SciComm, Spectacular Scientists

New Scientist Live 2019

‘The World’s Greatest Science Festival’

Early last month, I got to go to New Scientist Live, a 4 day exhibition (though I only went to one day) run by New Scientist, showcasing the talents behind the stories run every week! Tickets are available to everyone, and with 120 talks across 7 stages, and over 150 exhibits, there is something for everyone- all ages, all levels of scientific understanding- to learn and enjoy! It was a fantastic experience where every aspect of science was represented, with new things to learn everywhere you looked! Read on to discover some of the interesting things I saw, tried and learnt. Hopefully it will spark your interest in perhaps a new area of science that you hadn’t considered before!

Medicine

One exhibit I really enjoyed was entering ‘The Operating Room of the Future’, with King’s College London. It was packed right through the day, but I got a chance to have a look around between two talks. Here are a few of the things I saw:

  • Interactive, computer generated models of the heart that allowed you to see how the heart changes with age and fitness. This software could be used by medical professionals or students to visualise a patient’s heart, in preparation for surgery, or to implement the best course of action for them.
The size of a small child’s heart!
  • 3D printed models of organs and bones. 3D printing shows great potential for use in medicine, for example to help surgeons prepare for operations by practising on patient specific organs, or by printing customised prosthetics, designed to each patients’ needs more quickly, at a lower cost. Additionally, they can be a great tool for science communication! Before being able to interact with life size replicas of the human heart and aorta, I had no idea how large they actually were! Seeing and holding real models gave me a new appreciation for this vital organ.
  • An endoscopy simulation, which involved using a stylus to manipulate an endoscope, so that it moved within the (fake) body. What made this simulation so useful was that  the stylus vibrated whenever the endoscope touched anything (eg. if it brushed up against the wall of the intestine), allowing for better training, precision surgeries and less unintentional harm.
  • Camera software that can detect the direction and speed of movements. This can be used to detect breathing rate and intensity less intrusively, while retaining accuracy.
  • And finally, robotic surgery. Although still an emerging technology, it is possible that some surgeries could, in the future, be done by robots! One of these robots was on show, and seemed to be one of the foremost technologies that could transform healthcare! I mean, I attempted to play a life size version of ‘operation’, which proved far more difficult than I thought!

Another new technology that I saw from multiple exhibitors, and so appears to be not just an up and coming technology, but one with many uses already, was brain-wave reading technology, particularly portable versions! I found it really exciting that there is technology available today that can interpret my brain waves so that I can (try to) play computer games simply with my brain. It was surprisingly difficult, but very entertaining, and has many applications, such as in treatment for mental health conditions, or brain-degenerative disorders such as dementia, as the games required you to focus on something specific, or to clear the mind completely of thought. There are also portable EEG brain activity monitors that are so slim that the company that makes them is in conversation with NASA about their possible use in space suits, to monitor closely the wellbeing of the crew, especially as prospective missions lengthen in duration as we look to travel to Mars and beyond, as well as any damage that may be incurred from being out of the Earth’s protective atmosphere!

The brain boosting smoothie in front of an infra red camera!

As well as monitoring the brain, I also learnt about the brain, and how to protect it as we age! What makes New Scientist Live so much fun is how you learn about things. Of course, there are many talks, and people to listen to, but to learn about protecting the brain, I got to make a smoothie with the power generated by riding a bike! This was because exercise and diet (especially brain foods like blueberries, almonds and dark chocolate) are the best things to help prevent memory loss! 

Which leads me on to the next category…

Sports Science

Sports Science is a very interesting aspect of science, as it involves the application of biology and physiology to sports, something that most people can easily relate to, in some way or another. Which makes it an excellent method of science communication. Here are a few things I got involved with at NSL:

  • raced the ‘accelerator’, to see if I could beat Bolt- I could not! Not only was this a fun way to demonstrate the highest capabilities of human speed, its name is taken from the demonstration of humanity’s capabilities in the world of particle physics.
  • Tested my power by measuring my best standing jump height (41.5 cm). Power is incredibly important in many sports, especially the power of the legs.
  • Tested my maximum strength by pulling on a stationary bar (1011 N max force)

Space

For me, these were the most interesting exhibits, the ones that inspired me the most:

  • I got to hold meteorites that were older than the earth, and smell the moon (spoiler alert, it doesn’t smell very good!). I thought these were really good interactive exhibits, as they really brought space to life!
  • Luke Jerram’s ‘Museum of the Moon’- an incredibly detailed 7m diameter replica of our moon- let you walk under the moon, taking in all the details that are usually hidden, or too small for the eye to make out!
  • Learnt about telescopes and amateur astronomy

  • Saw the Exomars rover, which is due to launch next year by the European Space Agency, and is the first rover whose primary goal is to search for evidence of life (link to astrobiology page), as well as the unveiling of the UK’s first moon rover – Space bit: The new miniature moon rover with legs! It’s so futuristic, and reminds me of something out of Doctor Who! What makes it so ground-breaking is that it is very small and light-weight, so it is feasible to send ‘swarms’ of them up to investigate the moon in great detail, and they are also incredibly mobile, as their legs give them the ability to walk, and jump!

It also happened that all the talks I listened to were related to space! Two of the talks were on the Cosmos Stage: One from Iya Whitely, a space psychologist at UCL, who talked about the challenges a crew travelling to Mars will face and how challenges on the ISS have been fixed in the past. The other talk on the Cosmos stage, and probably my favourite talk of the four, was on the habitability of Mars, by Javier Martin-Torres. He talked about the discoveries that Curiosity has made, and the new ones that Exomars promises! It was really interesting to learn about what life needs, and what goes into planning a mission to look for these requirements. 

I also was lucky enough to get Main Stage tickets, so was able to see Maggie Aderin-Pocock’s inspiring talk about her journey into science, and her fascination of the moon! You could tell that she was so passionate about the Moon, as well as Science Communication, and it made for a really great talk! The final talk of the day was from Avi Loeb, a Harvard professor. The insightful and entertaining talk touched on everything from Breakthrough Starshot, to Oumuamua the interstellar asteroid, and detecting long dead civilisations!

Technology

Many of the exhibits I have already spoken about involved new technology, but the technology and engineering zones were full of even more fantastic new tech, such as…

  • a robot that had mobile arms that could take a selfie with you
  • an electric formula one car
  • thermal imaging cameras, used to find people after natural disasters, or in medicine
  • ejector seats, both real (although without the explosives) and Lego replicas!

I’ve grouped the different activities into 4 main categories, but you may notice that some of the activities actually could have been grouped into many more. For me, one of the key things I took home with me (along with many freebies), was:

Although experiments may take place in a vacuum, science does not exist in one, and every aspect of science, and science research, can affect another, as every aspect is connected.

A culmination of my own thoughts and the main messages from the speakers

Consider the space industry: an engineer at NASA may produce some equipment that solves a problem aboard the ISS, or makes life easier for astronaut’s. This could then be used down here on earth to help people in the general public manage health issues! 

So, are these sorts of events worth going to? Personally, yes. They can be fairly expensive (standard adult tickets were ~£30, and All-access Passes, with access to the Main Stage and other bonuses, were ~£60, but there were many offers throughout the run up to the event!) but if you have the means to go, take every opportunity you can get! If big events like New Scientist Live aren’t feasible for you, I would recommend having a look out for public events taking place at local universities, such as the Adams-Sweeting Lectures at the University of Surrey, or Pint of Science events.

Did you go to New Scientist Live? What was your favourite part of it? And if you didn’t get the chance this year, would you like to go? And do you know of any other cool science events that I should go to? Let me know in the comments!

2 thoughts on “New Scientist Live 2019”

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