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A Decadent Festival

By Ann Fenech, on 15 June 2010

Cheltenham Science Festival 2010 is over. I am back in London and back to my research. However, I will definitely not forget the brilliant time I had there. So thanks to the UCL graduate school for that (and UCL communications for allowing me to write about it).

The festival was great on so many levels!

There was a real buzz in the place. There was something for everyone, be it entertaining science or intellectually stimulating activities for those wanting a bit more.

As I have mentioned a couple of times before, I was also surprised by how interactive the whole experience was. There was no intimidation for participating in anything, be it having a go at a demonstration, or asking questions during events.

A few events will definitely remain with me. First of all are the ‘demonstration-based’ shows, The Bigger Bang, Science vs Magic, but particularly Chemistry: A Volatile History. I don’t think any kid could have watched those and not themselves becoming excited at the prospect of becoming a scientist. Also, Heston Blumenthal in Conversation with Harold McGee: the questions asked were really all over the place, but both of them answered them in a brief but definitely entertaining way. The last show I wanted to flag up was The School for Gifted Children. It was hilarious, it was entertaining…and it was scientific. What shouldn’t you love about that?

I have returned with an enthusiasm for research, an enthusiasm for science…but most of all I have become infected with an enthusiasm for getting science out there to the public.

As the festival’s theme was ‘Decadence‘, I thought I would leave you with some of the festival’s decadent highlights. Expect lights, bangs…and science!

Final thoughts on today

By Christianne Guillotte, on 11 June 2010

Today was another action-packed and intriguing day. After attending the lecture on Carbon Trading, I went on to learn about chaos theory, dark matter, and molecular gastronomy.  Talk about an array of subjects! My mind is once again filled to the brim.

Chaos theory and dark matter are areas that I’ve researched quite a bit in my own time, and it was fascinating to hear expert opinions on the matters. Jim Al-Khalili is absolutely brilliant; his ability to make science understandable to the general public is unrivaled. No wonder he made a BBC special on chaos theory! I haven’t yet seen it, but I can’t wait to watch it.

George Efstathiou, a cosmologist, and Neil Spooner, a particle physicist, brought two perspectives to dark matter – the very big and the very small. Amazingly, they are both seeking to explain the same fundamental question with two opposite scales! I think this calls attention to the fact that science is not inflexibly rigid, nor does it reject creativity. It utilizes different ways of thinking, and it thrives on innovation.

Heston Blumenthal and Harold McGee, both experts in the science of food, furthered this point in discussing their approaches to food and its preparation. To many of us, cooking is a hassle, but to those these two men, it is a world of exploration. Simply asking “why?” and “how?” can bring a whole new light to science, and although my research area is not within food, I left with a renewed sense of imagination.

I think we can all benefit from staying curious and continually questioning our surroundings. It is from these simple questions that complex ideas emerge. I hope you, too, keep a sense of wonder and remain interested in the world around you, no matter what your interest is.

Food Glorious Food

By Ann Fenech, on 10 June 2010

Heston Blumenthal in Conversation

Would you eat any part of a human? “Maybe placenta” answered Harold McGee.

This was one of the questions asked during the event ‘Heston Blumenthal in Conversation with Harold McGee‘. The event started with a short introduction about Harold McGee and Heston Blumenthal after which the floor was open for questions.

From that first question you can gather how widely the question focus varied. Blumenthal and McGee tried their best not to be floored by the questions. Definitely a superb example of accessible science in an interactive and engaging way.

What else did I learn?

  • Salt is placed in water when boiling vegetables to maintain an osmotic balance and limit the inside ’stuff’ from leaking into the outside
  • When Heston was young they used to buy olive oil from the pharmacy: because it’s only use was to unblock your ears.
  • Most of the tomato flavour is in the jelly around the seeds (now that explains why I find tomatoes flavourless!)
  • Gadget Heston cannot live without? A freeze dryer…with a purple flashing light.
  • Tip for a very useless cook to make them slightly less useless?
    McGee: temperature
    Blumenthal? TAKEAWAY!