Science and Technology

The objective of this group is to study the fields and innovations associated with everyday Science and Technology. Where possible, in depth studies of particular areas of interest will be encouraged amongst the members of the group but no areas should be deemed beyond the scope of the group. It is hoped we can come to understand how some technology, common to our daily lives works and the science behind their invention or discovery. Any member who has a specialist knowledge would be encouraged to share that knowledge.

We will be making visits to technology presentations and museums, local science fairs and businesses where possible. Presentations and demonstrations from others outside the U3A will be arranged.

Here are some areas of Science and or Technology we'll be looking at:

  • How do Ink-Jet printers work?
  • How does boiling an Egg for a certain time produce the correct consistency of runniness versus solidity?
  • How does a FAX machine transmit and receive its images?
  • Why does the taste of something change if you hold your nose or have a cold?
  • How do GPS Satellites know where they are?
  • What is Colour Blindness?
  • What makes a raincoat waterproof?
  • How is sound recorded Digitally? - Answered.
  • How Violins are made. - Answered.

The list is endless.

Meetings are held on the FOURTH Friday in the month, usually in the small hall at the rear of the Methodist Church, Station Road Chinnor at 2pm until 4pm. Please enter via the door at the left side of the building.

Parking at the church is extremely limited (2 cars maximum) so you will either need to walk or park close by. The nearest public car park is outside the doctors surgery, opposite the new pavilion. Parking on Station Road is not advised as it is a very busy road.

If anyone is interested in joining, please fill in the form at the bottom of the page and we'll be in touch.

NB. Currently the group is in flux and not meeting regularly as I have had some medical issues. Please get in touch and I'll tell you when we meet next.

Chas Large

Programme of Meetings, Field Trips, Presentations and Events.

Click the Meeting content link to read more.

 Dates in 2017  Meeting Content Comments 
 28th March   Inaugural Meeting  First meeting of the group to decide how we progress 
 28th April   Video and Presentation Chas presenting about Lasers and CD players
 26th May   Video and Quiz Video about forthcoming trips to Mars and a fun quiz with prizes
 23rd June  No Meeting - Holidays  
 28th July  Violin Making  Pete Honeyball tells us how it's done.
 10th August  RAL Oxford  Field Trip to the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory
 25th August   Ink Jet Printing  Graham Erskine
 22nd September   Hot Air Balloning  Richard Allan
 27th October  No Meeting  No Meeting
 24th November 100 years of ammonia production  Peter Brook
 22nd December   Christmas Lunch  

Group field trips:

Museum of the History of  Science

Rutherford Appleton Laboratory - Visited, see here.

The Diamond Sychrotron

Forthcoming presentations:

Television Set-Top Boxes

Video Senders

Satellite TV

Smart Phones

Video streaming services - NetFlix - NOW TV etc


Dates currently being arranged, visit this page for a full programme soon.

Forthcoming External Events


First Meeting

The Inaugural meeting of the new Science and Technology Group, took place on Tuesday 28th March 2017.

We discussed the groups aims and what members would like to get from the group, the consensus was the understanding of Technology in use today. Also, it was put forward that we might collaborate on a document giving the history of the progress in technology, as many members remember when things were very different. 

Following the dscussions, Chas gave a presentation into 'How Microwave Ovens Work', which was well appreciated..

Second Meeting

Our second meeting was held on Thursday 28th April and was well attended. We watched a video about new advances in Bionics and you can view it yourselves below or on YouTube.

Hugh Herr gives a fascinating talk about Bionics and the improvements he has designed. Followed by another look at how Bionics have been developed.

Chas followed the video with a presentation on how Audio is recorded digitally, how it is put onto a CD, the manufacturing of the CD and how a CD player reads the data back for reproduction into sound.

Videos of this and the Microwave Oven presentation will be available soon.

Third Meeting

On one of the hottest days of the year so far, we met once again in the small hall of the Chinnor Methodist Church. We discussed the Science Fair being held in Oxford during 14th to the 21st June, See here for details.
We welcomed three new members to the group and talked about what they want from and what they can contribute to the group. We had then planned to watch a big screen movie about going to mars, see below, but sadly the projector once again let us down (Chas to try and fix once more), so it turned out to be a small screen movie.


Following the film and a cuppa tea, we then moved on to the Fun Quiz, I had produced. Being a clever clogs, I did it on a PowerPoint template, however, after the first three questions had been shown, I realised that all the correct answers were A. We continued and everyone marked their answer paper accordingly, then when we started to go through the answers, it became apparent that the answer slided didn't match the question slides, so I owned up to a grave error, I DIDN'T TEST the presentation fully. Copy and paste of the slides had reset them. Anyway, we had a good laugh about it and proceeded to discuss the answers. In the end, two members had both scored EIGHT points and Peter graciously allowed Pete to receive the small prize I had brought, a small USB memory stick.

So, if you want to try your hand at the quiz, you can do so by clicking the image below and viewing the (now fixed) Powerpoint on the web.


Fourth Meeting - How Violins are made - A Presentation by Pete Honeyball.

20170728 142551Pete turned up with boxes of bits of wood, but where were the hammer and nails? No need for brute force he said, it's all held together with glue.

Showing us how the wood was chosen and marked with a template, Pete continued with the tools and skills necessary to create a musical instrument used by thousands for many years. The basic concept has remained the same since they were first invented. The "Decorative" lines were in fact purling lines, used to protect the edges of the expensive wood and allowing for repairs to be made much easier. Forming the neck was a long laborious task and Pete showed us one which wasnt quite right. 

All in all a fascinating demonstration of the fine art of Viloin maker. Pete finished off by showing us "One he had made earlier" dedicated to his wife Jane and proceeded to demonstrate that he wasn't a Violin player ?

 Here are some other photos from the presentation, showing the tools and wood used.

  20170728 143103   20170728 145403   20170728 150007   20170728 150835   20170728 150841   20170728 151128

A visit to the Rutherford Appleton Laboratories.

10th August 2017.

Four of our group were able to visit this fascinating campus of Science and Technology, located at Harwell near Oxford. The campus is huge and is run by the Science and Technology Facilities Council. Once we found our way to reception we were ushered into a huge lecture theatre. Here we were presented with a fascinating lecture by Paul Eccleston on Exoplanets and the forthcoming ARIEL space telescope mission. Here we learned about how many plaets there are in the Galaxy (more than the grains of sand on the planet Earth!), How these planets are discovered, the methods for detecting them and the way in which the ARIEL telescope will be used after it is launched in 2026.

Once the lecture concluded, we split into several tour groups to visit some of the facilities. There are too many to attend in one day so we hope to make future trips to see them all. The tour options include:

  • ISIS Neutron and Muon Source: The ISIS Neutron and Muon Source produces beams of particles to study the structure and properties of materials on the atomic scale, from spider silk and soaps to ancient swords and superconductors. Protons are accelerated to 84% the speed of light in our synchrotron and these beams of high energy protons are used to produce neutrons and muons. Please note that there are age restrictions on this tour for health and safety reasons.
    • A tour of the ISIS Experimental Halls will allow you to walk over the beamlines, and see the instruments we use to study the world around us.
    • A visit to the ISIS Ion Source takes you to the very start of the process of creating beams of neutrons to probe deep into the heart of matter.
  • Visualisation Facility - The Atlas Visualisation Facility enables users from the STFC experiments to extract the maximum benefit from their data. Using our huge video wall, you will get a chance to manipulate 3D images and even go for a tour around the outside of the International Space Station.
  • Particle Physics - We have a large particle physics department here at RAL, but the majority of the work undertaken by these scientists is done at huge facilities elsewhere, such as the Large Hadron Collider in CERN. To talk to you about the work we do in this field, you will have the opportunity to visit our show and tell area, full of fascinating objects from past and present experiments.
  • Scientific Computing - Scientific computing is fundamental to modern research. This broad and rapidly-changing field involves exploiting advanced computers to understand and solve complex problems in science. This tour includes the opportunity to visit our computing machine rooms and Tier One, where data from the Large Hadron Collider is stored. Please note that for health and safety reasons, there are age restrictions on this tour.
  • RAL Space - you will get the opportunity to look around our new building, seeing our assembly areas and clean rooms and also our magnificent space test chambers. These five metre diameter chambers are where all instruments built here at RAL are tested for the harsh environment of space, enduring extreme temperatures whilst in a vacuum.
  • Astra Gemini - Astra Gemini is a high power, ultra-short pulse, high repetition rate, near infrared laser. The pulses from this laser are so short that they are like sheets of light, thinner than a human hair. This tiny sheet of light is then focused to a spot a few thousandths of a millimetre across. This is then hit into a very small target extremely quickly, allowing scientists to study the way matter behaves under extreme conditions of temperature and pressure.
  • Vulcan laser (control room) - Vulcan is one of the most powerful laser systems in the world, used to study plasma – the fourth state of matter after solids, liquids and gases. Vulcan is so powerful that we can use it to create miniature stars for a fraction of a second so that we can study astrophysics in the laboratory.
    • Take this opportunity to visit the control room of this enormous laser system, see where all the actions and even take a peek inside.
    • Take this opportunity to see into Vulcan's largest target area from a balcony (Target Area Petawatt (TAP) mezzanine floor), giving you a bird’s eye view of the room. Here the size of the laser beam goes from 60cm in diameter to less than the width of a single human hair!
  • Target Fabrication - Our target fabrication group builds and identifies the properties of micro-targets for our high-powered lasers. This requires incredible precision, and a suite of powerful microscopes, building targets that can be only a few nanometres in size.
  • Space Carousel - this is a family-friendly set of activities on the theme of space. Make your own planets, handle some real meteorites and even get to see some communications equipment used in the Apollo moon landings (a gift to us from NASA).
  • Build a rocket (shaker table family activity) - when we build any instrument here at RAL that is destined for space, it needs to be rigorously tested to ensure that it will survive the violence of take-off. In this activity, budding scientists and engineers can design and build their own structure from highly technical materials (spaghetti and marshmallows - allergy warning!) and test it on our shaker table - a miniature version of our vibration testing facility.

Three of us visited the Visualisation and Scientific Computing departments and one of us visited the Vucan Laser control room.

There were plenty of opportunities to take photos but the tour presentations were so interesting I forgot to get my camera out. However, during the walk through the scientific computing section, we visited the data storage and processing areas. The air conditioning was very noisy so we had to wear ear defenders and of course, couldn't communicate. So here I was able to take some snaps of our group in between some of the computer racks.

Scientific Computing at RAL  20170810 132542Scientific Computing at RAL 2  Scientific Computing at RAL 3  Scientific Computing at RAL 4

All in all a very interesting outing. To find out more about the STFC and even visit yourself, please visit the STFC website.


If you're interested in coming along to the group or just want to know more, please click the CONTACT US button in the main menu, fill in the form and we'll get back to you as quickly as possible. 

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