It’s day two here at the x-change, with a fabulous show made up of sperm, ugly animals, space weather and fireworks! But not before we set our audience (that includes you at home too!) a challenge to fit with our tuneful show: to come up with science song titles based on popular classics. Last night’s pub conversation produced a few awful ones to set the ball rolling (try ‘Video killed the Radioactive Star’), but we’re hoping you can do better!
We kicked off the show with science songstress Helen Arney, one third of the sell-out Festival of the Spoken Nerd. Campaigning for the interaction of arts and science, Helen sang of serial pet murderer Erwin in her song, Schrodinger’s Cat.
Jim Wild, a Reader in space plasma physics at Lancaster University, then claimed the stage. He explained how the Earth’s magnetic field (which works a bit like a particle accelerator!) shields us from solar wind. Yet solar weather has become a hazard in the modern world; as we become increasingly reliant on satellite technologies. By being able to predict solar activity, we can better protect satellites and increase their resilience to space weather.
Next up was Rob Bingham, whose team of researchers discovered a giant rift, 2km beneath the Antarctic ice. Satellite images show that this region of the Antarctic is thinning, and their ice radar allowed them to identify the deep ice bed that leaves the ice most vulnerable to melt. Next winter, Rob’s team will be going back to the Antarctic for a four month trip, armed with more radars and explosives to further explore what’s causing the changes in the region and help predict how it will change in the future.
We had a quick musical interlude from Helen, who popped back on stage to make a cry for scientific attention to the sun, before welcoming the BSA’s Brunel Award lecturer Tim Drysdale. Tim’s been at the festival discussing the ethics of whole body scanners and their use in airport security. The waves emitted by these machines bounce off skin differently to other objects, making it possible to identify smuggled items. Jim’s experience as the ‘guinea pig’ in the testing involved standing in a group of researchers/operators looking at his post-Christmas bottom – but you’ll be pleased to hear that in practice, viewing is anonymous or automated.
From nudity to sperm (whilst trying to keep it daytime appropriate!), we asked TV presenter and evolutionary biologist Simon Watt why humans produce so many sperm cells yet only one egg a month? He explained that because sex is not just about reproduction in humans, we’ve deliberately evolved inefficiency. In a world of competitive mating, sperm cells compete both with each other and those from other individuals - with inbuilt ‘weapons’ to sabotage each other, and perhaps even slipstream! Simon is also President for Life of the ‘The Ugly Animal Preservation Society’ – a new charity comedy night to raise appreciation for less aesthetically blessed species.
And finally, having this year’s x-change in a wooden tent is not enough to prevent us exploring the science of fireworks with guest Matthew Tosh. Complete with model rocket (ie. a clingfilm roll gaffa-taped to a stick – Blue Peter eat your heart out), and some party popper fumes, Matthew also took us through the workings of firework displays and the risk of your heart-shaped shell ending upside-down like a saggy bottom!
We decided on ‘Bohr-hemian Rhapsody’ as today’s winning song title, but you can still join in the fun on Twitter and catch up with our favourites here. With a final song from Helen to round off a fabulous show, we’d like to thank all the guys for taking the time to come along today. We’re back to working on Physics Thursday – and it’s definitely worth getting excited about!
Over and out,