28 October 2009

All star turn out (briefly)

Amazing. We (at Sounds of Science) planned a “Night Under the Stars” and, unbelievably, got a clear, dry night – at least until about 9.30pm. Luckily, by this time, most people had managed to get a quick peep through the telescope at the Moon and Jupiter. And thanks to ExplorerDome, we had already been able to entertain our crowd in something resembling a giant womb – check out the picture below. (Actually an inflatable planetarium).

It was good to see so many people turn up who had no prior knowledge of astronomy. And that Jim’s 6am slot on Original 106.5 (there’s a clip here) wasn’t wasted… the one man it attracted said he thoroughly enjoyed himself.

Thanks to IOP for providing the great star guide leaflets, and some rather lovely pin badges, which proved particularly popular. And well done to presenter Matina for successfully creating a comet in her hands-on science demonstration – here’s everyone crowding round to look.

Unfortunately, given the prerequisite of it being dark for the outdoor star spotting, there are no pictures of us all enjoying this part of the show.

Anyone who’s reading this after attending the show should definitely check out the International Year of Astronomy web pages for further info. And if you’re keen to hear more from Jim geeking out about space, he can normally be found doing this at least once a month on the Geek Pop podcast, which straddles science and music, usually with quite a heavy space bias (Pink Floyd’s ‘Eclipse’ etc etc). Or if you want something specifically astronomy based, we recommend the US podcast Astronomy Cast.

16 October 2009

Fringe: minor quibbles

Yeah, so I discovered Fringe, recently... It's not the most scientifically accurate of programmes is it? Nevertheless, I've managed to get ever so slightly hooked.

This is really just to get a few minor annoyances out of the way.

1) Words in title sequence include "nanotechnology". Really? Fringe science? Actually, I'd say nanotech was firmly in the middle of the carpet, but anyhoo.

2) Exactly what is Walter I-Spent-17-Years-In-A-Psychiatric-Hospital-But-Can-Still-Remember-Where-I-Put-My-Magnetic-Neurostimulator-Which-Incidentally-Still-Works Bishop's area of expertise? "Ah, this reminds me of an experiment I was working on in 1977." Every time. Amazing.

3) Astrid.

4) Um, sorry to get all feminist. BUT. FBI Agent Olivia Dunham climbing "naked" (actually, she wears functional but mildly alluring black underwear) into a tank of... oh, I don't know... so she can "sync" her brain with her dead boyfriend?

So, those (and a few other things) aside, I'm quite enjoying it. Even with Pacey from Dawson's Creek in it.

6 October 2009

NanoMed: hype and healthy imagination

So, this was the scene for the second working group meeting on Communication for the NanoMed project I've been involved in. Idyllic, isn't it?

By way of explanation, a group of about 15 of us arrived in Garmisch-Partenkirchen in Germany last week to discuss a set of recommendations for communicating about nanomedicine. The aim is to produce a document, by the end of October, that will inform policymaking in the EU. Our group is one of five - the others are Patient Needs, Ethics and Societal Impact, Economic Impact and Regulation.

Despite the distractions of mountain and lake, we were remarkably productive and have now managed to put together an outline of our recommendations ahead of the final meeting in November. Since they are far from set in stone, I won't hint at what these might be, but something quite interesting that arose from the meeting was the recognition of a kind of tension between hype and healthy imagination surrounding new technologies.

One of the case studies we looked at included a film featuring futuristic notions about nanomedicine applications - in particular, a kind of in-body monitoring system operated by a touchscreen on the back of the user's hand. According to the film, such a system would employ nanotechnology to diagnose and monitor disease and could, for instance, help diabetics to keep tabs on their blood sugar levels.

Whilst the idea generated some degree of merriment and scepticism around the table, there was also very real concern about giving patients false hope. This was countered by two arguments: first, that hope is an important aspect of patient psychology, and secondly, that imagination and creativity are what drive advances in science and technology. (Support for this second argument can be seen in the development of technologies inspired by Star Trek).

Personally, I think it's important to dream, but then I would say that - I'm a "creative". We can't stop people creating these kinds of fantastic visions - how boring would the world of science communication (and the world in general) be if we did? At the same time, it's obviously important to take a measured approach and help people to understand how close to reality these visions actually are. In the end, we all had to agree to disagree and, in fact, I think this is probably the right outcome.