13 Oct 2014 ,Dr Maarten Furlong, NOC, Southampton
Autonomous Underwater Vehicles: the Autosub Programme diving deeper and swimming further
The Autosub Autonomous Underwater Vehicle (AUV) development programme has been ongoing at the
National Oceanography Centres and its pre-cursor institutions since the late 80s. The first Autosub vehicle
was trialed in Empress Dock in Southampton in 1996, and since this early development Autosub AUVs have
been regularly used for oceanographic scientific research. During this talk I will describe the early goals of the
programme, how the goals have been realised, and some of the engineering challenges that needed to be
overcome to allow AUVs to dive deeper and travel further. I will also look at some of the discoveries that the
technology has enabled and some of the problems we have had along the way. To conclude the talk I will
present a vision of where we are going with AUV developments and how they fit into the broader context of
other Marine Autonomous Systems developments being undertaken at the oceanography centre.
30 people, 1.5 hours
Our diving deeper in the title is going 6,000 metres down. Autosub Long Range
designed to go 6,000 km
We're at Dock Gate 4, the National Oceanography Centre. Home for about
500 staff including sea going technicians, and 700 students. 50 million pound
purpose built facility opened 1994, annual
turnover of about 40 million quid. It is the main centre for deep
ocean research within the UK. The 2 sea going vessels we run can go
anywhere in the world except into ice as they're not ice breakers.
We've been developing AUVs there since the early 1990s.
The AUVs sit in a bigger group called MARS which stands for
Marine Autonomous Robotic Systems group. MARS has a AUV
team, a ROV team , ROVs connected to a ship via a long cable.
They generate all the pretty videos. We also have a group that
works on autonomous surface vehicles and also subsea gliders.
Gliders make themselves heavy and as they sink through the water
column , using small wings to drive forward, down to a certain depth where they will pump out some oil
, inside a bladder, changing the density of the vehicle . It will become
bouyant and float up through the water column, using the wings again
to drive forward. They have a range of about 4,500 Km and are deployed for a long time.
My previous role was hydrodynamicist and mechanical engineer working on AUVs. With me in that team were people with skills
in electronics, software, sealing mechanical engineer and a machinist.
A lot of skills to build and operate one of these vehicles.
Also deck-hands required. In 1996 at the NOC
image of first tryout in the water in 1996 in the dock outside the NOC
being tested. In 2000 there wa a big upgrade and Autosub1
became Autosub2. This changed the depth rating from about 500m
to 1600m so a mile down. The mean depth of the worlds oceans
is about 4500 metres, so 1600m doesn't get you much beyond the
In 2005 we had an incident. Autosub2 was doing a lot of work
under ice. It went to the Thimble Glacier in Antartica . The first time
under the ice it worked , second time under something went wrong
and it is still there. So 17km in under 200m of ice , nestled up
against the underside of the ice.
We looke dto getting insurance and the insurance quote for deploying
the next vehicle under ice was 95% of the cost of building anothe r
vehicle, so we self-insured basically buy all the spares we needed
and if we lost one we'd build another. So Autosub3 was a
different vehicle to the previous 2 but much like autosub2.
In 2007 we launched autosub6000, and in about 2011, autosub-long-range.
The 6000 is very highpower meaning it can run high power sensors
of the order a few hundred watts, but because of those sensors , the range
is relatively short. So deployment for about 36 hours, it might do a
few hundred Km. Longrange is designed to be deployed for very long
times , so low power sensors .
A AUV is a yellow torpedo set up yo be a sensor taxi. At the rear
a propellor and some control planes. A precision navigation
system on board for subsurface navigation. A whole load
of rechargeable batteries . A number of safety systems for if
it goes wrong, you can recover the vehicle. And pack it with sensors.
A typical mission. Launch and then a pre-defined path , spiral
down , do a survey, come to an end point and spiral back up
and we collect it. The AUV is relatively stupid, little situational
awareness. They don't process any of the sensor data on board,
primarily because it is complicated to do.
So say a bathymetric survey, the shape of the sea bed, using multibeam
sensors . Or perhaps a side scan sensor , generates grey-scale images.
You cant get shape information from it , but you can get heights from
the shadows. Or photographic surveys. In this survey the sub was
close to the bottom of the continental shelf, the sub itself is 6m
long . If you encounter a big rock , you destroy the front of
your sub. We were pretty confident the bottom was flat and
hence stunning images of the marine life.
Other sensors could be magnetometer or an E-H sensor.
The AUV understands nothing about the pictures or the multi-beam
How does a AUV navigate. On the surface you have GPS, no problem.
But under water GPS does not work. So dead-reckon . Imagine
you are in a big field with a bucket on your head and you have a compass.
You count how many paces you make in a certain direction and you
integrate the info. The further you go , the more the eroor drifts.
So you need a very accurate heading sensor and an accurate speed sensor .
The ICSI ? fins measure the rotation rate of the Earth and it measures
acceleration due to gravity and because you know which way you're
spinning , which way down is , you know incredibly accurately which
way north is. When I first came across this it blew me away, the concept
that a little blue box can measure the rotation of the Earth. So
you don't get affected by magnetic anomalies. Thena doppler velocity
log , 4 sonar beams and measure the speed over the ground , the speed
sensor. The challenge is the relatively limited range of the dopller
velocity unit. You know where you are on the surface, you descent
6000m of water but at the bottom you need to initialise yourself
for the mission. You know where you are from the start position
but don't know where you are relative to the surface start position,
the unknown drift beteen the surface and 6km down.
Solved using range-only positiuoning , take a whole load of readings
via anacoustic system so vyou know the distance from the AUV
to the accompanying ship and because you end up with a huge nimber of these
readings you have an over-determined set of equations, throw some
sums at it and it tells you what the error is, then feed it to the sub.
Lithium polymer rechargeable batteries , the XE fins, the DVL gives
an error of about 1m per 1000m travelled which is amazingly good.
We also have an ATP ? on board , dual frequency side-scan, sub-floor
profiler , multibeam ?, hi and lo res cameras, magnetometers,
CTD conductivity temp and depth allows you to see the structure of
the water column. Also collision avoidance sonar, acoustic telemetry .
The vehicle 5.5m long, 0.9m diameter, 1.8 tons and 6,000m rated.
As time goes on we keep adding more stuff in it. The scientests
want more data and higher resolution and "can you fit one more sensor?"
The tail and nose sections are free-flooding , empty spaces but with
instrumentation i nthere. The reason we could go from 1600m to 6000m
is due to pressure-balanced lithium batteries. You take your mobile
phone battery , you shove it in a tub of oil with some elctronics and
you can take it to the bottom of the ocean. It will withstand the
620 bars of pressure down there. That means you don't need to
create internal pressure vessels for the batteries. If you need to create
internal vessels, to cater for the pressure they have to be heavy.
As the vehicle needs to float , you require more flotation with it,
which means everything gets bigger with the result you end up
with small battery capacity in consequence.
Its first science expedion in 2008. The plan was to go out on the James
Cook ship , looking for geohazards. Microbathymetry surveys .
One of the challenges of going deep is you have acoustic surveys
from ships , but at that distance the resolution is course"pixelated" .
To get high resolution acoustic surveys you need very high frequency
systems which means you need to be close to the seabed.
So here about 5000m and if you use the ship based acoustic images
its incredibly course. The other thing was deploying a piston-corer,
a long strawlike cylinder you press into the sediment and pull
out a core. You can then see the structure laid down in hte ocean
over the millenia. So if there is a big event like a landslide
you can see it in hte layers. We started in Tenerife and these were the
results. The twelve survey run, the very expensive survey instrument
we bought, packed up half way through. The computer on it fell
over, needed rebooting and so we lost half of the data.
We set a floor to the operation, and if the sub went below that
limit , something bad has happened, we don't necessarily know
what that bad thing is. So cut power, drop the big weight from the front
and rise to the surface. Something went wrong, it dived towards the sea-bed,
went past the floor limit , triggered the abort and rise system and surfaced.
The culprit was with the control at the rear that controls the dive
planes, inside was a potentiometer that measures the angle of the
control p[lane. Inside that the resistive track of the potentiometer
had ripped up , and the wiper got stuck at that point. The control plane
became fixed , to dive towards the seabed. The vehicle is otherwise
dumb and would have ploughed into the seabed with it the
floor limitor. We were lucky. We were also going to look at
hydrothermal vents, the Nicane ? Rise. Its a very rocky and
mountainous region, so we needed an object avoidence system.
We wanted to operate closer to complicated terrain. Previously
we could set a floor and say don't go through that floor.
If you collide with the seabed you destroy the front of your sub
and potentially youi can loose it. The benefit is that you can doi
photographic surveys , and multibeam surveys in com[plicated
terrains. There is a huge amount of equipment you can buy,
the oil industry produces a load of stuff but very little of it
is rated for 6000m. We also needed a simple interface to integrate
it into the existing structure. Needed to be small, low powered,
and we wanted to see acoustically a very long way, 150m.
The avoidance system is , if you see something ahead ,pull up
over it. If you can't pull up over it , go back along your track
but go to a higher altitude , advance again and see if you can
pull up over it. We looked at different options, single beam
echo sounders, doppler velocity logs, acoustic doppler current profilers
with 4 beams looking forwards or an expensive multibeam system but
none were suitably rated, or a mechanically scanned sonar which
is what we ended up with. This has a wide but thin beam , used
usualy in ROVs to produce sonmething like a radar-plot.
Rotate it through 90 degrees so scans forward , in a vertical
plane to detect obstavles . The speed of sound in water is quite slow
1.5km/sec so to ping a long way , get a return, process it takes a long
time. About 1 second per ping, so you cannot build up a full
sweep of what is happening in front of you. So we decided to
just track the horizon. If I cannot see the horizon, step the beam down,
and continue until you see the horizon and so dither around the horizon.
This allows you to do the obstacle avoidance but also gives you
better terrain following as well. We took the output from this and fed
it into the existing depth control system.
Hydrothermal vents, 2010. To the Caribean. We also intended
testing new camera and magnetometer systems. Near the Cayman
Islands. Some surveyed by the AUV and some surveyed by the ship.
We had a fair idea where this hydrothermal vent was, went down and
found it. We used an E-H sensor , measures reduction potential .
As we have a co-located magnetometer sensor the scientists were
interested in what they thought was a burn area, fluid coming out
of the vent are very hot, increase the local temperature, brings it
above the Curie Temperature which then means you get a reduction
in the magnetic field. Never been sen before. They wanted
to go and see it so they deployed another vehicle called Hi-Vis?
which is a camera-grab. A year later they went back with ISIS
which is a big ROV and filmed at the vent site.
Video of the marine life
You never get images like that with hte AUV. These vents are hard to
find, something the size of a house in about 5000m of water in
total blackness. You would not be able to find one directly with a
ROV on its own. Logging the temperatures and some of the chemical
signatures coming out of the vent. These vents are interesting
scientifically but there is a lot of commercial interest as well ,
because they are amazingly rich in minerals
, metals like copper. People are thinking of mining at these depths,
perhaps not at such live sites . Periodically they decide to explode and the vent stops venting
and marine life cannot then be sustained there.
Go down and hoover up the minerals down there.
A later time we found another hydrothermal vent, completely
unexpected. The first one we knew was down there because we had
signals on the ship.
How did the collision avoidance system ,that I worked on, work.
Data from the 6000 multibeam system. "lawnmower " survey 50m
spacing flying at 60m altitude. In the data a 75m high sheer cliff ,
we had no knowledge of this until it came back. It was the perfect test
of the obstacle avoidence system by flying straight at this cliff.
I was very pleased, we didn't collide with anything, all was good.
I will now talk about Autosub LongRange. Quite a bit smaller,
weighs 600Kg instead of 1.8 tons, 6000m rated, 6000Km range and
6 months endurance. The hotel power, the amount of energy
for sensors is substantially reduced. Its designed more for exploring the water
column and understanding whats happening in the water mass,
not what is on the seabed. In theory you could cross the top of the
world, from Svalbard to Canada . You can't navigate very well
when you get to the north pole , but otherwise we could lok at the
underside of the ice. You can look across choke points across the
ocean , where there are big tidal flows and where mixing hap[pens.
You can use it as a self-deploying mooring. eg take to ship
to PAP , porcupine abyssal plane , a load of instrumentation
on a long string of wire with flotation and weights and leave it
there for 2 years, come back, gather the data . Sometimes
you go back and its all gone because its been long-line fished.
It could do the operation itself, no need for a big expensive ship,
it goes out monitors an area and then comes back.
You could say deploy the vehicle off the north of Scotland ,
to monitor marine protected habitats . In 2011 we went out to
the Darwin Mound , 1000m deeep , coral mounds. DEFRA
is under obligation to every 5 yearsor so go out and monitor
what has happened there, see if fisherman have trawled and destroyed it.
To do that with a big ship and the likes of the 6000 its extremely
expensive to do. So take it to Scotland , no sensors on travel to the
area of interest, turn on the high power sensors , generate data,
and return. So DEFRAC and similar are really interested in this
sort of tech. A number of challenges. Reliability is bit of a
problem for 6 months endurance. Its necessary to considdr all
the potential risks and try and design them out. eg
the propulsion system at the rear. We won't use any shaft seals ,
not going to compensate it so the motor and all the internal in a housing
and take the drive out through a mechanical coupling to the outside
to minimise system failure. The actuators work similarly , but
don't have direct feedback. You don't need to measure the angle of the
plane, you just need to send it offset commands.
You need good quality control or its easy to screw things up.
Everything should be made by dedicated professionals. At the NOC
we are not in a position always to do things in the best manner, doing
things in a rush, in fairly awkward conditions on the back of a ship.
You end up cobbling stuff up so it works but does not necessarily
have the durability you need. Its really important to test
everything. We tend to use mobile phone prcessors and low power
electronics to conserve the limited hotel power. We've designed
it to be directionally stable, so you don't need to continually move
the control planes, again saving energy.
Discovery 360 cruise. It didn't go that well. If it was easy , loads
of people would be doing it. The main control system for the
motor, flapping the control planes, it was connected using a certain
intercomunication protocol which was I2C and it turned out there
was a fundamental flaw in the integration of this on-board
processor. You buy the system and a board support package
which is all the software to make it run , you think great.
Integrate everything but we discovered 1 month before the
cruise that if you had a problem with the I2C bus you couldn't
resetit without turning the whole vehicle off and turning it back
on again. If we did that in deployment, it thinks its had
a major power failure, I'll drop the abort weight and I'll come to
the surface. The I2c bus kept falling over , the crew named it Bob
because the vehicle would go in , start, then fall over , and we'd have
to recover it so spending its time just bobbing up and down in the
water. We went to Grande Canaria , we launched it from the shore
from a little boat trailler, and towed out with a small RIB.
One man operation with 2 more assisting at launch and recovery.
Its not expensive and easy to do from a variety of locations.
We went to the FASNET campaign, Fluxes Across Sloping Topography
of the NE Atlantic. Wanting to know how the water mixes at the edge
of the continental shelf and the deep water. Plan was 5 missions
something like 3000 Km one month 1500m water depth. First was
supposed to be 2013 but we had problems. Science package on board, A
Temninus? probe upfront that measures micro-structure turbulence.
Looks like a Nahwals tusk with fine probes on it . Measures the turbulence
and allows you to assess the mixing. We also had up and down looking
ADCPs , quite a big instrumentation payload on the vehicle, hence
the limiting of the range. So March 2014 all excited, put in the
water , big press release . Goes out , lasted about 4 days and there
was a problem. We needed to reboot it on the surface , we sent the
command to reboot the computer then we heard nothing .
Another problem , not sure what , waited . Vehicle had stopped
communicating and presumed lost. Then about 3.5 months later
I'd just come in at home , turned on the pc and an email
flashing up saying "Hello, I'm on the surface can you come and
get me." Is there anyone I can go to , to get, to go to hte
middle of the ocean to recover it. It turned out there
was a research ship the Celtic Explorer, Irish research ship
which happened to be 30 miles away.
I spent an hour trying to get a phone number to contact these people
and they went to collect my sub. Within a few hours it was
on board and I was over the moon. So it was not lost for good.
What went wrong. We screwed up and there was a ballasting error.
The difficulty with a very long range vehicle is the tolerance
you have to ballast to is too fine. If its too bouyant you waste huge
amounts of energy overcoming the bouyancy. We think there
was some trapped air in the vehicle . So you ballast initially
and it floats , take it out and then for whatever reason the air
dissolves . When it comes to the surface again it will sink but only
just sink. So when we rebooted it , shutting all the power down,
and it slowly started to sink. We also have an abort weight that we
would normally drop but because we screwed up the balasting
there was alwso an error in the abort weight software which
meant it didn't properly drop the abort weight. There is a burn
wire that corrodes through , requiring current to pass for 2 or 3 minutes .
We are supposed to put it on for 10 minutes but we put it on for a minute
so the weight did not drop. We think what happened then was it
sank and sat on the bottom for 3 months. The flash-memory
cards filled up which triggered another abort which meant it properly
burnt through the release wire, dropped the weight, came to the surface
and started talking to us on the emergency system.
There was some corrossion from 3months on the surface. To loose
a vehicle and be fairly clear you've lost it ,go through the whole process
to try and work out why you lost it , then get it back and understand
what actually went wrong is amazingly valuable. You discover so many
problems. If it all worked perfectly , we wouldn't have picked up on.
Useful but stressful. We will be redeploying it in the summer of 2015
after learning a lot of lessons.
A vision of where we we're going in the future. Multi-vehiclke
co-ordinated operations. A load of vehicles, operators sat
back at base with satellite comms, a surface vehicle and a
sub-serface vehicle budded up. So an acoustic modem for the
surface vehicle to talk to the subsurface one. The acoustic link
would also give you better navigation. With that .1% distance error
of dead reckoning. Imagine doing 6000km and .1% of that
is 6km. That requires high power and good sensors.
The guys flying these things don't want to be waiting for the
vehicle to come up and schedule their life around the vehicle
they want it the other way about. They want to go into work
on monday morning, log into the vehicle , and see what is happening.
They don't want to be woken up at 3am and sit there with the vehicle tel;ling
them whats happening.
If we wanted to go hunting for hydrothermal vents with LongRange
and a surface vehicle as well. There is supposed to be vents all
over the mid Atlantic Ridge. So say the Azores, 2500m deep
, 6000km track length , 250m line spacing we would cover 1500
sq km and look for hydrothermal vents . Doing all that without
the need for a big ship.
If you think about MH370 where they're saying we'll be looking
in 60,000 sq km and we want to find something , the time taken
with just an AUV would be astronomical.
There are still challenges, co-ordinating the vehicles by
remote control . The capability of going out without the need
of a big ship would revolutionise oceanography. Because
suddenly everything gets a lot less expensive. You can do things a
lot more reactively and do really big area surveys that you can't
do at the moment.
A picture of the whole fleet on the quayside.
Do star fish have 7 legs? that one in hte video had 5.
To be honest I know nothing about marine biology. If we had any
biologists here there would be raving about it. They're all
on board and have seen all these images. About 37,000
photos and these were just the edited highlights. Most of them
are just images of mud. The creature in the top left of this image
is a nephrox. We saw them going on top of a sea-urchin and munch it.
You could often also see the trace of where the star-fish hd been and the dead
sea-urchin and no star-fish.
Has there been research on very low frequency communication
with autosubs, like its used with military subs?
There is a company called Wireless Fibre Sytem that have worked
on low frequency radio comunication. It hasn't really taken off.
Sound seems to be a good way of doing it . There's a company
called Sonadyne , just up the road , who have used blue light ,
because blue goes well through seawater, goes further than red
and attenuates less. Thet've achieved high datarates using
high power blue light.
You had some real-time pictures at the vents, how is that done?
That was using an ROV which is like a big box that you connect
to the ship with perhaps 10km of cable, so you get real-time
high-def video and you get to drive it round.
You've taken a lot of measures to avoid leakage , but do you need hatches
to recover data?
With 6000 , because its connected up with wifi you just wifi the data off.
We also need to charge it , which means there is a wet-mateable connector
which you open to charge it. For a lot of the engineering data we
just use wifi to get it off. When we use the camera systems on-board
, over 24 hour period, about a terabyte of data . To do that via wifi
would take a long time. So we have a little titanium bottle ,
take the cap off , with a hard-drive caddy inside . Remove the hard drive,
, give it to the scientist and seal it up again. Making sure you're careful
with the O rings. Then a poor PhD student has 3 years looking
at 100,000 photos.
Can you say more about the structure of the vehicle , I
don't understand how it withstands the pressures?
You said you flood the batteries with oil , so they are at the pressure
of the seawater?
They're pressure balanced. Big tub of oil, rubber diaphragm ,
at the same pressure as the ocean bottom. There isa pressure
vessel and a couple of other ones, small ,discrete pressure vessels,
generally titanium . Although titanium is expensive, yoiu need to
float it. Its trong, doesn't corrode and light relative to stainless steel.
All the electronics is inside these few small pressure vessels and at
atmospheric pressure. You tend to fill it with silica gel as well ,
because if there is moisture in there it can condense on the electronics.
So the rest of the interior is open to the sea?
Yes, all the tail and nose section just floods. The panels on there
are just to make it more hydrodynamic.
Instead of poor PhD student having to pore over 100,000 images, could
you use something like GalaxyZoo and let the public do the work?
I have suggested that. We deliver the data to the scientists.
For the Abyssal Plane we generated about 300,000 photos .
The student who looked at those images had previously
used a different platform that had given him 1500 photos and she'd
spent a year looking at those 1500 and characterising them all properly.
So I think something like GalaxyZoo would be a solution to that
problem. People are also looking at neural networks where you take
a huge data set, hire time on some huge Amazon server and it will
just crunch through all of them. Because usually you want to find
the "interesting" ones . But also people are interested i nthe
statistics, so such as over this big patch of ocean , how many
7 sided star fish are there. S o habitat statistics. Then they want
habitat statistics on a seasonal basis . So ideally you would do a
survey every month for a year, generate the photos , and then
#determine how the seasons affect the habitat. Currently people
just don't know as its so difficult to get the data.
What actually limits the depth to which these vehicles can go?
They've been to the bottom of the Marianas Trench , from WoodsHole
Oceanographic Institute , down to 11 km. The pressure primarily,
making it strong enough so it doesn't imp[lode.
So it can be donne, just more difficult?
And more expensive. There is a story that when tkhey where
testing instrumentation for This Merios Vehicle, they have a presssure
pot where you take a thing, pump it up . They were standing by this pressure
pot chatting as we are now. The lid blew off the pot , through the roof
and ended up in the carpark. Chunk of thick steel and the pressure
was so high . Water actually compresses , about 2.5% when you
go down to 6000m . So 1100 bar for testing to 11km so a huge
amount of energy. People don't do it because it doesn't get you to much
more of the world's oceans.
How much of the sub is made at the university in Soton?
The NOC is entirely owned by NERC which is entirely
different to the University of Southampton. We colaborate
with the university and there are strong links. So the university
does not build any of it. I've had PhD students working on aspects
of it but not actually building the subs. We put the bits
together and assembly . I've soldered up and packaged a lot
of the battery packs of the older versions. But we had so many
different problems with them that for the current packs they
are made by an external company. You also need UN transportation
testing . They don't have raw lithium metal in them but you
hear of the Dreamliner aircraft and fires starting with lithium packs.
So they need to go through the right sort of transportation testing
otherwise you're not allowed to ship them.
There is a story of a US submarine , called a swimmer delivery
vehicle. A little sub you put on the back of a big sub which
you take to areas you shouldn't be and fill it with Navy Seals
who go out and do things they shouldn't. That was powered by
Lithium batteries and they caught fire . a 100 million dollar
vehicle w2hich was convertyed to a molten pile of slag in a few
hours just because the batteries cooked off inside.
Have you ever thought of using a different power source, like
used on some satellites?
Someone looked into this and all you need is 250 million quid and
part of the US Navy. There are some developements in battery
technology that are improving the performance. The best way of dealing
wiht that issue is putting low power sensors on there, because it
gives you such huge gains. Al l the work done for mobile phone
technology is really speeding it along.
You mentioned Woods Hole as anothe roceanography centre. Who
else in the world is doing this sort of thing? Competing or colaborating?
In the US there is also Scripps , Embari in Monteray Bay, Epremer
in France , GMR in Germany , Janstech in Japan. At the NOC
I think we have Europe's biggest fleet of marine autonpmous
systems . Some of the things we've done with RUAVs are
totally world class. One of our vehicles has gone in 60km
under the Pine Island glacier , mapping the underside of the glacier
and also the seabed. Nobody else in the world has done that.
The camera work we've done is also pretty cutting edge. We're not
risk seeking but we're happy to push the limits. I was talking to
some colleagues from Japan, Janstech and they have a similar
vehicle to Autosub6000 and they won't fly it any less
than 30m from the seabed because they worry about it colliding
with the seabed. So they can't take any photos and can't use
high frequency side scan . We will survey an area and be confident
of the vehicle's capabilities and know how it flies, we will get it
close . In Japan they have the 6000type and will build another
companion vehicle that will get
closer and allow taking photos but we can do it in one hit, even in
one mission. So do the high res survey to begin with and a vehicle on the
surface , get the data back, quickly process it , if ok , send it
on its way again and do the photo survey.
Other groups are doing amazing things but in different areas.
There was something on TV a couple of weeks back about Autonaut
There is a big project at the moment called Masmo, Marine Autonomous
Systems supporting Marine Observations or something like that.
2 gliders a surface wave glider , Sea Enduro and Autonaut and a
couple more all deployed at the same time , going out from
the Scily isles and going to the continental shelf. looking at ocean
fronts, the mixing of different water masses, forming lots of chlorophyl
and high productivity, then a food chain derriving from that,
a huge a mount of marine life. Looking at how these fronts change
as you get storms coming through as you move through the winter months.
We have realtime displays of what is happening at the moment and
I could pull it up on my pc, where they are and the realtime data
You mentioned that AUVs are set on a predetermined path and
developing the ability tocommunicate with htem, along the path.
How about the ability to alter their course as things develop. ?
We can do that currently, via an acoustic modem. If you're
on a ship above them, you can send them a text message, bandwidth
acoustically is pretty poor. You are limited to 80 characters
per message. People have looked at making the vehicles smarter, so
they can autonomously adapt to changing conditions. This always
worries scientists because you don't know if it will adapt its
mission in a stupid way. You don't want to spend a year writing
your research grant , 3 years waiting to go out on the ship, deploying
the vehicle then it decides to look for dolphins somewhere because it
doesn't want to do what you want it to. Usally a mission is survey
that box, give me the data, and then I'll tell you what to do
Can you currently give this sort of change data?
We could but we would not get information from the vehicle ,
say a big acoustic map, because you can't sent that in a text message.
You really want it to come to the surface and have 2way high bandwith
comms. You could sit there and if you had comms all the time you
could look at making it more adaptive, because then you would
know if it was doing something completely retarded.
So do this box unless you find something interesting , but recall
it soon after if inapropriate. It would make people more comfortable
if there was an adaptive system onboard. The scientists are not
pushing for it at the moment so we are not sweating over
With your collision avoidence system you had a 75m cliff made out
of rock , with a near horixzontal beam at it , you'd get a superb
return off it, but do you get sloping sediment fields , barely callable
sediment and get virtually no return off it?
You can. I went out in the Solent , chucked the sensor off hte
side of the ship, moving it up and down looking at the range
that you get from dediment. If the grazing angle is too shallow
you don't get a good return. You have to be 5 degrees plus and
also not a good range if the sediment is really soft. Somehting
rocky gives good returns from a long range.
It would give a nice soft landing , but how much sediment could you
have with little return but rock only 6 inches below it?
If we're doing a multibeam survey and flying relatively high
50 0r 60m up you're only worried if you're in a nasty mountainous
#area, anything else you would see something and pull up
anyway. We have collided with the seabed and I've photos to prove
You don't have a secondary system for the situation of very fine sediment
If you cant see it with the existing sensor then we cant see it.
There are some complications to the obstacle avoidence system,
which I could go into, but crudely thats how it works.
Its not optimised for very low level camera work, we may have to look
at improving it for that.
These proximity search beams are they sonar, radar, radio or
do you use all 3.
Its all acoustic so sonar .
Is there an option that you can rapidly change , with just the kit
on board, if the scientists wish to change operational requirements,
mission to mission.?
We were asked to do it once on a vehicle where there was 600KHz
sonar system and they wanted to swap to 1200 system.
You design some plates, undo some bolts , change a connector
and bolt the other one in, its not too much pain.
If its integrated its fine , but if someone turns up with a brand
new sensor, can you just bolt it in, that can take a lot of work.
We've also had people turn up with sensors that are not exactly
homegrown but less than stellar in their design. If that sensor
leaks then that can take out your whole vehicle. If something is
big enough and it floods then you become negatively buoyant,
and the weight you drop , you can still be negatively bouyandt.
So loose the vehicle as a consequence.
When the vehicles descent you said they spiral, why not straight
We know roughly where we want to strart. If you have 6km
to drop and you go down at 45 degrees , then you are 6km
away at 6km down.
Can you build an autonomous sub that could circumnavigate the
Earth or is that scientifically not worthwhile?
It would be worthwhile, but only navies have done it and with
people in them. You could build a vehicle that could do it
but it would need to be almost the size of a manned submarine
to put the required amount of energy in it.
With the business of the rubber ducks off container ships. Has anyonme
worked on swarms of very small subs?
Its one of those popular areas of robotics. They think a swarm
of lots of them would be a lot better. From an oceanographic
perspective a lot of the features you're looking at are so big that
you need to comunicate a long way. Underwater you can only
comunicate is by sound and if you go a distance away you can
no longer comunicate. It all becomes a bit pointless. Instead come to
the surface , satellite comunicate . In mine counter-measures that
technique is useful, so navies have a lot of those sorts of vehicles,
just for mine-hunting . A fleet of them and the concept of
Gold-base ? planning. They would autonomously do a survey ,
decided individually . If one broke down , the others would fill
in hte gaps. Mesh networks, peer-to-peer but often what
happens , they comunicate via satellite back to base and are
too far away to cominicate with each other so you end up with
a star network . Its easier to have a big brain sitting
in an oceanography centre doing the controlling of otherwise
relatively dumb vehicles.
Can you control them from Southampton, rather than from a nearby ship?
If you have an internet connection, you can talk to them.
2 of our fleet you deploy from a ship and talk to them over wifi,
so you need to be within wifi range, which is high power, and
about 1km range.
I read somewhere there are several thousand bouys drifting around
the seas below the surface, now and again they come up and squirt
off a message?
Thats Argo Floats. They are like our gliders but without the wings.
They have a bouyancy engine that let them dive up and down
through the water column , down to say 1000m , ballast themselves
so neutrally bouyant , drift with the current and pop back up
and transmit. There are about 4000 of them dotted over the worlds
oceans. Providing realtime info about what is happening in the oceans.
There are not that mmany distributed over the vastness of the
Do they all use the 38KHz sonic frequency that confused the MH370
Its just a dreadful frequency. All who have looked at it have said
why the hell did they choose that? It gets into regulations .
Dreadful because when its pinging on the bottom of the deep
oceans , you can't hear it at the surface because it attenuates
too much. If they changed it to say like 12KHz it would propogate
far enough to be heard . We use a variety of different frequencies
. Go low and the signal travels further but you can send less
data over it. As its just pinging away , it should be nearer 12KHz,
its just a dreadful choice. I think they all know its a dreadful
frequency and they know the batteries don't last long .
They will be changing from 30 day to 90 day battery and I think
ideally they would change the frequency but there is so much
regulation around air travel that it would just be too much pain
to get international agreement to change that.
When you lost your sub for 3 months, presumably there was a high
power post-mortem a few months in . Did anyone at that meeting
come up with the problem behind the failure, in retrospect?
The suspicion was that it had sunk, because there were indications that
it was negatively bouyant . The fact the abort weight failed was
likely. We built up a fault tree , then say which is the most likely cause
. We didn't identify the exact fault . The alternatives were it just
lost comunication , so could have been floating on the surface but
just not talking to us, but then you require the internal systems
to have failed and the back-up systems would also have to have failed.
We were using a new tracking system , it had some bugs in that
software, so you think it might be the tracking system.
Was it expected that when that flash-memory filled up there would
be a second abort attempt?
There was a number of lessons learnt . There is a battery that tries
to discharge to break the burn wire , so why did you only leave
it on for 10 minutes? You have energy in there why not leave it on all the time.
If we had done it would have burnt through and we would have been ok.
But more generally you can solve that problem , then for some reason
back at base, its triggered , and flattens the battery for next deployment.
Thinking of all the things that can fail is really quite difficult.
We perhaps have trapped 99% but that 1% could cause real
In the NASA type situation they always seem to have a sedcond
backup at base, they can go to it and try and sort
out a problem that has occured on the deployed one on Mars
or whatever.? I suppose in your circumstance ,if you
have an operational bit of kit sitting there idle in hte docks, you
would deploy it in the water?
The difficulty there is that their not exactly the same. With NASA
they always have 2 of everything , the same thing done exactly
to each vehicle . I was talking to a guy at NASA AIMS there was
an appocryphal story of a satellite gone up , supposed to
be imaging a planet or something and could see nothing.
He goes to look at its earthbound partner and the lens cap
was still in place. A partner vehicle and its operational twin
do not experience the same vibrations , same pressures or other
environmental conditions , so how would you know.
Can you think of unexpected discoveries during the missions?
Were they are of the magnetising fields around the vents?
I suspect they would have theorised it as such but not actually
know and would not have been surprised at that result.
In 2009 we went to Pine Island Glacier with autosub3 and mapped the
underside of the glacier. S o flight in and looking up . So
data showing here of the runs , 60km in , 5km under the glacier .
They did not know there is a ridge there, so the glacier was sitting on a ridge
which was slowing it down. As it melts, it melts from that ridge ,
warmer water is getting behind thar ridge which is increasing the melt .
Looking from a ship you do not get that info, you have to go
in to do it, with an AUV. You could go in wiht a manned submarine
but you'd be crazy to do it. If that one glacier fully melts
then world sea level rises several metres or so, so very important to
know the process of melting of it.
Why are some people against mining the old vent holes?
What would be the impact, hoovering up the bottom of the ocean.
Would you be putting toxic elements into the ecosystem down there
and killing what is down there. People are a lot more
conscious of this thses days. There willbe a full monitoring of any
mining sites. No one has started it, number of challenges, finding the
stuff , hoovering, then ensuring no environmental; catastrophe there
You don't hear about manganese nodules these days, did that hoovering idea fail?
there is a brilliant story around that, Howard Hughes in the 1960s.
He had the glomar explorer , a big research ship that was going to go
out and hoover up manganese nodules, that was the background story.
But he was funded by the CIA andit was a cover story to go and
pick up a Russian submarine which was on the ocean bottom.
They go out there, pick up this sub , a waste of time an=yway,
as it was several generations out of date. They get it within
a few hundred metres of the surface and they drop it. Then it seriously
plummets back down , as it is completlely flooded, it ends up
hitting the seabed with such force it spread itself over the bottom
of the ocean. 100 million dollars of USA tax payers money went into
picking up and dropping a nuclear Russian sub.
So manganese nodules is a myth?
No, it is credible. People are looking at manganese nodules .
10 November 2014, Reverend Stewart Timbrell: Herbs & the History of
( Completely different presentation to the usual, no powerpoint safety
net. Part comic
monologue from and part an informative exploration of the links
between herbs and medicine. I've decided not to transcribe the
biographic, life-experience , as the comic timing and delivery would
not transcribe well, and leave it open for people to experience for
themselves, wherever he should repeat this talk. This was not the first
time he'd delivered this talk )
33 people, 1.5 hours
The tutor came to me and said Stewart, you're from the countryside, I
think you have the moral obligation to take these 24 cockney kids on a
nature ramble. I learnt a great deal about children. They wanted to
know names of the different birds. I was raised in a house full of fishing
rods and shotguns . Anything that flew and it would go in the oven , I
could tell you its name. My father had no time for anything you
couldn't eat. They wanted to know the names of different trees, and I
knew the ones that could be burnt on the cottage fire.
The first thing I learnt about children , the best way of handling 24 of
them was to walk them for at least 7 miles before turning back. By the
time they got back to the college they were very quiet. I used to march
them till they dropped. They started bringing wild flowers up.
After daisy , buttercup and dandelion which I could name, I ran into
serious difficulty. The second thing I learnt about children is that when
they discover an area that you have no knowledge in ,then that is all
they will ask questions about. I felt so ignorant , i went into Sevenoaks
to the one and only bookshop. I need a botanical testbook to identify all
the wild flowers around . You will need Bentham and Hookers British
Flora. She came up with a second-hand copy , its got every flower you
could possibly imagine, you won't need anything else.
What's this mister and I said I've no idea but I have this marvelous
book. I opened it and got a shock , it did have everything in except
pictures. Worse than useless.
I returned to the bookshop and complained and she said if you wanted
an idiot's guide for wild flowers, you should have asked.
Bentham and Hooke ruses the staminal rule. Look at your wild flower,
say a vetch , take a floret off and look at it under a glass and you will
see its of the sweet-pea family , a lugume from the genre leguminose.
Open B&H at leguminose, she flitted through the pages and then again.
I'm sorry I picked a bad example. Its called papalonacea in B&H but
you'll get used to that. Open at papolonacia and count how many
stamens there are , read the number in the left hand column , read
across and you'll find a vivid botanical description and a double-barrel
latin name. What's a stamen? ok, I'll go and get the othe rbook.
She came out with a little red book, B&H uses the system of Lineus, a
Swedish medical botanist. He paid people to collect the plants so he
could make up the medicines. Whereever he went, different localities
had different names for the same plant. Where you come from you call
harebells bluebells and bluebells harebells. So he decided to rtegulise
and give scientific names . He decided to use latin as being a dead
language , it wouldn't get corrupted. He gave them latin names and
soon realised that so many of them looked so much alike , he put them
into families, rathe rerroneously. Anything with an umbel on it was part
of the umbeliferae family and so on. So all plants ended up with a
two-name name, he called the binomial nomenclature .
Now this othe rbook uses a different system. If you find a flower with
purple petals its in the purple pictures , blue petals blue pictures, do
you think you can manage that. The next time I went out with the kids ,
believing all the flowers of the British Isles would be in here.
one of them brought a clump out of a hedgerow, what's this mister?
The thing didn't have a flower on it so the book didn't work.
The tutor came up and said its vital that you get on with old people.
You'll be allocated an old person and you'll visit that person for the
next two years. Mr Timbrel will be visiting Mr Taft. I enrolled in
botany evening classes. I thought they'd press plants in a book. They
didn't do that. Cartridge paper and a soft pencil and sketched them,
and a tin of paints. I pressed plants between newspaper , placed under
the carpet and 6 weeks of walking over to press them. When I opened
it up something like herbal tobacco . A chemist took pity on me. If we
want to preserve the colour of these flowers, you have to keep the light
and the air away. Get your flower, interlayer it between sheets of
absorbent and non-absorbent paper, in a screw-press, tight as you van.
The following day undo the flower stuck to the aborbent paper and
stick some of that fablon marterial for covering books, covered in glue
on one side. Put on the back, rub it over and it will be encapsulated.
A coltsfoot pressed in 1968 , the flowers still there and the stem is still
green. Every now and then pressing something such as a foxglove , next
day it had gonea a bit brown, in a week it was jet black. Same with
kingcup marigolds and cuckoopint and soloman's seal. I put them all to
one side. The chemist came in my room and said you've separated all
the poisonous flowers. They've gone black because there is a very active
chemical in them. Either an alkaloid or a glycoicide and its reacted with
your glue so its acting like an indicator. I said I don't think they're all
poisonous , one is a buttercup. He said buttercups are very poisonous ,
they contain the glycocide renunculin . If you bruise the stems of
buttercups they produce protoanemonine a powerful skin irritant.
If you see a field of cows and buttercups , you'll see clumps of
buttercups because the cows know they are poisonous even if you don't.
What about buttercup syrup from the chemist's shop?
He said I don't know what they put in buttercup syrup but I'll tell you
one thing they don't put in buttercup syrup and that is buttercups.
I went to a chemist and had a look at the bottle , no buttercups, its
made out of squill. The second snag I hit after pressing and
cataloguing a coup[le of hundred, I couldn't find any more.
Someone pointed out that in the B.I there are over 2,500 wild flowers.
I went to a farmer for some advice and he said you are 50 years too late.
If you looked over one of my meadows 50 years ago you would not have
seen grass, for wild flowers. A fortnight after we'd mown , the floor
would be covered in corncockles, and looking along the hedgerows
there would have been a rainbow of colours. But not now, we use
nonilephenols? , selective weedkillers. 4 different sorts of nitrate , all
you will see in my fields now is grass. If you want to find some orchids
you'll have to find some uncultivated land.
I thought of Biggin hill airfield. I went past all the Keep Out signs and
up to a big green fence with a sentry box . I went up to sentry with the
rifle and asked if I could go in and look for wild flowrs, no entry.
I decided to get up early , before going to the old folks home, looked
through the fence , and after a halfmile of this fence there was a gaping
hole. There was a plant 9 inches high and petals 1.5 inches long with
perfect squares painted on each petal. The field was full of them.
I got hold of the idiots book , starting from the beginning and then the
last page , last illustration was the meriabis? the snake's head frittilary.
I was so pleased I was late to the old folks home. This is where all this
rambling comes together. I saw Mr Tafts face . I blurted out that I'd
found a rare flower this morning. He ran out of the room, running back
and waving a very tatty old book. He said take it , its yours.
Called Materia Medica , I'm not a medical student, Mr Taft, I'm a
theological student. It was full of roots and berries , petals and sepals ,
bark and sap and every bit of every plant I'd heard of. I looked up and
said, Mr Taft your a herbalist. He went red with rage, a herbalist, I'm a
pharmasist. I've been a chemist for 47 years and you're the first imbecile to call
me a herbalist. Sorry Mr Taft I didn't think herbs worked and he went peuce
. I want you to go back to your college and put 2 pints of cold water
in an aluminium saucepan and 8 ounces of sennapods, bring to the boil
and simmer until reduced to a pint , sieve it through muslin and when its bloodheat I
want you to drink the lot. Then come back to me and tell me herbs don't
If a doctor has a patient who is terminal , and he can't do anything
for them , he knows they will die, and in a lot of pain , what does he use.?
Thats morphine I said.
That's right , where does it come from? It comes from one of your flowers
the Papava monosoferum? the opium poppy. And that flower gives us
all the painkillers that work, up to date. Perhaps codeine , where does that
come from? the opium poppy again. Codeine is just another alkaloid
from the opium poppy . All the drugs we have are quite natural
substances. The rain forests are being burnt down and we don't even know
whats in there.
Previously I trained in petrochemicals, so he asked me what synthetic
chemists have made that is any good. I said asprin.
The name asprin comes from Aspirea , the Spiria Almeiria the old name for
the meadowsweet. That was discovered in 1840 , nobody did anything
with it until the 1860s when Felix Hoffman , a German chemist,
was looking for something to relieve his father's rheumatic pain.
He found this worked like magic but he couldn't get enough of it.
Then they found the same acid was in the bark of the willow tree,
the salix, extracted it with acetic acid and came up with a stable
Acetyl Salisilic Acid , asprin . The Baer chemical company started
pumping it out and as part of the reparations after the great war ,
the germans gave us asprin. Our chemists didn't want farmers to start
growing willow trees, so they synthesised it out of coal tar and it worked
and they made it purer. Made it better and made it purer and then
about 500 people took it on an empty stomach , had haemorrages and
dropped down dead. Then instead of going back to have another look
at the willow tree, they came up with phenocetin and our paracetomol.
Then they wondered why the old people with rheumatism and
arthritis were getting to 100 wheras the hail and hearty friends , with
ruddy complexions and supple limbs were keeling over having
strokes. The prevalence of strokes was rapidly gaining and the
sociologists said it was the stresses of modern living.
He said it was not stress , it was not using the things that were
natural. When the blackberries were in the hedgerow , so were
your grandparents, picking them. And elderberries for wine and
all sorts of things. Grandma if her knees started hurting in winter
she would reach for the bottle of elderberry wine . She didn't know it
but she was getting natural salicins. Even in your book, the bible, you'll
see they paid their tithes and taxes in mint and anise and cumin.
They were shepherds, they wouldn't eat spring lamb . They would wait
until a lion had taken a leg off an old sheep or an old tup and they
would eat mutton. But you can't digest mutton without mint .
They didn't know it but the enzyme in mint bonds with the pepsin
in your digestive system. We still have mint with our mutton .
There is a reason for all of these things.
I still wasn't convinced and then he came up with something quite
fascinating . Do you remember your parents telling you
of collecting rosehips during the war ? There is 20 times more
vitamin C in rosehips than in the same weight of oranges.
He came up with some articles from the botanic gardens at Kew and
the wartime need for medicine. Kew was used as a collection centre
from a lot of these things that I thought were old wives tales.
And between 1941 and 1945 they collected 1,957 tons of rosehips.
THe cash value, then in 1945 was 50,000 ponds. They also collected
conkers, nettles , red seaweed, dandelions.
A French friend of mine came over after doing his national service ,
went into my back garden and said pis en lit. In Lancashire we called them
wet-the-beds because they stimulated kidneys .
He was beginning to get me interested and he started digging out the
pharmaceutical journal. A lot of these things were considered rubbish
until we got colour gas chromatography. The first prusomide?
they came up with , people became ill because they were loosing
potassium . When you looked at the dandelions there is natural potassium
in the roots. A lot of buffers that when we thought we were taking the
active principal , everything else we thought was rubbish, hada purpose.
The Pharmaceutical Journal started looking like Potter's Seed Catalogue.
. During the war they couldn't get liquorice and all the cough medicines
he made up, used to work , but not without liquorice in it.
Years later when they started looking for something for the AIDS
epidemic , quoting from the PJ "Glicoritus Glabarus ? ,liquorice,
when given orally to an a-symptomatic HIV carriers , delays the progression
of symptoms, boosts the immune system and stimulates the body to
grow interferons to attack the virus".
When I was a kid we were all given little sticks of wood to chew ,
liquorice root , and solid liquorice juice which was a black stick,
fractured like coal tar. We'd put it in a bottle with warm water, shake it
up and make liquorice pop which had terible side effects.
As time has gone by a lot of these things have come into their own.
Hippocrates, the father of medicine said let your food be your medicine
and your medicine your food. I went to a greengrocers and they had these
orange sticks like sticks of rock, carrots from Holland the greengrocer said.
No carrots have a point at one end and something green at the other
end. These things today don't taste of anything.
Nowadays you're foisted off with an iceburg lettuce with its plastic
overcoat. Its never been near soil , hyrop=onically grown .
Show one to a slug in your garden and it will jump over the fence.
If you go on a holiday, take your iceburg in its plastic overcoat
, left in the salad drawer of your fridge. When you come back a
fortnight later it will still be as crispy . Because nothing should touch
that and neither should you, he said.
Have you heard them say an apple a day keeps the doctor away?
It may be an old wive's tale but there is a reason for it. In the
days they boiled the cabbage until it turned to soup, boiled the
carrots and mashed it up similarly. They ate the apple raw and gotr
the pectin and pectolase. Anything with ase on the end is a n enzyme
and you need enzymes in your food , something fresh. Because anything
your body needs is processed by the liver with enzymes. A lot of these
enzymes have the source in your food. If you are going to boil,
sterilise and irradiate everyhting you won't get any enzymes.
As for tomatoes, in the old days , you just followed your nose .
A box of all sorts of sizes ,shapes and colours. Now they are all
the same size and colour , its outrageous. Why are they like that?
They are gamma irradiated , they get them at a certain colour
, right colour and texture and irradiate to death. If you don't
believe me do what my mothe rused to do. If she wanted to ripen
a tomatoe , she wrapped it in paper and popped it in a drawer
for a couple of days . Do that with the modern ones they'll go
black inside and as hard as glass. If you eat dead food you're going
to die. He said, we should look harder at the things we intent to
eat. Eat the fruit of the Earth in due season. If you get blackberries in
May , imported from god-knows where, they don't taste of anything.
Big and wet but no taste. Compare them with the blackberries from the
hedgerow in October . I did think he was slightly potty. He said tell
me something that has changed. I said , antibiotics have changed
the face of the Earth. Indeed they have and they'll probably wipe us off it.
And you think Alexander invented penicillin. If you get out the Anglo
Saxon Chronicle , if they had a superating wound they'd rub into it
mold off bread and pack it up with spagnum moss and it would heal.
During the first world war , spaghnum moss was collected, very absorbent and
antiseptic wound dressing. We used onions as a wound dressing, these
wonderful things all forgotten about. When he started as a hospital
pharmacist , the nurses would go past me in their civilian clothes,
they'd change and shower before going on the ward. and every ward had a wash basin in the centre for hand washing,
spirit them off and go to the next bed. When I finished as a
pharmacist the nurses came to work in their uniforms, straight onto the ward
going from patient to patient. When I challenged them about this
aseptic technique , they said, no matter, we have antibiotics.
There is no substitute for proper hygiene. If you play games with
mothe rnatiure, she'll win.
They couldn't get enough penicillin in 1940 and they looked around
for something else. They got a report from Rothampstead Soil
Research Labs, where a Hugh Nichol had got a bursary from a French
perfume company to find out what gave soil its funny smell. He discovered
in a spoon of soil there are billions of different bacilli. They all compete
and they all produce something to fend off their enemies, so we end up
with a pyramid. The top bacillus in English soil was actino-mycelium
. In 1940 they found a policeman dying of a stafflochle infection , injected
the actino-mycelium into him, killed the bacteria , unfortunately
it then went on to kill the patient. But that didn't stop them. They wondered
if different antibiotics were in different soils from different lands.
They got chloraphenicol from Venuzuela, tetracyclin from Indiana,
vancomycin from Borneo, Arithmaricin from arithros the red soil
of the Philipines , 5000 different antibiotics. Whatever you went to the
doctor about, you were handed out antibiotics. As a result we got
all these resistant strains of bacteria. You'll be young enough to
see someone going into hospital and coming out with something entirely
different, probably in a box.
I could not accept that but of course years later emerged MRSA the
first of these blessed things. I could never remember if it was
Methycilin resistant staflocockle or streptocal aureus until I
mentioned it to a friend who had the Journal of Hospital Infection.
You can remember it is stafflocochle because its the staff who
Going back to the liquorice article and at the bottom of the page.
Systemic antiflammatory action of plants. The antiflammatory
response in joints or whatever is nature's way of protecting the
joints , a sort of padding. But with plastic surgery it is often
necessary to get the inflamation down . They came up with
anascomosus and research in S America resulted in the isolation
of the protein bromaline. Anascomosus from pineapple.
If you put fresh pineapple in a jelly , it won't set , it breaks
down the double bonds.
Why do we go to the soil for the antibiotics? We shouldn't.
If we have a tree with bracket fungus growing on it , you know its
lost its defences, it takes up the actinomycelian from the soil ,
converts it into something else. Every plant protects itself from resources
from the soil .
If kids have a sore throat , instead of giving them good old liquorice
and menthol. But now its sugary coated sweets to rot children's
teeth, outrageous. An apple a day doesn't work any more.
Go and get my some Russets or Golden Spires, you can't.
You'll end up with French Golden Delicious. They're not golden,
not delicious and you won't catch a Frenchman eating one.
You'll never see a wormhole in a Golden Delicious apple.
Go to Australia and you will see they leave them on the trees until
they actually go golden and they are then delicious.
But in that state they bruise to easily, but pick them before the
fruit acid sets you can chuck them about in lorries , put them
in cold storage for a year . You may as well eat sawdust.
He gave me an article on diet and the prevention of cancer, which
has beed re-issued in the Pharmaceutical Journal quite recently.
A lot of this is to do with cash crops. When Hypericum Perforatum,
St John's Wort was useful, they started growing it . Then the committee
on safety of medicine gave advice on hte use of St John's Wort .
They fed a cow with 1.5 cwt of it and it became ill, so dangerous.
The next month "Legal Challenge to Hypericam Perforatum" the Germans
wanted the Irish to stop growing it as a cash crop.
Mr Taft was saying we shouldn't need to go to the soil because
the plants would be doing the chemistry for us.
I was sent an article , the enzyme therapy most tested as anti-cancer
treatment involves the administration of aspazinase, ase at the end, enzyme.
Getting the aspasinase from the asparagus and puming it into the
blood stream to clean up the free radicals. Healthy cells can
produce all but 8 of the essential amino acids but cancer cells
can't. Cancer cells scavage. In the old days if grandma had a laprotemy,
and could not do anything about the cancer, the surgery of a large
incision stimulated the body to produced new amino acids and
the cancer cells would gobble them up and grow like topsy.
This aspazinase is astonishing stuff. If you get a tin of asparagus , the
enzymes survive the tinning process. Leave it in the pantry for
a year or 2 , it turns into green fluid.
My old mum , with Alzeimers, would go into hospital for
respite . The last time she went in, the nurse came over to say she
had MRSA. Don't touch the dressing, we'll come and dress it
every 3 days. It was getting worse . When the nurse had gone,
I whipped off the replacement and put neat tea-tree oil on it
and a loose dressing. Left it a few hours, then replaced the original
nurse's dressing. On returning the nurse noticed a demarkation line, took
some swabs . 5 lots of swabs later, I don't know how its happened
, I'm certain your mothe rhad MRSA but not now. I told
her about the teatree oil interference and she went through the roof.
A few weeks later an article in the Journal of Hospital Infection there
was an article "Tea Tree Oil as an alternative decolonisation agent
for MRSA" and placed it in front of the nurse.
Thats alright but we can't use it , its not been liscenced and when
it is liscensed it will be so expensive we won't be allowed to use it.
This cash business is frightening. Its no accident that the chemical
companies that make the medicine also make the cosmetics.
We were studying the ethics of transplants. Then Christian Barnard
started doing heart transplants and people survived because of cyclosporin
from the bark of the Norwegian Spruce.
I revisited Mr Taft many years later to tell him of the cyclosporin.
Thats nothing, he says, what about the Uncobis Spinosa , the
Cortinaser trees of the Amazonian rain forest and 27 new
anti-cancer drugs. Also vincristin and viblastin from the Madagascar
periwinkle , the cure for childhood leukaemia. Echinacea, all these
marvelous things. And they're burning down the forests before we
find out whats in them.
I ended up with his possessions when he died. The first
thing out was a brass object 4 inches long a mold for casting
suppositries. A note saying going and see me old professor
at Nottingham, prof Trees. He was still alive and I went to
Nottingham to see him, full head of hair, deaf as a post.
I had an inner ear infection, doctor put me on streptomycin
, too long, too strong. Wiped out all the hair follicles in the cochlea.
Made me stone deaf. His wife , Joyce , her knees came up with arthritis
, they'd been messing about withthe adrenal cortex at the top of the
kidney and had come out with steroids. The doctor injected steroids
directly into the knee , the inflammation went down overnight
and she gave the wheelchair away. A few months later, her knees came
up again, went to the doc , injected steroids again. The third time of
injecting he wiped out all the eyelets of langrans in the pancreas
and turned her into a diabetic. Thats why they call it practising
I emptied Mr Tafts's teachest and at the bottom was a little
black book. On the spine it said British Pharmacopea , I thought
it can't be. I've got the 1923 one and its as big as family bible
and the 58 one is even bigger. It was the first one from 1853.
In 1850 the Society of Chemists and Pharmacists and Grocers, had
all got together . They were still using the 1680s Pharmacopia Londinensis
all written in Latin. In it there were things like Aqua Lumbriti
where lumbriti was latin for earthworms. And if you were short
of breath there was nothing better for it than to eat raw foxes lungs.
So in 1853 they came up with the book of empirical medicine, medicines
they really believed worked. I flicked through this book and there was
Elicamponi, ... , all these things I'd been reading up about.
Things that work, things like basil, valued for centuries. The
arab school of medicine used it as well as Pliny, its carminitive
and antispasmodic. Borridge , Cammomile , go to spain and
you have gippy tummy , they will give you cammomile tea.
The Egyptians prized the herb for gastric disorders and the 1923
British Pharmaceutical Codex had 6 different preparations for
cammomile in it, the paramatic bitters in it. Chickweed - I
met someone who had been in a Japanese prison of war camp.
He watched his English friends quietly die but he noticed the
Javanese prisoners were rooting up a weed from under the fence
and adding to their handful of rice. Found out it was Stellaria Media
and he started eating it too. He survived and when he came back
he looked at what was in chickweed. Crammed full of vitamin C,
calcium, potassium and all sorts of provitamns. The herbalists of
old used it to treat skurvy. Clevers. A lot of these herbs, the Latin
names give a clue to what they were used for. Clevers, not a latin name
. Gallium , the milkplant because our ancestors would collect
the sticky buds when walking , the cleave. Get warm milk, smash
up the cleavers and it separated the fats and proteins out for making
cheese . It has a glycocide , asperilosise its called with a wonderful
effect on milk. Coltsfoot has a latin name that tells you what it was
used for Tusilego Farfarra, Tusis the latin for cough, it was a cough
remedy. Corriander for griping pains, fennel water used still
for babies. Elderberries marvellous for salycins, the list goes
on and on. Evening primrose rediscovered only perhaps 30
years ago, cultivated throughout Europe in the 17 century
lots of interesting properties. Fennel was in the pharmocopea
1923, 1949 and thrown out in 1953. A great favourite of the
romans as a carminitive.
I went to a vet and asked if they use any plants in vetenary medicine.
An animal in its natural habitat will pick its own medicine.
Not an old wives tale. In lambing time you often get sheep that will
completely forget to eat, healthy lambs but the ewe will die.
If you find them quick enough and put a bit of gentian on their
tongue, they will pick up their head and look around for something
to eat. I thought I'd see if it was used by humans. I got the
British National Formulary, the little red book the doctor
carries around. In there it still has gentian root in there, but it
says the action of this herb is useful purely by the power of
auto-suggestion. I went back to the vet and asked when you
give the animal gentian root do you tell them what its going to do?
Geranium, I was going around the Lake District, looking for
plants . But some seem to be dying out, you don't see them
any more. If I found a plant that was a bit rare , and with seeds,
I'd spread them about a bit. If you find honeysuckle growing in the
same place as fennel even if there is no other evidence, there has been
a building there at some time, because they were grown in the garden.
Its long been argued there is no such thing as an expectorant, but
lovage . You can't have camphor anymore , banned by the EEC.
But Go to France, Spain , Tenerife and ask for camphor and you
can have as much as you want. You cant get castor oil from the chemist
any more . All these things that work, its infuriating.
Peppermint, the enzyme bonds with the pepsin in your digestive system,
carminitive for irritable bowel syndrome or anything like that.
Mr Taft told me that at the time before fridges, birds for cooking
were stuffed with sage and thyme because they were anticeptic.
Bunches of sage and thyme behind a door somewhere and if someone got
a sore throat they wouldn't eat sugary pastilles they'd boil the
sage and thyme and gargle with it. The best anticeptic we have is
thymol bu tthe drug companies have swapped it to phenol from
coal tar. Thymol is twice as effective and oly a qurater as toxic.
In the war people collected nettles , wonderful source of vitamin A,
C , manganese, iron .
I think my favorite herb has got to be valerian root. I worked as a chaplin
in a psychiatric hospital. A big problem with people overdosing on
things like valium. When admin in the hospital annoyed me I'd lock
myself in a room , a handful of valerian root capsules , a big cup
of tea and I'd turn into a pussycat. It was used in the first world war
to treat shell shock, for people who couldn't sleep , tincture
of valerian . Its not hypnotic, you can talke a bucketful and drive.
The arabs in the 10th century paid more that its weight in gold for it.
It was thrown out of the British Pharmacopia when they came up
with vallium. The number of youngsters I've buried because they
overdosed on vallium, nobody ever overdosed on valerian root,
if you tasted it, you'd realise why. You can get it in little gelatine
capsules these days.
Don't think I'm saying go to the herbalist instead of going to the
doctor. The man who invented homeopathy made his money
on camphor. I'd never be without it, I always pick it up when abroad.
I get one of those Vic inhalers, smash a lump . If I go on a plane I
fill my lungs with camphor as they recirculate the air .
We're the only country in the world that obeys these silly rules,
very annoying. What I am saying is that its no accident that having
sprouts , after the first frost, from someone's allotment , how
much better they taste. The taste of hedgerow blackberries of august
or september ar emindblowing. Go along a rail embankment and find
some wild strawberries, break one of thos ein your mouth, you'll
get the shock of your life, an explosion of taste.
If you can grow something yourself you know how much better it tastes.
So think again, what you're feeding to kids . If they have a sore
throat get some prope rliquorice rathe rthan rot their teeth with
pastilles . Perhaps the next time you reach for Andrews liver salts
you'll stew a bit of rhubarb instead and think of me and Mr Taft.
Why do the Chinese value herbal medicine so much but not so in the west?
Its a cultural thing more than anything. The Indian medicine, aovedic ?
medicine that is very similar.
We tend to thibnk of ourselves as a scientific culture, so we go for
modern advances .
Previous generation of training in medicine, they had to study plants
and resources from them. It was connected with diet and food, now
medicine is separated from food consideration. I think we will go back
to it. We tend to look down our noses at a lot of Chinese medicine, you get quacks in
every discipline, sad really.
There seems to be an accepted opinion that the spice trade , with the
orient, started because of pepper. But I've also heard said that it was to
get there hands on cloves , which in mediaeval times was the only
thing to deal with abcesses and severe tooth-ache. Any opinion on that?
Cloves isa spice. A lot of the capsicum medicines , early medicines ,
had peppers in it. For one thing, that if something tasted awful
then they believed it was probably good medicine. Also novelty,
getting things they'd not had before, so people put clainms on it.
Also the more difficult and expensive it is to get hold of something , peoplke believe
like rhino horn , tiger-claw etc they put great value to and its
complete rubbish. Medicine you don';t always get what you pay for.
I should say I worked as a scientific lab technician in Eucryl products
in Southampton that made cough mixture and buttercup syrup
and ralgex. I never realised that the 2 years that I worked there
that salycilic acid was based on sali the latin for willow. For
anyone interested, cough mixtures , just have alcohol in them.
As a child , slugging down every 15 minutes , some alcohol.
Your approach was that herbs were not being understood scientifically.
I'd like you to consider the ancient art of sympathetic medicine,
theosophy and things like that. When they invoked the gods they would
burn or eat something , not just for illness curing but to invoke
something. I wondered if yourself, with a Christian background, whether
you found a conflict in understanding the ancient beliefs of why herbs
No conflict at all. If something is right, if something works, I think its right.
No truth can be foreign to the truth. I've some Indian friends , I don't
see any conflict. The problems only emerge when you try to inflict
your culture on another culture.
Not a conflict on working or not but a conflict in the understanding
about it working by being in sympathetic harmony , rather than the
more rationalistic scientific and chemistry approach. ?
To me laughter is the best medicine . It releases endorphins
and does all sorts of amazing things. But if you believe in something
strong enough then I think it can have an amazing effect.
When I was a curate, I went to see an old gent. His wife rang
me and said he was dying , the doctor was coming to him
this morning, and I've never kept a secret from him, would you
come with me. He was in bed and said oh you've brought a priest,
thats a bad sign isn't it, how long have I got. The doctor thinks you've
got about 6 weeks. He said well you've brought the right man, open
that bottom drawer while I get dressed. Have you a car and I
said yes . I want to go to Blackpool , I want to go to ..... , he
lived 15 years after that.
What goes on up here is a heck of a lot more important than we think.
I'm a practical pragmatic person, if sonmething is working , use it,
if its not working, throw it away.
Do you believe in homeopathy?
Culpeper once said , if a clergyman is at the point of death , you
can actually bring him round by saying that he has preferment,
to be made a bishop or something. I think there isa lot more goes
on , in the noggin, than we can conceive of.
Would you say homeopathy just relies on the placebo effect?
I would not underplay the word placebo. I think if someone
really believes in something amazing things can happen.
In Cuba they treat 11 million people with homeopathy?
But it defies science , dilute something a thousand times , it
is then sub-molecular .
I have a sister who believes very strongly in this. I had very bad
broncitis and she insisted I take this and it worked. And I
understand the science and I didn't believe it, but I got better.
I don't know if it was coincidence but she believes emphatically
that irt was the medicine, I'm not so sure.
Are you planning to give any other talks in Southampton?
No, its quite a way for me . Driving here from Poole at night
, not knowing the area , was a challenge.
Whats happening in schools in terms of teaching kids of the
medicinal aspects of plants. There seems to be a problem
of children being disconnected from their food etc?
Its frightening really. All the names I've been spouting to you, all
ring bells with you but we have a generation of kids to whom
it mans nothing. A bit sad.
A was surprised to here of a hospital report making water a medicine
as people weren't sufficiently hydrated. It seems some people are
forgetting the basics?
It amazes me the number of kids who never drink water, its got to
#have sugar in it , to rot their teeth.
I heard you speak passionately about the plants that had been
banned by the EEC for medical use. I notice, particularly in the USA,
drug companies taking out patents on natural remedies? Do you think
something sinister is going on there?
Its all to do with money.
How many people are around to pass on this herbal information if
the medical profession is not getting that info?
Nobody I suppose, i don't know, its very sad.
What you say is true for this country but in other countries they
do know and trialling things with proper scientific method?
Yes. When I was a nipper , the old people used to talk about
the sixpenny doctor. Before 1948 , and they would get something off
the allotment rather than paying to go and see the doctor.
I met a retired doctor, and when he started to practise , he had
just 4 bottles of coloured water. And the thing that amazed him wasd
that people got better. As a curate I went to visit where a grandma
was dying and the whole place was upside down. I went back an
hour later and there was perfect peace. The lady said the
doctor has been , he'd not done anything, but just his presence.
Such faiith can do wonderful things.
You were saying that over different periods, different things
were dropped from the various pharmacopia . What was the reason
behind that?. That people had done blind trials and found wanting?
The 1953 one just about all the natural substances were wiped
from it. I assume because they had gone synthetic for one thing
and also that they'd extracted various principals from things and
would no longer use the plant. The bromalein from the pineapple .
Some of it is good science, they found the active principal,
but often the stuff they were throwing out , was important, it
wasn't just ballast.
You can't patent chickweed or whatever?
There's a patent where dock as an astringent, I think its Roche
or a big German chemical company are apparently
I thought things had to be novel to be patentable
Sometimes in the US its not the thing being novel but the use
being novel and thats where the US patent office sometimes
let things through that in other jurisdictions would not be allowed
Its only any good if challenged, and can be chucked out. The fact
they have a patent doesn't matter until its challenged.
Does everyone know about the Chelsea Physik garden in London,
a couple of hundred years old. And all those plants were there
as a resource for the physicians of the time?
And the Oxford equivalent. Even at Wimborne there is the old
physic garden. And Romsey , behind the King John House.
I think a problem with using herbs is getting the dose right because
clearly they are impure , so people are not getting enough or to
much active component, so potentially quite dangerous?
Depending on the time of season its picked.
The old hippocratic oath included not to do harm. A lot
of the medicines of the old days was producing poisons , Socrates
used laudenum to kill himself etc. i wonder how you reconcile
the use of plants for beneficial use to the potential of plants
for evil .?
Talking about sympathetic medicine before. So for cramps cure
take a small dose of some medicine that will give you cramps and
it cures it. Strychnine in tiny doses is wonderful medicine .
Thetre was a patent medicine that contained strychnine, it
worked a treat, they took the strychnine out and it didn't work any more.
Water is a poison if you drink enough of it, you can kill yourself
with anything. As you were saying, its the dose that is most important .
Like when they fed a cow with 1.5 hundredweight of St John's Wort.
How good is the teaching and training of herbalists? There seems to
be a lot of people setting themselves up as herbalists. I think its pretty
thorough as regards to dosages and poisons . I've not gone into myself
at all as I'm more interested in food than medicine and also I believe
in current conventional medicine , with all its faults and problems.
You mentioned that new drugs are being developed from tropical
plants , that have been largely unknown. Is there active research
into finding these plants before they are lost?
A huge volume has come out called the Phytochemical Dictionary
and various universities are submiting articles on things they've discovered
, getting fatter and fatter all the time. I can't afford the cost now,
the last volume was 170GBP. All the poisons are in there, the
effects they have on cells, stimuli etc, fascinating.
Are there enough people being sent to tropical parts, to collect
Yes, even professionals doing it. All botanists want to find something
new and putting their namr to it.
Has marijuana got any benefits?
It was in the pharmocopia right up to 1953 and it will
probably come back again. Used properly. I know people with MS
, not suppose to hacve it , but aquired under the table and it
helps. Then again if you really believe in something and the fact that
it is illegal may make it more effective. One company in the UK
produces it for medical use.
08 December 2014, Zoe Slade, STAG, Southampton Uni
Title: The problem with quantum gravity
Synopsis: Quantum mechanics and Einstein's theory of gravity are the
two pillars of modern physics but a successful cohesion of them eludes
us. This talk will introduce both theories and discuss their reconciliation.
48 people, 1.5 hours.
Newton published his Law of Universal Gravitation in 1687 to describe the
force of gravity. His law states that 2 bodies , eg sun and earth
, gravitational attraction, gravitational force that is proportional
to the product of their 2 masses and inversely proportional
to the separation squared. Give the sun more mass and the gravitational
attraction will increase and if I pull them apart then the force will
decrease. The equation only has 5 components and successfully describes
how the planets orbit the sun . To this day its still used in calculations.
However there are some conceptual ways of thinking of gravity
as an attractive force . So the sun and earth experiencing gravitational
attraction but not in physical contact , so how is this force being
conveyed. This force is being conveyed through a vacuum of empty
space which is a bit more puzzling. Furthermore this force is
acting instantaneously , the Earth is immediately feeling the effect
of the Sun's gravitational pull. Physicists don't like the concept
of things happening instantaneously. This is because of Einstein's
Theory of Special Relativity, in which he proved that nothing,
no force, no influence, not even gravity can travel faster than
the speed of light. So in Newtonian mechanics, if we moved
the Sun from the solar system , imagine it suddenly disappears
from our Solar System then the planets will immediately feel
this lack of a pull from the sun and they will start moving
out of their orbits. According to special relativity, the first
signal that we'll receive from the disappearance of the Sun would be
in the form of light or the lack therof, as that will be the fastest
travelling signal. So Einsteinian special relativity was showing the
Newtonian picture as the way of thinking of gravity as an
attractive force , was wrong. Einstein came to the rescue when he
produced his theory of gravity , called General Relativity
published in 1916. General relativity replaces this idea of thinking
of gravity as a force with the idea of gravity being the bending
of space-time (ST). Space-time, physicists like to think of time
being another dimension , the 3 dimensions of space and going forwards
in time , as another dimension, binding them together in a single
fabric , he called space-time. We can get some perception of the
bending of ST by imagining it as a blanket stretched out. Place a heavy
object on the blanket , it will warp in the vicinity. The same with ST
the bending or warping. This bending of ST can affect the path of
another object . So say throuhg in a planet to the system at a well
calculated speed and angle then we can get our planet to orbit
our sun, following the curve created in ST by the sun. So the mass
tells ST how to bend and in turn , the ST tells other matter how
to move. This idea is encapsulated in Einstein's Field Equations .
The left side of the equation captures the bending of ST and the
right side encapsulates the information about the matter and energy,
relating the two.
So we replace the Newton concept of an attractive force with a
concept of gravity bending ST. Its the bending of ST that we feel
as the effect of gravity. So the Earth isn't orbiting the Sun
because the Sun instantaneously reaches out and grabs, its simply
reacting the curves in ST created by the sun's presence.
To accept it as a correct theory of gravity , we need to put it
to rigorous experimental tests. In 20 and 21 century, general
relativity has stood up to all epxperimental tests and really
is our best theory of gravity.
What else does GR tell us . It predicts strange astranomical anomalies
called black-holes. BH form at the end of a massive star's life cycle.
This is when the internal pressures of a star can no longer support
the force of gravity wanting it to collapse. When it does collapse
it creates a huge explosion known as super-nova. They are so bright
they outshine entitre galaxies . Mosdt of the mass of a star is blown
away in the explosion. The fate of the remnant depends on how
massive it is. If it is 3 to 4 times the mass of our own sun then the
collapse will contine but stabilise and we'll get a compact star ,
eg a neutron star. If the mass is greater than that, then the collapse
will contine until infinitessimally small, infinitely dense, point
called a singularity . That singularity has such immense
gravitational effect that not even light can escape its grasp, cloaked
in darkness and its that region of ST that we call a BH.
A BH will locally bend ST so much that imagine chuck a planet
now into this ST it will fall right down to the singularity, and not
be able to escape.
So far in reference to gravity I've referred to large scale structures,
sun , planets, BHs. But gravity acts on all scales , everything
feels the effect of gravity. With big objects we can see the effects
of gravity more immediately. When studying very small scale
phenomena , atoms, particles such as protons and neutrons
or electrons , we can ignore the effects of gravity. At
small scales gravity is negligible in comparison to the other
forces that act at these scales and govern the dynamuics and interactions
and behaviours of particles. As an example put a pin on the floor
and try to pick it up with a magnet , very easy. So the magnetic force,
and electromagnetic-force, that governs the interaction of these particles
can overcome the gravitational effect of the Earth on that pin.
So E-M force is strong compared to gravity. So ignoring gravity
is like performing ST calculations with a flat blanket. Thats what
we do in quantum mechanics . There is also th eweak force, governing
the process of beta-decay. The strong force binds protons and
neutrons together in a nucleus of an atom. And also gravity.
The first 3 are dealt with in quantum mechanics , describing small
things at atomic scales and below. At the beginning of C20
there were particle experiments performed. Some observations
could not be explained by conventional ways of thinking.
In 1800s Thomas Young performed the double split experiment.
A monochromatic light source shone at a screen with 2 slits in it.
Carries on to a detector screen where we see a pattern of light
and dark bands, an interference pattern. We can explain that pattern
by modelling light as a wave. peak and peak of a wave gives a
bright spot, peak and trough coincident then a dark patch.
So an interference pattern is indicative of something behaving
like a wave.
Repeat using electrons, so particles. An electron gun firing
electrons at a plate with 2 slits, then on to a photo-detector
screen , electron impinging produces a flash of light.
First with one slit open, then over time building up
the dots of light we get a band of light. But when we open the other
slit , we get an interference pattern . So the electrons are behaving
as waves as they are interfering. Digging deeper. Lets send the electrons
through one at a time , hitting the detector screen , before we let the
next electron leave the gun. Over time we find the same pattern ,
still the interference pattern , weird. We have a single eloectron
passing through somehow knowing that there is 2 slits and not 1
and landing in the perfect position , so that on completion wiht
all the electron paths , we have an interference pattern.
Maybe the electrons split into 2 , before going through both slits.
Maybe they can transform into a weird cloud and pass through.
So add a detector at one slit, so when an electron passes it beeps,
run it and the behaviour is as we think particles should behave,
localised tiny points. We end up with 2 clumps of detected electrons.
As soon as we spy on them then they behave as we'd expect.
This is wave-particle duality, that matter like electrons will
exhibit both particle and wavelike properties. An electron is
detected as a single pulse, a single point, on the detector screen but
the interference pattern is indicating the probability we have ,
that an electron could be absorbed anywhere on the detector screen.
This experiment has been done with heavier particles , been done
with molecules and the same results. As it is a duality, it must
work both ways. There are experiments we can do where light
is not behaving as a wave but as particles. One such is the
photo-electric effect .
A metal plate with light shone on it, lets electrons be freed from
the plate. The only way we can explain the energies these electrons
have is to have light behave asa particle. A particle of light is known
as a photon. Einstein remarked, we are faced with a new kind of
difficulty. We have two contradictory pictures of reality , separately
neither fully explains the phenomena of light but together they do.
The same can be said for particles. To explain this , the branch
of physics known as quantum mechanics developed. The study
of the very small. The quantum world is fundamentally probabalistic.
Demonstrated by the double slit experiment. We can't say definitively
which slit any electron has passed through . This is in opposition
to the everyday world which is deterministic, ie given enough initial
information we can predict the outcome of something.
If I drop something towards the floor, and I know how fast its going,
I know what angle it hits the floor at, I know hat the floor
is made of etc, I can then predict where it will bounce to for example.
Even the founders of QM found the probabalistic nature of the
subatomic world quite unsettling, giving rise to many philosophical
debates, indeed still to this day.
Our brains are made of particles and particles act with randomness
probabalistic way, so what does that imply with my free will,
do I have free will. Just as in the theory of gravity and general
relativity , we need to put this theory of QM to the test before
we believe it, before we trust it. QM gives the best agreement
between theory and experiment in the whole history of science,
so no matter how strange these phenomena are, it does seem to
be the best theory we have of the sub-atomic world.
General relavity is very successful in its deterministic domain of the
very big and QM is very successful in its probabalistic domain
of the very small. So we don't want to give up on either .
Why do we want to reconcile them, a combined theory. Why
do we want a theory of quantum gravity.
There are situations in nature where we have a strong gravitational
force but on a very small scale . One example is BH . Another
singularity of interest is the birth of the universe, 13.8 billion years
ago, when all the matter of the universe was compressed into a
singularity at the time of the big bang. These singularities are
beyond the reach of GR, although large mass , it is compressed
to microscopic scales. So we expect the laws of the micro world , of QM,
will have to come into play and be obeyed. And those laws are not
incorporated into GR. When we have very strong gravitational effects
on really small scales we require a theory of Quantum Gravity.
Its not just any small scale we're interested in . We are interested in the
Planck scale, 0.0 ... 33 other zeros ... 16 metres. Imagine someone
1m tall , zoom in by 10 billion we are looking at one of the atoms
he's made of, go in a further factor of a trillion trillion we ge t
to the Planck scale. Despite many efforts there currently
isn't a consistent theory of QG. Some approaches to QG include
string theory, modelling the universe at the Planck scale as if
everything was made of tiny strings. They replaced the idea of zero
dimensional particles with the idea of 1 dimensional strings.
Also Loop Quantum Gravity , think that at the Planck scale ST
takes on a grainy/granular-like structure . Many more approaches to
finding a theory of QG including asymptotic safety (AS) which is the area
I work in. I have to introduce the idea of effective theory. We want to
describe gravity at the PS where the effects of QG are strong .
Lets try the next best thing, lets try a theory of QG that is perfectly
good at describing at the atomic scale, so small scale , where we
need to obey the laws of QM but not to hte PS, we're not asking for
too much. Yes we can do this , gives sensible predictions , well
behaved , so far so good. What happens if we push our theory
and ask it to tell us what the QG effects are going to be , a description of gravity
effects at the PS. Then it breaks down , it spews out infinities,
nonsensical predictions and we can't perform meaningful calculations
with this theory. This is the idea of an effective theory, a theory
only applicable down ot a certain lenght .
Say I wanted to right down the process of boiling water and then
that water evaporating. For that I only need to appeal top the
molecular structure of water. The molecules bound together
with hydrogen bonds. Upon heating of the water , the bonds
break and the molecules escape the liquid form as a gas.
Thats my description, thats my theory. I certainly don't need to think
about quarks that make up the protons that live in the nucleus that
make up the atoms , inside the molecules. I don't need to consider
the finer details, the smaller scale to be able to describe the
phenomenon competely accurately . Or at least i na way I can make
sensible predictions. However we want a theory valid at all scales,
which is called a fundamental theory.
Fortunately there exists some clever maths that we can do, where
we take a theory , a trial theory of QG and zoom in and see if that
theory works at the PS. This is how the asymptoptic safety community
procede. We take an effective theory of QG, crank the handle ,
does it break down at the PS, is it rubbish at describing BH,
does it spew out infinities . Or does it give sensible predictions
at the PS, can we use it to describe the interior of a BH.
A rough outline. Even if we could write down a theory of QG
tomorrow, there is no way we can test it . To probe at the PS
we would need to get accelerators up to ridiculously high energies
which we simply can't do. We can make astrophysical observations ,
cosmic microwave background , the thermal radiation left over
from the Big Bang. Or we could detect gravitational waves. There are
ways we can put constraints on any theories of gravity, syphon
off the best or most correct one. We're a long way off reconciling
GR and QM, QG remains an exciting area of research .
So its possible the effective theory/asymptotic theory could be string
theory or ? theory when you get down to that level?
No, because in their constructions they're so different. With
AS and QG we're only wanting to find the Quantum theory of
gravity that obey the laws of QM. But string theory is a proposed
theory of everything. A theory that wants unify all the fundamental
forces of nature into 1 framework. So very different in there structure.
There may be similarity as far as their predictions are but I think
that's as far as it goes.
Could you clarify for me. You explained clearly how Einstein
explained gravity is not a force , more a geometric effect but shortly
after that you put up a slide showing EM force , weak force, strong force
and the force of gravity. So it seems contradictory, the same appearing
in a number of books that I've read. Where on one hand gravity
is happily explained in terms of Einstein as an effect and then in the
next breath described as a force?
I think this is a case of just the names we use. I tried in this presentation
not to use the term force of gravity . It is still referred to as a force.
The other forces don't have any conceptual issues against using the term
force allied to them. We think of these abstract things called fielde. If
we put a charged object in an electric field, it will move in that
field, because it feels a force. Applying that kind of argument
to gravity , then you get conceptual issues. So it should be the 3
forces and the ST effect. But unfortunately, for convenience
we refer to the force of gravity , we are so used to saying it.
But I agree with you , we should not think of gravity as a force but
curvature of ST.
If gravity is due to ST curvature, due to the presence of matter, when
you get down to subatomic particles, you're still dealing with matter
as we know it. But go to the PS and its smaller than matter as we
know it. So is it not surprising you get infinities at that scale?
Its still a finite scale, just incredibly small.
Does it not reach zero effect as soon as you take the last
particle of matter out of it, and so below the scale of the last particle
Take matter out of ST then no bending of ST. In the case of a
singularity where we have an infinitely dense point , we do have
matter but squeezed down to a small point. You can have energy there
in ST but that just confuses the business.
So if you imagine no matter, and so no bending of ST and you
zoom in to the PS, and then why have I got a strong effect of gravity.
In the case of the BH there is certainly mass there. Where we don't
have such matter we can also probe the PS by reaching very high
energies. So there is a relation between very small scales and very
high energies. I can probe the PS in the sense that I can get to
Planck energies by firing particles at one anothe rat really high speed.
But I still have matter in my system even if its in the form of energy.
The gravitational effect comes with that very high energy or
at the really small scales.
In physics we have this relation between high energies and small
scales. If I have a photon with really high energy then it can
see a smaller distance scale. If i drive particles together with
really high energy , and probe smaller distance scales.
You showed a digram of where the sun was taken away , the effect
on gravity would be felt on the Earth. If gravity works at the speed
of light , that effect would be 8 minutes later?
Yes. We would not feel the effect of gravity before that 8 minutes.
Why is the PS relevant, why have we stopped there?
The PS is where QG effects become noticeable from an
experimentalist point of view.
It will be a theory of gravity , obeying the principles of special
relativity but more than special relativity. Not a theory of everything that
combines all the fundamental forces of nature. But purely wriing
down Einstein's gravity and making it obey the laws of QM
Just one way?
Yes or maybe equivalents. It will be very mathematical, not nice to
look at. What symetries are in the theory, what particles you have,
how gravity acts and interacts. A priori there is an infinite number
of ways of possibly writing down a theory. You have to be clever
in the way you truncate, clever in the way you write down just a couple
of terms in a theory. You don't want to be writing down
an infinite number of terms. Ideally you want a short theory and then build
on it. There are some such theories that seem to show the right properties
to suggest there is hope in writing down a complete theory of QM
according to this method of AS.
In classical Einstein theory you can have 2 particles or 2 points
continuously get closer and closer together. Isn't it with Heisenberg's
Uncertainty Principle that as you get closer and closer together ,
you get problems as you have to quantise the space?
There will be properties of certain particles that forbid that happening
anyway. If they have opposite charges, they will repel and only
so close they can get. From the point of view of Heisenberg
they would not be able to occupy the same space.
I was thinking of the concept of space, not the particles themselves,
the ST point, the idea that ST points that are continuously smooth
, under QG that would have to be broken up and quantised?
Thats the area that people in loop QG deal with, the quantisation of
space, discretisation of ST, the granular-like structure.
With regards to the big bang where the whole of ST is squeezed into
an infinitesimally small point, I'm not sure how to reconcile those
2 pictures, because then every point in ST is compressesd to the very small
I've heard of the string theory and the loop theory but I've not
heard of your AS before.?
The other two are theories of everything , trying to unify all the
fundamental forces. Maybe thats why they get more press time.
AS is only trying to find a theory of gravity that obeys laws
of QM . Then we try the zooming in , does it break down,
sensible or impossible situations. Its difficult to explain without
showing you the maths and going through it line by line.
We take a theory and see how it changes with distance scale.
It could asymptote in a bad way , in an unsafe way, or it could
asymptote to whhat we call a fixed point. The things that would
tend to infinity , non-sensible predictions, stop tending to
infinity, they asymptope to a safe point, a fixed point.
That means our predictions remain finite.
So your theory of gravity is not string or loop theory, it doesn't
involve any of those at all? something else, but seems to work?
Is it a way of conjuring new theories or a way of testing existing
Its not considered to be a rival for string theory for example.
Does your theory make testable predictions?
Yes, otherwise it would be useless.
(On the pool core board blackboard and chalk drawing)
A space of possible theories, already very abstract. One point is a
safe point. Pick a theory, zoom in using clever maths, goes of to infinity.
Pick another theory , zoom in , and if lucky it will tend to a safe
point and it will stop. That then means certain quantities that are
in that theory will stop at a finite number. There is no infinities in that
theory and hence I can make sensible predictions within that theory.
Would that mean that a phenomena that you have at the Planck level
, you're happy with ?
It means I'd be able to explain the phenomena at the Planck level.
Have you tried modelling it at the Planck level, rather than coming
from the phenomenon that you are actually seing?
I think you'd be there for ever if you kept writing theories , to
explain something. Wheras you can write down a theory in this structure
and test it with relative ease, and see if it remains sensible.
Have you found any theories that ???
These theories can be incredibly complicated, incredibly long ,
you don't write down the most general theory possible, as it
could have infinitely many terms , so no good. You cannot write
it all down and impossible to fix all those terms to make measurements.
So you write down a smaller theory . There are the Einstein-Hilbert
Truncations which are a lot smaller , even though they don't
include everything we need to describe QG perfectly. They do within
their realm of validity, tend towards a fixed point.
Therse is confidence in the AS community that a fixed safe point
does exist for a full theory of QG , yet to be found though.
So you know your endpoint and working backwards in a sense , working out
what a theory is?
Is it like perterbation expansion. Is it like quantum theory in Feinman
Diagrams you expand and have a perterbation expansion . Is that
what you are doing when you say they don't blow up?
No. With Feinman diagrams and perterbation theory, that assumes
certain quantities that do blow up , assumes they are very small .
Perterbation theory is expanding within a small perameter, but
the AS approach is a non-perterbative approach , we don't
care about having small perameters. Here they could be extremely
large, as long as they are finite, we're fine.
How do scientists test gravitational effects at the atomic scale?
Small distances correspond to large energies so they can work out
QG corrections by looking at massive objects and gravitational
effects that are slightly different to Einstein theory. Where you need
quantum effects to account for a slight difference i nthe observation
and the prediction of Einstein gravity. So planets orbiting stars but
its not been tested with particle accelaratorrs yet . I think there are
proposals to find different ways that QG effects might be found .
So there are gravitational effects around stars that cannot be
accounted for by Einstein?
Yes. Einstein's gravity will account for so much but there is slight
descrepancies between the predictions that you make with Einstein
theory and observation. These descrepancies are down to the fact
reality is asking for a QG description to get the exact correlation.
What sort of effects are these? like gravitational lensing?
It won't be a gravitational lens effect , I don't remember.
You were making a distinction between a theory of QG and a theory
of everything. Saying not the same thing, I don't get that. What would a
QG theory not attempt to explain?
It would not seek to explain the other forces.
But aren't they part of QM?
QM describes how particles interact throughout the forces . Its a
mathematical framework describing the interaction . As its
fundamentally probalistic , an intrinsic property of the maths
framework, the fact energy comes in quantised , discrete chunks,
those ideas can be applied to gravity where we have a particle
of gravity called a graviton should obey the laws of QM.
But we don't necessarily have to talk about the other fundamental
I don't understand that because you say they are already incorporated
QM explains the forces but the forces aren't built into the framework.
Its used to describe the interaction of particles but those interactions
and those forces exist independently of the QM mathematical
framework. That just tells us how things should behave and
will beghave , wheras the forces are the things acting in reality.
I take the mathematical framework and principles of QM ,
the probalistic nature , quantised chunks . I don't have to
talk about the forces between particles .
Do you know if any work has been done to find what the mechanism
is by which ST is distorted by matter/energy?
General relativity is a geometric picture of St bending and warping.
There are lots of tests and effects that it predicts, gravitational
lensing by massive objects, the precession of the perihelion of
Mercury, etc. Then you would say GR is correct and the fact
it is built on this idea that gravity is the bending of ST then
that geometric picture makes sense. Its as direct as it
gets of testing a prediction to a theory.
In essence then we have a very good description but its not really
an explanation of what is actually happening. It tells us what happens
but not the way it happens?
Perhaps that is more of a philosophical question , you can describe
physics based on the way you observe particles move, but I can't
give you an intuitive idea of what an electron is becaus ethey
don't behave according to our intuition. You can't truly
imagine what the bending of ST is , the blanket anaology is not
perfect. I guess you accept the math foundations and the ideas ,
a theory is based on , you predictions match and agrees with experiment.
I'm trying to gauge what you are doing. So with Einstein's
equation you have items on both sides, are you adding in more terms
to make it a valid theory of gravity?
Exactly. That's a good place to start. You start withEinstein because
its a brilliant theory of gravity that works at low energies. Add on
additional terms , write it in a slightly different form , add on additional
terms , keep doing this until you get something that looks to be
a good theory of QG. After all you want your QG theory in the
low energy limits you want it to reduce to Einstein's gravity .
I think people have done it in 2 dimensions but then you don't get teh
same problems but there ar epeople doing it in different dimensions
to help the problem.
Are there any theories that can explain forces in terms of exchange
of gravitons or in terms of ST curvature. Most quantum theories
explain forces in terms of exchange of particles.?
A QG description will be able to be interpreted in terms of
When you talk of EM fields andall the others , space and time
are just like parameters in the theory but when you are talking
about gravity space and time is the theory. That is the bending ,
but before , talking of standard electro-dynamics you just
put x and t in because they describe a field at a partucular
space-time point. But when you talk of gravity, space and time
are the things that are the field .?
Thats exactly why they are so diferent , and why its so hard to
reconcile them both. And the fact that gravity effects are very
weak compared t the other fundamental forces.
Explaining gravity in terms of gravitons, does that mean they can escape
from BHs ?
When I think of a graviton escaping from a BH by imagining
a tiny ball , its just putting gravity on the same footing as the othe r
particles, with thenother fundamental forces. If we are thinking of
gravity as the bending of ST itself and we want to quantise ST
, I don't even know if the question makes sense.
Gravitons and on the same sort of basis as say photons?
No , not on the same footing . A BH itself is ST , a region of ST and
a graviton is the quantisation of the gravitational field .
Are they virtual particles rathe rthan real?
They're real in the sense they are quantisations of the gravitational field
but I don't know what it means for them to escape a BH. They are
intrinsically linked to the ST we are dealing with rather than being
a separate entity which can travel freely .
When you look at quantisation its always , to my mind, dealt with
All particles charged or uncharged can be quantised .
They seem to be bipolar wheras gravity is unipolar?
I think commonly the Electromagnetic force , electromagnetic
field are talked about a lot. But there are lots of particles in
nature , some have no charge, eg neutrinos . There are theoris
that quantise neutrinos , mesons, bosons, the Higgs is neutrally
charged with a field associated with it.
You can observe quantised effects on these non-charged particles?
In the same way you can observe uncharged particles that behave
and observe the laws of QM, quantisations of their respective fields.
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