17th February 2022

Post-apocalyptic life

Well, it’s been a very topsy-turvy period.  The university, the School of Biology, and life, have seen some fairly profound changes.  Things have improved over the last few weeks as the students have started to return, but the population density is still pretty low here and we all wear masks.  Most of us have now had the heck vaccinated out of us.  I don’t think that it’s apparently done us a lot of harm, although when it’s very quiet I can hear a Seventh Day Adventist radio station out of west Africa.  Of course vaccination does not make us Corona-proof.  We just, on average, get over it faster and spread it around less.  Despite that an awful lot of our learning and education is carried on remotely.  That can be good: it’s now possible to attend a boring seminar while continuing to work or even sleep.  So there is little to distract us from work in the lab.  And we continue.  At the moment we have several lasers hooked up and are investigating imbalanced fluxes from each side of a leaf, both isotopically and by gas exchange.  And we have submitted a number of papers to Nature Plants and the like.  Amongst other experiments we have been passing noble gases through leaves to obtain true permeabilities that can then be compared with the apparent permeabilities to water vapour and carbon dioxide.  A slight hiccup has been the determination of a diffusion co-efficient for neon in air: there doesn’t seem to be any readily available publication of a number.  Strange the things which have not attracted people’s attention! 🙂


1st April 2020

Apocalyptic Life

Maybe that is a slight overstatement but the truth is that there has been a major shake-up.  A small version of the plague which many of us see as a likely cause of the collapse of society has struck, courtesy of people exploiting wild animals for no really good reason.  I’m reminded of people eating calcium to make their fingernails tougher when there is no calcium in nails.  I’m pondering whether pangolins are covered in fingernails because they have no teeth: they would otherwise have become extinct if fingernail-biting became widespread.  Hmmm.  Anyway, the disease, trendily termed Covid-19 (I’m surprised that it’s not iCovid-19) (hereafter just called the plague) has led to the closure of ANU and the shutting down of the labs.  Our intrepid team of workers has scattered and lab-based research has come to a halt.  This follows unhappily on the destruction of our glasshouses by the hail storm mentioned below.  Taking a deep breath, we are all indulging in theoretical work, computing or pondering the publication of data that has appeared from under rugs.  With only a few days before we were shut out of the buildings we scrabbled around trying to decide what it would be useful to remove for working at home.   At the moment, I’m working on a Raspberry Pi, experimenting with running serial communications in a second thread to increase the stability of my laser-monitoring program.  As usual, things are not going quite as planned.  But my first step is to learn to love Linux instead of wishing  that it was more obedient. 

27th February 2020

Bringing up to date

Well, the website boss (namely me) has been incredibly negligent keeping this site current.  It is now time to make an effort to rectify that.  So first a brief introduction to the current composition of the lab and our efforts, followed by greater detail in the current weeks. 

The people shown in the panel on the left have changed  over quite a bit.  Two new postdocs have been added and the Research Officer, who also assists with group admin.

Nicole, the RO, has been assisting with billing and grant applications on the admin side, while working with Danielle to examine water turnover in leaves, using the Picarro laser water isotope machine and a Li-cor.

Eloise worked for her doctorate on plant cuticles and she is continuing on that subject with Diego.  He has joined two Li-cor 6800s together to examine gas exchange at the tops and bottoms of leaves separately.  He has also been using our device “Brian” to analyse water from small sections of leaves cut with his “Waffle-maker” and create leaf water isotope maps in great detail.  More on that later!

Jie has been chopping trees (primarily eucalypts) into small sections and comparing soil, roots, xylem and phloem water.  The results have been surprising with conspicuous gradients of  O-18 and H-2 in the water from xylem and the outer layer of the tree limbs – “Bark” sensu lato.

More detail on these projects later!

The lab recently completed SIBS 2020 (Stable Isotopes in Biosphere Systems) and launched another band of stable isotope scientists into the World.  The workshop was conducted under troubling hardship, with bush fires, university closures for smoke, a massive hail storm and numerous fire alarms and evacuations. 

26th December 2018

Lazarus …

This is a doubly appropriate title for this section: the site has been sadly un-updated for a while, and I have spent many hours recently writing object Pascal with the Lazarus interface.

In general news we are fully settled into the new building.  After a bit of therapy I have become used to the fact that power-cuts are much more frequent in the new building than in the old.

Graham is now devoting less time to the SIEF high carbon-dioxide Eucalyptus project and is again thinking about gas and water movement in leaves.  This ties in well with Danielle who arrived recently and is thinking about the controls on 3-D modelling of water movement in leaves.  And Diego who is working on modelling the drying properties of leaves using models based on soil.

Florian continues to work on the niceties of photosynthesis and respiration.  Ross is working hard to finish up what is required for his PhD.  Chin has unbroken time to try to complete the shoot-root chambers and bring them up to speed.  Chandra continues with his modelling development.

I am struggling to get the production Isoprime running reliably – I rebuilt the source on Christmas eve and it should have a pretty hard vacuum by now, so I will go in and turn it on tomorrow.  The machine is taunting us: it varies from precisions on standards as good as 0.02 permil to total rubbish.  It doesn’t help that the air-conditioning has been malfunctioning through some hot periods.  The second compound-specific Isoprime is sleeping, awaiting demand for its services.


25th August 2017

Friday wined down (sic)

It’s Friday afternoon after a busy week of trying to inject content into this site and maintain sanity in the mass spec lab.  There’s a long way to go yet and your unfortunate author (HSW) will undoubtedly receive a lot of criticism before then.  And beyond.  But I’m working on the plan that if I can largely fill the site, then my shortcomings can be made good later.  Many users are now able to edit their own pages.  I see that there’s been a flurry of password changing but not much else.  Strange, really, as nobody else knew their passwords and I can still get in anyway!

I trust that this section will get more serious later once we are up to speed.  Or perhaps not if it is only me!  I’ve been reading Terry Pratchett so that doesn’t bode well for a more serious demeanour.

20th August 2017

Boldly going …

Well, it’s been a bit of a battle to get the structure of this site settled and make some progress.  I was going to say Forward Progress.  Flipping tautology.  I’ve learnt some bitter lessons with much swearing.  The first lesson is: don’t try to make the template do what you want.  Choose a template and then design your site within its constraints.  The second painful lesson was to try to understand the structure of the site and what to edit where.  My WordPress book was sadly unhelpful on both scores.

So hopefully we are now moving into a new realm of historic and literary achievement to rival an expurgated Samuel Pepys.

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