I’d been thinking a couple of science festival talks I’d been to were ‘good but not amazing’ and then I went to Designer Athletes last night and was really surprised to be completely engaged with a really fascinating discussion – definitely up there with E2 and the robots!
Sport is really not my thing. Neither watching nor participating. I rather enjoyed the ‘How Far, How Fast, How High?’ discussion about performance on Tuesday, but it wasn’t utterly thrilling. However, Designer Athletes set up much more of a debate and really made you think. I think the Physiological Society is touring with it – I’d highly recommend it if they’re doing it again near you.
The question under discussion was – what should we do about doping and enhancement of athletes in the future? Given the ‘arms race’ between dopers and anti-dopers, you could argue (as Andy Miah did) that we should just remove a lot of the limits and let people do whatever they can. After all, as was pointed out in the questions, elite sport is not necessarily a healthy activity anywhere, in terms of intensity of training and so on.
The absolute opposite view was taken by Michele Verroken, ex-Director of Anti-Doping for UK sport, who was very against performance-enhancing substances although she did admit the limitations of the current system. I loved her point that maybe the medal ceremonies for the 2012 Olympic Games should be held in 2020! (given that they can go back 8 years to look for doping).
Chris Cooper was there representing ‘science’ (specifically biochemistry) and talked really interestingly about how medical drugs and procedures start to crossover into use in sport (including illicit use) pretty much straight away. And how if we deliberately designed drugs for sport, there’s probably a lot more performance enhancement that could be achieved.
I liked that there was limited use of powerpoint, excellent engagement with the audience and a healthy amount of argument between the panel! And it was well-chaired by David Eades (although dude, it’s a bit creepy to point out how glamorous the PhySoc representative looked).
Also, great audience. Really intelligent questions and comments and I came away feeling that I’d really thought about something I’d never considered in depth before.
Wednesday night’s talk on Catalytic Clothing had similarly excellent audience interactions. I’d noticed already that when I visited the ‘field of jeans and kilts’ catalytic clothing display in St Andrew Square it was getting a lot of curious looks and a lot of people stopping and reading the sign and talking about it. It seems to be an idea that really gets people discussing.
The concept is that by adding nanoparticles of titanium dioxide to everyone’s clothes, you could clean up cities by removing nitric oxide from the air (this comes from vehicle exhausts). It would convert to nitrates on the clothes, and would then come out in the wash.
Tony Ryan (a chemist) and Helen Storey (an artist/designer) are the collaboration behind this idea and I have to say, they were inspiring as an interdisciplinary team and I found their discussion about what makes them work well together one of the best part of the evening.
Catalytic clothing is a fascinating idea and I was much more positive about it when I found that their proposal was to put it in washing powder rather than hoping people would buy special clothes (which didn’t seem like a sensible proposition).
There are endless debate points – are nanoparticles acceptable to the general public? Would the amount of nitrates added to waste water be a problem? Are clothes the only answer, or could you also do this with flags and banners?
For me, the main concern is that some of the calculations just don’t seem to have been done yet. “Four people wearing catalytic clothing could take out a car’ is a great tag line, but do they have to walk around in the open all day? I’d really want to see some hard numbers.
Still, a really smart idea and it will be great to see what happens next.
Note: Clicket gave me the tickets for Catalytic Clothing and Designer Athletes.
CraftyGreenPoet also blogged about Catalytic Clothing.