Nicky's Blog

Day one at the British Science Festival with Nicky

The park we walk through each day from Hillhead Halls to the University of Aberdeen campus

So the first day of the festival is over and I thoroughly enjoyed it. To start the day off was a talk on How the Body Shapes the Mind. This wasn’t what I expected from the description provided. It concentrated more about the mind and the responses to language but not very much about the body in relation to the mind. However, it was still a very interesting talk and I learnt a lot. For example, when we are doing a task such as kicking a football, the motor-sensory region of our brain is activated. But the interesting thing is this area of the brain is also activated when we are only thinking about doing theses tasks. The most prominent thing I learnt was our innate association of males with darker shades and females with lighter shades. This was discovered through a range of tasks require name organisation into male or female with the names appearing in various colours. For example, male names where most quickly recognised as male when the name appeared in blue rather than pink and black rather than white.

To follow this good start to the festival days, I moved onto a talk about the colouration of ancient insects. We have a currently very limited knowledge of how animals evolved such a wide variety of vivid colours for camoflauge, warning and communications etc. Maria McNamara aims to use insect fossils to discover the origins of these structural colours. The most interesting fact I learnt from this is that structural colours are always the brightest and strongest colours present in the animal kingdom, as apposed to their alternative pigmentation colours.

Pizzly Bear

Probably one of my favourite talks on the first day was with Simon Watt, Inside Natures Giants Uncut. This was particularly interesting thanks to all the random facts he threw out there like whales can have 10 tonnes of blood running through their arteries and veins being pumped by a heart the size off a small car! And when whales open their mouths to take in water for filtering out food, the water quantity is equivalent to the size of a bus, doubling their weight. Snakes have ‘snorkels’ in their mouth so that when they are swollowing prey much larger than themselves, they do not suffocate. Due to the climate changes across the world, there are now 33 hybrid species in the artic regions such as the pizzly bear which is a hybrid of a male polar bear and female grizzly bear. This is largely due to the temperature change with polar bears moving south and grizzly bears migrating now, removing the spatial seperation of the species.

One of the beautiful buildings of the Unversity of Aberdeen campus, illuminate in the evenings.


After a short break it was back into more talks but this time about sperm warfare. All about peacocks wearing bling to attract females and barnacles having the worlds longest penis. Human females are the only animal species with permanent breasts which is thought to help conceal a females reproductive status from the males. Many people know already that the pray mantis decaptates males during copulation. But do you know why? The male pray mantis has two brains; one in the head and one at the rear end of the abdomen. The head brain is in control and suppresses the rear brain. This prevents male copulation. So in order to mate, the female must remove the head of the male so the other brain can take control and initiate copulation.

To finish off a great start to the British Science Festival I attended the Festival of the Spoken Nerd. And it was nerdy. Math jokes, yes jokes about Maths, were impossible to escape and even harder not to laugh at. Musical science and of course things on fire can’t be missed out of such a show. It really was a brilliant end to the day.


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