What is VX and safe use of VX

VX is a chemical nerve agent, discovered in the 1950s by ICI chemist Ranajit Ghosh.

Like Gerhard Schrader, an earlier investigator of organophosphates, Ghosh found that they were quite effective pesticides. In 1954, ICI put one of them on the market under the trade name Amiton. It was subsequently withdrawn, as it was too toxic for safe use. The toxicity did not go unnoticed, and samples of it had been sent to the British Armed Forces research facility at Porton Down for evaluation and several members of this class of compounds became a new group of nerve agents, the V agents. The best-known of these is probably VX, with the Russian V-Agent coming a close second (Amiton is largely forgotten as VG). This class of compounds is also sometimes known as Tammelin’s esters, after Lars-Erik Tammelin of the Swedish National Defence Research Institute. The name is a contraction of the words “venomous agent X”.

VX can also be delivered in binary chemical weapons which mix in-flight to form the agent prior to release. Binary VX is referred to as VX2, and is created by mixing O-(2-diisopropylaminoethyl) O′-ethyl methylphosphonite (Agent QL) with elemental sulfur (Agent NE) or by mixing with sulfur compounds.

VX and similar nerve agents (Sarin etc) are liquid at room temperature and pressure, to make them airborne requires atomising the liquid. VX is a potent poison which is stable for a long time, so there was a military interest in using it to deny access to an area, however many countries (not DPRK / North Norea) have signed treaties agreeing not to use of the substance as a weapon.

News reports this morning were saying that the assassins were akin to suicide bombers in dealing with such a dangerous substance, but if exposure could be limited, for example forming the VX on the target, then the risk from the VX agent could be limited, and the main risk would be capture. In Malaysia being convicted of murder automatically results in the death penalty, which must be a risk for anyone suspected of being an assassin.

Source Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/VX_%28nerve_agent%29
Source University of Birmingham http://www.birmingham.ac.uk/accessibility/transcripts/nerve-gas-in-warfare.aspx

Penguin Awareness Day

The Telegraph has marked Penguin Awareness day with a quiz. I was shocked to find out just how little I know about penguins. It really makes you think. The quiz can be taken here: How aware of penguins are you?

Penguin Quiz Result -- Room for improvement.

Penguin Quiz Result — Room for improvement.

Know your penguin

Graphene in the News Cycle

My Dad rang me last week to tell me about wonder material Graphene, after a story appeared in Cycling Weekly. Actually the reason my Dad rang me was mostly because my supervisor was appearing in his magazine.

Sir Harry Bhadeshia: Graphene won't deliver improved mechanical properties

Sir Harry Bhadeshia: Graphene won’t deliver improved mechanical properties

Prof Sir Harry Bhadeshia was contacted by cycling weekly after describing in a Materials World article how the mechanical strength comparison of Graphene against steel is absolute rubbish. That’s because of the strange claim that Graphene is 200 times stronger than steel. In fact a fairer comparison would show that the properties available at the nanoscale are 6.5 times stronger than steel, however those mechanical properties of Graphene just cannot be realised in principle at the scale of millimetres or above. The reason is that the properties rely on perfection, and only small structures can approach this perfection.

Exxon Climate Change Denial

The guardian is carrying a story about Exxon emails that reportedly reveal that people in the company knew about the effects of anthropomorphic global warming in 1981, and funded groups denying the existence of climate change to the total of 31 million dollars over 30 years.

The evidence is that the large fraction (70%) of CO2 in an Indonesian oilfield was a factor in not developing the field. Development of the oilfield would have made it the largest single contributor to release of CO2 into the atmosphere.

According to Wikipedia Svante Arrhenius proposed the existence of the greenhouse effect to explain the existence of ice ages, and in 1896 he was the first scientist to attempt to calculate how changes in the levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere could alter the surface temperature through the greenhouse effect. The magnitude of the effect of CO2 in absorbing radiation was disputed by by Knut Ångström who made experimental measurements of the absorption.

According to Wikipedia past ice ages can be explained by changes in the earths orbit (orbital forcing), with atmospheric CO2 having an amplifying effect. The next ice age is predicted to occur in 50,000 years with out intervention, but it has been reported that this may be delayed for 500,000 years by predicted CO2 emissions.

Some references (it’s a blog)



Svante Arrhenius, 1901a, Ueber die Wärmeabsorption durch Kohlensäure, Annalen der Physik, Vol 4, 1901, pages 690–705.
Svante Arrhenius, 1901b, Über Die Wärmeabsorption Durch Kohlensäure Und Ihren Einfluss Auf Die Temperatur Der Erdoberfläche. Abstract of the proceedings of the Royal Academy of Science, 58, 25–58.

Hays, J. D.; Imbrie, John; Shackleton, N. J. (1976). “Variations in the Earth’s Orbit: Pacemaker of the Ice Ages”. Science 194 (4270): 1121–1132. doi:10.1126/science.194.4270.1121. PMID 17790893.

Hays, James D. (1996). Schneider, Stephen H., ed. Encyclopedia of Weather and Climate. New York: Oxford University Press. pp. 507–508. ISBN 0-19-509485-9.

Benefit of excercise

Fox news reports that a new study shows that exercise is good for you.

Something to bear in mind. Remember correlation is not necessarily causation.

So the research shows that people who exercise vigorously had a reduced risk of dying regardless of bodyweight or chronic diseases.

75 minutes of vigorous exercise is all you need for the week

Some vigorous exercise gives some benefit on life span — reduced chance of early death.

Current recommendation is for 30 minutes of exercise per day.

If you can talk easily while exercising your are not doing it hard enough, Sweating is good. Heart should be really pumping, 7 or 8 out of 10 (maximum effort).

Any amount of exercise is better than none.

Unfortunately I don’t think Fox reported which study made these findings so I can’t see how accurately they reported on the findings of the paper.

Forbes (Alice G. Walton) report on this story (I presume) here: http://www.forbes.com/sites/alicegwalton/2015/04/06/vigorous-exercise-may-lengthen-lives-study-finds/

… a large new study in JAMA Internal Medicine suggests that indeed vigorous exercise, regardless of body weight or chronic disease status, can reduce early mortality significantly…

The researchers from James Cook University and the University of Sydney looked at data tracking over 204,000 participants, 45 and older, for an average of six and a half years. They were divided into three groups: those who engaged in only moderate activity, like leisurely swimming, social tennis, or even household chores; and people whose activity was vigorous (jogging, aerobics, or competitive tennis) up to 30% of the time, or more than 30% of the time.

This news story is based on the paper “Effect of Moderate to Vigorous Physical Activity on All-Cause Mortality in Middle-aged and Older Australians” by
Klaus Gebel, Ding Ding, Tien Chey, Emmanuel Stamatakis, Wendy J. Brown, Adrian E. Bauman. JAMA Intern Med. Published online April 06, 2015. doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2015.0541

These are quotes from the abstract, the full abstract can be seen on-line for free if you search for the paper.

… Objective To examine whether the proportion of total moderate to vigorous activity (MVPA) that is achieved through vigorous activity is associated with all-cause mortality independently of the total amount of MVPA…

… Design, Setting, and Participants We performed a prospective cohort study with activity data linked to all-cause mortality data from February 1, 2006, through June 15, 2014, in 204 542 adults aged 45 through 75 years from the 45 and Up population-based cohort study from New South Wales, Australia (mean [SD] follow-up, 6.52 [1.23] years). Associations between different contributions of vigorous activity to total MVPA and mortality were examined using Cox proportional hazards models, adjusted for total MVPA and sociodemographic and health covariates…

Results During 1 444 927 person-years of follow-up, 7435 deaths were registered. Compared with those who reported no MVPA (crude death rate, 8.34%), the adjusted hazard ratios for all-cause mortality were 0.66 (95% CI, 0.61-0.71; crude death rate, 4.81%), 0.53 (95% CI, 0.48-0.57; crude death rate, 3.17%), and 0.46 (95% CI, 0.43-0.49; crude death rate, 2.64%) for reporting 10 through 149, 150 through 299, and 300 min/wk or more of activity, respectively. Among those who reported any MVPA, the proportion of vigorous activity revealed an inverse dose-response relationship with all-cause mortality: compared with those reporting no vigorous activity (crude death rate, 3.84%) the fully adjusted hazard ratio was 0.91 (95% CI, 0.84-0.98; crude death rate, 2.35%) in those who reported some vigorous activity (but <30% of total activity) and 0.87 (95% CI, 0.81-0.93; crude death rate, 2.08%) among those who reported 30% or more of activity as vigorous. These associations were consistent in men and women, across categories of body mass index and volume of MVPA, and in those with and without existing cardiovascular disease or diabetes mellitus.

…Conclusions and Relevance Among people reporting any activity, there was an inverse dose-response relationship between proportion of vigorous activity and mortality. Our findings suggest that vigorous activities should be endorsed in clinical and public health activity guidelines to maximize the population benefits of physical activity…

So not a bad job of reporting by Fox news.. they told us that a study exists although they added a lot of caveats to the results given that it is in line with current advice that exercise if good.

Page 3 Gotcha

After the Murdoch (News Corp) owned times reported on the end of ‘page 3’ topless models in the Murdoch owned Sun newspaper (News Corp), the story has received much coverage by other newspapers.

It was reported that the practise was being phased out because it was regarded as anachronistic (after Murdoch tweeted it was old-fashioned in September 2014), and would only return if publishing without ‘page 3’ resulted in lower sales.

However, today the Sun included a topless model on page 3 model saying that the news of the demise was premature.

Further to recent reports in all other media outlets, we would like to clarify that this is Page 3 and this is a picture of Nicole, 22, from Bournemouth. We would like to apologise on behalf of the print and broadcast journalists who have spent the last two days talking and writing about us.

So this must be a slow news week, and good for News Corp to generate a lot of it’s own news. Last week you will remember that News Corp owned Fox news stupidly stated that Birmingham was a no go area for non-Muslims.

Controversy Timesline

  • 16 January – supposedly the last to carry the feature.
  • 20 January  -article in The Times strongly implies that a decision had been made to end ‘Page 3’.
  • 22 January – The Sun returns to publishing shots of topless female models.

So the question remains, would it be better for those campaigning against the practise of ‘page 3’ be better just ignoring the Sun newspaper until it goes away?

Correlation is not necessarily causation.

A lot of science stories reported in he media confuse correlation with causation. Here is a typical example about sexism:


The article says that men who exhibit sexist attitudes are more likely to earn more.

Alternative explanation, in couples were the man is earning more, it would be more likely for the women to stay home?