Saturday, 27 October 2012

Manchester Science Festival 2012

Well its that time of year again. I cannot believe how quickly it has come around. Since 2009 I have been a STEM Ambassador and was really looking forward to contributing in this way again. I don't know what happened but somehow I didn't get the memo and so started to panic about missing out. After making enquires it seems I have indeed somehow missed the boat and the deadline has passed. Gutted but on the plus side I get to attend some of the festival. Not as much as I would've liked because this year it doesn't quite match up with half term either. Anyway enough explanations already! Today Saturday 27th October is the first day of the festival. I started off at Blackwells book store 11am to see an author's talk entitled 'Waking The Giant' by Bill McGuire. He is a professor of geophysics at UCL and has in the past been a UK government advisor and also done some documentaries. This is also the title of his new book. It was a scary, realistic, eye opening and fascinating talk followed by a good and lengthy Q& A. I really enjoyed it, bought his book and had it signed. A great start to the festival for me. The talk centres around the fact that climate change triggers natural phenomena such as earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and tsunami's. Bill is actually a volcanologist by training. We learn't that 2010 was the hottest year on record and that 2000-2010 has been the hottest decade on record. Another startling fact was that it only takes a very small pertubation to trigger such events. Also  ice sheets are heavier than one might think and can easily cause the surface of earth they are in contact with to bend. I shall enjoy diving into his book which here had a £4 discount :) Next I went along to Manchester Metropolitan University to see a chemistry event entitled 'Fireworks: How do they work?' This was a great show for kids and adults alike. The pyrotechnician in residence Matthew Tosh would make a great children's tv presenter and I loved his t-shirt. It had a hazard symbol on the front and said 'pyrotechnician' and on the back which I saw first it said 'if you see me running, try to keep up!' He put on a splendid show explainng every stage of how a firework is made starting with Caron black powder which set alight on its own isn't very impressive. He worked up to flashes, whistles, fountains and even did a sonic boom and there were smoke rings and flash metal which I suspect is magnesium. Lots of smoke and smells and the kids were really entertained. Also he explained how rockets get their thrust and why he doesn't like them. Basically he doesn't trust them.As he explained he is a trained pyrotechnician and the fireworks he used are specially designed to be used indoors. I wish I had thought of filming this with my cameraphone. I saw that it was being filmed and so hope to see it again online. I would highly recommend seeing his shows. Back in the corridor afterwards, where students had stands doing various things, there was one which caught my eye. A young PhD student with a research stationary bike was talking to a few people about his work. He is concerned about us becoming a nation of overweight people and researches how too much body fat can lead to diabetes. He was very nice and mentioned running alot. I told him I'd just ran a marathon and how could I get to be a better runner especially during training. He said something about reaching my limits. I had hoped for more useful advice but never mind. He was telling us all to start off by doing low intensity running and this will build up more energy mitochondria and we will even notice a difference on our second run. He was nice and slim and I mentioned diet. He said it doesn't matter he eats rubbish (10 mars bars a day!) but lots of excercise. This was a pleasant way to spend 30 minutes. My last 2 events of the day were two author talks back at Blackwells.  The first by a cancer researcher from Greenwich University talking about her new book 'How millions survive cancer'.  Due to advances in technology and treatments thats how. She was a lovely lady from NYC and I enjoyed a brief chat with her afterwards. Dr Lauren Percochino was her name and I got her business card and told her about The Christie and The Paterson Institute for Cancer Research. She had a tiny model of a breast for us to feel so we could get an idea of what a malignant lump would feel like. A frozen pea, certainly very hard. I feel reassured that I now know what to look for. The next talk was very entertaining and involved a demo and I managed a small glass of red wine. Prof Chris Cooper from Essex University whose book and talk were called 'Run, swim , throw, cheat' which was about doping in sports. Very topical in light of the recent Olympic games here this summer. In fact he was the media contact for the games. He drank a small bottle of coke thoughout his talk and had 6 disposable wine glasses and 2 bottles of a red berry drink to demonstrate how athletes can top up their blood count which technology these days can now detect anyway. He had to rush off so answered questions whilst he packed up his things. All in all I've had a good day one and am now all fired up about the festival. Went home happy wanting more.         

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