Monday, July 09, 2007

Royal Society Science Exhibition

coral, originally uploaded by supafly.

Tuesday I went to the second day of the Royal Society Science exhibition. It was like a science fair for scientists. There were probably more high school age students visiting than anything else so it was crowded with people grabbing whatever freebies they could. Why is that so often human nature - to take all the flyers and pens and random crap that you can? Often, people got carried away and took anything that wasn't nailed down and some exhibitors were left without some of their presentation materials.

Before I went in to see the exhibits I went to hear the presentation about deep sea discoveries that have been made in the Arctic. 60% of the world hasn't been explored and that includes the deeper parts of the ocean. The scientist who talked to us had just returned from a June expedition to the Arctic where he found coral that lived in deep (350 meters), dark and cold waters. Apparently, corals, like trees, have rings so you can tell how successful each year was for them. He showed us the damage that fishing can do. When they get too close to the coral beds, they end up killing the colony which pretty much destroys the entire ecosystem. I didn't realize it, but 98% of all life is on the seabed.

After the presentation, I headed into the ground floor exhibits. The first exhibit focused on research being done on the bacteria that live in our digestive system. Apparently, we obtain most of the bacteria living in our gut when we are babies. They had a series of beakers kept at different temperatures that were supposed to mimic the different parts of the digestive system. They monitored the pH of each beaker because each section has a slightly different pH. You can take the microbe journey online.

The next exhibit was about a three-wheeled, two passenger vehicle that runs on compressed natural gas. They wanted it to have the small footprint of a motorcycle, the comfort of a car and lower emissions than both. The vehicle was called CLEVER (Compact Low Emission VEhicle for uRban transport) and you could sit inside it to see what it was like.

They had an interesting historical exhibit on blackboards. Apparently, at the University of Oxford, they have kept a blackboard that Einstein used during a lecture there in 1931. They didn't bring that with them, but they asked other notable scientists, writers, and philosophers to recreate writing from their lectures on blackboards. It seems that the value of the smartboards now found in classrooms is that it is even easier to save this kind of writing. Rather than having to cart around a blackboard, it can all be saved electronically and displayed on a computer, on paper, or on a smartboard in a completely different location!

There were several more interesting exhibits. At one, they had body sensors similar to what is found in a Wii that you clip on to your ear. It is able to track your position in space. There was another exhibit where you could practice being a surgeon. They had silicon models of skin with a "lipoma" (benign tumor) embedded in it. You could tape the silicon skin onto a real person and perform surgery on them. They had two operating areas and they even put people in scrubs, masks, and gloves. Of course, the exhibit was inundated with kids so I moved on to an exhibit on listening to trees. It seems you can tell the hardness of a tree by hitting it with a mallet. The deeper the pitch, the harder the wood.

After seeing half of the exhibitions, I was ready for a break and spent some time wandering around Regent street. I headed home early to take photos of the house for Marshall, who was desperately looking for someone to take his room while he is in India for 6 weeks. (It turns out the rent in India is much more expensive than the rent in London!)

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