BBC BLOGS - Gregory's First Law

Archives for January 2013

The science of sticky tape

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David Gregory | 12:59 UK time, Monday, 28 January 2013

Today my colleagues at Radio Shropshire are going to attempt to beat the world record for "shortest time to duct tape a person to a wall". Apparently this is a real thing and you can see some videos here.

You'll notice that it doesn't take much tape to actually stick someone to a wall so that they are suspended off the ground for at least a minute. That's because this broad silver and white tape is in fact incredibly strong.

The always excellent Mythbusters in America have done several tv specials looking at all the fun you can have with gaffer tape. They've made everything from shoes and a canoe to a bridge that successful crossed a 100 foot gap.

But all this is nothing compared to the Alaskan pilot who's light aircraft was mauled by a bear and who repaired and flew his plane using duct tape. Amazing pictures can be found here.

So given all that it is perhaps no surprise it's not going to be hard to stick BBC staff to the odd wall.

Of course humble sellotape still beats duct tape at some things. If you peel a roll of sticky tape quickly in a darkened room you will see small flashes of light. You'll see the same effect opening self-sealing envelopes or crushing extra-strong mints with pliers.

This is triboluminescence. An effect we don't fully understand and it's more than a pretty light show. If you unroll sticky tape fast enough you could in theory generate x-rays powerful enough to take an image of your finger.

Don't worry, ordinary use poses no risk. But all this is a reminded just how amazing these office and workshop standbys can be.

Which lead to my favourite joke of all time. Why is duct tape like the Force in Star Wars? Because it has a light side and a dark side and it binds the universe together.

Helping our garden birds through a tough winter

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David Gregory | 14:55 UK time, Monday, 21 January 2013

Male black cap. Picture from BTO and Nick Stacey

Wild birds have come to rely on us in a harsh winter. Putting out food and water is absolutely vital for their survival. But it also gives us a chance to see all sorts of wild birds up close.

These close encounters are also useful for conservationists and researchers. If we tell them what birds we can see in our gardens then they can learn much more about the UK's wild bird species and how they are doing.

At the moment there are three different surveys running which you can help with. If you're stuck indoors thanks to snow it might provide a bit of distraction for the kids as well!

First the University of Birmingham would like to learn more about how much we feed our garden birds. This is a link to their online survey. But if you prefer you can also email the project direct at for a paper form to fill in. It's a simple survey that should only take you five minutes or so.

January is also when the British Trust for Ornithology are running a survey of black caps. These are birds we usually see in the summer but at this time of year they should have migrated south to Spain and North Africa. But more and more black caps are being spotted in winter in the UK making use of our well stocked bird feeders.

The BTO would like to learn more about this apparent change in behaviour and you can find their survey at this link. To help with identification that's a male black cap at the top of this post. This survey will take a bit more effort than the other research listed here, but the answers you will help provide will be fascinating.

Finally this weekend (26-27th Jan) is the RSPB's Big Garden Bird Watch. All the RSPB ask is for you to spend an hour watching the birds in your garden and making a note of what you see. You can find more details and pre-register to send your results in on their website here.

So that's three surveys where you can make a real difference to what we know about the birds we see in our garden. Feeding the birds this winter won't just help them survive, it will also help us learn much more about them and so protect their future as well.

Stargazing Live is back!

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David Gregory | 09:07 UK time, Tuesday, 8 January 2013

Karl Jones from Stourbridge gets ready to launch a videocamera attached to a weather balloon

Stargazing Live is returning to BBC Two and BBC Midlands Today. I'm reporting on Karl Jones from Stourbridge who has twice successfully sent a videocamera to the edge of space using a helium balloon. Although finding it when it returns can be a bit of a tricky problem.

If you're interested in doing something similar then there are some great online resources. You can find plenty of step-by-step guides on the internet but this is a good one.

Karl says as well as telling the Civil Aviation Authority what you are up to you need to pack something that will reflect radar into your payload so aircraft can see it. A section of reflective heat blanket is great as it does the job but is light. The UK High Altitude Society has the form you need to fill in at least 28 days before launch and more information here.

Your balloon won't come down exactly where you launch it, so you need a calculator like this to predict where it might land. Karl works backwards, so he finds a good landing location and then works back to see when and where he'll need to launch the balloon

Stargazing Live logo

to achieve that. But stick to your timetable, we delayed Karl will all our filming needs and that lead to the balloon ending up 60 miles from where we thought it would land.

You have to keep things light, but Karl still managed to fit in an experiment, in this case what happens to sweets sent into space? The flying saucers (what else?!) returned unharmed, but all the sherbert had gone. If you have any theories as to what happened we'd love to hear them.

You can watch the full flight of Karl's balloon here and learn more about it (and how it lead to a marraige!) on the team's Facebook page.

So if all this has given you a taste for learning more about astronomy then Stargazing Live can help. There are plenty of events listed here. Many are free although some do charge. On the main Stargazing Live website you can also find details on how to get started as an astronomer.

Happy stargazing!

Update: As Karl points out in the comments the project also raised money for charity and you can find out more here.

Getting innovative with infection

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David Gregory | 18:25 UK time, Friday, 4 January 2013

For more about tonight's story on the University of Birmingham's Institute of Microbiology and Infection click here.

As our taster tonight showed there's a lot of really interesting research taking place at this newly created Institute. I'm sure we'll be reporting on more breakthroughs from them very soon.

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