Thursday, 27 October 2011

British Science Festival 2011

I checked into the impressive student accommodation, The Green, University of Bradford. A student social dinner was held on September 10th so that we could meet other bursary students. The following week was full of interesting science and engineering related lectures, exhibitions and workshops. I was introduced to new ideas as well as interesting people from various disciplines. It was a wonderful experience with a lot of ‘food for thought’ and I am eagerly looking forward to the 2012 British Science Festival hosted by Aberdeen. A day-to-day report of the events would be too long for me to write up and too boring for many to wade through. In any case, it was such an exciting and interactive event that mere words will not be able to encapsulate the event in its entirety. Thus, I am only reporting the events that I found both interesting and thought-provoking.


· Plants as Medicines – Most pharmaceutical companies do not use natural plant-extracts in their medicinal products. This exhibit gave an introduction to the vast potential and ongoing research in testing and validating the use of extracts from plants found in the Amazon Rainforest to treat various maladies.

· Tissue Regenix – This exhibit introduced the research at the University of Leeds where a regenerative treatment to tackle common debilitating conditions is being developed. Natural sources are used for tissue regeneration – soft tissues like knee joints are currently focused upon.

· A musical exhibit on how pipe-organs work was organized. Their history, development and various technicalities like tone and pitch was showcased.

· A thought-provoking exhibit connected lifestyle effects to changes in human DNA.

· The Evlaon Project was showcased. Renewable energy is of huge current interest and relevance. This project aims at designing and producing energy efficient, environment-friendly and cost-effective solar roofs. Large establishments and structures such as supermarkets are mainly targeted for the installation of these roofs.

· Scientific Heroes- This exhibition showcased alumni from Bradford College who have given an outstanding contribution to Science.

· Portraits of Outstanding Women: Showcased the professional portraits of the seven 2011 "Women of Outstanding Achievement in Science, Engineering and Technology" award winners

· Monte-carlo Tree Search - Analysing all possible strategies for most games is difficult. Hence, only the most promising strategies should be concentrated on. This exhibition showcased the basics of Monte-Carlo Tree Search method and how it is useful for deciding strategies while playing games.

· Robotics and Control - This exhibition showcased the research on robotics control at University of Bradford. An eye-controlled robot was exhibited.

· Additionally, there were a number engineering, basic science, maths related workshops for kids.


· How to Protect Yourself Online - DR. D.R.W. Holton, Dr. Yang Lan, Dr. Daniel Neagu, Mr. Mick Ridley and Dr. Gill Waters from the University of Bradford are working on a project called "The Artemis Project" to provide young users and their parents/guardians and educators with information on how to evaluate their online vulnerability. Various real-life examples of identity-theft and cyber-bullying were given. Dr. Gill Waters also explained the psychology of group behaviour and how likes, comments and status messages demonstrate the personality of the user even if he/she does not share any information about him/her. It is possible to login to Facebook, Twitter and other social networking sites through Artemis project. It is a non-invasive method to assess and highlight vulnerability of users and their friends by extracting profile details, check real-time online postings, provide warnings at early stages. This software might be useful for parents of young users to know what their child id up to :)

· Genetic Engineering - In this workshop, the isolation of DNA from E-coli cells was expounded. After the workshop, there was a short seminar talking about history of genetic engineering, importance of genetic engineering in medicine and how genetic engineering will shape our future.


· Plasma - A mysterious fourth state matter – Arthur Turrel, Ph.D. student at the Imperial College, London. An introduction to plasma was given citing examples of various objects composed of plasma e.g. the Sun and all the stars. Aurora lighting was explained briefly. Ongoing research on using plasma to carry out nuclear fusion and generate energy was presented.

· Vital Statistics - Dr. John Haigh from University of Sussex explained statistics in the context of sport. Various models about predicting results of various sports like tennis, Olympic, football and golf were explained. Models are based on population, wealth and resources of the country. Prof. Bill Gerrard talked about Statistical Performance Analysis (SPA) project. SPA is ongoing development of existing coach-specific metric system to support evidence-based coaching. Nathan Leamon from England and Wales cricket board talked about how statistics can improve performance in cricket, by developing strategy. Dr. Georgia Harts from Atass sports ltd. spoke about how to predict football results.

· Engineering Routes Out of Poverty - This was an inspiring and interesting seminar that introduced the work of an international NGO called Practical Action. Millions of people in the world do not have access to basic services like food, health, clean water, sanitation, adequate housing, electricity, communication etc. Practical Action is active in 13 countries and uses simple technologies get basic service and improve life. Along with explaining simple techniques that can be used to improve peoples' lives we played a small game called "Technology Bingo" where several problems were described to us and we were supposed to choose the simple techniques that can solve the problem from the given pictures. After attending this seminar I have started believing that engineering is not about developing faster and cheaper devices but it is about supplying basic services to underprivileged by formulating viable solutions to address these fundamental-necessicity shortages through simple technology.

· Mindreading: Humans, Brain Scanners and Computers - An interesting seminar that explained several aspects of mindreading. Steve Butterfill from Warwick University explained mindreading from the philosophical angle and explained that in day-to-day life people perceive the state of others' mind by facial expressions an gestures and not mindreading. Ian Apperly from University of Birmingham explained some of the mindreading experiments on young children (2 to 5 years). A speaker from UCL explained how mindreading is performed during brain scanning also explained how lie detectors are used during interrogations. Chris Peters from Coventry University talked about mindreading by machines, requiring anticipation of user's state and perception of behaviour. The challenges faced by mindreading machines are adaptation/learning, flexibility and robustness.

· If Only a Monkey Shaved - This was an interesting and impressive lecture about similarities and differences between animals and human beings. Todd Rae from University of Roehampton, London, explained the difference between plants and animals, characteristics of mammals, primates and humans. Timothy Taylor talked about human evolution and how technology has changed the course of human evolution. Jamie Lawson from Durham University talked about sex and attraction in humans and other animals. He addressed the questions listed below and explained how symmetry is important in human attractiveness.

1. Is monogamy a myth?

2. Are the humans only animals who have sex for pleasure?

3. What about love?

4. Is it all about symmetry?

· Maths Makes Waves - This seminar was about Wave Theory and how mathematics helps understand waves better. Chris Budd from University of Bath spoke about waves as a universal phenomena in science, at all scales. He spoke about various waves and their functions. Prof. Nicholas Mitchell from University of Bath talked about waves in atmosphere e.g. Acoustic waves, internal atmospheric gravity, planetary waves, global-scale atmospheric tides, etc. Prof. Alan Champneys from University of Bristol talked about theory of solitary waves, the first cousins of Tsunami waves. He described how a Scottish naval Engineer, John Scott Russell had discovered the phenomena of solitary waves.

· An Overview of Intellectual Property - This seminar was conducted by Appleyard Lees, European patents and trademark attorneys. The importance of intellectual property and various subtleties of how, where and when to get patents, trademarks, design and brand names, copyrights were explained with the help of a case study

· Environmental Science - Barry Noble from Bradford College spoke about social housing and low carbon agenda. He spoke about increasing in fuel poverty which is proportional to income, increase in fuel price, and energy performance of dwelling. He talked about different methods of making the heating system efficient and energy affordable. He also talked about technologies to generate renewable energy e.g. photovoltaic solar panel, heat pumps etc.

· The Science of Social Interaction - In this seminar various researchers spoke about social interaction with different perspectives. Katie Slocombe from University of York spoke about social interactions with a view from the primates. She explained the advantages and disadvantages of group living and different ways to overcome the disadvantages such as establishing dominance structures and making friends etc. Prof Sarah Jayne Blakemore from UCL talked about social interaction from developmental perspective. She explained various experiments performed for studying development of the brain, development of social emotions during adolescence. She explained theory of mind, reading gestures and understanding people's mind. Social interaction depends upon generating and interpreting facial and vocal expressions. Prof. Simon Garrod from University of Glasgow explained the cognitive neuroscience approach towards social interaction. He talked about experiments performed for modelling trust and dominance in voices (both male and female).

· Quantum Computing and Quantum Technologies - A.Vourdas from University of Bradford gave an introductory seminar to quantum computing and quantum technologies. He talked about classical computers, probabilistic computers and quantum computers. He elaborated upon various concepts in quantum computing and quantum technologies like decoherence, quantum parallelism, superposition, measurement, entanglement etc. He spoke about applications, hardware and research related to quantum computing.

· The Whole New World at Your Doorstep - Professor Joseph Holden from University of Leeds and Robin Gray from The Watershade Landscape Project spoke about conservation of uplands. Uplands provide 70% of water resources in the UK and is mainly covered by peat. Protecting peat can take carbon out of atmosphere to counteract climate change. They also spoke about saving money and energy spent on water treatment. Brown colour in the natural water is caused due to dissolved carbon. Discoloration of water has doubled in the past 30 years. Drain blocking, underground natural pipes improve water colour and such water requires less treatment to become drinkable. Uplands are also important from an ecological perspective. They are probably the greatest concentration of complex reservoirs and home to ground nesting birds.

· Fly Me to the Moon and Beyond - Since this year marked 50 years in the space, in this session Jerry Stone from Spacelift UK talked about next 50 years in the Space and how should we go about planning a mission on Mars. Arthur Clarke talked about the Space Elevator Challenge where he explained the fascinating idea of space colonization. Duncan Law-Green spoke about the commercial spaceflights. They are innovative, low-cost and efficiently managed programs. Commercial spaceflights can open the space frontier to all mankind. He also spoke about various space tourism trips and various commercial spaceships.

And finally ................. The Magic Show!!!

Peter McOwen and Matt Parker from Queen Mary, University of London demonstrated various tricks using mathematics, computing and engineering concepts. For more information we were asked to visit

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