Since the weekend, my Science Festival attendance has been a bit more sporadic – just one event on Monday and one yesterday. (Although I have some lovely things lined up for Friday, Saturday and Sunday, including finally acquiring some children to go to the kid stuff with!)
There was a massive contrast between the last two events and I have to say, that’s something I really love about the science festival (and maybe this year’s in particular) – it encompasses the ‘edutainment’ and the ‘scholarly’ end of the spectrum with equal quality and accessibility.
DJ Physics on Monday has been well summed-up by Crafty Green Poet on Over Forty Shades here (as usual, she’s both ahead of me and more succinct). Essentially it used the subject of DJing to approach wave physics – not entirely dissimilar to Mark Lewney’s Physics of Rock Guitar which went round a few years ago.
I wasn’t really looking forward to DJ Physics, but I had the tickets, and I couldn’t decide between all the other different things going on that night, and Mr Woodsmoke was going into Edinburgh anyway so we could share transport…
When I walked in to see a good line-up of props, I decided the night was looking up. Next thing was finding out that the speaker Martin Archer is an actual, proper DJ (I have a thing against scientists trying to make tenuous connections to ‘popular’ things that they’re not an expert in – they just look sad). And the slide/video presentation was extremely visually slick.
But the real things that persuaded me? A longitudinal Mexican wave, and some standing waves made of fire (I had not seen a Rubens tube before.)
Overall I thought it was a really decent link-up of DJ stuff and physics stuff. It over-reached once or twice (I wasn’t keen on the semiconductor example that was dumped in without explanation, and gluon-gluon to Higgs probably isn’t the particle interaction that you should choose if you want to say how incredibly accurate our calculations are!) However, it also came up with some great analogies (calculating red-shift = beatmatching) so I’d say it was mostly on the right side. And the music was great (I say this as someone who has barely been to a club in her life).
Last night’s Science in the City talk at Summerhall (organised by the Schop Institute, given by Richard Rodger) was a totally different animal. I loved the venue – a small anatomy theatre at the old Dick Vet school, which is just the kind of old, rather run-down place that I really like. The talk was about how science, technology and medicine relate to cities in history (particularly during the major expansion of cities in the 19th century), and it was just full of interesting things that I hadn’t know, or hadn’t really thought about.
For some reason, the one that stuck most was the idea that when railways arrived, they really broke up cities with impermeable barriers – the cities became more segmented with less informal contact between areas, so could become more socially divided. I was also amazed by the population increasing by 35% in a single decade in the early 1800s and how that affected the city, particularly in a time before regulation and large-scale infrastructure.
It was really interesting to see how many of the ‘big names’ in medicine or science got involved in civic matters in this time. The talk was wide-ranging, with technological developments set against more social ones. So we heard about the effect of the new materials (wrought iron and steel) on what was built, and then how that changed social patterns (shopping arcades and skyscrapers).
If I had to decide which one I preferred, this one would win over DJ Physics, but not by as much as I would have thought before I attended them. Great to see that the science festival can accommodate such different talks with such different audiences!
Note: my ticket for DJ Physics was given to me by Clicket.