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OpenLearn Live: 6th August 2015

Updated Thursday 6th August 2015

Free learning and insight, from the singing gynaecologist. Join us for a collection of learning items as the day rolls on.

This page will be updated across the day - or you can follow our Twitter feed @openlearnlive.

Yesterday: Baking through Europe, teaching science with hip hop and Chinese game consoles

See the full OpenLearn Live series 


Today's Posts


BBC Radio 4 now, and then iPlayer: BBC Inside Science

We're delighted to announce our partnership with BBC Inside Science is renewed from today. The first programme in the new run of OU/BBC co-productions is on air right at the moment, and will appear shortly on iPlayer. Topics covered include the effects of Hiroshima radiation and the noises made by bonobos. 

Listen online

Find out more about the programme


What does an engineer look like?

It's hard to believ... no, actually, I was going to say "it's hard to believe that some men are still surprised at the very idea of women working in engineering", but it's not, is it? It's all too easy to believe. One San Francisco tech company's inclusion of one of their women engineers in an advert was met with such gales of incredulity that there's been an internet response. Ellie Cosgrave tells the story:

We all hold stereotypes, it’s a sort of cognitive shortcut that allows us to make sense of the world quickly and make judgements. Most of us been brought up in a white-dominant, hetero-normative, patriarchal society. We’ve been steeped in it since birth and it’s hardly surprising that we may all revert, however subconsciously, to ingrained societal norms. But we’re also all capable of understanding where these stereotypes come from, challenging them and recognising the impact they have on people’s real experiences and choices. This campaign is a great way to show the real diversity of the engineering profession and demonstrate that it really can be for everyone.

Read What does an engineer look like?

Discover engingeering courses with The Open University


Hiroshima 70 years on

Seventy years ago today, the first nuclear weapon used as an act of war was dropped on the city of Hiroshima in Japan. The decision to use the weapon remains one of the most controversial choices in history - did it save lives by hastening the end of the Second World War, or was it an unncessary brutality enacted on a nation already on the brink of surrender?

The New York Times captured the essence of the debate for the 50th anniversary:

Fifty years after the B-29 Superfortress Enola Gay was used to drop an atomic bomb on Hiroshima, the decision that ushered in the nuclear age is still the subject of fierce historical debate.

The issue stirs enormous passions: at one pole speculative estimates of how many Americans would have died invading Japan, and were presumably spared because of the bombing, and at the other pole whether the attack in August 1945 was necessary to end the war.

Indeed, some historians now contend that the bombing was aimed not so much at the wartime enemy Japan as at the wartime ally Soviet Union, delivered as a warning against postwar rivalry.

The questions, sometimes raised by a new generation horrified at the death and destruction that rained on Hiroshima and, three days later, on Nagasaki, resonate harshly among World War II veterans, particularly those who survived the bloody fighting in the Pacific that took more than 41,000 American lives.

Philosophically, the bombing of Hiroshima is an extreme example of the doctrine of double effect:

 People who apply the doctrine of double effect to warfare will insist that it’s impermissible to drop a bomb onto a city, whether it be Hiroshima or whether it be the fire-bombing of Dresden, with the intention of killing innocents, even if that’s in pursuit of the worthy goal of bringing about an end to this war. Whereas they won’t take the same attitude towards the dropping of a bomb on a military target, say on a munitions factory, even if a comparable number of people will die. The latter of course has acquired the repugnant name of collateral damage but even if we reject that terminology we still want to draw a distinction. It’s never permissible to intend the death of innocents in warfare, whereas it’s sometimes permissible to foresee that the same number of people will die in pursuit of a military objective.

How did the Soviet Union react to the dropping of the bomb? At the time, the USSR and the US were still allies - and the American ambassador to Moscow recorded Stalin's reaction to the news from Hiroshima:

The Generalissimus replied that he thought the Japanese were at present looking for a pretext to replace the present government with one which would be qualified to undertake a surrender. The atomic bomb might give them this pretext.

The Ambassador observed that it was a good thing we had invented this and not the Germans. For long, he said, no one had dared think it would be a success. It was only a few days before the President had told Stalin about it in Berlin that we had learned definitely that it would work successfully.

The Generalissimus replied that Soviet scientists said that it was a very difficult problem to work out.

Obviously, the effects of the Hiroshima explosion were not just because of the size of the bomb, but the radiation which affected those who survived the initial blast. Our Unclear about nuclear course explains how radiation affects a body:

The most important mechanism by which ionising radiation causes cancer-risking damage to the genetic code is through double-strand breakages. If a DNA molecule becomes unzipped, or damaged, either as part of the normal cell division process, or by the effect of a particle of ionising radiation, it is possible to recover the code as long as one strand has been left intact. The cell contains a number of repair systems that do just this job. These have evolved because DNA breakage is quite common. Background radiation, chemical agents, even desiccation can do this. Life forms of any complexity would not be possible without the existence of these repair mechanisms. However, if both strands are broken, this is no longer possible. The DNA molecule is severed, and there is no information about how it should be put back together again.

The use of nuclear weapons in war changed the world. Not just militarily or politically, but down to how people thought and the very heart of our culture. This theme is explored in the series of videos The A Bomb In Popular Culture here on OpenLearn.


Musical scientists: Hank Wangford

Continuing our week starting up with people who combine science and music. Today, it's medical science, and Dr Sam Hutt. Hutt works in the NHS at a birth-control clinic. But when he's not there, he's known as Hank Wangford - dubbed, for some years, "the singing gynaecologist".

A 1988 New York Times profile explained the balance between music and medicine:

''Hank is a good smoke screen. He can do things I can't do. He's my clown,'' says Dr. Hutt, who has been struggling to balance his musical and medical interests ever since medical school at Cambridge. His 60's practice in a drug-addiction center brought him into contact with a lot of rockers and modest renown as London's long-haired, rock-and-roll doctor. ''If The Who had a first night, the tickets would be sent. I actually had more of an identity crisis with that than with Hank, because Hank is a fool. I quite like him. Dr. Sam was definitely threatening to become a monster.''

Talking to the Norwich Evening News in 2012, Sam/Hank accepted that the decision to work across two different areas of activity did force certain decisions:

 Doctoring is clearly as much part of him as his fantastic music career to date. “Thank you for calling it fantastic,” he laughs. “It’s kind of low key, at best I’ve got kind of a cult following. There are huge numbers of fans that have built up over the years, but I’m not a huge record seller; I’m not even famous.

“In a similar way there was a point where I could have settled down, had a family; but then I would have had to become a GP and forget the music. I had to say to the person I was involved with I don’t want to do that and we split up.”

It's not necessary of course to tour the US with a full band to have a hinterland. But Hutt's not the only person working in a high-stress environment who uses creativity and art as a counterbalance to the demands of the 'day' job.

You can study science with the OU...

You can study music with the OU...

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