Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Work for Manchester Science Festival: Freelance Project Manager vacancy

We are seeking a dynamic Project Manager capable of delivering a mass-participatory experiment across the whole of Manchester following in the steps of Alan Turing and raising awareness of the wonders of maths in nature.

Working with leading science and cultural partners in Manchester, the Manchester Science Festival (MSF) and MOSI (the Museum of Science and Industry) are planning a mass-participatory experiment following in the steps of Alan Turing to raise awareness of the wonders of mathematics within the natural world and get communities working together in a practical approach to science.

Fee for the work (to include all personal expenses): £15,000 (fixed term from January until November 2012)

The closing date for applications is 4pm on Wednesday 3 January 2012.

For a full job description and details of how to apply, please visit the Manchester Science Festival website.

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

BBC project - Britain in a day

Britain in a Day is a unique portrait of twenty-four hours in the life of the UK, filmed by you. On Saturday 12 November 2011 pick up a camera and record your thoughts, hopes and aspirations, then upload your film to the Britain in a Day channel on YouTube. You’ll be helping to create an amazing archive and your film could be included in an historic BBC documentary in 2012.

Check out the below blog with Morgan Matthews, director of Britain in a Day to find out more about the project and how to get involved.

What is Britain in a Day?:

Morgan: BRITAIN IN A DAY is an exciting and ambitious documentary project where we are inviting people across the UK to send in footage shot on one particular day - the 12th November 2011. This is an ordinary day like any other but we aim to capture both the ordinary and the extraordinary events that take place in people's lives every day across the UK. We will edit the footage into one, hopefully remarkable film to be screened on the BBC in 2012.

Why should I get involved:

Morgan: This is an opportunity to capture history and be a part of a unique film-making event. The footage that you capture could be included in a film that I believe will provoke, inspire, surprise and move audiences around the world. Britain in a Day will be a record of our nations, both in the present and in the future. A film about us made by us.

How do I get involved:

Morgan: On 12th November 2011, pick up a camera and film anything that's happening in the 24-hour period from midnight on Friday to midnight on Saturday. Any type of camera will do - whether it's a domestic video camera or your mobile phone - just use the best you have available and start filming on the 12th November 2011. Once you have recorded your footage, upload the unedited clips onto YouTube using the BRITAIN IN A DAY website. If you haven't used YouTube before, don't worry, it's easy - take a look at the 'how to' guide on the BRITAIN IN A DAY website.

Are you looking for any particular clips?

Morgan: I am looking for footage of anything that's happening to you or someone you know on the 12th November 2011. You may be with your family or you may be separated from them. You may be walking in the hills or dancing on the town. You could talk to the camera and create a video diary of all or part of your day, or you can film people you know - with their permission. There may be something wonderful happening to you or your friends and family - perhaps a birth or a marriage, or you may be experiencing something difficult or traumatic - perhaps coping with tough times, a break up or the loss of someone close to you. If you're going to work or staying in on your own, use your camera to show me what you see and tell me what you are feeling. Whether your experience is a momentous occasion or an average day or night, there is meaning, tragedy and beauty in everyday life that we can all identify with - and I want you to capture it for me.

Do you have some suggestions or questions we could think about when filming...

Morgan: Yes. These are just ideas, but you might want to think about the following to get you started:

• What can you see from your window and how would you describe your area?
• What do you like or dislike about the UK?
• What do you see in the mirror?
• What do you worry about?
• What is your vice or your guilty pleasure?
• What makes you happy?
• What is the most important thing in your life at the moment?
• If you are working, show me what you do.
• Show me what you do in the evening

Do I need experience with a camera or making films?

Morgan: This is a project for everyone. Don't let lack of experience put you off, you really don't need to have touched a camera before. Check out the web site for some simple tips and how to videos. It is really easy to take part.

When's the date?

Morgan: Record your footage on 12th November 2011: from midnight on Friday to midnight on Saturday.

Upload your footage by 21 November 2011 at www.youtube.com/britaininaday

For more details on BIAD and to get involved, go to: www.bbc.co.uk/britaininaday and film YOUR day on Saturday 12th Nov.

Thursday, 27 October 2011

The environment is a cup.

Review of The Devil's Garden Q&A event, co-hosted by the Manchester Science Festival and the Manchester Literature Festival.

In a quiet room on the topmost floor of the Manchester Museum, Johan Oldekop, a biologist, begins a discussion of his research in the Amazon. He stands in front of about 30 people, and illuminates the complexities of environmentalism and conservation when placed against indigenous peoples' concerns. “The environment,” he says, “is like a plastic cup. You can squeeze a plastic cup, and it will change its shape, but it can re-form and it will still hold water. But if you squeeze it too hard, it’ll break, and it won’t be able to hold water any more, and importantly, it won’t be a cup.” Why squeeze the cup? Development.

He put it most starkly by telling us about how one village is currently six hours away from the nearest hospital by boat... but if those villagers had a road, they would only be one hour away. They want a road, but conservationists want to maintain the rainforest, and in the heart of the Amazon, Oldekop argues, is where issues of science, progress, humanity and the environment come together. Where do human rights, such as access to medical care, trump environmental concerns, and who should be the beneficiaries?

Oldekop's research focused on the role of rural communities in conservation initiatives and environmental impacts, so his work fits neatly in with today's other speaker, Edward Docx.

The Devil's Garden, by Docx, is about a scientist named Dr Forle, who is based on a river station deep in the South American jungle. Docx begins by telling us that he’s happy to be in Manchester promoting his new novel, because Manchester is his home town.

First, Docx discusses his inspirations that led him to write this book, including Coetzee and Conrad. He describes casting his characters in such a way to maintain conflict. “Conflict is drama,” he says. For example, if there’s a scientist, then there should be a religious person to conflict with the scientist. He tries to imagine his characters as a whole cast, in the round, so that there’s always drama. In The Devil’s Garden, he says, there’s drama because it’s about the conflict between corporations, environmentalists, scientists, missionaries and indigenous people.

But the real issue that his novel is about (and, he says, that every novel is really about) is how we should try to live.

Edward Docx then reads out some short sections of his novel before the floor is opened to the audience for a Q&A. The discussion ranges from eco-tourism to ethics, but most interestingly, one audience member challenges both Oldekop and Docx’s work. By explaining how all the complications and complexity of decisions around environmentalism are so interrelated, they’re essentially saying there’s nothing we can do that would be both fair to everyone and still save the earth. It’s despairing, and shouldn’t we just stop even trying to save this planet? Shouldn’t we just work on finding a new one to colonise, if this is all so complicated that, in the end, we simply can’t figure out what the best route might be?

In response, Oldekop and Docx both recognise the despair in their works, but Docx tempers this sentiment by saying that humans have always been inventive and creative. Art, he thinks, is humanity’s redemption. While his book is dark, he feels it is full of light. If people will re-read the book (which, he says, “is the only way of really reading”!), he thinks they’ll find it suggests there is a future.

And Oldekop agrees, saying that nihilism is dangerous, because if we really begin to believe there’s nothing we can do, then it will stop us doing anything to protect our planet or take care of people.

This post originally appeared on the Manchester Literature Festival Blog.
Words by Nija Dalal. Photograph by Jon Atkin.

Saturday, 22 October 2011

Microbiology and Art
Saturday 22 October – 10 November
11am – 5pm
Cost & Booking: Free. No need to book. Drop in anytime.

Last night, I hopped over to MadLab for the launch of the Microbiology and Art exhibition, already mentioned on this blog here. The artworks are lovely and really gave me a new way to think about science, and a new way of engaging with microbiology. The many facets of microbiology, from virii, bacteria, fungi and parasites were considered using artistic media, from photography to jewellery.

Naseerah Ali's Virus Structure

Malaria, by Mbeen Ali, Tona Aderibigbe, Ahmed Chowdhary and Ali Hayat

Emily Robertson's Beauty and the Mini-beasts

The exhibition brought together some really interesting work that explores the creativity that is possible when mixing supposedly unrelated disciplines. It's open until 10 November at MadLab-- be sure to check it out, and tell us what you thought!

Friday, 21 October 2011

Lab coats and goggles at the ready... Manchester Science Festival 2011 begins tomorrow!

The launch weekend for this year's Festival is going to be immense. BBC Bang goes the theory, Science and engineering extravaganza, Think, feel, move and Gaia Cabaret are some of the events on offer.

Don't miss this year's events, many of which are unique to Manchester Science Festival and you won't get the chance to see them elsewhere.

Just in time for the cold weather, we bring you Polar, an amazing concert experience with the Manchester Camerata and beautiful footage from the Polar regions. This Sunday 23 October is the only chance to see Polar in Manchester.

Performances of Polar are at 3pm and 7pm. It's suitable for the whole family so whether you're new to classical music or not, make sure you don't miss this brilliant event. You can book tickets in advance online. Alternatively call 0161 907 5555 or drop into the box office at the Royal Northern College of Music to book tickets.

Share your photos and stories
We'd love to see your photos and hear your stories of from the Festival. Keep in touch by emailing us at info@manchestersciencefestival.com or find us online - details are below!

Manchester Science Festival
22-30 October 2011
At venues across Greater Manchester

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Find out more at www.manchestersciencefestival.com

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

An Elephant Packed Into a Cell?

Alan Turing and Morphogenesis
Sunday 23 October
£5 (£3 concessions). Booking advised

Morphogenesis, or the process by which bodies are formed from single cells, is one of the major mysteries of biology. Starting from a single cell, many organisms undergo morphogenesis to become 3D bodies. And that initial single cell does not have an accurate map of what the body will eventually look like—so how does a body form? How is the body of an elephant coded in a single tiny cell?

Alan Turing, in his lesser-known late work, showed theoretically how two types of chemicals might diffuse and react with each other to generate spatial patterns. The equations derived in the 1950s are still relevant today, as biologists are still trying to figure out what exactly is going on during the process of morphogenesis.

To mark the publication of Litmus, Comma's latest science-into-fiction project, Manchester author Jane Rogers and MMU scientist Dr Martyn Amos will discuss the final theorem of one of Britain's greatest scientists, Alan Turing.

Nija Dalal sat down with Martyn Amos to discuss Turing's biological ideas, and the interconnection between science and literature...

Who was Alan Turing?
Well, he’s probably most famous for cracking the Enigma Code. That work directly shortened the war by 2-3 years, so imagine the number of lives he saved! He’s also well-known for his untimely death, as a result of persecution for being homosexual, and he developed the Turing Test for determining if a computer has artificial intelligence. Basically, if a human talks to it and believes the computer is human, then the computer has artificial intelligence.

Turing’s biggest influence is in computability. He essentially founded the field of Computer Science, by placing it in a rigourous framework. Before him, computers were ad hoc machines, put together from components usually for a specific purpose.

He realized we could make a computer that is abstract. A machine that is designed for any type of computation. He revolutionized computation by realizing that computation is not connected to any one thing.

What is Morphogenesis?
This is his least well-known work, probably. It’s what he was working on just before he died.

Alan Turing had a long-standing interest in biology, nature, and natural history, so he grew interested in morphogenesis, which is the process by which a small package (initially just one cell) unwraps itself to form a body. What is in the encoding of a cell that instructs the formation of a 3D body?

Turing believed it was the interaction of chemicals, and he was the first person to apply mathematics to biology.

I think it’s important to recognize that he was truly a cross-disciplinary thinker. He applied engineering principles to answer a biological question!

So, what is Turing’s Theorem of Morphogenesis?
Basically, the theorem uses set of equations that predict the chemical interaction that create the stable patterns we see in nature, like a leopard’s spots. The flux and interactions of the chemicals give rise to stable patterns.

What’s amazing is that when Turing’s equations are rendered visually using computer simulations, we can see the patterns Turing’s equations predict, and they’re familiar. They’re out there, in nature, in the stripes and whorls of animal patterns! They’re called Turing patterns now. But he didn’t have the computational ability to see the patterns predicted by his own equations back then! Turing never saw the Turing patterns! His work was entirely theoretical.

Turing’s Morphogenesis theorem is still very controversial, though. Just because natural patterns look a lot like Turing patterns doesn’t mean they are being caused by Turing’s hypothesized chemical diffusion-reaction interactions. A lot of scientists don’t believe Turing had it right.

You’ll be discussing the relationship between science and literature… can you tell us a little more about that?
Comma Press is publishing an anthology called Litmus, which is about taking scientific ideas and putting them in short stories. Jane Rogers wrote a short story for Litmus, which has a thread of morphogenesis running through it. It’s a really beautiful story, and it shows how science and literature can come together in a way that isn’t necessarily science-fiction… more like science in fiction!

What do you want people to take away from this discussion?
I think I’d like them to know more about Turing and his work, to challenge the idea of him being just a maths nerd. I think it would be great if people came away with a richer understanding of his contribution and a richer sense of him as a human being… and maybe even be a little angry at how he was treated.

A sense of injustice is well-placed when you realize how amazing a thinker he was, and how poorly he was compensated for his immense contributions to knowledge and science.

Curious to learn more about the science behind morphogenesis and see some of those Turing patterns? Here’s a great article with lots of interesting images!

This event is hosted in conjunction with the Manchester Literature Festival.

The Manchester Science Festival 2011 presents
Alan Turing and Morphogenesis
36-40 Edge St, Manchester, Greater Manchester M4 1, UK
Sunday 23 October
2pm – 3pm
£5 (£3 concessions). Booking advised.

Monday, 17 October 2011

Out of this world!

A Spacetacular Manchester Adventure!

Museum of Science and Industry (MOSI)
Friday 28 October
Bar and activities from 6pm; event starts 7.30pm
£8 (£6 concessions).
Booking advised.

Helen Keen’s been defining the razor’s edge between science and comedy since her first full-length show in 2008, called It Is Rocket Science!

This year, the Manchester Science Festival is hosting a night at the museum, featuring a campervan journey into the imagination of Carl Sagan, a specially created planetarium show, and a performance of Spacetacular! – quite possibly the first stand-up comedy/science/fancy dress/variety/quiz show entirely themed around outer space -- co-presented by Helen, quizzing spacemaster Matt Brown and local space scientists from Jodrell Bank!

It’s going to be a special interactive and participatory night, as the audience can bring along their own space memorabilia for show and tell, and everyone’s encouraged to wear space-themed costumes! There will even be free tinfoil & futuristic galvanized steel wire pan scourers to augment/create your look!

Manchester Science Festival blogger Nija Dalal caught up with Helen, to discuss this free-form show that’s designed to inspire through laughter!

How did you come up with the idea for this show?
It’s something I’ve been thinking about for awhile. I’m really interested in space and space science, so I go to talks and events, panels and so on. And they’re great events, where you can really learn a lot about space and science, I love them. But they’re often dominated by white, middle-aged men, which can give people a really narrow impression of the people who study space.

When I did my It Is Rocket Science! show, I found the audiences to be really varied, and that’s not necessarily reflected by the people who usually give lectures and talks. A few years ago, I met a researcher named Dr. Sophia Khan. She’s young, she’s glamourous, she’s from Liverpool, and she has worked for NASA. She’s just not the stereotypical space scientist. Whenever I do science-themed shows, I find the people who come along are also a really broad range of people. I think that’s fantastic.

Can you describe the show for me a bit?
It’s a variety night themed around outer space. It’ll have a mix of people, comedians, musicians, and especially for our Manchester show, we’ll be shining a light on local, Manchester-based researchers, and showing off the fantastic work that’s happening locally!

What got you excited about space?
I’m so old that I remember Halley’s comet flying over in 1986. Well, I was very young then, I was only 9, but still I remember it well, because it was so exciting. I’m an only child, and I had kind of a small world. There was just a huge contrast between my world and the infinity of the night sky. The space shuttle launches, I remember were really big things when I was a kid, I guess I just got excited about it all back then.

You encourage people to dress up for this event… what kinds of costumes have people worn in the past?
I think it would be fantastic to be looking out at a sea of silveryness… or anything. Even if people just have a tinfoil crown or a tinfoil wristband…
People don’t have to dress up, but I would love it.

And they can dress up as anything related to outer space, they can be a crew member from Mercury 7, or a character from Star Wars or Star Trek… anything. Space is really flexible that way!

What kinds of objects have people brought before?
There have been a lot of items, but off the top of my head… there was:

A bit of a satellite that fell off… don’t remember how he got it, but I know it wasn’t nefarious!
Mission patches from space missions.
Badges from NASA camps that they went to when they were kids.
And I’ve even seen some space-themed tattoos! (luckily, none of them have been in weird places!)

When you’re putting your science-y shows together, do you think about inspiring people, or just about making them laugh? I guess first and foremost, I want to make an entertaining show! I love weird obscure facts, and I definitely want to share my enthusiasm with the audience.

What can people look forward to?
I think what people will enjoy most is the mix of different things that will be happening. One moment, they’ll hear someone talking quite seriously about their research at Jodrell Bank, and the next moment we’ll be having a competition for Most Creative Use of Tinfoil in a Costume!

You never know what’s going to happen next, just that it’ll all be fun and interesting, because all our guests (even the researchers from Jodrell Bank!) talk about their work in a really entertaining way, and they also do more than just talk!

And they’ll be bringing in really cool physical objects to show the audience as well!

Everyone is sure to have a fun, enjoyable night, and come away enthusiastic about science and outer space!

The Manchester Science Festival 2011 presents
Out of this world: A Spacetacular Manchester Adventure!
MOSI (Museum of Science and Industry), Liverpool Road, Castlefield, Manchester, M3 4FP
Fri 28 Oct 2011
Bar and activities from 6pm; event starts 7.30pm
£8 (£6 concessions). Booking advised

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Primitive Streak at Manchester Science Festival

Today saw the installation of Primitive Streak for the upcoming Manchester Science Festival.

It was only four months ago I met with the people behind Manchester Weekender and said I had seen some fantastic installations by an artist called Helen Storey at Newcastle Science Festival – I wanted to get Helen to show some pieces in Manchester during the Festival and the Weekender. The Weekender team (Alex!) loved the idea. After a very quick response “Yes!” from Helen Storey and Caroline from the Helen Storey Foundation, the next few days were a blur as we frantically picked up the phone and sent emails to venues around Manchester... we wanted to bring a science inspired fashion collection to Manchester. With the help of city co, we were rushing round the city checking out shops, industrial style spaces, empty retail units and theatres. Debenhams and the Royal Exchange Theatre were instantly excited by the idea and were keen to support us. It was decided to bring seven pieces from the Primitive Streak collection and install them across both venues.

Manchester is such a fantastic place to run a science festival – organisations, scientists, the public are so supportive and open to new ideas, and really come together to make projects like this happen.

Helen carefully selected pieces from the collection to display, which tell the story of the first 1000 hours of human life. Beginning with the Sperm Coat, at conception, each piece is so detailed reflecting different stages of foetus development. They are beautiful creations, accompanied by panels explaining the science behind each one.

After a few months of hard work from the team at the Helen Storey Foundation, Debenhams and Royal Exchange Theatre, the capsule collection was installed today. There are four dresses and a hat at Debenhams Manchester main window, and two dresses in the Royal Exchange Theatre. There is also an exhibition of photos and sketches from the project accompanying the dresses in the Royal Exchange.

The collection looks absolutely fantastic in both venues, and the dresses take on a different personality in each. You have the fast-paced, high street of Debenhams and the calm, grand space of the Royal Exchange. It really brings science to life in a unique and innovative way. Primitive Streak collection was first created to 15 years ago, but looks relevant, cutting-edge and hot off the catwalk. It’s timeless. As well as viewing the installation you can join Helen at an In conversation event at the Royal Exchange Theatre on Sunday 30 October. It's free, but you're advised to book in advance.

This installation is a must-see at the Festival. You can see it from today until Sunday 30 October. Make sure you stop by Debenhams and Royal Exchange Theatre to see the pieces, have a read of the project background and explore the science. I hope you will be as inspired as I was by this amazing collection.

Natalie, Manchester Science Festival Director

See some photos from the install below.

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Stand-up mathematician, Matt Parker wins 2011 Josh Award

Manchester Science Festival and MOSI (Museum of Science and Industry) are please to announce that Stand-up mathematician, Matt Parker has won this year’s Joshua Phillips Award for Innovation in Science Engagement (Josh Award). Well known for his comedic maths routines and maths shows, Matt’s media work and innovative practices in promoting maths wowed the judging panel.

The Josh Award recognises up-and-coming talent in the science communication field, and innovative approaches to engage the public with science. The Award includes a cash prize of £1000, a trophy and the role of Science Communicator in residence for the Manchester Science Festival 2012.

Matt will be presented with the Award on Sunday 23 October at the Your Days Are Numbered: the maths of death event he is performing at during Manchester Science Festival (22 - 30 October 2011).

For tickets to Your Days Are Numbered: the maths of death, Sunday 23 October at MOSI and to see Matt presented with the Award, please visit the Manchester Science Festival website.

Monday, 3 October 2011

Majestic Fragility: Our Earth's Polar Regions


Royal Northern College of Music
Sunday 23 October
First performance 3pm, Second performance 7pm
Cost & Booking: £10 (restricted view), £20, £25, £30. Booking required. You can also purchase tickets in person at the RNCM

Combining the majesty of the earth’s polar regions with a stunning live orchestral score, Polar is sure to be a unique and thrilling film and musical experience.
The Royal Northern College of Music’s largest screen will host white blizzards and humpback whales, while the Manchester Camera perform a specially arranged score conducted by John Harle.
Polar is an immersive event that will leave the whole family astounded.
Manchester Science Festival blogger Nija Dalal caught up with producer Andrew Glester in the lead up to the Festival premiere.
First off, tell me about Polar. What’s the event going to be like for festival go-ers?Polar is a combination of high-definition footage from the best natural history filmmakers in the world, the same people that make BBC natural history programs. All the archival footage we used is about the Poles, the arctic and the Antarctic. And we worked w/ The Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra and John Harle to compose the live score. At the Manchester Science Festival, the Manchester Camerata will be accompanying the film with a score by John Harle, made of music written just for Polar, along with other classical compositions.

The thing is, for every BBC documentary that gets made, there’s hours and hours of footage that doesn’t make it into the BBC programs. They’re interested in the showing the exciting 5 seconds of an attack, but we’re interested in the reality of life, which includes a lot of quiet moments.

Because it’s a live show, we have more leeway to do experimental things that you can’t see on television. For example, there’s a sequence in Polar which is about seven or eight minutes long, and it’s just footage of the Aurora Borealis, with a piece of really odd classical music.

We’ve taken footage that they shot for other documentaries but didn’t use, so even though the footage already existed, it’s never been seen before! We’ve made something new out of it.

The screen fills whole back of the Royal Northern College of Music’s stage. Polar is about being transported to world which most of us will never go to in the company of this incredible live music. The most amazing thing about it is that it’s a live event. You can’t see Polar w/out going to see it live.

How did you get interested in the Poles and decide to make this film?
I think Jacques Cousteau was right when he said “It’s easier to protect what you love.” We wanted to make things that inspire a love for our planet.  Or the people of our planet, or the wildlife, the nature. And not just our planet, the universe, everything.

As far as choosing to focus on the Poles, well, the magic of the Poles is that so few of us will ever get to go and experience that world. There’s a sense of going somewhere that you could never see, really, or you are very unlikely to see. And with Polar, it’s like being taken on a journey to that world, because of the huge scale of the screen.

The Manchester Science Festival is Polar’s second performance. It premiered at Liverpool in January. What was the reaction like?
Some people have said it was an honour to be at the concert, which was wonderful.
I think the amazing thing for us was seeing how many really young children, 3-5 year olds, were enjoying it. It’s not surprising, though, because the film is very visual, very interesting.

There’s a moment when the polar bear comes on screen for the first time, and you can hear the joy in the audience. Another time, some penguins are falling over and playing, and you can hear the audience just laughing along. Or you see the underwater world of a pod of beluga whales interacting, set to John Harle’s music.

There are moments that aren’t quite so joyful as well. But it’s all part of an emotional experience that’s unparalleled. You sit somebody down with a live orchestra, playing music they would never listen to in their house, you show them footage they’d never see on their televisions… you get something kind of unbelievable. You get these amazing long weird sequences, things that are different, like nothing anyone’s seen before. And those sequences are often people’s favourite parts of the show. Because it’s so different.  

The feeling you get from watching Polar is just like nothing else.

Apart from inspiring people to love the planet, you are also interested in the ecological impacts of your productions, right?
Yes, there’s something quite nice ecologically about this film, too. Travelling to these places would have a huge carbon footprint, whereas this footage was already filmed. We just made something new out of things that already existed.

And when we send the show around, we send a hard drive and a conductor. The footprint of the show is very small. I don’t want to shout too much about that, because the lowest footprint is of course no show at all.

I’m interested in low-carbon shows, though. I like the idea of maybe doing a cycle-powered show. 

Why did you think of having live classical music played to it? What is the connection between nature film and music for you?
In a way, Polar combines some great interests of mine. I’m a science geek, and I love classical music. I wanted, with Polar, to make something that people come and experience and have a wonderful time.

But the truth is that because the footage is so grand, stark, huge and inspiring, orchestral music just feels right.

What did you learn about the Poles as a result of this work?How do you think this film helps people engage with science?
Here’s how I look at it: I already know what the northern lights are, I’ve read about them.
In a way, I knew what they were, but in another… I didn’t.

I think that even if people know about the northern lights, if they haven’t seen them personally, there’s something visceral to be learned about them by seeing them this way…

The idea of Polar is to inspire people to want to know about the Poles.

I think it’s impossible to sit and look at the northern lights and not want to know what is really going on there…It’s impossible to look at polar bears and not be fascinated about their lives.

It’s near the start of the Manchester Science Festival and it might also be the start of a lot of people’s exploration of sciences.

The Manchester Science Festival presents Polar: An HD journey to the magical frozen oceans at the ends of our earth
Royal Northern College of Music, 124 Oxford Road, Manchester, M13 9RD
Sunday 23 October
performance 3pm, Second performance 7pm
Cost & Booking: £10 (restricted view), £20, £25, £30. Booking required. You can also purchase tickets at the RNCM.

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Beautiful Bacteria, Visual Viruses, Fascinating Fungi!

Microbiology and Art
Saturday 22 October – 10 November
11am – 5pm
Cost & Booking: Free. No need to book. Drop in anytime.

Looking up at the celestial night sky or at Hubble telescope images of the universe around us, the connection between astronomy and beauty is unquestionable.
But other fields of science don’t have such a ready connection between their research subjects and beauty. Take, for example, microbiology. The study of bacteria, viruses, and fungi likely makes most people think, “Germs! Get them off me!” rather than “Ooh, that’s lovely…”

Joanna Verran, though, is out to change all that. For the 2011 Manchester Science Festival , Joanna has put together an exhibit of artwork inspired by and featuring microorganisms and infectious diseases.

After all, many microorganisms are beneficial to us, and gorgeous as well!

Manchester Science Festival blogger Nija Dalal got on the phone with Joanna, to discuss this exciting and intriguing exhibit that brings together science and art.

First off, can you describe what the event will be about?
The exhibit will demonstrate the links between science and art, specifically microbiology. The artworks were produced by science undergraduate students and citizen-scientists to illustrate the often unrecognized connections between art and science

And what exactly is microbiology?
Microbiology is the study of microorganisms, the tiny living things like bacteria, virii, fungi. They are incredibly small, and have to be seen through a microscope.

Microbes can be very beautiful and very important… and there are more of them than anything else on the planet! And they’re not all there just to make us ill—many of them play the important role of breaking things down. If they didn’t exist, we’d be over our heads in rubbish on this planet!

Did you know there are 10 times more microbial cells in and on the human body than there are human cells?

That’s amazing! I knew there were a lot, but that’s astounding! What kind of artworks can festival goers look forward to seeing at the exhibit?
There are a lot of exciting artworks being shown. For example, one of my students recreated an X-ray image of a virus using sequins. It’s really beautiful. Another piece is an embroidered quilt about scarlet fever, and it also draws on Little Women, because a character in that book, Beth, dies of scarlet fever.

There are also some fascinating photographs. Overall, the exhibit will be a very visual, very artistic way to engage with science. Hopefully, people will find a new way to think about science and microbiology, because art can help to communicate scientific understanding in an unexpected way.

The exhibit features work by your undergraduate science students and by a group called DIYBIO… What is DIYBIO?
DIYBIO is a Wellcome Trust Funded group, run by MadLab (Manchester Digital Laboratory) and Manchester Metropolitan University. The group exists to encourage citizen-run science. DIYBIO held a competition among their members for artworks that related to microbiology. The winning submissions are in the exhibit.

They’ve developed an interactive microbe map of Manchester, which can show visitors where different microbes were found around the city, mostly probably from people’s hands.

So could it be that people who come to see the exhibit may have unwittingly contributed to it?
Absolutely. You may be seeing your own microbes on that map!

Why did you choose to use academic and amateur work?
Science students tend to get pigeonholed into just doing science work, and this lets them use other talents, brings in different talents and provides a different way of communicating science. For the person looking at the work, it could be a less threatening way of looking at science.

What do you think art offers microbiology? Can art sometimes show things in a clearer way or a more dynamic way?
I think the artworks make people look at science differently, think about the message differently. That can be very interesting.

Do you think art can help people get interested in microbiology?
Yes! Microbiology is a really interesting subject and this gets people to look at it in a way that’s more accessible and helps you to make links you wouldn’t otherwise. You’d never think of the similarity between something like an xray of a virus and a cultural product like sequins, but once you’ve seen the artwork, you can see how beautiful and sparkly the original xray image looks.

I really hope this exhibit inspires people to do and think about science and art as interconnected.

The Manchester Science Festival 2011 presents Microbiology and Art
36-40 Edge St, Manchester, Greater Manchester M4 1, UK
Saturday 22 October – 10 November
11am – 5pm
Cost & Booking: Free. No need to book. Drop in anytime.

Monday, 26 September 2011

Don't try this at home!

We got the chance to grill the BBC Bang Goes the Theory team and we've been putting their questions and answers up on our blog. This week, it's Dallas' turn... don't try this at home!

What's your favourite science fact?
Space is big. Really big…

What's the most dangerous experiment you've ever done?
Typing this in the bath.

What's the most dangerour / extreme / exciting thing you've ever done?
I went diving in raw sewage in Mexico City. Human waste, animal waste, it was truly grim. Unblocking your own loo is bad enough, but unblocking a loo that 20 million people have been using is truly awful. For a day I was a human sink plunger.

How did you become a science TV presenter?
A strange combination of circumstances, chance encounters, a favourable alignment of the planets, hard work, and luck. There is no official career path to becoming a TV Presenter. The short story is that I devised a TV science series in America which I ended up presenting. From that I went on to present The Gadget Show on Channel Five and then on to the BBC to do Bang and my other BBC projects. That’s the abridged version at least. The upshot is, I have the best job in the world, and I’m incredibly lucky.

What do you think will be the next big discovery in science?
From what I understand, physics is on the brink of some exciting conclusions: The nature of dark matter (the missing matter of the Universe); confirmation of the existence of the elusive Higgs boson which will help complete the Standard Model of particle physics; perhaps a theory that will unify quantum mechanics (the strange physics of the subatomic world) and relativity (physics of really big stuff like galaxies). Not only will these things reveal more about the nature of reality, but no doubt throw up new, exciting questions and mysteries. That’s the really exciting bit of science – the stuff we don’t yet know. Exciting times.

What's the best thing about your job?
When people ask me what my favourite food is.

What's your favourite food?
All of it.

Questions from the fans

What is the most you've ever eaten in one sitting and what is the most that one person can actually eat?
I recently went to Amarillo in Texas. There’s a restaurant there where they serve a 72 oz steak – just over 2 kilograms of meat. Terrifying. If you eat it it’s free. But not only do you have to eat the steak, you have to eat the baked potato, the bread roll, the coleslaw and all the other stuff that it comes with. When I was there, there was an interstate BBQ rib eating contest going on. I’ve never seen more meat being consumed in my life. A truly awesome display. I had the salad. Followed by a 72 oz steak.

Do aliens exist?
Sometimes I think we’re alone. Sometimes I think we’re not. Either way the implications are staggering.” That’s a quotation sometimes credited to Arthur C. Clarke, and sometimes to Buckminster Fuller, but it nicely sums up my daily ruminations on the subject. The short answer is, of course, we don’t know for sure, but you’d have to be a brave person to bet that the only life in the Universe is here.

BBC Bang Goes the Theory LIVE experience will be at Campfield Market Hall, near MOSI on Saturday 22 and Sunday 23 October. Get your tickets booked now!

Bang Goes the Theory is on BBC One on Monday evenings at 7.30pm.

Friday, 16 September 2011

The Midland Future Manchester Young Writers Competition 2012

Manchester Literature Festival, Manchester Science Festival and Manchester Children’s Book Festival present the Midland Future young writers competition. Young people aged 12 – 16 are invited to write a fictional short story set at least 10 years in the future.

We are seeking North West based scientists to write scenarios about their work and vision of the future, to inspire young people who wish to enter a writing competition about future Manchester.

Scientists would need to outline one specific development they think will have a significant impact on future society, drawing on their own or other scientific research.


Possible relevant topics include:
- possible effects of future climate change on the city
- how will advances in technology change the way we communicate / travel / work
- how will medical advances affect the health and quality of life of future residents
- what effects will a changing population demographic have on life in the city

Scenarios need to be:

- a maximum of 500 words (i.e. so it fits on a double sided A4 sheet).
- aimed at 12 - 16 year olds – the tone needs to be suitable for 12 years +
- written in an engaging way as we are trying to spark their imaginations

Scenarios could include ideas such as a scientist’s "dream invention" and what their "nightmare invention" would be. Other ideas not mentioned here are also welcome.

We are also seeking some scientists to participate in schools workshops. Accompanying a writer, who would lead a creative writing workshop, scientists would speak to students about their work and the future of science, and be there to answer questions about their ideas. The students would participate in creative writing, supported by the writer.

There will be 4 – 6 workshops in schools between November 2011 - February 2012 (dates tbc) and each will last half a day. You can commit to one or more workshops. As well as the time commitment involved in going into the school, scientists will need to spend time preparing their session, liaising with the writers via email to help draw up a session plan. This stage of the process will be fully supported by us.

Successful applicants will be invited to attend the teacher launch of the Midland Future Manchester writing competition which will be led by competition judge Julie Bertagne, author of futuristic teen novels ‘Exodus’, ‘Aurora’ and ‘Zenith’. This will be an opportunity to meet like-minded scientists, writers and teachers in advance of the project. This will be held on 11 October 4pm - 6pm.

Please send a brief statement of interest and experience of working with schools, writing and/or public engagement to Cathy Bolton, Manchester Literature Festival Director: director@manchesterliteraturefestival.co.uk by Tuesday 4 October.

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Bang Goes the Theory - we grill the presenters!

We got the chance to grill the Bang Goes the Thoery presenters recently. Over the next few weeks we're posting our questions and their answers on the Manchester Science Festival blog! This week it's Liz's turn...

What's your favourite science fact?
Em... the techtonic plates on our planet are moving apart at the same rate as our finger nails grow and a tiger can tell different tiger scents apart by using the vomeronasal organ in its nose, something that we humans cannot do.

What's the most dangerous experiment you've ever done?
Taking part in a submarine rescue drill in Norway which involved going down to 100 metres in a submarine rescue system pod, 'mating' with a distressed submarine on the sea floor and opening our two respective hatches to transfer the submariners into our pod. At one point the two pilots of our pod had to lock an internal hatch, that separated the rest of us from them, to make sure that if anything went wrong during the transfer they would be okay. Apparently we were expendable but they were not!

What's the most dangerous / extreme / exciting thing you've ever done?
Wingwalking and doing a loop which involved accelerating towards the ground at ridiculous speeds in order to be able to climb high enough to do the loop, all to investigate what a gale force wind feels like. It was pretty extreme but very exciting and surprisingly enjoyable once I got over the panic - It is very peaceful up there in the skies.

How did you become a science TV presenter?
I was very lucky to be asked to audition for Bang Goes The Theory when I was just finishing my Masters in Wild Animal Biology - I hadn't even done my final exams - I still have to pinch myself every day.

What do you think will be the next big discovery in science?
That's a tough one - science can be on the edge of a big discovery at any time, that's the beauty of it. There is still so much to learn about many aspects of human biology and chemistry, as well as that of all living systems, the planet, the physics of the Universe... We are tantalisingly close to discovering life supporting planets other than our own thanks to incredible telescopes like the ones on Mauna Kea in Hawaii for example. Scientists are now saying it is not a question of if, but when we make that discovery.

What's the best thing about your job?
I get the chance to see first hand, how scientists are working on the latest technology and research for all types of science. It makes me want to get back into the lab! I am in awe of the passion and dedication of these unsung heros who all work to improve every aspect of our lives, whether it be the technology that propels our world into the future, or the latest research on cures for disease- a lot of which we take for granted. I also love the roadshows because it gives us a chance to meet some of our viewers and talk all things science with all age groups. It's a real treat to meet the scientists of the future.

What's your favourite food?
I am a big fan of Italian and Japanese food- if there was only one thing I could eat it would have to be Gyoza. I am a bit of a dumpling freak...

Questions from Bang Goes the Thoery fans
When your hands are really cold, why do they hurt when they warm up?
I suspect it has something to do with the fact that all the tiny blood vessels in your hands shrink due to the cold, which can be quite painful in itself, and they vasodilate or expand again when the hands get a chance to warm up, allowing the blood flow to increase again, and that can be a little painful too.

Do aliens exist?

It depends what you mean when you say aliens. I do think there are life forms out there, but how sophisticated they are remains to be discovered. I suspect the funny eyed egg head is unlikely to ever grace our planet.

The Bang Goes the Thoery team will be in Manchester from 22 - 23 October with thier LIVE roadshow. We can't wait! Book your free tickets now!

Catch Bang Goes the Theory on BBC1 on Monday evenings.

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Knit a Microbe! Nexus Art Cafe

As part of the Manchester Science Festival and Golden Ratio exhibition at Nexus Art Cafe, we are inviting all needle-clackers to contribute a microbe to our Golden Ratio colony!

Come and knit in the cafe, use this events page to organise a group knit, or drop by our Crafternoons sessions every Sunday at 3pm. You can drop your woolly microbe off at the Nexus counter, labelled with your name and contact details if you would like them back! They will then be displayed as a part of the Golden Ratio exhibition, which runs from 30th September - 20th November.

Please make sure your microbes are ready by 25th September so we have time to hang them all!
You can find the microbe patterns here, courtesy of Manchester Science Festival.

You can use the Nexus Facebook page to organise meets with other knitters, or join our Crafternoon group.

Monday, 5 September 2011

Bang Goes the Theory - we grill the presenters!

We couldn't be more excited that the Bang Goes the Theory LIVE experience is coming to Manchester Science Festival this year!

We got the chance to catch up with the presenters of the show and asked them loads of questions. Over the next few weeks, we'll pop the questions and their (sometimes hilarious!) answers on our blog. The first presenter we put to the test is Jem!

What's your favourite science fact?

I love the fact that an ancient Greek fellow managed to pretty accurately figure out the size of the world using sticks, shadows and logic.

What's the most dangerous experiment you've ever done?
Myself and the two guys I work with do many, many experiments in the process of building all we do for Bang. And there are quite a few that there’s no practical risk-free way of doing. You’ve just got to use your most considered judgement and hope you’ve got it right.

On-screen wise, going all the way round on a swing was the only experiment I didn’t even tell my family about. The window for success was pretty small. On reflection, I’m not even sure I should trust own engineering that much.

What's the most dangerous/extreme/exciting thing you've ever done?
I remember surfing one reef break in south west Australia that was both big and sucked pretty dry over the rocks. It struck me as amazing how you never really notice the muscles in your feet then when you really need them you can feel hundreds of them doing everything they can to make sure you stay upright.

How did you become a science TV presenter?
For years I worked behind the scenes building experiments and machines for a bunch of other science shows, and when the camera was swung in my direction I just tried to smile and be myself.

What do you think will be the next big discovery in science?
Using unimaginably small aerials to turn infra red radiation directly into usable electricity.

What's the best thing about your job?
The simply astonishing opportunity it gives me to meet and talk with some wonderfully experienced scientists and engineers.

What's your favourite food?

Questions from Bang Goes the Thoery fans

Why do some kettles whistle when they boil?
When water gets to 100 degrees and turns into steam it expands about 800 times. There’s no room for that in the kettle so it rushes out of the spout. When the steam coming out moves quickly enough through a specifically designed chamber (the kettle whistle) it sets up a vibration. This vibration causes the air in the rest of the room to vibrate, which can then wobble your ear drums. If those are wobbled at the right rate (about 1000 times per second) you interpret that as a whistling sound.

Do aliens exist?
I’d be amazed if they didn’t.
BBC Bang Goes the Theory LIVE experience will be at Campfield Market Hall, near MOSI on Saturday 22 and Sunday 23 October. Get your tickets booked now!

Bang Goes the Theory is on BBC One on Monday evenings at 7.30pm.

Thursday, 1 September 2011

Microbiology and art competiton – call for entries

Art provides an opportunity for visualisation and communication of science…
During the Manchester Science Festival 2011, MadLab will be hosting its first science themed exhibition, on the subject of Microbiology and Art (Oct 20 – Nov 11). Items on display will include a range of different representations of links between microbiology and art – photography, jewellery, embroidery, music, painting and so on – produced by science students from MMU. In addition, the Manchester Microbe Map, produced by the intrepid members of DIYBIOMCR will be on display alongside the MMU AIDS banner, and an open call for work.

Take part in the exhibition. Here’s how.
Think about the obvious links between microbiology and art – deterioration of cultural heritage, images of infectious disease, the beauty of microscopic images, disease in history, literature – and the not so obvious.

Search the subject online, you may be surprised!

If you are inspired to produce your own artwork, then submit it to hwayoung@madlab.org.uk by the 30th September.

Please include with your submission:


2.description (inspiration)



Any questions or queries can be directed to the above contact.

A panel of judges will select one entry to join the exhibition.


Submission deadline : 30th September

Winner announced : 7th of October

Exhibition launch : 22nd October

This event is part of the Manchester Science Festival 2011 and DIYBIOMCR. This blog was originally posted on the MadLab website.

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

Manchester Science Festival: Spacetacular – participants needed!

Spacetacular! is quite possibly the first stand-up comedy/science/fancy dress/variety/quiz show entirely themed around outer space!

We’re looking for participants for this event at Manchester Science Festival that blends comedy, science and stories about space. The event will be held on Friday 28 October at MOSI (Museum of Science and Industry) for an adult audience.

Hosted by Helen Keen (creator of BBC Radio 4’s space comedy hit It Is Rocket Science) and finishing with a prize quiz by Londonist Editor & all round space nerd Matt Brown, previous sell out shows in London & Edinburgh have featured both comedians and scientists (& people who are just plain enthusiastic) talking to a friendly tinfoil-clad audience about their love of space.

The aim of the show is to celebrate the cosmos as widely and inclusively as possible - and in a fun way. So we’re looking for a people who would like to talk for 5-10 minutes about what they love most about space. Topics can be as broad as you like, as long as they’re vaguely space-y/science fiction-y.

We’ve previously had Prof Andrew Jaffe talking about space telescopes & Sheila Kanani of UCL making a comet in a bucket, as well as writer and Wired journalist Leila Johnston talking about her worries about Star Trek.

We encourage the audience to dress up (and have costume-making tinfoil & silvery things at the door…) and to keep things as inclusive as possible, we also have audience 'open spots' in the final section when anyone can bring a space related object (last time: a tattoo, a NASA space camp medal + a bit that had 'dropped off' a satellite...) and talk about their own enthusiasm for the Universe... (seems appropriate as space science and astronomy are of course areas where enthusiasts and amateurs can make quite a big contribution!).

If taking to the stage isn’t your thing, we’re also looking for space-related scientists to bring some objects, demonstrations or hands-on activities to engage the audience prior to the show. Doors will open at about 6pm for the audience to grab a drink, enjoy the planetarium and talk to scientists about space, before the show begins at about 7.30pm.
• If you’re interested in a stage slot, please email info@manchestersciencefestival.com by Thursday 1 September with a brief overview of what you do and what you’d like to talk about.

• If you’d like to participate the hands-on drop in part of the night please email info@manchestersciencefestival.com by Thursday 1 September with a brief overview of what you do, what you’d like to do on the evening and the topic. If you’re participating in MOSI’s day time programme and would like to stay on for the evening, that would be great and we’ll shout you some dinner!

• Please also tell us if you have had previous experience of engaging with the public.

Thursday, 28 July 2011

Science fun in the sun

So we have well and truly embarked on our summer science busking programme. Every year, the Festival team and volunteers are just itching to get out and try our science tricks and demonstrations with willing members of the public!

We were at Manchester Mega Mela at the weekend and hundreds of people were crammed into the arts and crafts tent getting henna tattoos, making hats, dancing and enjoying science! We had a few new science busks to t
ry out and the "cloud in a bottle" was definitely the crowd pleaser - it has the wow factor and everyone was so interesting in learning about the weather and clouds. Thanks to everyone who stopped by and asked loads of questions. It certainly helped us practise the new busks and we had a really fun day.

We've got a few more summer busking slots lined up at the Manchester Picnic, the Caribbean Carnival and Stockport Farmers' Market. Here's hoping it stays sunny! See you there!

Thursday, 21 July 2011

The Golden Ratio: call out for submissions

A call out for submissions from artists who love science, and scientists who love art.

Nexus Art Cafe is currently accepting proposals for work exploring a crossover or relationship between science and art, to be exhibited at a showcase during Manchester Science Festival. All formats of work will be considered, from vector art to video installation, paintings to pie charts. We are interested in the ways that imagination and knowledge can work together to create something special. Brains and beauty, if you like.

The exhibition itself will run from 22nd September-20th November 2011. Closing date for submissions is Sunday 7th August.

For more information, or to submit your work, please include no more than three images and up to 500 words about your work and send to submissions@nexusartcafe.com.

Friday, 1 July 2011

Join in QR-3D

QR-3D is an experiment in textiles and digital technology.

QR codes are grid-like images used in the same way as barcodes. They can be read by mobile phones and contain text, usually an internet address.

What happens when those codes are recreated in textiles? Does the texture of the thread and fabric stop the codes from working? How far can textiles be manipulated before the functionality disappears?

QR-3D invites anyone, anywhere to join in and find out. Simply choose a website, turn it into a QR code and recreate it in textiles.

Instructions for all of these steps are included in the project's website http://www.qr-3d.weebly.com/

Some of the works created will be selected for the exhibition QR-3D, held at Cornerhouse during Manchester Science Festival.

The deadline for submitting your work is Sunday 31st July so get making.

Image: Do Androids Dream of Electronic Embroidery, Rachel Rose

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Do you know a rising star in science communication?

Zena, a STEM Ambassador, science busking at MSF 2010.

We're on the hunt for the best science communication talent in the UK and nominations for the 2011 Joshua Phillips Award for Innovation in Science Engagement are now open.

Steve Cross, winner of the 2010 Josh Award.
The Joshua Phillips Award (or Josh Award) is intended to recognise and nurture the finest practitioners in science communication who, whilst being young professional science communicators, have already demonstrated exceptional potential for innovation in the relatively new field of public engagement with science.

The Award is open to anyone who is recognised as an up-and-coming talent in science communication, with innovative and new ideas.

The successful nominee will receive a personal prize of £1,000 and be appointed as “Science Communicator in residence” at the Manchester Science Festival 2012.

For more information about the about and to download the nomination form head to the Manchester Science Festival website