Swords, toilets, a jay’s feather and music being made from a cup of tea? This was my Friday night at Science Uncovered, the European Researchers’ Night 2016 that took place across Europe in association with universities. The evening was designed to promote a variety of scientific projects to the general public and Newcastle’s offering certainly succeeded.
The Great North Museum Hancock is a perfect location for an eclectic mix of subjects, being a somewhat typical university museum in its own range of collections. The displays range from the ancient Egyptians, Greeks and Romans (including a highly interactive central section about nearby Hadrian’s Wall) to the wildlife of the local area (hence the jay’s feather, right) and beyond, in the form of elephants, giraffes and sharks!
The scientists who took part looked right at home, and there was lots to do – about half the stalls were mobbed by excitable children making their own toiletries, cutting out 3D shapes and rubbing sticks together (from what I could make out). I was very impressed by everyone I spoke to, as they were all able to get their research across in an interesting way in only a short space of time – the main aim of the night.
So, briefly (but hopefully accurately) – one team are genetically engineering bacteria to try and remove harmful left-over medicines from waste water; another project studies bacteria in the deep ocean and in the atmosphere to better understand how they might help fight climate change; and a team in archaeology are re-creating Bronze Age fights to work out the marks on their surviving swords. Wow.
But the music? This was really fun, and it wasn’t really made from a cup of tea – but a kettle and sugar were involved. Called Turing Tape Music, this was (as the name suggests) a form of computerised electronic music that comes out of two academics and artists based at the Culture Lab of Newcastle University, Tom Schofield and John Bowers. In the video above you can see and hear a clip of their performance, where music is made by changing the flow of electricity through water. You can see Tom (with the kettle) playing with the electrical circuit. Across the table, John worked the computer and dials. The noise was incredible, and the crowd were entranced. Science uncovered, indeed.