The Manchester Science Festival

28 October 2007

Interview with

David Price, Science Made Simple; Johnny Ball

We are very proud to announce that our very own Chris Smith has become the first person to win the Josh award, a new award recognizing innovation in science communication, awarded by the Manchester Museum of Science and Industry.  This took place as part of the first Manchester Science Festival, and so Ben Valsler and Dave Ansell went to Manchester to join in the festivities!

Manchester Science FestivalBen -   The 20th-28th of October 2007 marks the Manchester Science Festival.  And of course, where there's science, there will be Naked Scientists, so we've come to Manchester Piccadilly train station where we're trying out a few of our favourite Kitchen Science experiments of the unsuspecting people of Manchester.  So Dave, what have we got lined up for people here today?

Dave Ansell -   All sorts of experiments, one of them is putting a Pyrex bowl in some vegetable oil, and it disappears, which actually goes down really well with adults.  We've also got a microwave which we've been putting all the things in it which you really want to do at home, but you really can't.  We've been putting in soap, which expands and turns into a great big pile of foam; putting in a light bulb, which glows purple and other strange colours; and we've also been putting in wire wool which gives loads of cool sparks.

Ben -   And are people enjoying it?  Obviously they've come here for a reason, they've come to get a train, they haven't come here to do some experiments.  Do you think they're enjoying this interruption?

Dave -   It seems like quite a good way of getting the people who have got half an hour to wait for a train, and we can distract them for a bit.  We've had lots of people here, many of them said they didn't enjoy science in school, but they seem to be enjoying this!

Ben -   I'm here with David [Price] from Science Made Simple, and he's also doing a few little science experiments here.  So what are you doing as part of the science festival?

David Price -   Today, really, we're having a look at the science of sound.  So we have a 'glovophone' here that sounds a bit like this:

[The glovophone gives a low, rasping bass note, a bit like a bassoon] Listen here:

Ben -   Now a glovophone, by the looks of it, is a vinyl glove like you might see in a doctors office with a long, brightly coloured tube sticking off the bottom, and there seems to be a plastic drinking straw sticking into one of the fingers.  That's actually quite nice, it sounds a bit like a bassoon.

David Price -   And the nice thing about it is at one end you get a lot of vibrations that people can actually feel, you put your finger on top of it and it's really tickly - you can feel the vibrations.  And out of the other end we have an opening where the sound comes out, so it's linking vibration and sound, sound and vibration.

Ben -   What else have you got to explain things here?

David Price -   Well what we have here is a, well, it's a recording of Shirley Bassey, but maybe as you've never heard Shirley before.  I'll just set her up...

Ben -   Okay, well from what I can tell this is an old vinyl record and it seems to have a VW camper van on the top.  Now, I've got a record player at home, I quite enjoy listening to vinyl, but I've never listened to vinyl using a camper van...

David Price -   What we have here is a camper van, with a little stylus in the bottom of it.  It's powered by a battery to run around the record so the needle, that's the stylus, is in the grooves of the record.  It's got a little speaker in the top of the van, so it's a miniature record player.

Ben -   So instead of the record turning on a turntable, the camper van actually rotates around the record to play the music for you?

David Price -   Absolutely, so I'll set it up now and we'll see if we can listen to a little bit of Shirley Bassey...

[A scratchy, slowed down recording of Shirley Bassey plays - almost totally unrecognizable!] Listen here:

Ben -   Well it's certainly working... I'm not sure that's how Shirley really wanted people to listen to her though.

David Price -   No, no, probably not how she wanted us to listen to her.  One of the reasons it sounds a bit strange is that your record player at home knows to speed up going round the outside of the record, and slow down as it gets towards the centre of the record, a shorter distance.

Ben -   So when it's towards the outside of the record you have so much further to go for one rotation, so it needs to do that a bit quicker.

David Price -   Absolutely, absolutely.  But our little camper van here unfortunately doesn't know that it has to do that, and so the sound starts to sound really, really weird as you get closer into the centre.

Ben -   Well I think it's probably best that we listen with CD's at home, but David, thank you ever so much and I hope you enjoy the rest of the festival.

David Price -   Thank you very much indeed, thank you.

Chris Receiving AwardBen -   Also at the Manchester Science Festival is Living legend Johnny Ball.  Now Johnny, do you think it's important that people get the opportunity to engage with science at events like this?

Johnny Ball -   I think they do [engage people].  I don't think they should all be naked, as you are; you know, I'd like to keep my underpants on!  But it's very important that we engage them.  The difficulty is in engaging people who aren't interested in science.  You can always get the people who are already interested in science in, and there are many more that really would love it if we could only nurture them in and light them up.  It's a scientific world, it's a technological world, it's an engineering world and it's a magical world and all of this gets better.  We do, scientifically, improve n every aspect of science every year and we've got to tell more people about it, and bring more people in to be the next generation to continue the successes.

Ben -   We've been doing a few demonstrations at Manchester Piccadilly today, is there any particular little science experiment that's been your favourite to do?

Johnny Ball -   Yes, I have one, and you can do this with either a billiard cue or a normal sweeping brush.  Put your fingers about a yard or a meter apart, your hands outstretched about a meter apart, and get somebody, you can do it, to put the brush or the billiard cue on the two fingers.  The head, or the thick end is at one end, and the light end is at the other end.  So when your fingers come in it's going to overbalance, isn't it?

Ben -   I would expect it would overbalance, yes...

Johnny Ball -   So close your eyes and slowly bring your hands together.  You'll be amazed what happens because you'll still be doing it when your fingers touch in the middle. Explain that!

Ben -   That's fantastic!  Well we will have to do that in Kitchen Science soon, but thank you ever so much for chatting to us.

Johnny Ball -   Pleasure!

Ben -   Now Michael and Charlie here have had a go at all of our experiments.  So what do you think about having science experiments in somewhere like a train station?

Michael -   It's very interesting because people just while they're walking past from out of a train, can have a look at a science experiment and go "Ooh look at that!"  It's interesting, so people who wouldn't normally go to something like a science fair walk past and if it's interesting they can just have a quick look.

Ben -   So do you think that this sort of thing would encourage you to do more science at school?

Charlie -   Yeah, I reckon so.  If you're interested in it you're going to want to carry on and possibly even do it after GCSE and do it for A-Level and stuff like that.  It's really interesting if you know what it's like.

Ben -   Well that's it for the Naked Scientists at Manchester Piccadilly train station as part of the Manchester Science Festival, but next time you're waiting for a train, just think of the science experiments you could be doing!

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