Butts, books and bees at the x-change



The x-change is a regular Festival slot hosted by journalist and broadcaster Sue Nelson which allows you to catch up with some of the speakers from the day’s Festival programme over a drink or a bite to eat in the bar.  

Our guest blogger Cat O’Donovan fills us in on what happened as last nights event.

As you might expect on day one of the x-change it was hectic. Five science graduates sporting the brightest pink t-shirts ever seen were let loose on the Festival, visiting talks and events across the campus. At 6.15pm, in Chancellors Bar it was show time and the day’s build-up culminated in a mixture of nerves, excitement, confusion and curly fries.

Dr Kerry Kirwan caught the crowd’s attention early on by waving chocolate and wine in the air. It transpires he’d used waste fats and alcohol to power his lean, mean, green F3 racing car, and carrots to make the steering wheel. Little did I know that I could use the fibres to fashion car parts. I just thought you could roast them for dinner. How naive.

Next up Dr Nikki Gammans took us through her work, reintroducing a species of bumblebee that had become extinct in the UK. She’s planning to go over to New Zealand at the end of the year (it’s a tough life being a scientist!) where the species still thrives, in order to select and breed a population of queens to bring back with her.

And then… Well… Stuart MacBride. Top crime author. ‘How do you research the science for your books?’ Sue asked. ‘Well,’ he replied, ‘Mostly I just make stuff up.’ Interesting. When asked further as to whether he ever checks his science facts, Stuart launched into a story regarding his research into just how much cocaine a character could smuggle inside his body. A gastroenterologist from the audience joined in this discussion. 10 minutes later, half the crowd were in tears laughing, a quarter were appalled and another quarter were really wishing they weren’t in the middle of eating dinner. We never did find out how much you could smuggle – perhaps we’ll have to read the book.

A brisk return to science fact from science fiction came with the final speaker of the evening, Dr Paddy Regan of the University of Surrey. As a leading physicist on exotic nuclei Paddy, (or Professor Polonium) was heavily involved in the UK media coverage of Alexander Litvinenko’s death from Polonium 210 poisoning.

And not to forget the evening’s ‘perspectives’ post graduates (see earlier blog); each with 2 minutes to describe their research. Chicken microbes, solar power spray, gene therapy and computer central heating. How can you top such a brilliant evening of diverse science spiel? Come to the x-change tonight to find out!

The x-change takes place from Monday 7 – Thursday 10 September in the Chancellors Bar at the University of Surrey.

Check out Sue Nelson’s blog on the BBC website http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/sci/tech/8240096.stm

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