Recently by Kenny Webster
When I was a research biochemist, I used to enjoy the occasions when I would meet someone new, perhaps in the pub, and they would ask me what I do for a living. Upon hearing the word 'biochemist', you could see their face turn to stone and the panic come over them in a wave as they tried to think of a follow up line that did not involve having to ask what a biochemist is or does. More often than not, this thinking time would rapidly become a tumbleweed moment and I wish I had never said the dreaded B word. Apparently though, if you are a genetic counsellor, rather than a tumbleweed moment, one of the common responses you get is, "so you tell people not to have children then?". And this is how the October Birmingham Café Scientifique started.
Organ donation is always an interesting discussion because it is one of those things that most people, if you were to ask them, do not seem to have an issue with and are generally very supportive of in the UK. And yet we have one of the lowest rates of organ donation in Europe. Why is this? To start to discuss these points, the first thing you need is someone who knows a thing or two about organ donation and the second is a suitable environment for honest and open discussion - welcome to the Birmingham Café Scientifique.
Fusion Reactors are about 40 years away! When I first heard this, I thought it was a reasonable and uncharacteristically honest estimate of the time it will take to develop an as yet untested technology into a reliable energy source for the future. As the discussion developed though, it became apparent that this was an in-joke amongst fusion scientists - the joke being that fusion reactors have always been and will always continue to be 40 years away!
It has been a strange week here at Thinktank Birmingham Science Museum. Without necessarily planning it this way, I seem to have spent a significant amount of time working with neuroscientists and psychologists, which inevitably leads to lots of discussions about the human brain. I have also been electrocuted and attacked by a giant millipede but it is the neuroscience that is actually more interesting.
Black Holes conjure up a variety of images for people. To some, they are beautiful, celestial objects that drift through the cosmos whilst to others they are fierce, destructive forces that seek out and destroy other worlds in an attempt to satisfy an insatiable appetite. To yet others, they are imaginary; made up by astronomers to fill gaps in what we think we know. To those people that came to the December Birmingham Café Scientifique, a new understanding of Black Holes was formed, that brought together current research from a variety of fields, in an evening that was entertaining and fascinating in equal measure.
Apparently I am not a gamer! Whilst I was obviously devastated to hear this at first, I was able to overcome my distress and continue with the Birmingham Cafe Scientifique earlier this month and to find out if games are changing the world.
I will be honest and say that I didn't really know what to expect from the evening; I didn't have any real idea about serious games are. There was something about the concept of games being serious that struck me as being potentially interesting and I am relieved to say that it was a really fascinating evening. It was early on in the evening when I made my faux pas and asked if 'Call of Duty' was the war-based equivalent of the games that I see Sheldon et al play on The Big Bang Theory. A) it is not, and B) if you don't know this then you are 'so not a gamer'. Mind you, if anyone is going to tell you that you are not a gamer, then the Director of Research, Prof Sara de Freitas, at the Serious Games Institute of Coventry University is probably one of the best people to be able to tell you this!
At first sight (no pun intended) this is a rather strange question to ask. We all know what we mean by colour and we all generally agree on which colours are which, in which case, how much discussion is there to be had on the subject of 'what is colour?' How wrong could I have been! This month's Birmingham Café Scientifique asked this very question and our guide for the night was Prof Tom Marsh of the University of Warwick, an astrophysicist by trade. Not only is the concept of colour very important to him professionally, but he also has a keen interest in the human psyche and our perceptions of colour.
I received my first complaint about the Birmingham Cafes Scientifique this month! One of the people who received my Email reminder felt quite strongly that I had made a grave error in judgement by inviting the Soil Association to come and talk to our informal gathering. Not only had I invited the Soil Association, but I had also invited their Director of Communications and she was therefore a 'poor choice of non-scientist'. The gentleman concerned made it quite clear in his Email that he would not be attending the propaganda based evening that I had clearly planned.
It is such a shame that biofuels have a bad name for themselves. Last week, at the monthly Birmingham Café Scientifique, we had an incredible evening with Prof Andreas Hornung from Aston University on the subject of biofuels and in particular, the technological and engineering advances that he has made, such that they are a very realistic alternative fuel of the future. What was particularly great to hear was that Aston University is very soon going to put into operation a biofuels reactor that will provide heat and power to the campus - in a significant way.
Several years ago, an unusual article appeared in the science journal Nature that caught my eye. It could have been the picture of the armadillo, or the word 'penis' (unusual in high end scientific literature!) that I noticed first, but the combination of the two was surely a recipe for a good story. It was an article about a research group that studied penis structure, using the armadillo as their model animal. Whilst the article was interesting, there was an entertaining section at the end on why armadillo was chosen as the model for this work; armadillos are found in the roadkill lining the highways of Florida.