Nicky's Blog / Students Blogs

Day five at the festival with Nicky

It’s not me, it was my nuerons. Thats what started off day five for me. This was a discussion on the existance of free will. The actions we make are ‘decided’ by our brains 8 seconds before we are aware of the thought to act. So is free will an illusion, if we make decisions before we are aware of it? But we are our brain; it is our own so even if decisions are made before we are aware, surely it is still our own decision. A interesting case study which may change your mind is the case of a 40 year old man from Virginia who developed severe paedophilic tendancies due to a very large tumour pressing on his orbitofrontal lobe. When the tumour was removed all paedophilic tendencies ceased. The tumour returned and so did the symptoms. It was removed again and so were the symptoms. So his brain was causing these paedophilic tendancies, but was it him? I’ll let you decide.
Next was the Charles Darwin award lecture on the surprising secrets of giant land animals, being with a visit from a tryransosaurus. The talk was evolved around the mechanisms of locomation used by giant land animals, based on extant elephants and the computer-based theoretical walking techniques of dinosaurs. If a chicken was scaled up to the size of a TRex it would not be able to walk. It takes highly specialised adaptations to be able to move if your as big as an elephant. Elephants can’t jump, can’t gallop and can never take all feet off the ground as humans do in running. TRex were thought to be at least 1000kg but some elephants can reach 11000kg! Their immense weight, as with dinosaurs, can largely be attributed to their vast muscles. It truly is incredible how they can move.

Robotic dinosaur before the Charles Darwin award lecture

Electricity. It is everywhere. Your TV, your phone, lightbulbs, even your cars. But did you know its in your body too. And it can be used to treat diseases. Since 2750BC electricity has been used as a therapy. The Nile catfish was thought to be used by Egyptians as it was known as the ‘thunders of the Nile’. Romans used electric fish as a treatment for gout by eletricuting their foot until it felt numb and hence better. In 1771 it was discovered that animals controlled their muscles through electrical impulses. This was used to scare the public in shows by making corpses move, severed heads to chattered their teeth etc. Until this was banned due to the increased rate of grave-robbery. In the 20th century electric baths were used as a therapy for various ailments. Electric shocks to the brain were used to treat despression; giving them a jolt of life. Recent studies have shown that electricity is an important stimulus for healing. New studies are investigating the use of external electrical pulses to improve senses in paralysed individuals; with some such success in a pre-trial in dogs. But there is a long way to go before this is ready for treatments.
To end the talks for day five was the Victorian spectacular. A show of entertainment taken straight from the Victorian era. From a scientific talk to a picture show to some of the first even cinematic films. Of course there had to be some real science in there in the form of unpredictable explosions. To finish of the evening was an unforgettable End of the World party with radiation suits and glitter for all those on the bursary scheme.


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