December 12, 2013

Advent Chemistry: Piping hot

I’ve mentioned concepts like making things hot before, but I haven’t gone into detail about how. The rather charming image of a chemist in a dark laboratory, tending to a bunsen flame, while the varnish on the wooden bench gleams in the light, and green...

December 11, 2013

A black-and-white photograph of two women operating a large computer. The computer has two large sections, both taler than the women, with a control panel visible in the left one, vacuum tubes visible on both, and a large paper tape reel on the right of the machine.

Advent Computing: A historical divergence: Wartime advances

The key idea from Babbage’s analytical engine was that of a single computer which could solve multiple problems. Previous devices were built to solve a single problem, and at best would need to be disassembled and rearranged before they could be used for anything else....

Advent Oil & Gas: Pipes and tankers

So we have all this useful stuff… but how do we get it to people who will pay for it?  The answer is, simply enough, “in bulk”.  Oil and gas are valuable commodities but it still makes sense to save as much as possible by...

Advent Chemistry: Hot Filtration

Filtration, like recrystallisation, is about physically seperating things. It’s not about doing a reaction. It’s just a way of getting the thing you want in a pot on its own. If what you want is solid, and everything else is liquid, this is quite easy,...

December 10, 2013

A line drawing showing many interlocking cogs and wheels, some with numbers and indicators marked on them, with a hand crank at the top

Advent Computing: A historical divergence: Babbage and Lovelace

Back in the 18th century, a “computer” was a person who performed computations. They would calculate mathematical tables by hand – long lists of numbers that could be referenced for calculations. It would be a slow and arduous process prone to error, but was vital...

Advent Oil & Gas: Processing 3 – gas gathering and treatment

Natural gas is processed in a broadly similar way to crude oil, but with a number of important differences. Significantly, the first stage is the cooling of the gas to separate condensate – the liquids that are naturally present as vapours in natural gas.  These...

Advent Chemistry: Recrystallisation

Once you’ve collected your product, in its lovely freshly-grown crystal form, you need to purify it. This first version is full of bits of unspent reactant and solvent and side products and waste products, and everything would be better if it were not. Washing it...

December 9, 2013

Numbers changing numbers

Advent Computing: Numbers changing numbers

The Turing machine we saw has its instructions, which we often think of as its program, and its tape, which is its memory. That’s not really accurate, though, and hasn’t really been accurate since we stopped writing programs by punching holes in bits of cardboard....

Advent Oil & Gas: Processing 2 – refining

Once stabilised, crude oil is processed at a refinery to turn it into useful products like petrol, diesel, and heavy oil.  This is a fiendishly complicated chain of operations – but there are not that many basic processes, and individually they aren’t too hard to get...

Link to Separating funnel

Separating funnel

Separating solids from liquids is as simple as using a sieve. Sometimes a complicated version of a sieve, designed to be faster and finer, but basically still a sieve. Sieves are not noted for their ability to separate liquids, but luckily there is an extremely...

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