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x-change yearbook British Science Festival 2010

14-19 SEPT 2010


ge n a h -c

100% freshly-picked science



: T S I L   TO DO ! s r e k a e p s   d n i F   . 1 . . . s t a o c 2. Lab  ! ? t n i a p   e 3. Blu


welcome to the x-change yearbook 2010! This year’s x-change saw more interesting, controversial and hilarious speakers than ever before. Our tireless team of x-change volunteers searched high and low to find the best speakers and round them up each night in the Blue Room of Aston University’s Student Guild. Unwinding over a drink, festival-goers got their teeth into some of the hottest science of the day, heard from inspirational speakers and award lecturers and uncovered some of Aston’s hidden science talent. Humour was also in abundance with juggling, hypnosis, stand-up maths, a riveting talk from the Pope’s Astronomer and who could forget Dr Ken and his plunger.. Join us for a behind the scenes tour of this best of the Fest, if you couldn’t make it see what you missed out on, and if you were there, re-live it! None of it could have happened without our fantastic five so a massive thank you to Alice, Anna, Claudia, Sian and Tulpesh along with talented tweeter, Toby, of course our very own Gossip Girl, host, Sue Nelson.

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Anna Perman Hi All! My name is Anna Perman. I'm a Birmingham local but left in 2006 to study Biology at Bristol University and this September I started a masters in Science Communication at Imperial college London. I applied to the x-change basically because I'm a massive geek. I love science. I love talking about science. I love hearing about science. The x-change is a brilliant way to do this away from the classroom or the lecture theatre. My favourite part of the festival was getting the chance to talk to top scientists about areas I have studied, and to find out from them about subjects I know nothing about. Seeing Jim Al-Khalili and Brother Guy Consolmagno (The Pope's astronomer) was great for the celeb factor, but finding out about the effects of hypnosis from Peter Naish was fascinating - as was seeing it in practise! An unusual fact about me is that I know every word to Ant and Dec's single 'Let's get Ready to Rumble'. For your sake though, don't ask me for a demonstration.

Alice Thorpe I’m Alice! I have a BSc in Molecular and Cellular Biology from University of Bath and an MSc in Science, Media and Communication at Cardiff University. I’m currently working as a production assistant at a tv/film production company. I really enjoyed the festival in 2007 (when I recieved a bursary to go ) so really wanted to go again and I thought it would be a great oportunity to meet and network with scientists and science communicators and also be really good for my CV....Plus I love organising stuff :-) My favourite x-change moment was jumping off the steps outside the guild in order to get that perfect picture - my legs still hurt! My favourite speaker has to be comedy mathematician (slash maths comedian)Matt Parker - hilarious! Oh, and I once climbed a 14,980 ft mountain...never again!

Cláudia Velhas My background is in Zoology. I recently finished my MSc in science communication and work for the Science Museum in London as an Explainer. I applied because I hadn't been to the festival before and wanted to extend my experience in running science communication events for adults. What particularly interested me as well was meeting other science comunicators and network too. It was great to do something different this time. My favourite bit of the Festival was definitely the Xchange! It really was "the best of the fest"! My favourite speaker would definitely have to be Brother Guy Consulmagno! He was a brilliant guest, with an excellent sense of humour. A few years ago I was in Tobago on a coral reef research project. I was getting ready for a dive early in the morning when I spotted one, then two, then lots more baby leatherback turtles hatching from a hole in the sand. They were all over the place and so confused. So I helped direct them towards the sea. I can say I assisted the birth of baby turtles... It was emotional!

Sian Henderson Hi, I’m Sian! I have a BSc in Environmental Science from Sussex and like Anna, I’ve just started by MSc in Science Communication at Imperial. Like the others, I applied to be on the x-change team because I’m a science geek and I wanted a free pass to the Festival! I’d say my favourite part of the Festival was getting to try stuff like the mobile phone demo - a really confusing test of your concentration whilst attempting to text!It’s a popular choice for favourite speaker: Brother Guy. Outside of the x-change, I’m also a qualified Athletics Official which means I can decide if someone has failed an event and I’m also allowed to stand in the path of incoming javelins and hammers!

Tulpesh Patel I’m Tulpesh and I’m in the last few months of my PhD in Cognitive Neurosciences at Aston in collaboration with the Birmingham Children's Hospital. I applied to join the x-change team because I am an uber-geek and science communicating hobbyist, who was giddy with excitement that the festival was coming to Aston and was keen to be directly involved with the festival with a program that sounded fun and engaging. I also saw it as a good chance to promote the excellent science that Aston is involved in. My favourite part? Saying 'all of it' would be cheating. Two highlights bookended the festival. The first was the fantastic flash dance, which was so much fun and the second would be being name-checked in a freestyle rap by Baba Brinkman during his performance at the Electric Cinema. And as for favourite speaker, it's not a cop-out, but there were seriously too many to choose! At one point I had 8 piercings and as many tattoos (the tattoos I still have of course, but all the metal had to go once I started working with MRI).

Sue Nelson Broadcaster and journalist, Sue Nelson (she’s the one that doesn’t wear a bright pink t-shirt!), is our multitalented x-change presenter. Along with the team, she sniffs out the best speakers and the funniest, weirdest and most fascinating stories to tell.

the x-change blog - day 1 The evening kicked off with Elizabeth Moores and Emma Birkett from Aston University. They showed how timing is important in our lives, like making sense of sounds. Four volunteers stepped up to represent the key processes in copying a rhythm and tapped a rhythm they had received from the person behind them to the next person. Conclusion? Even something as simple as this involves so many processes that it is tricky to pinpoint what goes wrong and when. Next up were Mike Hulme and Nick Blowfield to perform a duet on current climate science issues. Mike Hulme mentioned it is good for scientists in this field to be challenged. Nick Blowfield referred to the challenges to businesses and corporate responsibility. Kate Bellingham gave an insight into her career path. As a radio engineer at the BBC, Kate was spotted for her great communication skills and she continued her engineering training but “got sucked into the glamorous TV life�! Kate is interested in looking at young people’s decision making, their perceptions of engineering and their perceptions of themselves. Next up was Giovanna Tinetti, whose research is all about planets outside the solar system. Currently around 500 exoplanets are known! Water, methane and carbon dioxide have already been detected in the atmospheres of these planets. The ultimate aim? Searching for life and learning more about what lies beyond our planet. Nick Lee gave us an insight on neuromarketing. He assured us it is not a mind controlling or magic power that companies have over us. According to Nick, neuromarketing is another marketing technique: decisions are not just reactions to stimuli, they are a collection of complex social aspects. Craig McAllister left the audience in awe as he brought out the transcranial magnetic stimulation device! A machine that uses electrical current to stimulate the brain and activate muscles. Craig demonstrated this using an x-change volunteer as a guinea pig. The audience gasped as his arms moved involuntarily! This research can be used to investigate tasks such as languageand it also has potential applications in victims of neurological diseases and strokes.

the x-change blog - day 2 Festival favourite Lorelly Wilson’s fabulous demonstrations of science with everyday objects started Wednesday’s x-change. After simulating a stomach in a bag, she dissolved a huge polystyrene tube in nail varnish in a matter of seconds, and finally with only a ping-pong ball and a milk bottle explained how the pressure forces keeping the ball stuck to the bottle was greater than the force of gravity keeping our feet, and in fact everything, firmly on the ground. That segued nicely into Dr Tara Shears from the University of Liverpool and particle physicist at the Large Hadron Collider, who explained how the LHC allows us to understand the universe ‘inside out’ – from quarks and guons to the real world that is so familiar to us. Dr Jessica Grahn from the University of Cambridge, speculated that synchronised movements helped our ancestors with social bonding, and I must admit I did feel a little closer to everyone in the audience as we all clapped along enthusiastically to a staccato Balkan rhythm. Can you teach clapping to people who appear to have no natural rhythm? You most certainly can, you just have to tap into the rhythms and sounds that they’re exposed to as babies in the womb. Next there were three speakers from Aston University. First up was Dr Anthony Hilton of Grime Scene Investigation fame, who was introduced by Sue Nelson as an ‘ambassador for microbes’. Asked by a member of the audience about the strength of the hygiene hypothesis, Dr Hilton explained that there is no evidence that repeated exposure to dirt increases resistance to disease – if you’re sufficiently infected with a pathogenic bacterium or virus, you will get ill. Next, Dr Caroline Witton from the Aston Neurosciences research team talked about the importance and uses of the exciting new paediatric MEG scanner that is being built especially for the Aston Brain Centre. Last up for the day, stem cell scientist Dr Robin Lovell Badge discussed the Ipsos MORI report on animals containing human materials, which had been released that day. Public dialogue seems to contradict the common conception portrayed in the media that genetic engineering is a bad thing; most people are pragmatic when it comes to the medical benefits of this kind of work.

the x-change blog - day 3 First, Richard Ellam, brought news to ye olde town of Birmingham of Galileo’s cutting edge work using the Dutch Spyglass, or as he calls it, the telescope. Galileo has spotted mountains, craters and oceans on the moon surface. Another cutting-edge bit of science brought to you by the x-change. Back in the present, Professor Gina Rippon discussed the media furore caused by her speaking out on the lack of differences between men and women’s brains. Reinforcing gender stereotypes is not what Neuroscience is about, she said, and is worryingly starting to influence how schoolchildren are taught. Dr Peter Naish from the Open University told us about his research into the neurological differences in people who are easily hypnotised...then demonstrated by performing a group hypnosis experiment. Professor Jim Al-Khalili from Surrey University is always a favourite. Promising to keep his clothes on this time, he spoke about challenges for science. Talking about spending cuts, he praised Minister David Willetts for getting the economic importance of science, but with all groups crying ‘cut something else!’, he worried about other politicians. Sarah Beck from Birmingham University told us about the stages in the development of children’s imagination. Asking the audience to make-believe cutting a piece of paper, she showed that earlier stages of development – using your fingers as scissors - are still present in some adults. Pete Reddy from Aston University discussed the merits of football for the over 50s. Inspired by his grandson, Pete wants to adapt football to make it accessible and avoid the ‘revolving door’ problem with the gym. Because people playing football are in a psychological ‘flow’ state, they exercise without realising it. Science magician Matt Pritchard ended proceedings on a lighter note, showing us, without sleight of hand, that his thumb is stronger than a tin can, and we have the video to prove it.

the x-change blog - day 4

The Evening began with an announcement from Sue Nelson that this would be her last x-change, but that she was determined to ‘go out with a big bang!’

To start the evening Sue invited Colin Wright to the stage to discuss how in the 1980s he was developing a type of juggling notation and he noticed that there were mathematical patterns in juggling. They then were able to develop new tricks through the patterns of numbers, and therefore juggling is really only a maths puzzle! Next up was Jonathon Silvertown who joined us to discuss how 2010 came to be the international year of Biodiversity. He explained that the Convention on Biodiversity aimed for many of the issues facing wildlife to be sorted by 2010. He went on to debate the importance of biodiversity with the audience. Mike Coleman was up next to talk to us about the growing of human brain cells in labs for use in medical research. He told us that research in this area could lead to medications being developed for conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease. He was careful to stress that only brain cells are formed, not an actual brain; what they are researching is the brain’s equivalent of an MP3 player’s chip. Fourth on the bill was Brother Guy Consolmagno, one of The Pope’s Astronomers, originally from Detroit; but who now spends his time researching meteorites in The Vatican. His job is to study the chemical and physical properties of meteorites and work out how they are packed together. His research shows that many are similar in composition which surprises him as there are thousands ‘out there’. Why does the Vatican have an observatory? He replied that we need to know why the universe is there and how it works. With a tough act to follow, John Gibbons was the next guest who came to the x-change to discuss his research on heart attacks. Sue asked how Marathon runners can suffer from them as they are often linked to unhealthy life styles. John told us that it can be genetic and linked to your metabolism as this affects how you absorb and process cholesterol. The last guest of the x-change was Matt Parker who entertained us by proving that Arnica is one of the most expensive substances on Earth. Using the quantities of it in homeopathic pills and their cost at 6.1p per pill he has calculated that 1 molecule costs more that the Gross Domestic Product of the UK!

? . . . d e r i p s n i g n i Feel

Do you want to be part of the team that makes the x-change the hottest event at the British Science Festival?

The highlight of the science year is coming to Bradford in September 2011 and you could be a part of it! If you’re energetic, enthusiastic, creative and passionate about science communication, we want you for the team! Applications open in July 2011 so keep an eye on:


10-15 SEPT 11

x-change yearbook 2010  

See what our x-change team got up to at the British Science Festival 2010 in Birmingham