Creating a custom science-themed laptop skin!

As an experimental particle physicist, my laptop is an extension of myself. I use it every day to work, to run my code, to talk to colleagues around the world, to check Twitter, and also to relax. I’m writing this post on it right now!

Since I (usually) travel a lot, it’s a vital way that I can continue working on the road, or during a global pandemic.

Recently, I decided it needed decorating. I spent ages looking on a website that sold stickers for laptops for one that really resonated with me. I would be looking at this images for potentially years, I wanted it to be something I liked. In addition, people at work would be looking at it too (when we can finally leave our houses again), so it had to be something professionally appropriate too.

In the end I couldn’t decide on one image, so I decided to cover my laptop with many using a custom design! Here’s the result:

If you look closely, there are photos of the Large Hadron Collider, the four major detectors on the LHC (with a bias towards ATLAS, because that’s the one I’ve worked on for the last 10 years +) and other photos from around the CERN site, including the most famous one I’ve ever taken which is of a dishwasher!

If you want to make one of these yourself, here are the steps I took. Feel free to diverge at any point.

  1. Find out the size of your laptop in inches (sorry, metric-fans!). Most printers will want an image ‘resolution’ of 300 DPI, which means Dots Per Inch from the printer. To get this, you should multiply the length and width of your laptop in inches by 300 each and that’s the number of pixels your canvas size should be. For example, I have a MacBook Pro with a 15″ screen, so I needed 4140x2860px.
  2. Now that you have your canvas size, you need to pick your image. You could use one single large image (but you’ll want to make sure the resolution is high enough). Or, if like me you couldn’t pick just one, you need to plan out the multiple photos and how they will fit together. Please make sure that you have the right to use the images you want to include. For my design I either used photos I had taken myself (or asked someone to take for me on my own camera), or I used images from CERN which are free to use providing you’re not going to sell them or use them inappropriately. Please check out the CERN Terms of Use before going ahead.
  3. Next, you want to put your image(s) into your canvas. For this, I use the free version of Canva, which allows you to pick your canvas size, upload your images and fit them to a grid of your choosing. If you’ve never used Canva before and you click the link above, then we’ll both get a credit to put towards premium content after you’ve made your first design. If you don’t want to do that, then go to Canva.com directly :).
    Don’t forget to edit your images if you want to. I made all mine monochrome.
  4. Find a place to print your design! I used GelaSkins to print my design. Look for the ‘Create your own’ tab on their website. I messaged them beforehand to talk about what I wanted, and they discussed my order with me at every stage. They do ship from Canada, though, so if this is far from where you live, you’ll need to add in that there’ll be a higher delivery cost and time taken for the skin (as they call it) to arrive.
    (Note: I am not being paid to tell you about them, I was just very happy with how it turned out!)
    If you don’t feel creative yourself, they have a wonderful collection of art you could use instead. I had Vincent van Gogh’s Almond Blossoms on two of my previous laptops.
  5. Finally, wait for your design to arrive (shipping may take longer at the moment) and fit it onto your laptop. You’re on your own with that one though!

And that’s it! You don’t even have to stop at your laptop, you can cover your phone, tablet and more!

If you do make one, please feel free to share it with me below, or on Twitter or Instagram. I’d love to see your creations!

Recreating the nails in the box video

There’s a video going around social media of a box of nails getting sorted by shaking. I was sceptical about whether this was a real video, or reversed, so as a good scientist, I decided to recreate the experiment for myself! Here are the results:

What do you think? Do you believe it? Have you also tried it at home? Let me know in the comments below!

Thanks to Irene for the collaboration in getting the equipment and testing out this hypothesis.