Five minutes with… Brynley Pearlstone

Brynley Pearlstone is a PhD student in the University of Glasgow’s Institute for Gravitational Research. Last year, he shared his experiences of chasing gravitational waves with the ‘Chasing the Waves’ team, and also took part in Q&A sessions with hundreds of school children. Today he stopped for a chat with the GSF blog!


I am Brynley Pearlstone, and I am a Ph.D student, researching ways to analyse data from the LIGO experiment, in order to find very weak but longer lasting gravitational waves from rapidly rotating neutron stars.

2. How long have you been researching gravitational waves?

About 2 and a half years now

3. What’s the best bit about being a scientist?  And the worst bit?

The best bit about being a scientist? Well, there are a few. The people you meet, the hands you shake, and the scientists you work with are great people, often with closely shared interests, quick thinkers, and good chat. And you get to meet these people from all over the world as well!

The worst part is probably when you’re telling somebody else that you’re a research student, some of the responses are “Oh, so you’re still at school?” with a little laugh. That isn’t great.

4. How were you involved with ‘Chasing the Waves?’

When the team behind Chasing the Waves was getting going, I was asked to have a chat with them about some time that I had spent at one of the LIGO sites. I sat in front of an iPad as it recorded me, and chatted with some of the people involved.

5. What did you think of the show?

I really enjoyed the show! Some of the in-jokes were great, particularly the “Stock Response” skit. My experience of being at the site rang true in parts of how the show portrayed it.

6. Tell us your favourite science joke or fact.


Five minutes with… Prof Jim Hough

Our new show, ‘Chasing the Waves‘, funded by the STFC, uses music and comedy to explore how Glasgow scientists contributed to one of the biggest discoveries of the century: the detection of gravitational waves.


Prof Jim Hough

Professor Jim Hough has been at the heart of gravitational wave research for decades. He has also been at the heart of ‘Chasing the Waves‘, sharing his stories and expertise with the creative team to help develop the show. We grabbed five minutes for a chat  about his involvement.

1. Who are you and what do you do?

I’m Jim Hough, experimental physicist. I work on suspensions, mirror coatings etc. for next generation gravitational wave detectors

2. How long have you been researching gravitational waves?

Since 1971

3. What’s the best bit about being a scientist?  And the worst bit?

Best bit – the thrill of solving problems

Worst bit – doing the admin

4. How were you involved with ‘Chasing the Waves?’

Wearing a wig and behaving like an idiot. You can watch Jim in our music video here.

5. What did you think of the show?


6. Tell us your favourite science joke or fact.

The lion and the rabbit

Cosmic Cabaret: Behind the Scenes Part II

Back in June, our ‘Cosmic Cabaret: Peake into Space’ event blended science with music, poetry and comedy, with support from the Institute of Physics.


Becky and colleagues chat to comedian Gemma Flynn about research


One of the scientists involved in the project was Becky Douglas, who stopped for a chat with the blog!


Becky Douglas


1. Who are you and where do you work?

 I am Becky Douglas, a PhD student/Research Assistant at the University of Glasgow, where I work as a member of the Institute for Gravitational Research

2. What was your involvement with the Cosmic Cabaret night?

I spoke with musicians and artists about what it’s like to be a scientist, the research I do on a day-to-day basis and how rewarding scientific research can be

3. Can you explain your research (in simple terms!)?

My PhD was on gravitational wave detectors. Gravitational waves a ripples in spacetime caused by huge events like colliding black holes. They were predicted by Einstein but it wasn’t until September 2016 (nearly exactly 100 years later) that they were finally detected. As a PhD student my work was to develop materials that will go into new, even more sensitive detectors which will allow us to detect even more astrophysical events.

4. What’s your favourite thing about your job?

My favourite thing about my job is when an experiment works and you find out something new for the first time. For a very brief period, you’re the first person in the world to know something. That’s a really exciting moment.

5. Impress us with your favourite science fact.

350 million years ago a day was less than 23 hours long

You can watch some of the footage from the Cosmic Cabaret night on our YouTube channel. A big thanks to Becky and the other researchers for getting involved in this unique project!

Cosmic Cabaret: Behind the Scenes

‘Peake into Space: Cosmic Cabaret’ was an evening of live poetry, music and comedy funded by the Institute of Physics and performed at Glasgow Science Festival 2016. The entertainment was directly inspired by the work of physicists and engineers from the University of Glasgow, working on cutting-edge research linked to space exploration. We chatted to one such engineer, Michael Perreur-Lloyd, about the cosmic work he’s doing in the School of Physics and Astronomy.


Michael at the Kennedy Space Centre in Florida

1. Who are you and where do you work?

I am Michael Perreur-Lloyd and I am a Mechanical Design Engineer working in the School of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Glasgow.

2. What was your involvement with the Cosmic Cabaret night?

As part of a group of scientists and engineers I met with the Cabaret artists to tell them about my area of research and what my job entailed. The artists took that information, and that of many other researchers, to craft the songs, poetry and comedy that was highlighted at the Cosmic Cabaret.


Michael demonstrates safety procedures to poet Calum Rodger, comedian Gemma Flynn and musician Stuart Cromarty

3. Can you explain your work (in simple terms!)?

I design instrumentation for space gravitational wave observatories. I am project engineer for the Glasgow team that developed the optical bench interferometer for the European Space Agency LISA Pathfinder mission that was launched in December 2015. An interferometer – mostly made of very high quality glasses – is essentially a very precise measuring device that reads out the interference pattern of two laser beams and is sensitive to measurements as small as a picometre (10^-12m), or one trillionth of a metre. The LISA Pathfinder mission has successfully tested many technologies that will find their way on to a space gravitational wave observatory called eLISA in the early 2030s.

4. What’s your favourite thing about your job?

I am very fortunate to work with many intelligent and talented people on a beautiful campus in the west end of Glasgow.

5. Impress us with your favourite science fact

The LISA mission will involve flying three satellites in a triangular formation at a spacing a million kilometres!

We would like to thank Michael and all of the other scientists who helped inspire the fantastic performances at Peake into Space: Cosmic Cabaret. You can watch clips of some of the performances below.

Science with a beer and a board game

Photo 1

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.”

Photo 2

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.

Photo 3

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.

Photo 4

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.

Photo 5

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.

Photo 6

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

Photo 7

‘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

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.

lucia at fountain

  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!


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.