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Pint of Science 2018

Last month Warwick’s Public Engagement Team joined up with our counterpart at Coventry University to host Coventry’s first ever Pint of Science festival! It’s been a hectic few months organising everything but over the course of the festival we were thrilled to run 10 events with over 30 different speakers. Over 300 members of the public attended, with the vast majority of events selling out!

We heard about everything from the physics of rollercoasters; finding new sunscreens; how to hide a panda and what time of day you should take paracetamol. There were talks on the behaviour of the sun, ice, diamonds, batteries, healthcare, measuring natural disasters, our hearts, brains and emotions, the life of a fly, the potential destruction of the universe and so much more! Overall it was a fantastic 3 days full of jaw dropping facts and fun filled talks.

We’d like to say a huge thank you to Shop Front Theatre, The Phoenix, Drapers and Twisted Barrel for hosting us. As well as all of you who came along, our fantastic team of student volunteers and all our speakers from across both universities. Make sure you hear about all our future activities by following @WarwickEngages on Twitter.

Here's what some of our our volunteers (who we roped into being roving reporters for us!) had to say about the events:

Bringing healthcare into the pub

Andrew Marsh, Department of Chemistry

@marshgroup

Discussing science in the pub, or coffee bar is not a new thing for many of us in academia. It’s where some of the most passionate arguments are fermented, ideas inspired, or controversial announcements made. This year I was lucky enough to volunteer to act as “media support” for Coventry’s first foray into the best known science communication event that has become an international hit only 5 years after its beginnings in London: “Meet the Researchers” now known as Pint of Science.

I chose to attend two events: Mental Health and Me – a hot topic for students and staff alike and Healthcare in the 21st Century. Both are areas of intense research that extend way beyond the boundaries that many of us might perceive. I was especially excited that researchers from both universities in our city were going to be presenting and a timely reminder in Coventry University’s 175th anniversary year that its young suburban upstart shares similar aspirations and objectives.

Projects were showcased, areas explained and hypotheses expounded. It was brilliant! Particular highlights in The Phoenix on Monday included hearing Rebecca Diez (@justdiez) explaining how the neurotransmitter adenosine is a chemical superhero, acting to calm down the brain’s excitatory pathways and psychiatrist Dr Ben Perry’s (@ben_thepsych) audience participation to sensitively introduce us to how difficult it must be to hold a conversation if someone is, quite literally, talking in your ear. Dr Perry’s research includes exploring possible links between what seem to be quite disparate disease areas. Could pathways that lead to inflammation in the body (including brain) play a part in both type 2 diabetes and the development of serious psychiatric disorders such as psychosis in those who are susceptible? Since the time of philosopher Descartes we have been tempted to separate mind (with all of its wonderful feelings and emotions) from the body (with all of its frailties). Perhaps the 21st Century will bring a richer understanding of the links that allow us to explain to people why “what is good for your heart is good for your brain” in tackling devastating conditions such as dementia. We have very few pharmacological pills that can be deployed to prevent or treat conditions such as these. Whilst there are approaches such as enabling and supporting people to be more active in their everyday lives, these have been under-appreciated by many, or the real challenges misunderstood.

What would I love to see on next year’s programme? I’m glad you asked! Why social movements need to be the biggest player in changing what and how we eat, and how friendships can add years of enjoyment to our lives, whether in the pub or in the park.

Technology Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes happening now!

Laura De Sousa Oliveira, School of Engineering

Ph.D. student Evé Wheeler-Jone started the evening by teaching us how batteries work and in doing so paved the way for Dr. Melanie Loveridge to inform us on the prospects of 2D materials for use in next-generation batteries. In this first talk, "The future of batteries: 2D or not 2D?", Dr. Ridges talked about some of the cutting-edge research that is being undertaken on the topic at Warwick University.

We then switched gears, with Arun Ulahannan's talk,"The winding path to the driverless future". In his talk, Arun discussed some aspects of the human dimension in vehicle automation, and its societal impact. He dispelled some myths about the "trolley car problem" by bringing to our attention other, more likely, ways an automated car might be programmed to make such a difficult choice (for example, by following rode regulations or most-likely outcome, instead of evaluating the cost of human life).

Finally, Dr. Andrij Vasylenko asked a question and ventured an answer in his lecture titled "Nano-technology: A solution for green energy?". The broad conclusion is that the future is optimistic and, to paraphrase Andrij, a physicist [or researcher] must dream big to bring about change.

And what did the audience have to say about all this? Well, from what I gathered they had a good time. When asked about the attendees, the speaker Arun was quick to reply they were an engaged and participative audience. One engaged member of the audience, who works in the automobile industry as a quality manager, was particularly interested in the societal aspects of autonomous cars and expressed appreciation in a talk about not just the technical aspects of science and engineering, but its societal impact. He was also happy that Pint of Science took place in Coventry — it seems previously he was making the trip to Birmingham to attend.

I also spoke to a father who came with his son, a high school student considering a career in STEM. I asked him what new things he learned and he mentioned as an example the equivalent amount of diesel that is required to produce the same energy as a car battery. The answer was less than a liter. We also learned the equivalent in cookies and malteesers units.

When asked about what she had learned that evening, another audience member enthusiastically told me "all of it was new!".

The power of words

Flo Swann, Centre for the History of Medicine
@Warwick_Flo

A jovial and informative evening was had at Shopfront Theatre in Coventry on Monday 14 May, as academics from the University of Warwick and Coventry University came together for Pint of Science 2018. Aimed at making science accessible to the punter on the street, Pint of Science talks are short and varied.

Monday at Shopfront saw us explore the theme of The Power of Words from various angles. Anthony Burgess wrote 6 novels in 1961, after being diagnosed with a brain tumour. One of them was the classic A Clockwork Orange, immortalised in the Kubrick film. Burgess’ idea was that the reader would be ‘brainwashed’ into understanding Nadsat, a slang or argot language he had constructed for his Youth to speak. An interesting discussion was had about how this English language novel, containing a made-up language slightly based on Russian, was translated into Russian. The answer is that the first translation just made all the Nadsat into standard Russian, somewhat missing the point! Later versions played with using Cyrilic script or English for Nadsat.

The second talk explored the way refugees are systematically dehumanised by the language used by people opposing immigration. The UK media has a much higher instance of the use of word ‘Migrant’, implying some choice, to ‘Refugee’, implying none.

The third talk explored French melodrama as performed by Napoleonic prisoners of war. Tens of thousands of French prisoners were kept in England, some in purpose built prisons like Dartmoor, and the French theatre buffs amongst them even built a fully equipped theatre in Portchester. The performances were so popular that they were stealing audiences from English theatres. The best way for us to explore this gesture based theatre was to do it – so audience members were equipped with a basic training in gurning, according to instruction manuals, and costume and performed a scene from a classis. Much hilarity ensued.

Discover even more of the conversation that went on via Twitter.

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