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

Notes on the final day

By Christianne Guillotte, on 13 June 2010

In Stopping the Spread of Superbugs, a short play was performed in four parts, taking the audience on an imaginary hospital experience where we learned about screening, prevention, and contraction of MRSA. Between each act, we were asked a few questions about dealing with superbugs, then the floor was opened for audience questions. Though I left feeling a bit scared, I now know how crucial it is to take the proper precautions when in contact with hospital germs.

The Wavewatcher’s Companion enlightened me on the various forms of waves we encounter here on Earth, including light waves, microwaves, Mexican waves, waves of traffic, waves in the ocean, and so many more. As the speaker Gavin Pretor-Pinney put it, they’re always seen and heard, but never paid attention to. I was most amused by his fixation on Mexican waves. Apparently you need at least 25 people for a true Mexican wave. They travel at an average of 27 miles per hour. In the northern hemisphere, they move clockwise 60% of the time, while in the southern hemisphere, they move counterclockwise 70% of the time. Honeybees do Mexican waves for protection. If you’re interested in them further, visit Pretor-Pinney’s website called The Mexican Wave Experiment.

I concluded my time at Cheltenham with a lecture on sleep. Considering I’ve spent a good portion of the day dreaming about the wonderful night of rest I will be getting tonight, it was a rather fitting end to the festival. I learned that my chronotype is “moderately evening type.” Well, I already knew that, but it is now scientifically confirmed. Did you know that couples consisting of one morning type and one evening type have better success? I’m not quite sure how that works. If an early bird were to disturb me at the crack of dawn everyday, I’d be one miserable person!

For now, I’ll be getting that sought after shuteye, and I’ll be back tomorrow to discuss my final thoughts on the festival.