The Naked Scientists Dream Gadgets

The team discuss what they would most like to get under their tree this Christmas...
18 December 2011

Interview with 

Dominic Ford, Helen Scales, Dave Ansell


Figure 1: The Andromeda Galaxy


Chris -  One of the things we're asking our crew to do this week is to come up with the piece of tech that they would most like to see under their Christmas tree on Christmas day.  Dominic, you're up first.  So what's your ideal dream tech Christmas present?

Dominic -   This makes it a bit like a cliché but I think for any astronomer to The Andromeda Galaxyhave a time machine...

Chris -   I thought you'd say your own black hole.

Dominic -   Well black hole might be quite fun as well.  I think a time machine to be able to sit at a telescope and to see how objects change over the course of millions of years would be really incredible because a problem that astronomers have, they get to study these absolutely huge awe-inspiring objects that are often incredibly violent in ways which are quite hard to comprehend; forming stars and supernovae explosions and so on. 

But because these objects, galaxies, are so large, it might take light 10,000 years to travel from one side of a galaxy to another and that galaxy isn't going to significantly change shape or evolve before your eyes in a human lifetime.  So, I think to be able to sit at your telescope and fast forward a million years and actually see these things colliding and forming stars, and doing all these processes that we theorise they undergo, it would be really quite awe-inspiring.

Chris - Dave, what's yours?

Dave -   What I'd really like is an incredibly strong piece of string.  I would really like to go to space but I think space rockets sound a bit dodgy.  You are essentially sitting on a huge great piece of explosive and they're also incredibly energy intensive because in order to get the force upwards, I'm going to get it by throwing fuel down and the further up you go, the more fuel you get carry, and the more fuel you're carrying up, the more fuel you need so that it get to be immense and incredibly inefficient. 

So, what you could do is build something called a space elevator.  You get a geostationary satellite, a big heavy lump just outside your stationary orbit, you just put a piece of string up to it and then that string is in tension because the Earth is actually pulling that satellite around all the time and you got a great big long wire which you can climb up.  The problem is, there is no material that we can produce at the moment which could possibly be strong enough.  If you made it out of steel, it would have to be bigger than the Earth at the top to be able to support itself all the way down at the bottom.  And so, a piece of string, strong enough to build a space elevator would be wonderful.

Chris -   Thanks very much, Dave.  So Helen, carrying on with the theme of your dream tech or gadget to find under your Christmas tree on Christmas day, what's yours?

Helen -   I would like to have a Babel fish that works underwater.  So by that I mean the invention of the little tiny creature that you stick in your ear and it will translate any language for you and my particular desire will be to have one that will let me know what the fish are thinking or if they're not thinking...

Chris -   So the aquatic equivalent of the Dr. Doolittle really.

Helen -   Well yes, I guess I do want to basically talk to the fish or I just really want to listen in.  I don't necessarily want to tell them anything.  I would just want to know what they're thinking because I think we could probably learn quite a lot if we understood more about how they perceive the world, what's going on around them, what's going on in there basically.  So a Babel fish that works underwater for all of the marine creatures, please.  That would be lovely, thank you!


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