Science Interviews

Interview

Sun, 20th Mar 2005

The Cambridge Science Festival

Part of the show Autism, Intelligence and Left-Handedness

Chris - Were now going to go over to the Cambridge Science Festival where we were yesterday. The Cambridge Science Festival attracts around forty thousand people and is the biggest free festival in the whole country. The idea is to build confidence in what scientists are doing and to show the public how exciting science can be. We went to find out what was going on at Science on Saturday. We discovered how bees pollinate flowers, how to dissect a sheep's eyeball and also why boats mysteriously disappear in the Bermuda Triangle. Here's what we found.

Carolyn - We're filling film canisters with lemon juice and baking soda and they should go boom any second now…

Sarah - So Carolyn, what's the science behind the experiment you're doing here today?

Carolyn - We're looking at the reaction between an acid and a bicarbonate. What it's producing is carbon dioxide, which is the gas we see in the bubbles. The kids get to see the concept that gases take up more space than a liquid or a solid. We often try to show them with the top off so they can see the gas being produced and thus what creates the explosion.

Sarah - So the acid is reacting with the bicarbonate to produce carbon dioxide. How much lemon juice and bicarbonate should the children mix in their film canister at home?

Carolyn - We're doing about a quarter to half a teaspoon of each. You have to stand back so you don't get it in your eyes!

Chris - That was Naked Scientist Sarah Smith finding out why lemon juice and bicarbonate of soda goes bang. Now Brian Wallace caught up with Cambridge University's Rik Jenkinson who was doing a funky demonstration to try to explain why boats disappear in the Bermuda Triangle. Here's what he found out.

Rik - The reason why things float is because there's more pressure underneath them than the gravity pulling them down. If you create less pressure underneath something, the thing will sink. This is what we believe to be happening in the Bermuda Triangle. A bubble of methane or some other gas wells up underneath the ship creating less pressure, meaning that the ship sinks.

Brian - Could you talk us through this experiment while you do it?

Rik - Ok, we have our ship floating on our miniature Atlantic Ocean, which is in fact a fish tank. What we're going to do is create our upwelling of gas underneath, which will male the ship sink. Now we do this using a converted vacuum cleaner. Now if we just switch that on…. Now what's happening is that we're creating a load of bubbles underneath the ship, which means that there's less pressure supporting the ship on the top of the water. Eventually, yep there it goes, the ship will sink beneath the surface. Now if we switch the hoover off, the ship remains at the bottom because it's full of water.

Chris - That was Naked Scientist Brian Wallace talking to Rik Jenkinson explaining why ships mysteriously disappear off the Bermuda Triangle. Now to someone who's clearly enjoying themselves at the Cambridge Science Festival, Vice Chancellor Professor Alison Richard. Here's what she had to say about the festival.

Alison - Cambridge University is about research but also all about education. We educate our students to be sure, but we have a responsibility and a passion to reach out to the next generation and the community around us. As you've seen, there are children here today of every age, including a few 80 year old children! Even very small kids are here being fired up and their energies being set alight.

Chris - One criticism of this type of thing from some angles is that it often ends up preaching to the converted - preaching to people like me who already love science. Do you think that's true here, or do you think you're getting an additional audience that wouldn't normally be exposed to science?

Alison - I would guess just by looking around and listening to people here that people are looking for something to do with their children on a Saturday morning, and I'm not at all persuaded that this is forty thousand scientists here this week. These are people with an interest in the world and we're going to capture their interest in science and show them the wonders of science.

Chris - It's quite an adventurous thing to do to fling wide the gates of Cambridge University and invite the public in and say come and have a look at what we do.

Alison - I suppose it's adventurous (loud bang in background) woah, my goodness! Well that was adventurous! I think that it's great thing that we do and we do it in various ways, and the Science Festival is one of the flagship ways we do it. As you know, this is the twelfth year we've been doing it, and it's going from strength to strength. I hope that we can carry out the science festival to other parts of the region from time to time so it doesn't always bring in people from Cambridge, but so we can take Cambridge to the region.

Chris - Now what's this pink sausage you have here?

Alison - I'm very proud of my pink sausage! This is a Salmonella enterica with its flagellae. I blew it up myself and tied it off and I'm going to take it home and give it to my children. Now they are 22 and 24 years old but I know that they will be very proud of their mother for having made this bacterium.

Chris - I suppose we ought to say that when you blew it up, it's a balloon isn't it.

Alison - Yes, it's a pink balloon.

Chris - So what's been your favourite experiment you've seen here today?

Alison - Well I really like my balloon, I have to say! But I was also just watching an experiment showing how earthquakes happen and how buildings fall down under the influence of different levels of oscillation. It was wonderfully simple but really graphic. I and a little boy of about six both stood there completely riveted being taught by a Cambridge undergraduate. And I just thought that this is really really great. It's all generations, it's teachers and students of all ages. This is what this festival is about.

Chris - Cambridge Vice Chancellor Professor Alison Richard, who was enjoying the Science Festival and explaining why she thinks it's so important. If you wondered what that huge bang was in the middle, that was Dave Ansell and his team who were electrolysing water - splitting water up to make hydrogen and oxygen - and then lighting it to make it go bang. Unfortunately, their experiment worked a bit too well and it blew the apparatus to smithereens, which is what you heard in the middle of her interview! Now let's find out what Rosie, who's twelve years old and lives in Trumpington in Cambridge, had to say about the festival. She found the experience incredibly informative and it triggered her desire to study science and perhaps go on to become a vet.

Chris - You've just chopped up a sheep's eyeball. That's not something you presumably do every week.

Rosie - No it's not. I've never done it before and it was really great to do it today.

Chris - You weren't grossed out at all?

Rosie - I was a bit at the beginning because of all the goo. When you put the knife in, all the goo just came out. That was a bit disgusting, but the rest of it was ok once you got over that.

Chris - Has it helped you to understand a bit more about how eyeballs worked though?

Rosie - Yeah it's been great. I know how it works and how the light gets in and how they can see in the dark and all about the pupil. Just loads of stuff about sheep's eyes.

Chris - If you'd read that in a book do you think you'd understand it as well as now you've done it for real?

Rosie - No, when you read it in a book you don't really know what really happens. It's a lot more effective when you do it and actually take it in.

Chris - what else have you seen at the Science festival today?

Rosie - We went to the Museum of Archeology and Anthropology and we did stencils of our hands on the wall like they did millions of years ago. And we saw how the continents have moved. They used to be really close together and now they've expanded out. That's as far as we've got, but we're going to do a lot more I think.

Chris - Do you think you'll be a scientist when you leave school?

Rosie - I'm not sure. I like animals so I want to be a vet but I think I want to do a bit of science as well because I like science.

Chris - It's quite a hard course being a vet. Do you think you're up to it?

Rosie - I think so. I really like doing all this, so I think so.

Chris - Hopefully you won't be chopping up too many of your pets' eyeballs though because presumably you'll be making them better rather than dissecting them.

Rosie - No, I don't think I'll be doing this to live animals!

Chris - That was Rosie from Trumpington who was enjoying the delights of Science on Saturday. Anna Lacey, one of the Naked Scientists, got talking to Lynn Harrison from the Institute of Continuing Education to find out how you can make your own latest designer jewellery - a DNA necklace.

Lynn - What we're doing here today is giving everyone an opportunity to extract their own DNA, see it, and then take it home with them. And we're putting it in a little necklace that they can put round their necks and take home with them if they want to.

Anna - Exactly how does the experiment work?

Lynn - First of all they have to collect a sample of their own cells buy collecting cells from the inside of their mouths. And then we break them open with some detergent, and we use an enzyme to chop them up a bit. Then we heat it to 50 degrees and that helps the DNA to come out of the cell. Then we need to precipitate the DNA out of solution so you can actually see it. We do that by adding alcohol, as DNA isn't soluble in alcohol. The DNA then comes out of solution and you can see these long white threads and they all clump together in the test tube. We can then take the DNA and alcohol and put it into these little necklaces so they can actually have something.

Anna - What are you hoping to get out of today for the children?

Lynn - It's to make them realise how real DNA and genes and genetics really are. When people get to see their own DNA, they start to think about it in a different way. It seems much more real.

Chris - So that was Naked Scientist Anna Lacey talking with Lynn Harrison from the Institute of Continuing Education at Cambridge University to find out how DNA is more than just a picture in a textbook. In fact it's so real that you can hang your own DNA round your neck. Now we're going over to speak to Plant Sciences lecturer Keith Johnston about the buzz behind pollination.

Keith - What you can see here is an interactive exhibit for young children to learn about pollination. The aim is that they dress up in a bee outfit to look like bees and they have little dangly bits they put on their heads. They can then dive into this great big plant we've generated and as they do that they pick up pollen which sprinkles out from little containers on top of the plant and spreads over them. They then get into the centre and find the nectar, which is of course a sweet. And so they come out of the plant having got hold of their sweets.

Anna - OK, and this young man here looks like he's already been in the flower. How was it?

Niko - Cool. Yeah, well I nearly didn't fit, but it's nice.

Anna - The Haribo were worth it.

Chris - Twelve year old Niko there munching away on his Haribo nectar, and Keith Johnston explaining how the science of the festival is helping to teach young children about pollination.

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