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x-citing, x-plosive, x-perimental: the daily Festival highlights show

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The Spiegeltent|King's Lawn|University of Aberdeen the x-

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Podcast, blog and more! thexchange.podbean.com @TheSiSTeam #thexchange

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Welcome to the x-change yearbook 2012 Combining science, music, and comedy can only be a good thing. With plenty of laughs, lots of debates and demonstrations galore, this years’ x-change has out-done itself. As the show is part science and part cabaret, what better place to host it than a Spiegeltent? Drink in hand, and packed lunch on the tables, our audiences were able to enjoy a whole host of different speakers. If you want to know more, read on and join us on a behind-the-scenes tour of the x-change! For those of you that missed it, this is the perfect opportunity to catch up on all the best bits. Don’t take our word for it, find out for yourselves at http://thexchange. podbean.com where you will find all the shows podcasted, photographed and videoed for your pleasure. But none of this could have been remotely possible without our four fantastic volunteers Caroline, Emma, Liz and Marcus, Toby the photographer and Richard Hollingham, our host. So a massive thank you to you all. I have had a wonderful summer organising this year’s x-change, and I am so proud to have been a part of it! I hope this yearbook will give you an insight into all the fun we had in Aberdeen. Julie

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Caroline Brogan About me: I’m a Biomedical Science BSc undergrad and aspiring science communicator, and have just finished a placement year working in clinical research. I’m passionate about public engagement with science, and the x-change was certainly a great place to do this! Festival highlight: The End of the World Party was fantastic! I made my very own virus and discussed apocalyptic preparations with the scientists :-D Best x-change moment: I loved every minute of the x-change so this is difficult, but if I had to single out a highlight it would be the huge feeling of achievement at the end of every day. Not to mention getting to mingle with and talk to the speakers. Saturday’s Demo Spectacular was particularly good, especially when Debbie Syrop fitted the entire audience into a cereal box. Fun fact: I have a phobia of belly buttons Favourite science-y superpower: The ability to experience sped-up evolution

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Liz Granger About me: I’m Liz, a fourth year Cell Biology PhD student living in Manchester. I’m researching how things move around inside cells, which means I spend a large proportion of my life growing cells in a dish and attempting to get them to behave. For the most part they don’t. Despite this I still really love my PhD, doing research and all things science-y. Festival highlight: The x-change shows were my highlight but I guess I’m a bit biased. The whole festival was a lot of fun and the speakers I saw were great so it would be too difficult to pick just one. Best x-change moment: I really enjoyed the Saturday show and it was very funny seeing Marcus getting electrocuted (sorry Marcus!). I also really liked the audience and twitter competitions – some of the science up song titles and super hero powers the audience came up with were amazing. Fun fact : I ran head first into a lamp post when I was 5 (I’ve always been graceful). Now, if I touch the scar on my head my eye itches. True Story. Favourite science-y superpower: Sponge feet, because it is possibly the most rubbish, nonsensical super power I’ve ever heard of.


Emma James About me: I’m Emma and I’m just going into my third-year as an Experimental Psychology student at Oxford University. When not being science-y, I can also be found at a piano, on the stage, or perhaps even in a rowing boat (but not without first being bribed with a plentiful supply of bourbon biscuits).

Festival highlight: It’s all been amazing, but it was pretty cool to be merrily working on the blog and realising I was sat in the same room as Michael Mosley and other such great people. I’m also treasuring many happy memories of the evenings spent with the rest of the team – I couldn’t have asked for a better bunch to spend the week with! Best x-change moment: Oh but there are so many good ones! Helen Arney was great fun to have on the show, but I also loved being surprised and entertained by topics I didn’t think I was particularly interested in - like maths, dwarf elephants and dark matter. Challenging Noel Jackson with our Ready Steady Cook-style cocktail ingredients was also fun! Fun fact: If all the Smarties eaten in a year were lined up, they would go more than twoand-a-half times around the equator. Yum! Science-y superpower: As a true psychologist I would love to know what is going on inside people’s minds, or rather, what’s going on inside their brains – built-in fMRI supervision please!

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Marcus Wilson About me: I’m Marcus and I’m a biochemist! I am doing a PhD, trying to understand how our cells deal with DNA damage. Whilst I like doing bench work, I really enjoy talking about new and interesting science, usually with my non-science friends in the pub. Festival highlight: Obviously all the x-change shows! Especially the show on day 3, Physics Thursday. It was a brilliant show with all the best bits of the festival: maths comedy, superheroes and Brian Cox. We had a group of school kids in, it was great to see them getting excited about science. Best x-change moment: The start of the first show, where we got to see all our hard work and planning coming together for an awesome show. It was great to see each subsequent show getting better and better. Fun fact: There are 30 elements in the human body and 46 in a mobile phone. Favourite science-y superpower: Spongefeet!


Julie Gould About me: I’m Julie, a master of physics, communicator of science and big fan of swimming, talking and chocolate! For the last two months I have had the wonderful opportunity to work with the Science in Society team at the British Science Association, managing and producing the fabulous x-change programme. This autumn, I am about to embark on a new adventure: an MSc in science communication at Imperial College, London.

Festival highlight: A Festival highlight for me has to be interviewing the award winning author Bill Bryson for an x-tra. Best x-change moment: The best x-change moment for me was the whole Saturday Demo Spectacular! show. There was a record attempt at getting the entire audience into a cereal box (it worked!), exploding jelly babies, electrocuted volunteers, human powered kettles, motors and vibrating mercury! Putting this show together and watching it happen was amazing. Fun fact: BBQ flavoured worms taste like BBQ flavoured Rice Krispies. Fact. Science-y superpower: The ability to see at all wavelengths. Not all at once, but having the freedom to switch between them at will.

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Toby Shannon About me: I’m Toby, Science in Society Officer at the British Science Association, and I have the great pleasure of managing the x-change programme. I graduated from the Science Communication MSc at the University of the West of England in 2010 and I work across lots of different programmes within the Science in Society team – we train researchers about public engagement, put on events and run the Science Communication Conference. I also do the graphic design for all our programmes and take most of the pictures (which is why I’m not in most of them!). In my spare time I’m an enthusiastic knitter, an avid tweet-er and a very messy cook. Not always at the same time. Festival highlight: My best bit of the Festival was being in Aberdeen, generally! I had a great time chatting with people, the lovely weather... Oh, and the Festival was pretty good too. And discovering that Macaroni Cheese Pie was a real thing. Best x-change moment: There are lots to choose from! I might just have to go for Paul Nurse’s appearance at the x-change – he was fab. Fun fact: At one point in history, people thought that Barnacle Geese (the birds) hatched from Goose Barnacles (the shellfish) – hence the names. (This was because they didn’t know that geese migrated and assumed that they must just live under the sea the rest of the year). Is that fun? Is that even a fact? Who knows... Science-y superpower: Jedi mind-tricks so I can get into events that have sold out (“You don’t want to want to check my ticket...”)


x-change blog: day 1 We kicked off the festival today with a fantastic show! From Nobel Prize

winners to stereotyping and miniature computers, today’s show was about all things Health. We started with a little experiment from the Person Perception lab . Doug Martin and Shelia Cunningham’s work focuses on how we form stereotypes. We decided to conduct our very own not-so-scientific experiment with the audience, setting up Chinese whispers on national identities. One side of the room started with: “People from the south of England are really tough, beer-drinking and dress well.” And the other side of the room had “Scottish people are really generous, thin and fun.” Both phrases were quickly passed around the room, with results at the end of the blog. We were extra lucky to feature breaking news on the first show, with theoretical physicist Charles Wang, from Aberdeen University. He discussed his work on a new theoretical particle, thought to be critical to explain how super novae explode. A team of physicists are travelling to the LHC to test for the new particle soon. Next up was Sir Paul Nurse: Nobel prize winner, president of the Royal Society and the oft described ‘David Beckham of Biology’. Prof. Nurse gave us a taster of his sold-out talk, Great ideas in Biology, which unfortunately got missed out in the podcast because of technical issues (Argh!). Prof Nurse explained what initially attracted him to Biology - “Physics seemed to be all solved”. He finished by stressing that scientists need to “Bang the drum for science” to ensure

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funding and inspire others. DK Arvind joined us to talk about speckled computing, a term he has coined for the use of hundreds of networked grain-sized computers. These autonomous mini-computers can provide huge amounts of information on the human body. The speckled computers are currently under trial for treatment of chronic bronchitis. Kate Allatt joined us for an incredibly moving account of her experience after a brain-stem stroke left her totally paralysed. After being diagnosed with locked-in syndrome she eventually reclaimed use of her right forefinger and thumb, and went on to defy doctors by regaining use of the left side of her body. Two and a half years on Kate is all but recovered, has written two books and set up her own stroke charity. Kate is constantly setting new goals for herself; next summer she plans to bike between Birmingham to London. A truly inspirational story. We wrapped up the show by returning to Doug Martin and Shelia Cunningham for the results of our experiment.

After only 10 minutes of the phrases circulating they had changed immeasurably. Interestingly the Scottish lost most of their positive attributes as the phrase changed to: “The Scots are generous” Whilst the people form the south of England had “People in the North are rough and drink bees”! Inventing a whole new stereotype during the show! Really looking forward to a great show tomorrow, a challenge for the meantime think up some sciencedup song titles!


x-change blog: day 2 It’s day two here at the x-change, with a fabulous show made up of sperm,

ugly animals, space weather and fireworks! But not before we set our audience (that includes you at home too!) a challenge to fit with our tuneful show: to come up with science song titles based on popular classics. Last night’s pub conversation produced a few awful ones to set the ball rolling (try ‘Video killed the Radioactive Star’), but we’re hoping you can do better.

We kicked off the show with science songstress Helen Arney, one third of the sell-out Festival of the Spoken Nerd. Campaigning for the interaction of arts and science, Helen sang of serial pet murderer Erwin in her song, Schrodinger’s Cat. Jim Wild, a Reader in space plasma physics at Lancaster University, then claimed the stage. He explained how the Earth’s magnetic field (which works a bit like a particle accelerator!) shields us from solar wind. Yet solar weather has become a hazard in the modern world; as we become increasingly reliant on satellite technologies. By being able to predict solar activity, we can better protect satellites and increase their resilience to space weather. Next up was Rob Bingham, whose team of researchers discovered a giant rift, 2km beneath the Antarctic ice. Satellite images show that this region of the Antarctic is thinning, and their ice radar allowed them to identify the deep ice bed that leaves the ice most vulnerable to melt. Next winter, Rob’s team will be going back to the Antarctic for a four month trip, armed with more radars and explosives to further explore what’s causing the changes in the region and help predict how it will change in the future.

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We had a quick musical interlude from Helen, who popped back on stage to make a cry for scientific attention to the sun, before welcoming the BSA’s Brunel Award lecturer Tim Drysdale. Tim’s been at the festival discussing the ethics of whole body scanners and their use in airport security. The waves emitted by these machines bounce off skin differently to other objects, making it possible to identify smuggled items. Jim’s experience as the ‘guinea pig’ in the testing involved standing in a group of researchers/operators looking at his post-Christmas bottom – but you’ll be pleased to hear that in practice, viewing is anonymous or automated. From nudity to sperm (whilst trying to keep it daytime appropriate!), we asked TV presenter and evolutionary biologist Simon Watt why humans produce so many sperm cells yet only one egg a month? He explained that because sex is not just about reproduction in humans, we’ve deliberately evolved inefficiency. In a world of competitive mating, sperm cells compete both with each other and those from other individuals - with inbuilt ‘weapons’ to sabotage each other, and perhaps even slipstream! Simon is also President for Life of the ‘The Ugly Animal Preservation Society’ – a new charity comedy night to raise appreciation for less aesthetically blessed species.

And finally, having this year’s x-change in a wooden tent is not enough to prevent us exploring the science of fireworks with guest Matthew Tosh. Complete with model rocket (ie. a clingfilm roll gaffa-taped to a stick – Blue Peter eat your heart out), and some party popper fumes, Matthew also took us through the workings of firework displays and the risk of your heart-shaped shell ending upside-down like a saggy bottom! We decided on ‘Bohr-hemian Rhapsody’ as today’s winning song title, but you can still join in the fun on Twitter and catch up with our favourites here. With a final song from Helen to round off a fabulous show, we’d like to thank all the guys for taking the time to come along today.


x-change blog: day 3 Today we had the pleasure of witnessing the astronomical fusion of 5 of the greatest forces known to, well, the x-change – Maths, Bubbleology, Tectonics, Quantum physics and superhero science. First up, stand-up mathematician Matt Parker explained that everything we do (for example, going to the pub) can be used for data extrapolation. The all-too-familiar justification of excessive drinking was the example in this case (‘every drink I have increases my good feelings!’). Unfortunately this brought about the need for a re-examination of data, as we all know there is an inevitable point in the night when one more drink really isn’t a good idea. Therefore the optimistic linear graph becomes a rather sad looking downward curve :[ Matt then demonstrated his Rubix cube skills by solving it in just under 4 minutes while talking the whole time.

Dr Helen Czerski is a bubble scientist! She came along next to explain bubbles as an environmental middle man – the catalyst to the co-dependent relationship between ocean and atmosphere, if you will. The ocean unceremoniously spits bubbles of salt and organic matter into the atmosphere, which in turn gives gasses to the ocean via bubbles! Helen’s new TV show starts in October. She summed it up nicely: ‘There’s a great big planet out there doing its own thing and you just have to roll with it” – which, judging by her talk, is exactly what she did! Dr Ian Bastow came on next to assure us that there is a point of being a seismologist in Britain. A major yet underestimated aspect of seismology is how

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earthquakes? can be harnessed to explore the inner earth, and can be used to do this on the moon as well! We learnt that the center of the earth is nothing like in the movies.. Next up were physicists Prof Jeff Forshaw and Prof Brian Cox – a great team, obviously, as they’ve recently released a book, The Quantum Universe. Jeff and Brian took us through a mind-boggling expedition of simultaneously alive and dead animals as well as single particles being in multiple places at the same time. Brian’s answer, when asked how easy it is to translate Quantum theory into plain English, was ‘It’s really quite simple!’ See if you can get your head around their astronomical/all-inclusive ideas in the podcast.

A common complaint from superheroes is the effect of superpowers on their health. Scientific magician Matt Pritchard reckons a superhero would experience similar G forces to that of a jet fighter pilot – up to 12x the usual gravitational pull. Excessive gravity has huge effects on the body, causing blackouts and even ‘redouts’ depending on which direction you spin. Thus superheroes must be superhuman to deal with all this pressure (funnily enough). Many more scenarios are discussed on Matt’s talk at the Festival. Matt Parker then wowed us once again with his mystical prediction of the last number on a bar code. There’s a lesson on today’s podcast – Matt guarantees you’ll be an instant hit at parties ;) Finally the best scientific superhero skills were: Spongefeet (??), Using quantum physics methods to be in multiple places at once so you could attend clashing events at the British Science Festival (suck up!) and the ability to evolve in sped up time, known as ‘evolve-a-man’ (tehe..)


x-change blog: day 4 Day four of the x-change and it was another fab show. There was a distinct food theme in this show with cheese, cocktails and…erm…cannibalism. The show kicked off with two thirds of SpaceDogs, Sarah Angliss and Stephen Hiscock. They performed a spooky number which combined a theramin, cow bells and robotics.

After learning how the theramin works, we moved onto Dwarf Elephants with Tori Herridge who gave the Charles Lyell award lecture here at the festival. We saw some fossils from these miniature mammals that have evolved on several different islands at different points through time. My favourite new fact; 10,000 years ago Cyprus had mini-elephants and hippos the size of dogs. We then heard from Sarah Castor-Perry on the surprising science of cheese. Ever wondered why pongy feet smell like cheese? It turns out the bacteria that grow in strong cheeses also grow well in warm moist, salty places just like a sweaty foot. Nice. Sarah also brought along some instant cheese - next time you want cheese and can’t be bothered to go to the shop all you need is milk, vinegar, salt and a microwave. James Soper entertained us with the unusual mix of science and circus. After some very impressive juggling he showed us how to balance juggling pins like a pro – apparently it’s all about the centre of mass. Richard learned to balance a feather on his head (after the juggling pin nearly knocked him out) and showed there’s more than one use for a power drill!

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We were then treated to a unique insight into the rather funny world of Andrew Pontzen and Tom Whyntie, who bickered about the ominously named dark matter. We heard that if you want to find dark matter all you have do is wait a long time down a mine in Yorkshire. Alternatively you can use a gamma ray telescope and look at the centre of the galaxy. Obviously both options are equally glamorous. Sue Bird and Jenny Downs from the University of Aberdeen Museum very kindly brought along some 200 year-old forks thought to be used by cannibals. The macabre objects are part of the Food Stories exhibition and originate from Fiji. It’s still up for debate whether the forks were used in this grim way or it’s a fabrication imagined by the cannibal obsessed Victorians. Finally we finished off with Noel Jackson mixing up some cocktails for us. We explored the 5 rules to making a nice tasting drink and gave Noel a ready steady cook-like challenge. We presented him with various juices, vodka, lemons, limes and tinned strawberries and with the help of the audience Noel produced a tropical cocktail with a strawberry twist. During this transformation of ingredients we learned about the science of how we taste and the appeal of bitter flavours. The show today had a distinctly food related theme so we set twitter and our live audience the challenge of telling us their dream scientist dinner party guest, dead or alive. We had some amazing suggestions you can see here. Please add to them on twitter (@TheSiSTeam #thexchange). We’re now putting the finishing touches to the prep for tomorrow’s show, which is going to be a science demo extravaganza! With all the exciting things happening on stage tomorrow’s show is going to be filmed so those of you who aren’t in Aberdeen won’t miss out. Those who are, swing by - it’s going to be a fantastic show.


x-change blog: day 5 The fifth and final x-change show went out with a bang today at the 2012

British Science Festival in Aberdeen. Our Saturday Demo Spectacular! was fast paced and full of energy: we had record attempts, smoking jelly babies, sustainable electricity and human-powered fans, all squeezed into an hour long show. To start us off, we had Debbie Syrop from Science Made Simple with a record attempt to fit the entire audience into a cereal box. Yes, a Shredded Wheat cereal box. There was no magic involved, only maths and engineering. Increasing the length of the box by cutting it into a long thin string allowed us to get our entire audience in. Andrea Sella, a chemist from UCL then showed us how mercury would oscillate when put in contact with a paper clip. He started a chemical reaction between the steel in the paperclip and the mercury, causing it to vibrate. It’s as if it was alive! Energy cannot be created or destroyed, only recycled and reused in different forms. To demonstrate this, we had Greg Foot, one half of the Science Junkies, Rob Wix from Sustainable Science and Jamie Gallagher from Glasgow University. Greg started off by demonstrating how much energy there is in a jelly baby by setting it alight and how we use this energy to power our bodies. Rob then used Julie as a guinea-pig to power lights, a fan and a kettle using a bicycle. Julie used the joules of energy from her breakfast to get her legs to turn the wheels of the bike. This powered a generator which then turned on the electrical devices.

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Jamie then finished this set off by using kilo-Jules (get it?) of energy to power a small fan. The heat Julie was giving off after getting on the bike was combined with the coolness of ice to set up a current in the semi-conductor materials which powered the fan. We were also presenting the Strictly Engineering prizes at the show today. Strictly Engineering was a poster competition held at the Festival in which engineers made a poster about their area of research. They worked together with the Science in Society team and professional graphic designers. The winner of the competition was Isobel Houghton, and the runners up were Natasha Watson and Rosanna Kleemann. Greg Foot then bounced back into action wearing his version of running blades. Although not as fast as Oscar Pistorius, he did explain the science behind the blades and why Pistorius was allowed to compete at the Olympics. Neuro- and Naked Scientist Hannah Critchlow shocked our show to a close. Using Marcus as a volunteer, she electrocuted him to demonstrate that our bodies and brain run on electrical energy to power our limbs. No podcast will be available for this highly visual show, but we will be putting a video up instead – watch this space!


Goodbye from the x-change

Goodbye from Aberdeen!

This brings the 2012 series of the x-change to a close! We’d like to say a huge thank you to our amazing guests who made each show such a success. We’d also like to thank the tireless staff from the University of Aberdeen who made us feel so welcome in our temporary Spiegeltent home as well as all the Festival assistants and the Festival team. The x-change couldn’t happen without the hard work of our dedicated volunteers working behind the scenes – Caroline, Emma, Liz and Marcus and Julie, our Science in Society Assistant. And finally – we have to thank our talented host Richard Hollingham for his seamless facilitation and for being such a good sport! You haven’t seen the last of us – keep an eye out for our x-change x-tras for exclusive interviews with other speakers from around the Festival as well as photos, videos and more! See you in Newcastle!

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Next year... Feeling inspired? 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 Newcastle in September 2013 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 2013 so keep an eye on our website www.britishscienceassociation.org/


The x-change yearbook 2012  

A brief glimpse at the 2012 x-change, a daily highlights show at the British Science Festival.

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