Science, comedy and music – Oh My!

Julie at the x-change

The x-change: x-citing, x-plosive, x-perimental(!) made an x-ceptional comeback this year at the Festival. There was no better way to spend a lunch time at the Festival than being entertained by geeky music, science demos and cutting edge research. With the help of four fantastic volunteers, Caroline, Emma, Liz and Marcus, team SiS managed to put on show after show of science-y goodness.

 To mention everyone involved would fill up a small book, so I will give you only a few of the many highlights here. But if you do want to read about (and listen to!) all our speakers, go to the x-change website at

 What a way to start such a brilliant week with Sir Paul Nurse, Nobel prize-winning geneticist and the “David Beckham of biology”, charming us with snippets from his ‘Great Ideas in Biology’ talk, which was completely sold out. Prof Nurse explained what initially attracted him to Biology – “physics seemed to be all solved” – and finished by stressing that scientists need to “bang the drum for science” to ensure funding and inspire others.

Helen Arney graced us with her geeky songs in Wednesday’s show, telling the tales of Schroedinger and a hamster, the under-valued sun and an icy love story. Tim Drysdale spoke of his experiences travelling through whole-body scanners, and how they used x-rays to see him naked. And from nudity to sperm, TV presenter and biologist Simon Watt explained the inefficiency of the human race to reproduce before bringing our attention to the many undervalued ugly animals on this planet.

Thursday was our busiest day in the Spiegeltent, with an audience of more than 120 delving into the Quantum Universe with Professors Brian Cox and Jeffrey Forshaw. They wowed us with the wonders of the quantum world after Matt Parker demonstrated that even a trip to the pub can be used for scientific data collecting!

Food Friday was deliciously delightful, with cheese, cocktails and cannibalism (each to their own). Sarah Castor-Perry taught the audience how to make their own cheese, Noel Jackson was challenged “Ready, Steady, Cook!” style to make a cocktail and, to throw in some science, Tom Whyntie and Andrew Pontzen bickered on stage about the dubious dark matter that seems to dominate our universe.

The only way to end a show is with a bang, and so we did with our Demo Spectacular. OK, we didn’t have any bangs, but we did have Greg Foot, Rob Wix and Jamie Gallagher exploding Jelly Babies and using the SiS Assistant Julie Gould to power a motor and household electronics.

The x-change was a huge success this year, with our biggest ever audiences, and our best line-ups yet. “Absolutely great, smashing show” was just one of the great comments we had from our audience. We had an amazing time producing the show, and cannot wait to see what next year will bring. Newcastle, watch out!


Julie Gould is the Science in Society Assistant for the British Science Association. She is starting the Science Communication MSc this autumn at Imperial College, London. She has a blog and you can follow her on Twitter @JuliePCGould.

Notions and nerdgasms

Who’s who?
Image drawn by Lucy Wyatt

A week ago, I’d never been to a science festival. I’d never been A Journalist. I didn’t know anything at all about physics and I certainly couldn’t tell you what dark matter is supposed to be, or how spacetime works. I’d never seriously considered artificial intelligence as viable. I knew that mathematics is used to solve crime because I’ve seen it on Numb3rs, but it hadn’t occurred to me how useful the same algorithms are for analysing the social network of the world. I knew a fair bit about evolutionary biology, and the concept of island biogeography, but I didn’t know how a physicist would approach them. Continue reading

Mingling in the Speakers’ Lounge

Iain Stewart gives his talk on The Story of the Continents

When first accepted as a speakers’ lounge assistant for this year’s Festival I was excited at the prospect of a glamorous setting; a place where the speakers and I would relax, exchange anecdotes and generally have the time of our lives. And this is exactly what I got. But what I didn’t expect was everything that came with it. Continue reading