Singing science at Christmas

23 December 2018

Interview with

Rishi Nag, Wellcome Genome Campus

Christmas santa band

Christmas santa band

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Dinner's over, presents have been exchanged, so let’s sit back and enjoy some Christmas music. Singer and scientist Rishi Nag from the Wellcome Genome Campus in Cambridge shared his science song about surviving Christmas....

Rishi - Professionally I am working with an organization called the Global Alliance for Genomics and Health. We’re about getting standards for big databases of genomic data to be able to talk to each other and take into account security and things like that.

Chris - So if I've got a whole lot of DNA data and so have you, we want to be able to share that data between us but without risk of breaching confidentiality, breaking anonymity etc.

Rishi - Yeah that's correct. Making it available for research so researchers can run their algorithms over it, but still preserving the patient's confidential information.

Chris - So is that largely a computing problem.

Rishi - It's a mixture of both. I mean on one side, the volume of data provides a computing problem. On the other hand, you've got regulations and things like that that provides a different kind of problem in terms of legal issues around Europe and USA and things like that.

Chris - When you say it's a storage problem, how much information are you trying to store?

Rishi - The paradigm we're using where say there were 1000 genomes donated for research is changing. Genomics England and the NHS are getting 100,000 genomes. So you are storing petabytes of data.

Chris - Every petabyte is a thousand big hard discs you find in your average family computer.

Rishi - Yeah. And because you're talking about sequencing populations rather than just sort of a selected group of individuals now.

Chris - Yeah. So how did the singing scientist come along then?

Rishi - I was working in the plant sciences department a while back. One of the hard working plants there was something called the Arabidopsis thaliana and I sort of one day wrote a song comparing it to roses, using it as a metaphor for how like scientists are hard working but not recognised necessarily within society, whereas you get the reality TV stars being like the roses, who are not so contributing but high publicity and things like that.

Chris - How did that go down? Was that successful?

Rishi - Yeah that went really well actually. Then I started writing science songs purely for science.

Chris - And now? What does the singing scientist do these days?

Rishi - This year I was offered a grant from the public engagement team at the Wellcome Genome Campus. What I had was a mismatch of songs from different scientific areas that had been of interest and one of the comments had been let's turn this into a story. So I came up with the idea of ‘Genomics the Musical’ and one of the important things when you’re doing these science songs on stage is to have videos to help explain what's going on. I had the first live performance of this in November.

Chris - How did it go down?

Rishi - Really well. I had a bit of trepidation when I saw a large number of like six to 10 year olds walking through the room, so I made some last minute adjustments on my slides to sort of include the word poo on them to make sure they were entertained through the 45 minute set.

Chris - And you're going to do us a song?

Rishi - Yeah. I tried to think back about what was my most wow moment of the year from the science world. I think it was the sight of the Tesla going off into space and then these Falcon Heavy rockets, those booster rockets, that landed simultaneously. I used that as a framing for this idea of a song on the theme of surviving Christmas.

Chris - We will hear about that in just a second. How are you getting on Katie? Have you got your breathalyser result? Are you still safe to drive?

Katie - I am as safe as I could possibly be. Either the test doesn't work or it's made no difference.

Chris - You haven't eaten enough cake. You have to eat another one.

Katie - I’ve got to try harder.

Chris - If we record the programme again, you just eat another one. Eventually we'll get a reading.

Katie - I might be asleep by that point Chris.

Chris - Right, Rishi, over to you!

[music]

Rishi - I’m dressed in red flying through the sky, my presence opens wondrous eyes as they gaze into the night. But I am no Santa Claus I am a product of a Space X launch. A Falcon Heavy flying up so bright.

I’m a Tesla Roadster supercar, sent by a man who wants to get to Mars. Driving round really fast, orbiting the sun as my star. As I float around in space, I get hit by cosmic rays. I am a car it spoils my paint but it really would ruin your face. If that didn't get you, you would die up here it's minus 105. So don't complain it's cold outside, baby if you wanna survive Christmas 2018, stay on Earth next to a tree, just make sure, you’re not the starman driving me.

[music]

My launch was meticulously planned as well as the Insight lander which will show us what’s deep down inside of Mars. Curiosity managed to survive the Martian dust all planet sized. Opportunity wasn't quite so hard. So don't send it a Christmas card. 12 days of Christmas to celebrate. Then 12 years to stop climate change, making Christmas 2038 something strange in a different place. Surviving Christmas ‘18 will seem easy compared to stopping frozen poles turning greasy. If this season's about the best of humanity, there's nothing more be better than for the planety!

I’m a Tesla Roadster supercar, sent by a man who wants to get to Mars. Driving round really fast, orbiting the sun as my star. As I float around in space, I get hit by cosmic rays. I am a car it spoils my paint but it really would ruin your face. If that didn't get you, you’d still die up here it's minus 105. So don't complain it's cold outside, baby if you wanna survive Christmas 2018, stay on Earth next to a tree, just make sure, you’re not the starman driving me.

[music]

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