Blasting Into The Record Books

The Naked Scientists spoke to Dr Roy Lowry, University of Plymouth
05 November 2006

Interview with 

Dr Roy Lowry, University of Plymouth


Chris - Tell us about your feat.

Roy - It is very tempting to tell you they are about size 9... It took about a year to put together. On the 16th of august, sixty of us spent the whole day putting rockets into frames, putting black match (string covered with gunpowder) underneath them, connecting the whole lot to a juicy looking red button, pressing the button and then watching the whole lot go skywards.

Chris - What was the point of doing this though?

Roy - The point was that I have a thing about science. I don't know about you, but I have been to parties where people ask me what I do, I say I am a chemistry lecturer and then their eyes glaze over. They say they weren't very good at science at school and they wander off to talk to an estate agent. I have fun doing my job - it is the best job in the world and I think it is about time we said you can have fun doing science. I spent about a year doing calculations to make sure this world record attempt would go off... and it did.

Chris - Has the Guinness Book of Records recognised your feat now?

Roy - It actually came back to me on Tuesday morning of this week, and I have a very impressive-looking certificate with my name on it. It takes them a while to make sure that we did it properly, but they got back just before November the 5th which was great.

Chris - You must have faced some criticism for doing this, as some people would say this was a waste of energy and time. Did anyone complain? Roy - I got a total of about half a dozen e-mails. The main criticism was please don't frighten our cats and dogs which I fully understand. But we did it as part of the UK firework championships, held in Plymouth every year, so it was a noisy night anyway. I had one or two raising concerns on environmental grounds, but I had to point out that old fashioned firework technology produces molecules that have been around so long that almost everything can be dealt with by natural systems.

Chris - Were these fireworks going to be chucked away anyway?

Roy - We were generously donated a batch of nearly 60 000 rockets, because they were outlawed for use by the general public - they were too small to be used. So we were acting as a disposal mechanism.

Chris - If they hadn't been disposed of by you what would the alternative have been?

Roy - The alternative to setting them off is to soak them in water, which means that the potassium nitrate (saltpetre) will dissolve out leaving just charcoal. This would be put on a landfill somewhere and then become methane, which is a very powerful greenhouse gas. You're better off burning them.


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