Author Archives: RobTrans

The Hungry Translator: Harissa Chickpea Plate

One of the great things about working from home is having access to a complete kitchen at lunchtime. So In ‘The Hungry Translator’ I’ll be sharing some quick, tasty recipes that you can fit into a busy day – or just whenever!

Here’s a really quick and healthy lunch that takes less than 15 minutes to make.

chickpea harissa plate edit

Serves one

1. Spray a nonstick pan with oil. Finely slice half a red onion and cook for 2 minutes until it begins to soften.

2. Drain a 400 g tin of chickpeas and add half to the pan with 1/2 tbsp tomato purée, 1/2 tbsp harissa and 100 ml hot vegetable stock.

3. Cook until most of the liquid is absorbed and the chickpeas are just a little saucy. Stir in some chopped fresh coriander.

4. Serve with a warmed wholemeal pitta bread, rocket salad and a dollop of hummus.

Adapted from a recipe by Kate Ford. Check out her amazing vegan food blog, The Veg Space.

Why I love being a translator

Five reasons why I love my job…heart-2925103__340

Reason 1: I love enabling communication
When I was doing my MA in translation and interpreting, I found that I enjoyed mediating between people who spoke different languages. There was something immensely satisfying about enabling communication between two people, or between writer and reader, that wouldn’t otherwise be possible. I’ve never lost that sense of satisfaction.

Reason 2: I love words
Words fascinate me. As well as being a translator, I write in my spare time and I get immense pleasure from reading. Whether it’s a popular science book or a well written opinion piece, I love seeing language being used to full effect. I’m fascinated by the power, possibilities and poetry of words.

Reason 3: I love being involved
Quite a bit of my translation work relates to the world of scientific research. Science has a huge contribution to make to the wellbeing of humanity and the planet as a whole, and I like the idea of playing a part, however small, in the support mechanism that enables science to happen.

Reason 4: I love broadening my horizons
As a translator, you are obviously exposed to different cultures and ways of thinking. This broadens your mind and teaches you to think about things from different perspectives. For me, this is an enriching aspect of the job that I appreciate a lot.

Reason 5: I love learning
As any translator will tell you, this job involves constantly learning and keeping your knowledge up to date. Translators generally specialise in a particular field – for example engineering, medicine, law or tourism – and they need to be knowledgeable about their chosen field and aware of the latest developments. Being a good translator also means having a good level of general knowledge. It’s the perfect profession to indulge a love of learning.

Fellow translators: why did you choose your profession? What is it that you love about translating? Share your thoughts!

Lost in translation – or why we need skilled translators

directory-2570250__340 lostOn my bookshelf is a copy of ‘Lost in Translation: Misadventures in English Abroad’ by Charlie Croker, a collection of hilarious translation mistakes from around the world. This book had me giggling out loud, so be warned: in the words of the Sunday Times reviewer, it’s quite simply “Too funny for public transport”!

Some of the mangled English phrases, signs and menu items are frankly too rude to publish here, but let me share a few examples. What is the hotel guest in Istanbul to make of “Flying water in all rooms”? What, I wonder, awaits the visitor to Amalfi who is promised “Suggestive views from every window”? At least there’s sage advice for guests in Vienna: “In case of fire, do your utmost to alarm the hotel porter.”

Funny as these mistakes are, they do demonstrate that when you’ve got an important message to get across, it’s essential to use a skilled translator who is familiar with both source and target languages and the cultures that go along with them. An inadequate translation might be understood with some effort on the reader’s part (and the unintentionally hilarious one might raise a smile!), but it won’t create a good impression.

A good translator conveys meaning, not just words, and recreates the same effect on the reader that was intended with the original text. This takes a combination of language skills, cultural awareness, training and experience.

The take-home message? When you need to impress a potential customer, convey essential information, or communicate with finesse in another language, the most important thing you can do is bring a qualified translator on board.

EDEN ISS greenhouse sets sail for Antarctica

A scientist inspects plants in the EDEN ISS greenhouse. Photo: DLR, CC-BY 3.0

A scientist inspects plants in the EDEN ISS greenhouse. Photo: DLR, CC-BY 3.0

How do you grow vegetables in Antarctica? In a seriously high-tech greenhouse, that’s how.

The EDEN ISS greenhouse, designed by the German Aerospace Center (DLR) and international partners, is a self-sufficient plant-growing system with a host of high-tech features. Mounted on a high platform and entered by a special airlock, this is nothing like the greenhouse in your garden.

EDEN ISS is designed to grow plants in inhospitable environments without soil or life-giving sunlight. To allow them to grow without soil, the plants are automatically sprayed at regular intervals with a water-nutrient mixture. Special lamps, temperature control and air filters all provide just the right conditions for tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers and more.

A trial run in Bremen (Germany) earlier this year produced a rich harvest of fresh vegetables and herbs, and now the aim is to test crop cultivation in the hostile conditions of the Antarctic winter.

EDEN ISS greenhouse in the Antarctic. Photo: DLR, CC-BY 3.0

EDEN ISS greenhouse in the Antarctic. Photo: DLR, CC-BY 3.0

The EDEN ISS container set off on its 11-week journey from the Port of Hamburg to the Ekström ice shelf on 8 October 2017. Its final destination is Neumayer Station III, run by the Alfred Wegener Institute (AWI).

So why put so much effort into cultivating fresh fruit and vegetables in harsh climate conditions? There are two main reasons.

Firstly, to address future needs on Earth in the face of a rapidly growing world population and the impacts of climate change on food production. Secondly, to develop methods to provide fresh plant foods for human spaceflight, including future missions to the Moon and Mars.

Starting in December, DLR scientist Paul Zabel will spend a year at Neumayer III running the greenhouse and taking care of the plants. As well as providing important insights for scientific research, it will also put tasty fresh vegetables on the table for the research station team!

Read the DLR press release here and check out the dedicated EDEN ISS website here.

Gravitational waves, cryo-electron microscopy and circadian clocks: Nobel Prize winners announced

As I write, the winners of all but one of the 2017 Nobel Prizes have been announced.

The Nobel Prize in Physics 2017 will be presented to Rainer Weiss, Barry C. Barish and Kip S. Thorne “for decisive contributions to the LIGO detector and the observation of gravitational waves”. The first direct detection of a gravitational wave in September 2015 was a landmark event, confirming Albert Einstein’s theory of general relativity and launching the field of gravitational-wave astronomy. Read the official news items from MIT and Caltech.

The merging of two black holes produces a ripple in the fabric of spacetime known as a gravitational wave. Source: ESA - C. Carreau

The merging of two black holes produces a ripple in the fabric of spacetime known as a gravitational wave. Source: ESA – C. Carreau

The Nobel Prize for Chemistry 2017 has been awarded to Jacques Dubochet, Joachim Frank and Richard Henderson for the development of cryo-electron microscopy for the high-resolution structure determination of biomolecules in solution. Cryo-electron microscopy is a revolutionary technique in biochemistry which allows researchers to produce detailed three-dimensional structures of biomolecules. To find out why this is so significant, read the official press release here.

The Nobel Prize 2017 in Physiology or Medicine has been awarded to Jeffrey C. Hall, Michael Rosbash and Michael W. Young for their discoveries of molecular mechanisms controlling the circadian rhythm. Although scientists have known for a long time that plants, animals and humans have an internal biological clock that anticipates and adapts to daily changes in the environment, the three Nobel laureates have now explained how this works at a molecular level. Read the full details about these discoveries and the winners here.

Of the winners in these categories, both Rainer Weiss (professor emeritus of physics at MIT) and Joachim Frank (professor of biological sciences at Columbia University) were born in Germany.

Although the Nobel Prizes honour individuals, scientific discovery today is always a team effort, involving hundreds or even thousands of individuals. Rainer Weiss acknowledged this by saying: “The discovery has been the work of a large number of people, many of whom played crucial roles. I view receiving this [award] as sort of a symbol of the various other people who have worked on this.”

Success in planetary science course!

Source: NASA

Source: NASA

In slightly delayed news, I’m delighted to report that I successfully passed my short course in astronomy with Liverpool John Moores University (LJMU) a few months back!

I completed the ‘Planets of the Solar System’ course in May with an overall mark of 85%.

The five-month course covered the formation of the solar system and the interiors, surfaces and atmospheres of the planets and their moons. It was a useful introduction not only to our solar system, but also to geoscience, including plate tectonics, the carbon cycle and atmospheric circulation.

If you’re an amateur astronomer or simply curious about our universe, the Astrophysics Research Institute at LJMU offers a range of distance learning courses for people with a non-specialist background. Find out more at

Helmholtz Association launches MOSES Earth observation system



Over the next five years, the Helmholtz Association – Germany’s largest scientific organisation – is to implement a flexible new Earth observation system known as MOSES (Modular Observation Solutions for Earth Systems).

MOSES is designed to measure short-term events such as heatwaves and heavy rainfall and track their long-term and large-scale impacts on Earth and environmental systems. The project uses an integrated approach, gathering data across different Earth compartments – atmosphere, land, coast, ocean and cryosphere.

Initially, MOSES will allow researchers to study four types of event: heatwaves, hydrologic extremes, ocean eddies and permafrost thaw, using ‘modules’ made up of different sensor and observing systems. The observation campaigns require highly mobile observing systems to spot and track these short-term dynamic events. The modules rely on a wide range of platforms, from terrestrial and ocean observatories to autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs) and drones.

Researchers hope that the data provided by MOSES will allow them to predict the environmental and socioeconomic consequences of these events with greater certainty.

Following test campaigns, MOSES is scheduled to go into regular operation in 2022. It will be coordinated by the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research (UFZ) in Leipzig.

For detailed information about MOSES, visit the GEOMAR website.

Goodbye Cassini

Source: NASA

Cassini at Saturn. Source: NASA

At 12:55 BST today, NASA’s Cassini probe transmitted its final signal to Earth before plunging into the atmosphere of Saturn. It’s the end of an incredibly exciting and important mission.

Back in 2004, when Cassini first arrived at Saturn after a seven-year voyage, I translated some educational material for the European Space Agency (ESA), which used the Cassini-Huygens mission as a focal point to teach school children about the solar system. Since then, as well as inspiring children and adults around the world, the mission has generated a wealth of data about the Saturn system. It has ventured into the previously unexplored space between the planet and its rings and successfully landed the Huygens module on the surface of Saturn’s largest moon, Titan – the first landing ever achieved in the outer solar system.

A glance at social media shows that I’m not the only one feeling a little emotional about Cassini’s final moments.

The probe was commanded to destroy itself by diving into Saturn’s atmosphere to avoid the risk of contaminating any of the planet’s moons which could have the potential to harbour microbial life.

Bye, Cassini – it’s been an amazing 20 years.

Check out the official NASA Cassini page.