can be found here.



Clickbait leftism — The Canary and Evolve Politics

I love the Labour party and hope Jeremy Corbyn is the next PM [March 2018 Update — errrr]. But the good ship doesn’t half carry some lowlifes in its wake. Here’s a quick summary of a sorry episode that got a bit long-winded on Twitter.

  1. The Canary publishes an article stating Laura Kuenssberg is listed as a speaker at the Tory conference. Clear implication is she is *actually speaking*, on two counts: one, just look at it; two, if she wasn’t, why publish the story and why would we “need to talk about” it? Mere invites are commonplace.
  2. Others do C’s work for them and verify LK isn’t speaking. Basic check that should have been done, especially before running what is plainly a hate piece (look at the photo they used, for example). C revises the article, rendering it even more pointless than it already was.
  3. Evolve Politics writes a timely piece of clickbait carefully avoiding implying that LK is speaking, yet still trying to make news out of what is now a verified nonevent.
  4. EP seeks to defend C in two contradictory ways. On one hand, they claim C never actually said LK would be speaking, so was accurate. On the other, they claim C was right to assume and to imply in its article that LK *was* speaking, based on a sloppy PR listing that wrongly indicates this is the case — why shouldn’t C take it on face value?

Either of these defences is weak on its own.

For the first, nobody honest could claim there was a news story here unless LK was actually speaking at the conference. Without that, it’s a story about a routine declined invite and an incorrect PR advertisement. (EP did indeed print such a non-story, but only after the fact, for clicks.)

For the second, C could have checked easily if LK was speaking, and if they had received verification, could have been less mealy-mouthed in their original article. As it was, they stuck to an implication, although an obvious one.

Most importantly, each defence contradicts the other anyway. EP can’t get its story straight: was it right to say, as C originally implied, LK was speaking, or not? They simultaneously argued “they never said that” and “they were right to say it, here’s a screenshot”.

The parsimonious explanation: the Canary article was research-free piece of incitement, for clicks, and the Evolve Politics article was opportunistic, vacuous pinhead-dancing, for clicks. Neither remotely resembles news reporting. If so-called progressive outlets offer this nonsense, how can we tell people they shouldn’t listen to Paul Joseph Watson, Infowars, or Fox? These sites are not worth reading, and certainly not worth writing for.

Finally, the wider context here is a coordinated hate campaign against a very good female journalist. Toxic stuff. Quit your jobs, guys.

Research publication: Roles of Interleaflet Coupling and Hydrophobic Mismatch in Lipid Membrane Phase-Separation Kinetics

At last year’s Biophysical Society 2015 meeting, Peter Olmsted and I met Philip Fowler, who at the time worked in Mark Sansom‘s group (he now works in the Nuffield Department of Medicine at Oxford). I had noticed a signal in their lipid bilayer simulations that looked like a two-step asymmetry/symmetry transition we had studied theoretically. Understanding how constituents of a lipid bilayer interact and self-organise is key to the biology of the cell membrane, as well as to applications of synthetic lipid bilayer membranes.

It has been a pleasure to work with Phil and Mark over the past year as we have looked closely into the symmetry and asymmetry of phase-separating bilayers, using a raft (geddit?) of new simulations expertly constructed and analysed by Phil. A joint paper is out now in JACS, linking the kinetics of lipid bilayer phases to a theoretical model of competing inter-leaflet coupling effects. Check it out!

Roles of Interleaflet Coupling and Hydrophobic Mismatch in Lipid Membrane Phase-Separation Kinetics

An achemso.bst LaTeX bibliography style modified to display first page only

I was recently preparing a paper for an ACS journal and had a few issues with the bibliography style. Most of these were fixed by downloading the latest achemso.bst style file from here. However, it didn’t include that the journal seems to use only first pages (not ranges) when making references. That is, an article on pages 1897–1902 is referred to as:

Authors, Journal, Year, Volume, 1897

and not:

Authors, Journal, Year, Volume, 1897–1902.

So, using some information from here I have made a modified achemso.bst that uses only the first page. I don’t know about you but it always takes lot googling to figure out this stuff, so I’ve tried to make this post easily findable by those in a similar situation.