Ongoing Projects

At the moment, thanks to the post-university interviews honeymoon, I’m involved in some cool projects I’d like to write a bit about.

ESA European CanSat Competition

This is a very interesting competition organised by the European Space Agency and is quite likely the biggest scientific project I have ever undertaken. In brief, each team (consisting of 10 members) has to design a ‘satellite’ (mislabelled in my opinion for this competition) that can perform some interesting and/or useful scientific experiment when dropped from a height of 1km. There are lots of requirements/restrictions, e.g. everything has to fit into a european soda can (hence ‘cansat’) and the budget is limited to 1K Euros (more details here). Needless to say this is immensely exciting for us; we are representing the UK in a massive engineering competition, and are one of only 12 teams in Europe to be chosen to go through with the construction and launch of this thing (at Andøya, in the Arctic Circle on the Norwegian island of Andenes, to which some of our team members will be going[!!]).

Our idea is for our cansat to act as a dropsonde – it will take data which would allow the construction of a wind profile of the descent to enable precise placement of a hypothetical second payload (an idea we got from one of the talks at the Aerospace Competition finals last summer). We have a blog and more details will emerge as time passes (a press release is in the pipeline). You can also follow @cansat_eclipse. We’re also using Google Wave for coordination :)

Homeopathy Investigation

My attention was drawn recently to the 1023 Campaign, a campaign aimed at bringing to public attention the reality of homeopathy: that as far as science is concerned, it’s just water, and apart from the placebo effect is as good at curing diseases as cistern water (which, famously, is potable). As the St Paul’s Sceptical Society, a group of us decided to take part in the 1023 event, a mass homeopathic ‘overdose’ to demonstrate confidence that there’s literally nothing in it. As Paulines we of course missed the date, but instead are planning a serious double-blind test involving pseudo-random number generators and proper statistical analysis and planning to investigate the effect of homeopathic coffee on drowsiness. We wanted to do a Wilcoxon test but we think in the end we’ll just go for a t distribution based investigation, which assumes a normal distribution but seems to be well-respected in the scientific world. This is an important project for me since it will be the first real scientific investigation I’ve been involved in, and especially since it’s both topical and sceptical in nature, I’m looking forward to seeing some results.

This project started some time ago but I never got round to blogging about it. When the university interview madness began last term, a friend and I had the idea of building a site for people to share their interview experiences, and this is the result. I’m quite pleased with what we’ve made and I hope to see it being well-used in years to come.


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