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The facts of science

By Ann Fenech, on 14 June 2010

Did you know that the smell of seaside is really dimethyl sulfide from bacteria (Coast), or that the probability of winning the lottery is equivalent to the probability of dying in 1hour…27mins…and 2s (Matt Parker)?

As a scientist, I love facts. ‘How can you not’ I ask? And this festival provided me with more than its fair share of them. I slipped quite a number of them into other posts, but some of them have escaped that fate…until now!

What else did I learn? Well, Henrietta Lacks‘ cells, known as HeLa – the first immortal human cells ever grown in culture – double in number every 24hrs (Is this the golden age of science writing?). Or that most Mexican waves require 25 people to start and travel at 27 miles per hour? (The Wavewatcher’s Companion).

However my favourite is probably this: Did you know that the fraction line is known as the vinculum. Mathgasm anyone? (Stand-Up Mathematics). Yeah I’m ever so slightly geeky!

Moving on to the somewhat bizarre? Quentin Cooper (FameLab International) stated that the periodic table is the scientific equivalent of a six-pack…where did he come up with that?

But the most inspirational thing I heard? The distinction would fall on the Moroccan Famelab contestant:

“If I wasn’t a scientist I would do my best to become one”

And that is what I have reminded myself during this festival…exactly why I do what I do and why I love what I do. And I will echo his words once again: If I wasn’t a scientist I would definitely try my best to be one!

the first immortal human cells ever grown in culture

Liar Liar Pants on Fire

By Ann Fenech, on 14 June 2010

What is this that I am hearing? Two teams, Decay and Dense (decay-dense…decaydense…decadence?…A laugh? Anyone?) battling it out against each other…to declare a winner the best liar of them all?

Call my scientific bluff was the name of one of the last events I watched at the festival. The team Decay was led by Timandra Harkness, while Dense was led by the festival director, and UCL’s own Mark Lythgoe. Decay was completed by Robin Ince and Robert Winston while Mark Lythgoe was joined by Sarah J. Arney, and one of my favourite entertainers from this festival, Quentin Cooper.

For all of you out there who do not know the concept of the show, it involves one scientific term, three definitions, but who’s bluffing and who’s telling the truth?

The terms ran the whole gamut from ekistics to pledget, linkboys to climactery. I didn’t know what any of them meant…and it seemed like neither did any of the contestants.

Winning was just plain guesswork, but one team did come out victorious. Guessing pledget, espyne, and parison, and bluffing on tegestologist and ekistics, Dense proved their name wrong, and decimated what was left of Decay.

An entertaining show hosted by Marcus Moore. Whoever said scientists don’t lie?

A Question of Science

By Ann Fenech, on 12 June 2010

The last event I went to last night was the event A Question of Science. This was a hilarious take on a pub quiz with (quite) a bit of science flavouring sprinkled on top.

The event was presented by a very entertaining Quentin Cooper. He was joined on the stage by a team from The Times, a team from the Cheltenham Science Festival, and a New Scientist team.

Throughout the event we were exposed to everything, from finger-tapping doofers to very entertaining goofers (including a water-spouting Robert Winston wetting[?] himself?). Then of course there was the mind-boggling questions which stumped quite a significant portion of the audience (me definitely included).

Amongst many things [not including those which flew straight over my head], we learnt that the lips of Norway lobsters have been very good to biodiversity, that wimpzillas are not imaginary, and that antimony is the first element in Tom Lehrer’s Element song! [Never heard it? Check it out! Tom Lehrer's Element Song]

How well did we all do? Well, let’s just say that the winner, Richard Smith, got a total of 28 points from a maximum of 50! How did the teams fare? New Scientist came top with a brilliant[?] 19, followed by the festival team at 11, and the Times team at a not-very-impressive 9.

As for me? I don’t think I did too well. Though I desperately believe (hope?) that I at least surpassed the 9 points! Hmmm…maybe I should return to studying? But on second thoughts…the festival is so much more riveting! Scrap studying…it’s the festival for me!