Beckie's Blog / Students Blogs

Science Needs Passion (Day 1 with Beckie)

First day at the British Science festival, here’s my recap.

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Why the bride does not wear black by Gün R Semin. Picture by Jose Villa

First up How the Body Shapes the Mind comprising four talks by current academics about how the brain enables cognitive function. Whilst we didn’t learn that much about Why the Bride does Not Wear Black, apart from the fact the traditional white dress dates back to Queen Victoria’s wedding to Albert of Sax in 1845, we did learn that light colours will increase the ability to classify female names and dark colours male names. Social convention seeping through into how the brain conceives the world identifying strength and dark colours as more masculine, something that has been exploited in Coca-Cola’s marketing of Coke Zero compared to the more feminine Diet Coke.

The presentation of current research continued in the next talk, Science Needs Passion by Gabriella Vigliocco, who presented data comparing emotional scoring of “concrete” words, like cat or house, and words with “abstract” meanings, such as achievement and algebra. These abstract concepts cannot be touched; we cannot interact with them through sensory and motor activities, they are symbolic and removed from our bodies. Processed through symbols hearing abstract words increases activity in the language areas of the brain more than concrete words, after all abstract words are conveyed through language. Gabriella demonstrated that the abstract words have greater emotional connection and are learnt earlier in life.

For the final bit of this event Arthur Glenberg demonstrated the need for physical engagement in the learning of language. He highlighted the fact that bodily systems used for perception and action are also used in language understanding, something that was written about back in 1967 by Maria Motessori but is only now being investigate now. His research shows that upon engaging with the text through physical action or imagination there is increased recollection and even improved mathematical problem solving.

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Respect for the multitasking ability of Maggie Pocock here at the NASA space station. Photo from the BBC

Following a short stint on the British Science Association stand, playing with airzookas and home made rockets, it was off to Do we Really Need Satellites? by Maggie Aderin-Pocock. Maggie brilliantly juggled keeping the attention of her young daughter and delivering a flawless presentation. She is know for presenting BBC TWO’s “In orbit: How satellites rule our world” earlier this year describing how much our lives depend on satellites and the advances in engineering have allowed for the satelites of today; from those controlling our clocks, televisions, transport, food and water, to those avaliable on demand at the touch of a button. We use satelites for security, providing such detail as to identify an individuals in a sports ground, but also for scientific research. Satellites can be pointed down at the Earth, studying polar ice caps or searching for clues from the past that has shaped the world we stand on, or pointed out into space to look at the history of the universe. What to look out for: the launch of the James Webb Space Telescope in around 2018, the satellite is at the cutting edge of science and technology that will peer deep into the universe to help us understand how our universe was made, and NASA’s next generation of PhoneSat satellites. Based on smartphones these cost saving, mini satellites would be the size of a coffee mug and cost around $3500 each.

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Sperm train getting there faster. Photo from Nature News

Next was some scientific entertainment Simon Watt style in the form of Sperm Warfare. Before even getting in the room I was informed Simon is an amazing speaker by Anna who had seen his Dissections Uncut earlier in the day. I was not disappointed, although slightly grossed out at points. I know the girls were keen to write all about Simon, so I shall leave it to them to tell you all about permanently pendulous breast, wonder bras, sperm budgeting and George Clooney. I shall just share the fact that apparently this is the most attractive I shall ever be as after the age of 25 women “age like milk”. This is the seldom quoted continuation of “men age like fine wine”. Well any man would get a slap for saying that, actually I’m not sure how Simon got away with it.

Finally Cafe Controversial asking us to think about the use of animals and children in drug testing. Whilst I’m not going to comment on the wrongs or rights, it was interesting to find out about possible replacements for in vitro animal research, in the form or artificial skin and micro dosing, and the potential funding available for such research.

All in all a fairly busy day…

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