Tuesday 7 August 2012

Winchester Science Festival, Day 2 — some disjointed ramblings

On Saturday July 21 I went to the middle day of the three-day Winchester Science Festival1, at the Winchester Discovery Centre. Here are some uncoordinated notes and musings on it.

Arrived in good time after parking in Tower St multi-storey (£8 for the day). Hardly anyone there. Collected my pre-booked tickets (all nine of them) and had a cup of coffee while people came in.

First talk was Peter Harrison on Lucid Dreaming. I had no idea this was anything more than a curiosity, but apparently LD has been very useful in exploring how the brain works. Also it's a relatively recent science.

Lewis Dartnell was ill so we had short fill-ins from Peter Harrison and Simon Watt, which were excellent, and I don't feel short-changed for not hearing about Alien Evolution. Simon Watt then delivered his scheduled talk, "Sperm Warfare" — highly informative, amusing and in parts somewhat alarming.

Andrew Pontzen and Tom Whyntie then gave us an elaborate dramatisation of the hunt for Dark Matter — very funny and informative (but necessarily inconclusive).

Lunch was at a pizza place nearby (but I made sure to have only a starter and drink only water). Sat opposite Alice Sheppard who answered my supplementary2 question about spinning galaxies as illustrated in the previous talk — some of them rotate against the intuitive direction: the "trailing" arms do actually lead, in some galaxies. Back in time for Jenny Rohn's talk about the Science is Vital campaign (but despite my abstemious attitude to lunch I found it hard to concentrate).

Stephen Curry talked about how X-rays allow us to see how viruses work. He's a good speaker, and his Powerpoint was one of the best I've seen.

Sylvia McLain let us know what scientists look like and what they do. She is, along with Jenny Rohn and Stephen Curry, part of the Occam's Typewriter blogging network.

Probably my favourite talk of the day (possibly tying with Peter Harrison's) was "String Theory" presented by Milton Mermikides. It wasn't the kind of physics you might expect from the title, being about the science of music, with wonderful demonstrations from Bridget Mermikides and Ned Evett (the "glass guitarist").

With about an hour to spare before the evening entertainment, some of us indulged with tea and cake in the Discovery Centre, before the live set by Ned Evett, whose guitars are all fretless — the "fretboards" being mirror glass. Difficult to play, perhaps, but he made it appear effortless.

Eleanor Curry, daughter of previous speaker Stephen Curry, did a 15-minute stand-up about what it's like to be a sixth-former trying to decide which university to attend. Brilliant stuff — this youngster will be stratospheric.

Helen Arney tunes her ukelele

Helen Arney delivered a preview of her Edinburgh Fringe show, "Voice of an Angle" which included her contention that equilateral triangles are so named for their connection with horses (works for me).

A meal had been booked at a local Asian restaurant, but unfortunately they'd had a power cut and couldn't serve us. The manager, however, guided us to another of their restaurants that could accommodate us — but this one was Japanese. Nevertheless we had a good time, despite the unscheduled switch in cuisine, leaving the place around midnight.

Highly enjoyable and informative day. If they do it again next year I'll go to the whole thing.

1Thanks are due to festival director James Thomas — Winchester Science Festival was his brainchild.
2Alice Sheppard answered a previous question of mine about spinning galaxies when she gave a talk at Winchester Skeptics in the Pub.