Science with a beer and a board game

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Zombies, sci-fi, physics, chemistry, logic, maths. Something for everyone.

“Is this board game thing going to make me feel dumb?” My friend Kayla sent me this text after I had asked whether she and her mother wanted to join me for the ‘State of Play: Science Board Games’ event that was happening down at the Centre for Contemporary Arts (CCA). What started as an idea for a pleasant afternoon of beers, casual chit chat and aggressive table flipping quickly became about something much bigger: why are people so scared of the word ‘science’? While Kayla tried to assure me that her hesitation was because “I only expect horrible things from and with you,” (#besties), I was determined to dig a little deeper.

We arrived at the CCA, and after inspecting a mysterious pile of board games left at the foot of the steps, our inquisitive minds took us to the terrace bar where the event organisers, Iain and James, greeted us enthusiastically. “State of Play is a group of like-minded board game enthusiasts. We put on board game activities at festivals and events, and not just science festivals, also book festivals and even canal festivals! We’re keen to share our amazing hobby with people who may not know about modern board gaming, and we’re convinced that gaming is a great way to engage people of any age with a topic or field of study.”

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You’re only as old as you feel. ‘Robot Turtles’ involves planning several moves ahead to get your turtles from A to B, which is a coding skill.

It looked as though we were the first to arrive and so had our pick of the mountain of games on offer. As we began scanning the titles on the boxes, I could see the fear surfacing on Kayla’s face as the thought of an afternoon spent playing ‘New science: The Giants upon whose Shoulders the World of Science Stands’ made her contemplate the life choices that had led her to agreeing to be my friend.

Iain was keen to help us pick our poison and rattled off a quick pitch of some of his favourites. After a brief screening process based on our logic of “this one’s heavy and so must have a lot of science in it,” Iain told us that we should play ‘Pandemic’, a game all about working together to contain a deadly virus outbreak. We swiftly ignored him, of course, in favour of ‘Robot Turtles’, “because they’re robot turtles, Alex!” And just like that, Kayla was home.

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Some *ahem* “fairly” placed obstacles, all in good sportsmanship.

As the guests began setting up the game, I was able to breathe a sigh of relief. Just maybe they would stick around long enough for me to get some half decent pictures, enough to trick people into thinking that they were actually having fun. It wasn’t long, however, until my fears vanished completely. This was my first time meeting Kayla’s mum, but the family resemblance was becoming clear. We were less than ten minutes in to the game, and already the two were inventing different ways they could bend the rules to get their turtles out of a tight spot. Twenty minutes in, and voices were raised in what was being dubbed “the cheating scandal of 2016” (remember kids, yellow flower turns your turtle left, purple flower right). Finally, we had hit family board game bliss, and I couldn’t have been happier.

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Cheating scandal of 2016 – the aftermath.

I began reflecting on what I had experienced with Kayla and her mum. As I had expected, everybody was having a great time, so why had Kayla been so apprehensive earlier? The point of the Glasgow Science Festival is to bring the public together with scientists, have fun and maybe learn a thing or two along the way. There’s no doubt that the festival has achieved this in spades, but still I’m often shocked by how many people attending these ‘public’ engagement events are actually scientists themselves. Herein lies the problem of ‘how do you engage with those that don’t want to be engaged?’

The turtles had been cleared away, and as Kayla basked in the glory of her victory, I was excited to see a new game being brought out, to the delight of the group. The game was ‘Cluedo’, but with some forensic science tweaking. “The twist we’ve made here is that after every round you get a card with a forensic science fact that also gives an extra instruction to the players,” Iain explained proudly. We also decided to do away with the painfully slow dice rolling and just take it in turns to make our deductions about who was responsible for Mr Black’s untimely fate while our playing pieces conducted their investigations from the comfort of the lounge.

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Investigating murders is tiring work, especially when you’re made of plastic.

Before the game was in full swing, I decided to press a little further into what my two companions thought so far. “I just think that the word science can seem a bit overwhelmingly daunting to someone with little to no experience with it,” Kayla admitted. “When you offer a science event or a science game, some people may be put off because they don’t know what type of science they will encounter.”

I asked them what exactly they were expecting when I asked them along to a science board game event. “I guess I thought it was gonna be some kind of science trivia game, with a bunch of scientists sitting around saying like ‘what’s the square root of 7225?’” Kayla laughed. “I’m not gonna lie, I thought that too,” her mother added.

Suddenly I was beginning to understand that it isn’t the presence of ‘science’ that makes these events sound unappealing to some, but the confusion about what the word science even means in the context of the event. Here we were playing with turtles, building towers and catching dinosaurs. You certainly don’t need a PhD to do that.

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Super-rhino! Players take turns building a monstrous tower block of cards, with no regard for planning permission. Like Jenga, but with more lawsuits.

We continued to sit and chat away with James, Iain and his kids as game after game was brought out. Before we knew it, our time was up. We had sat there playing games for the entire duration of the event. What was supposed to be a quick stop in for some pictures had turned in to three hours of fun.

As we gathered our things and gave our thanks to the team, I took the opportunity to ask Kayla whether her opinion of these “science things” I rave about, had changed. “I think this event helped me get over my fear of the word science a bit,” she began. “I feel that I’ve simply been writing off potentially awesome events only because

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‘N-tropy’ More wacky construction with architect-in-the-making David, where the dice roll determines how many of the previous sticks the one you place must touch.

they were labelled as science. I definitely will be less concerned about attending events labelled as science in the future.”

Be sure to check out State of Play’s City Builder event on Sunday 19 June 14:00-17:00 at the CCA terrace bar. These events are part of the wider Glasgow Science Festival schedule.

Can’t make it? Not to worry – The Antonine Board Gamers meet on the third Tuesday of every month in the Wheatsheaf Inn, Main Street, Torrance G64 – For more details contact Iain at  play@othergames.co.uk

Drugs on Trial

Drug doping in sport remains a huge issue which has plagued the headlines in recent weeks. To explore the issue, this year’s Glasgow Science Festival features a special event with a comedian, lawyers, athlete, pharmacologist, sociologist and doctors discussing whether or not drugs in sport should be legalised. Event organiser, GP and Masters student Fran Taylor had a chat with the blog.

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  1. Who are you and what do you do?

    I am Frances Taylor, a general medical practitioner in Lanarkshire, currently doing a Masters degree in Sport and Exercise Science and Medicine at Glasgow University and moonlighting as an opera singer Picture is from last week’s performance as Lucia di Lammermoor.

    2. What brings you to Glasgow Science Festival this year?

    I am involved in helping organise the public engagement event ” Drugs in Sport : The Trial” for my Masters project along with Dr. Jason Gill, Mr. Nairn Scobie and  Dr. Deborah McNeill and Dr. Zara Gladman of GSF.

    3. 2016 is Scotland’s Year of Innovation, Architecture and Design. What innovation could you not live without?

    Digital radio-I’m addicted to crime (drama) !

    4. It’s Glasgow Science Festival’s 10th birthday! We’ll be celebrating with some science-themed cake and balloons. What’s your birthday treat of choice?

    My daughter made me a wonderful Turkish Delight inspired sponge cake for Mother’s Day which would be hard to beat!

    5. And finally: impress us with your favourite science fact or joke.

    One for Zara: Igneous is bliss but being sedimentary is not gneiss

    And for Debbie: Biology is the only science in which multiplication is the same as division

Join Fran and special guests tonight for Drugs in Sport: The Trial, 7pm in the Boyd Orr Building. Tickets are free and can be booked online.

 

Quantum Physics Vs Zombies

Today’s guest blog is by the team at QuantIC, who are showing how quantum physics can be used to save us all from a zombie apocalypse!

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QuantIC is the UK Quantum Technology Hub for Quantum Enhanced Imaging based at the University of Glasgow. Our mission is to translate new technological applications  and revolutionise imaging across industry and consumer markets.

We’re really excited to be involved with the Glasgow Science Festival this year with a few events to promote understanding of Quantum Physics. Many people think it is just weird science but a lot of our modern electronics is based on quantum physics. Lasers and our smartphones for example, wouldn’t exist without it.

Everyone thinks quantum physics is too difficult to understand, so alongside a Quantum Physics Teachers’ Workshop,  we’re doing something completely different to show how quantum technology can  be applied in a zombie outbreak. Yes, the walking dead will be roaming about in a secret location and the audience will have to get involved to survive and save the world! 

We’re hoping everyone who comes will have fun and also learn something about our research. There’ll be some twists and turns – but we’ll keep those as a surprise. Can you escape from the walking dead?

 Join the QuantIC team tonight for Mission Impossible: Agent Photon & the Quest for Quantum. The event is FREE but ticketed, see the website for more details.

Zika Virus: the Glasgow Story

Outbreaks of Zika virus in Brazil have been all over the news. But did you know that a Glasgow scientist helped discover this virus, as revealed in documents found in the University of Glasgow’s archives? A special event for Glasgow Science Festival will explore the past, present and future of this virus.

1. Who are you and what do you do? 

I’m Ellie Tiplady and I’m an Immunology PhD student at the University of Glasgow

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Ellie speaks to reporters about her finding in the University of Glasgow atchives

2. What brings you to Glasgow Science Festival this year?

I’ve been doing an internship with the University Archives, researching a collection donated by Alexander Haddow – one of the discoverers of the Zika virus. We are putting on an event on the 15th of June, with myself and two other panelists, to discuss the present, past and future of the Zika virus.

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Original research notes from the archive

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Haddow’s findings

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The research took place on forest expeditions

3. 2016 is Scotland’s Year of Innovation, Architecture and Design. What innovation could you not live without?

My smartphone – perhaps literally as I have come to depend on it for so much.

4. It’s Glasgow Science Festival’s 10 thbirthday! We’ll be celebrating with some science-themed cake and balloons. What’s your birthday treat of choice?

It’s the one time of year I feel it’s acceptable to eat a whole cake by myself, so I can’t pass that up.

5. And finally: impress us with your favourite science fact or joke.

I’m no good at jokes, hence the academia. My favourite science fact is that the elephant shrew, named for its long nose, turns out to be more closely related to elephants than it is to shrews.

Join Ellie and other Zika experts on Wednesday 15 June from 18:30-20:00 at the University of Glasgow. The event is FREE but ticketed. For information and booking, click here.

 

 

Fun with DNA

DNA, the ‘building block of life’, is what makes us so alike yet so different. This molecule is the subject of three hands-on activities for families at this year’s Glasgow Science Festival, led by postgraduates Weronika, Lauren and Millie.

1.Who are you and what do you do?

Weronika

Weronika: My name is Weronika and I am currently working on a PhD project, which aims to design a quick and simple diagnostic test for hepatitis C virus.

Lauren

Lauren: My name is Lauren and I am currently working on a PhD project which aims to find new treatments for haemorrhagic stroke.

Milly

Milly: My name is Milly and I am currently a PhD student working on prostate cancer

2. Have you done public engagement before? What made you want to get involved?

Weronika: I have never done public engagement work before, but I thought that taking part in the Glasgow Science Festival would be a perfect opportunity. I genuinely like to try out different experiences and challenges and I always found the prospect of working with people exciting. There is nothing more rewarding than to engage with the public, especially non-scientific people as it helps to remind me why I love science so much.

Lauren: Glasgow Science Festival is my first public engagement work! I enjoy the challenge of trying to make relatively complex concepts more accessible to those without much prior knowledge of the subject. I think it is really important for children and young people to be exposed to the amazing work that is going on within the field at the moment. Sometimes it can be difficult to relate what is learned in the classroom to how this knowledge could be applied in real life and I think the Glasgow Science Festival gives current science students a fantastic opportunity to be able to forge this link and spark interest in the sciences!

Milly: Being a part of the Glasgow Science Festival Internship has been my first experience with public engagement. I find public engagement such an important part of research, allowing scientists to talk about their research and teach the public on relatively complicated topics in a much more understandable way. I got involved so I could help children understand science in a fun and creative way!

3. Describe your activity to us. Why should we come along?

Our activity is based around DNA and how each of us has our own unique changes to this DNA sequence which makes us, us! Through activities including building a DNA molecule from sweeties to catching a criminal and saving the Scottish Wildcat through DNA analysis, our activity will leave everyone with a greater appreciation for the importance of DNA technologies in our world today. Plus you will get a chance to gain some scientific knowledge in a fun, family-friendly way!

4. 2016 is Scotland’s Year of Innovation, Architecture and Design. What innovation could you not live without?

Weronika: I definitely could not live without my smartphone. It allows me to send emails, read scientific articles and communicate with people. That definitely saves my time tremendously and not to mention space in my already overly large bag!

Lauren: I think my answer may be similar to many people – my smartphone! It is extremely helpful nowadays to be connected wherever you are – whether that be for work or keeping in touch with friends/family. I think you only realise how important your device is to your day to day life when you forget to charge it and your day seems to run much less efficiently!

Milly: The internet has to be the BEST innovation of all time. It allows me to keep in contact with people all over the world as well as keeping me up to date on research …. and shopping!

 5. Impress us with your favourite science joke or fact

There is enough DNA in an average person’s body to stretch from the sun to Pluto and back. 17 times.

Weronika, Lauren and Milly will be bringing fun science to the Science Sunday Big Birthday Bash on 19 June from 10:00-16:00 at the Hunter Hall, University of Glasgow.

 

Renewable Energy Physics

Glasgow Science Festival aims to inspire people of all ages about science, including the next generation of scientists and engineers, through our free schools programme. This programme is delivered by real-life, practising scientists including Clara, Daria and George from Glasgow Caledonian University.

1. Who are you and what do you do?

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Clara: My name is Clara Hollomey, I am a PhD student at the Audio department of Glasgow Caledonian University. My research focuses on investigating how the hearing impaired perceive music.

Daria

Daria: I am Daria Freier, a first year PhD student at Glasgow Caledonian University. My research project is finding a design for a concentrator (a lens which focuses light) which can be used to make small portable solar systems, like solar lamps and solar chargers, more efficient.

George

George: I am George Loumakis and I am a lecturer and researcher in Glasgow Caledonian University. I teach various modules that have to do with renewable energy, energy in buildings, energy resources etc. Chances are that if something contains the word energy I am somehow involved. My research focuses mostly on solar energy for the time being.

2. What brings you to Glasgow Science Festival this year

Clara: I just like making sound.

Daria: I am always keen and happy to communicate the potential of science and of renewable energy in particular to students who will shape the future.

George: I love every form of science communication and i think it’s time that us academics got out of our nice little bubble and started interacting with the public more.

3. 2016 is Scotland’s Year of Innovation, Architecture and Design. What innovation could you not live without?

Clara: I could not live without the internet. Having the knowledge of the world at my everyday disposal is pure luxury.

Daria: The best innovation for me are airplanes. Without the fast way of travelling we would not be able to see the world as we can right now.

George: I agree 100% with what Clara says about the internet.

4. It’s Glasgow Science Festival’s 10th birthday! We’ll be celebrating with some science-themed cake and balloons. What’s your birthday treat of choice?

Clara: This would probably be a Dobos-Torte (https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dobos_torte). Chocolate and caramel thinly layered. For what more can you ask?

Daria: Cake!

George: My world famous triple chocolate fudgy cookies. Bring me a bowl the size of a room and i can feed the whole festival if need be.

5. And finally: impress us with your favourite science fact or joke.

Clara: An optimist sees a glass half full. A pessimist sees it half empty. An engineer sees it twice as large as it needs to be.

Daria: How many software engineers does it take to change a light bulb? None. They wouldn’t do it. It’s a hardware problem.

George: Some years ago I left Greece to come to Scotland to study solar energy. Fact, joke or both, you decide.

Clara, Daria and George are leading ‘Renewable Energy Physics’, free workshops for school pupils with hands-on experiments to explore this growing field. For more information, visit the website.