By Ann Fenech, on 13 June 2010

Dr Z It’s 50 years since the lasers were discovered…and 46 years since Goldfinger threatened Bond with one. In that time lasers have come a long way, from being ” a solution looking for a problem” to the solution for a lot of problems.

Kate Lancaster (who was also at ‘The school for gifted children‘ event yesterday) was first up. She spoke to us about Chirped pulse amplification, Q-switching, mode locking, and a lot of other such things. But what’s more important is that her pet project is trying to make miniature stars, and that Vulcan, where she works, has an open-door policy! Organise a trip…anyone?

Next up was David Payne. He now works with high-powered fibre lasers – these are better than the fiddly ones Kate Lancaster works with he opined. He also spoke about WMD. No…not Weapons of Mass Destruction (though those too)…but Weapons of Mosquito Destruction. Don’t believe it? Check this out!

Then we got Stephen Bown, from UCL’s National Medical Laser Centre. Unlike the others, he’s a simple guy. He just wants “lasers in just the right place at just the right intensity”. High power? Not for him! For him, lasers are “A gentle way to get rid of nasty bits of tissue…without upsetting all the nice bits”.

But most importantly…X factor? Lasers have definitely got it!

Make me laugh ‘Oh Gifted Children’

By Ann Fenech, on 13 June 2010

Helen Arney - School for Gifted Children I very brightly managed to book for two overlapping events. So after watching the  Famelab participants perform, I snuck out during the voting process and made my way to the EDF Arena for ‘The school for gifted children‘ (thanks Jay for posting the results though!).

The school for gifted children was billed as “a fabulous night of debate, polemic and glorious comedy that shows what would result from the collision of The Royal Variety Performance and The Royal Institution Christmas Lectures“. I have never been to either of those shows, but if last night was anything to go by, why ever have I not?

I arrived at the venue as Robin Ince was introducing Kate Lancaster from the Rutherford Appelton Laboratory. She talked to us about lasers – did you know it is their 50th birthday this year? She pulled through a (laser based?) laptop failure to talk to us about lasers, and more importantly…laser hobbyists. I am sure if I was her I would be very scared of being zapped by one of them anytime soon…but she’s made of tougher things than me it seems.

Next up was Helen Arney, a musical comedian based in London. Accompanied by her ukulele, she entertained us all with tales of love-lorn mathematicians, randy chemists, and that scourge of science – risk assessments. You can check out one of her songs: Helen Arney – Indecent Proposal.

By this time the end of the show should have been fast approaching. But we were by no means closed to finish (how’s that for some extra value for money?). It was now the turn of Ray Tallis to enlighten us on the issue of atheism and the evidence for it.

Ahh – and then it was Matt Parker! I had already heard him present at the Famelab competition as the UK finalist. I was definitely not disappointed to be entertained by him again…and that’s a good thing, considering I’m going to his show tonight as well (over-dose? I think not!).

Last up was then Brian Cox (O-B-E). I must admit that not being British I have somehow only just heard about him quite recently…and never saw any of his shows (yes – boooooo to me!). So errr – I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. Not to worry. Even at 11:30 at night he managed to get through an explanation of relativity…and I actually got something out of it – light bouncing off mirrors anyone? Definitely says something for his skills.

After a long day I left the show and the Cheltenham festival grounds very tired but very much enlightened as well as entertained by the science on show. Last day today. What awaits?