EdSciFest: Big Bangs, Guitars and Rockets

by endlesspsych

By Keir Liddle

Today the sun was shining in Edinburgh, which in itself is almost enough to amaze and astound – after all, in Scotland, if a loved one says “should I compare thee to a summer’s day” they are probably damning you with faint praise-  but there was also plenty going on indoors at venues around the capital that would also astound, amaze and entertain (I mean the Sun is nice and all, but at the end of the day – it sets). I am, of course, talking about Edinburgh International Science Festival.

First order of business for the day was to head along in the unexpectedly clement weather to the Bang Goes the Theory roadshow to see Dallas, Jem and Doctor Yan entertain the crowds on the mound with some science demos. These indeed entertained, but I have to admit that I had seen them before on the show, and this was perhaps aimed at slightly smaller children than my 29 years (and three days). I managed to catch Jem’s live show; again, I think it was aimed at a demographic that doesn’t include people who usually make a beeline for the first beer garden when the sun shines, although it was quite entertaining. I did feel it could have had a bit more science in it, but then again, that could just be because I’d already been spoilt science-wise by a whole host of excellent talks that taught me lots of things I didn’t already know.

That said, Jem clearly has an infectious enthusiasm for the contraptions he creates, and this certainly is carried across to the audience. I did experience a few moments of childlike glee when the hoover powered suction cups were produced, and Jem scaled a plywood “wall” set up at the side of the stage. I suppose you can’t help but be impressed by someone who can actually apply the principles and equations of science and make some really cool shit. No, actually, that is just pretty damn impressive.

The next event was Helen Keens: “It is Rocket Science”, which is something I have been looking forward to seeing since catching her last Fringe show “The Primitive Methodist Guide of Arctic Survival”. Turn out was a little small, which was unfortunate, as the show is witty and involves a fair bit of audience participation. I am afraid to report that we were perhaps a little lacklustre in this respect… That said though, Helen manages to marry comedy and science in a way few comedians seem to quite pull off – although Robin Ince and a few others come to mind. Thus, you leave having been entertained and educated (if only there was a word for that concept that wasn’t “edutainment”). My one criticism of this event is perhaps the timing. It could have benefited from running a little later perhaps, even though doing so would have clashed with most of the other things I wanted to see on the day!

Following on from Helen’s show, I popped back up to the informatics forum for some face melting riffs and brain melting science courtesy of Dr Lewney (pronounced ‘loony’, and yes, that is his real name). I cannot fault it entertainment-wise, and as I am not a theoretical physicist I’m by no means qualified to fault it factually.

Mark Lewney is clearly a very talented guitarist and science communicator, and managed to instill in me an enthusiasm for physics that a couple of terrible school teachers back in the mists of time made a concerted effort to beat out of me. He scores a few black marks for slagging off bass players (I am one myself – why couldn’t he have picked on drummers? I mean they just hit things!) but the show is far too entertaining to allow me to hold that against him. If you get the chance to see this, definitely do so.

Mark also stepped in to help the next speaker Marcus Chown out after technical difficulties robbed his powerpoint presentation of sound.

Marcus’ talk was entitled “My Top 5 Bonkers Things About the Universe”, but it actually transpires that it was his top ten bonkers things. So we effectively got twice as much bonkers stuff as had been advertised. Bargain!

Among the bonkers things covered are that it wouldn’t matter if the Sun was made out of bananas rather than hydrogen (as the mass would make it turn into plasma anyway), that the light shining on Edinburgh today was created 35,000 years ago during the last ice age, and that you could fit the information from a thousand universes into a 1GB flashdrive. All in all, some pretty mind expanding stuff. The success of Marcus and Mark’s talks can probably be gauged by the amount of questions asked at the end; both talks inspiring people to query some pretty contradictory physics, and giving me an ever growing list of books to buy and read as well as scientists and theories to Google.

All in all, another great day out at the Science Festival. I didn’t even mind missing the second episode of Doctor Who!

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