Science, a Swally and How to Cure that Sair Heid

Drinking this Friday night? Bring your hangover to the “Hangover Hypothesis” on Saturday afternoon and discover how science can curb the cocktail-flu! Dr Angus Bancroft from the University of Edinburgh will be sharing some peer-reviewed tips.


Who are you and what do you do?

I’m a lecturer in Sociology at the University of Edinburgh.

What brings you to Glasgow Science Festival this year?

Ali Floyd asked me to talk about drinking rituals at The Hangover Hypothesis.  It’s a great way of learning about chemistry, biology, psychology and sociology, and of helping those most in need of it.

With the Commonwealth Games just around the corner, Glasgow is gearing up to welcome the world. What’s your top tip for visitors?

Glasgow has a unique sense of humour – surreal and wry at the same time – for an example of that see the statue of Sheriff Lobey Dosser on Woodlands Road.

Favourite Scottish food and drink?

Food – A white pudding supper, eaten with your fingers when walking home from the pub with your friends. You will need to go to Edinburgh to get it in the proper style with salt’n’sauce though.

Drink – Moray Cup – mainly found around Banffshire. Very happy memories of staying at my Granny and Grandad’s in Cullen.

Impress us with your favourite science fact. Or joke.

During the 1950s and 60s LSD was explored as a – quite effective – treatment for alcoholism.

Join Angus and friends from the Edinburgh International Science Festival at the “Hangover Hypothesis” in DRAM! at 2pm on Saturday 7th June. Tickets include a full cooked breakfast (veggie options available) plus a Bloody Mary cocktail. Book online.


A Dram of Science

Science is for everyone – and it’s never too late to learn something new.  This Saturday, Open Science comes to Glasgow Science Festival, offering pub goers the chance to dip their toe into the world of science. Discover how bubbles in a glass of beer have influenced particle physics and detection of molecules in space. Or how biologists have uncovered a range of species that enjoy a tipple too! Dr Dominic McCafferty tells us more.


Who are you and what do you do?

I’m Dominic McCafferty, Senior Lecturer at the University of Glasgow. I teach on a number of programmes in the Centre for Open Studies and Institute of Biodiversity, Animal Health and Comparative Medicine. My main research interest is the thermal biology of cold adaptation in animals.

What brings you to Glasgow Science Festival this year?

I am keen to promote opportunities for lifelong learning for adults through the Centre for Open Studies. We run a wide range of courses in biology, earth sciences, physics and astronomy in evenings and weekends.

These courses provide great opportunities for studying part-time, undertaking practical field-courses or in future preparation for University study.

We will be running Open Science: a taster session on Sat 7 June at Dram, Woodlands Road: 16:30-17:30.

With the Commonwealth Games just around the corner, Glasgow is gearing up to welcome the world. What’s your top tip for visitors?

There’s no such thing as bad weather… just the wrong clothing

Favourite Scottish food and drink?

Campbeltown Cheddar Cheese and a pint of Trade Winds Real Ale (Aviemore Brewery)

Impress us with your favourite science fact. Or joke.

Emperor penguins experience one of the most severe environments on Earth. It is the only species of bird breeding during the Antarctic winter, where air temperature may reach as low as -40 deg C and wind speed as high as 40 m/s.

Join Dominic in the DRAM! this Saturday 7th June from 16:30-17:30. Book your free ticket online

The Hangover Hypothesis

With festival season well and truly upon us, the cider is flowing – and the hangovers demons are gearing up for another busy summer!

A greasy fry up? Hair of the dog? Or Irn Bru from a glass bottle?

There’s a multitude of methods for tackling that sair heid the morning after. But what’s the surest way of checking out of Hangover Hotel?  And why do we get hangovers in the first place? Does science hold the answer?


The truth is, there’s a lot that scientists still don’t understand about hangovers.  Dr Joris Verster of Utrecht University remarks: “This lack of scientific interest is remarkable, since almost everybody is familiar with the unpleasant hangover effects that may arise the day after an evening of excessive drinking, and with the ways these symptoms may affect performance of planned activities”.

[Top tip: NEVER arrange to play a game of badminton on an Addlestones-induced hangover. Trust me.]

The most commonly held belief is that hangovers are caused by dehydration, despite a lack of scientific evidence to support this. An alternative and more compelling hypothesis is that hangovers result from the buildup of acetaldehyde. This toxic compound is produced when alcohol breaks down in the liver; it is estimated to be 10 to 30 times more toxic than alcohol itself! Studies have linked it to a range of symptoms, from sweating to headaches and vomiting. Sound familiar?

The severity of a hangover is influenced by a range of factors, including the number of drinks (no sh*t!) and the type of alcohol consumed (as illustrated in the graph below, from Verster, 2008).


Hangover severity relating to number of drinsks and type of alcohol consumed. Read the full paper at:

So what can you do to circumvent that hangover from hell?

Some symptoms may be actually related to sleep duration and quality, rather than the alcohol itself.  Getting a good night’s sleep after a heavy night might be a good first, preventative step.

Last year, Professor David Knutt hit the headlines when he identified a compound that could mimic the effects of alcohol but with a much lower toxicity. Is hangover-free booze the future? This research is still very much in its infancy and it may be some time before synthetic alcohol makes it to your pint glass.

Until then, Glasgow Science Festival is here to help. We’ve partnered up with our pals in the east, Edinburgh International Science Festival for a special event to stretch, slurp and scoff your hangover into submission.

The Hangover Hypothesis comes to DRAM! on Saturday 7th June. The £10 ticket price includes a full cooked breakfast (veggie option available), Bloody Mary cocktail and a healthy dose of science – bargain!  Bring your hangover along from 2-3.30pm. Book online.

Images of Research

A picture speaks a thousand words. Science meets art at The University of Strathclyde’s new exhibition “Images of Research”, which comes to Glasgow Science Festival next month. Rachel Clark tells us more. 

Image by Guy Hinks.

Who are you and what do you do?

My name is Rachel Clark, I am a Project Manager at the University of Strathclyde tasked with engaging businesses, organisations and the public in partnering with the University.  I’ve worked in this role for four years, moving on from a research post in the drug discovery group.

What brings you to Glasgow Science Festival this year?

This is the first year I’ve been involved with the festival so I’m very excited to be part of such an amazing range of events.  I’m displaying this year’s “Images of Research” at The Lighthouse, 6th – 8th June.  I hope the eye-catching array of images submitted by University staff and students will inspire you to learn more about the research we do at the University and how it benefits wider society.  It’s a competition so make sure you vote for your favourite shortlisted entry here and register for the event to see who’s won!

With the Commonwealth Games just around the corner, Glasgow is gearing up to welcome the world. What’s your top tip for visitors?

When you’re walking around the city don’t forget to look up – the buildings are fantastic!

Favourite Scottish food and drink?

Oooft – you’re on my favourite subject now – I couldn’t possibly decide so why don’t you visit one of the Farmer’s Markets at Queens Park or Dumbarton Road (find out more) and taste a range of local produce.  Don’t forget to check out the best coffee you’ll ever taste by Matthew Algie at various locations including Tinderbox.

Impress us with your favourite science fact. Or joke.

Anhydrous copper II sulphate turns warm and blue when you add water, I still remember that from my first chemistry set!

Images of Research comes to The Lighthouse from 6-8th June and is free to drop-in. You can vote for your favourite image until 31st May and book to attend the awards ceremony on 6th June.  

Wind energy, a pint and a panel debate

To some, they are grotesque scars on our landscape. To others, they are the future of Scotland’s energy production. But how do wind turbines actually work? And how has science and technology informed the renewable energy sector? On Thursday 12th June, Glasgow Science Festival attendees will have the chance to pitch their questions to a panel of wind energy experts for a special event in The Admiral Bar. Jethro Dowell gave us the lowdown.


Who are you and what do you do?

My name is Jethro Dowell. I am a research student at the University of Strathclyde in the department of Electronic and Electrical Engineering and it is my job to work out how to better predict renewable electricity generation, which can be very difficult when the weather is involved!

What brings you to Glasgow Science Festival this year?

Wind energy is a hot topic that polarises opinions and divides communities. Both sides of the debate rely on science and engineering to make their arguments. The Glasgow Science Festival is the perfect platform for experts to publicly debate the issues with each other and the public, and to highlight the importance of science and engineering in society today.

With the Commonwealth Games just around the corner, Glasgow is gearing up to welcome the world. What’s your top tip for visitors?

Explore as much as possible! Glasgow has a rich history that can be seen in the city’s architecture, art galleries and museums. There is a great panoramic view from the top of The Lighthouse right in the city centre.

Favourite Scottish food and drink?

I have a sweet tooth so I has to be Scottish tablet, and a nice peaty whisky… though probably not together!

Impress us with your favourite science fact. Or joke.

As I write there are 6 people living in space …and 3 of them have been there for half a year!

Discover the science behind wind technology at Scotland’s Future: The Wind Turbine’s Arms in The Admiral Bar on Thursday 12th June. Have a pint and pitch your questions to experts working in the field. You can tweet your questions in advance of the event @GlasgowSciFest or email

Malts and Molecules

This year’s Glasgow Science Festival is packed with tasty ways to explore science. On the festival’s opening night on 5th June, Malts and Molecules will serve up an array of molecular-paired canapés, taste experiments, delicious drams and molecular cocktails to guests in The Corinthian. We spoke to Ewan Henderson who’s leading the event, in collaboration with scientists from Glasgow Polyomics.


Who are you and what do you do?

Ewan Henderson of Scotch Broth Events, we create sensory food & drink experiences with molecular whisky pairings to make events more memorable. Interests include anything molecular, volatile, distilled, cutting edge, techie stuff and artisans.

What brings you to Glasgow Science Festival this year?

Glasgow is my hometown and after speaking at other science festivals I thought it was time to bring my science event home. We’re the first to bring together the avant-garde, science, Scotch, tech and Scottish produce into one big sensory broth!

With the Commonwealth Games just around the corner, Glasgow is gearing up to welcome the world. What’s your top tip for visitors?

Top tip for visitors would be to go local and seek out one of our great whisky bars, Glasgow is the epicentre of the Scotch whisky industry don’t you know. Or if you have time take a local distillery tour like Auchentoshan or Glengoyne.

Favourite Scottish food and drink?

My favourite food has to be Scottish seafood especially shellfish, try some smoked mussels from Kintyre and a glass of Scotch whisky of course!

Impress us with your favourite science fact. Or joke.

I always forget jokes, so how about this; lignins in oak used to make barrels are made of the same molecules as lignins in grape stalks – the grape & the grain has a natural link.

Join Ewan and friends for the full Malts and Molecules experience on Thursday 5th June, 7-9pm at The Corinthian. Tickets are £40 and available online.

Radiotherapy to dinosaur diets: celebrating 100 years of isotope science

On Wednesday 4th December, scientists will be celebrating “Isotope Day” to mark 100 years since chemist Frederick Soddy coined the word “isotope” in his letter to Nature.  Soddy’s work at the University of Glasgow was later awarded the Nobel Prize in chemistry.

Dr John Faithfull from the Hunterian Museum chatted to us about Soddy’s discovery and what to expect from next week’s festivities…

Dr John Faithfull

Dr John Faithfull, geologist and curator at the Hunterian Museum

Who are you and what do you do?

I’m John Faithfull and I look after geological and scientific collections in the Hunterian Museum at the University of Glasgow. This includes radioactive stuff.

Isn’t that dangerous?

I hope not. Radioactivity is everywhere and always has been. The very potassium in our bodies, which we need to live, is radioactive. However, it’s very wise to minimise extra exposure, and this can be done by using proper facilities, equipment and being careful.

What are the most recent radioactive items you’ve been working with?

We’ve recently become responsible for some very old, historically important radioactive samples which were used by Frederick Soddy when he “discovered” isotopes at Glasgow in 1913.

One of Soddy's handwritten samples (containing radioactive mesothorium).

One of the samples containing radioactive radium isotopes (228Ra, then known as mesothorium), labelled in Soddy’s handwriting.

Who was Frederick Soddy?

Soddy in the lab at the University of Glasgow

Soddy in the lab at the University of Glasgow

He was one of the pioneers of radiochemistry who made sense of the strange new phenomenon which had been discovered by Henri Becquerel in 1896. Working with others, especially Ernest Rutherford, and later by himself at Glasgow, he made several key breakthroughs including the fact that elements turned into other elements during radioactive decay, the fact that alpha particles were helium nuclei, the displacement laws which showed how radioactive decay fitted with the periodic table, and the concept of isotopes. For these discoveries he got the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1921.

Soddy's Nobel Prize certificate. Photograph provided by his relative, Andrew Soddy.

Soddy’s Nobel Prize certificate. Photograph kindly provided by his relative, Andrew Soddy.

What is an isotope?

Isotopes are chemically-identical atoms with different nuclear properties, or as their discoverer, Frederick Soddy put it “.. Put colloquially, their atoms have identical outsides but different insides.”

Isotopes entered the scientific literature on 100 years ago, on 4th December 1913, when Soddy published a research letter in the science journal Nature.

The first appearance of the word "isotope" in Nature

The first appearance of the word “isotope” in Nature

Why was this discovery important?

The realisation that the chemical world hid a whole new world of variation and types of matter, laid the basis for much of modern science. The first practical use of isotopes was unfortunately, atomic weapons, which relied on the USA being able to “enrich” uranium in the fissile isotope 235U. Amazingly, Soddy had predicted weapons based on nuclear energy in 1908 – his prediction formed the basis for HG Wells 1913 novel of nuclear war “The World Set Free”.

Soddy died in 1956 and since his death, isotopes have become vital parts of most modern chemistry, medicine and engineering: from carbon dating, to nuclear reactors, drug testing, the diets of cavemen and dinosaurs, and medical scanning.

David Sanderson testing for gamma ray radiation at Fukoshima, using a spectrometer developed at the University of Glasgow.

David Sanderson testing for gamma ray radiation at Fukoshima, using a spectrometer developed at the University of Glasgow.

Isotopes have been used for dating the oldest crystal on Earth, among other things

Isotopes have been used for dating some very old things, including the oldest crystal on Earth

What can we expect from Isotope Day?

To celebrate the 100th birthday of isotopes there will be a public lecture (no knowledge of isotopes required!) at noon on Wednesday 4th December, in the Main Lecture Theatre, Joseph Black Building (Chemistry), University of Glasgow.

That evening we will be opening a new exhibit on Soddy’s work, and current isotope science in Glasgow in the Hunterian Museum’s new Science Showcase space. Between now and March this will feature a range of public talks, activities and demonstrations by isotope scientists from the University.

Join John for his public lecture “Born in Glasgow: 100 years of Isotope Science” from 12-1pm on Wednesday 4th December at the University of Glasgow. For directions to the Joseph Black Building see B4 on the campus map, available here.

Free event, all welcome. You can also follow the festivities on Twitter with the hashtag #IsotopeDay.

For more information, visit the Hunterian’s website.