All that Glitters, Glows, Poetry and Prose
Tuesday 8th December 2015
“Oxford is the only place you can get away with wearing full academic dress,” says John Runions, doing so. It’s also the only place you can dress up as a fluorescent protein, or strip down to a caped evil super genius suit, which is what some of our SO Talented performers were doing in the Oxford Brookes University Lounge last Thursday for the SO Talented festive Science Cabaret ‘All that glitters.’ The cabaret provides an opportunity for scientists and engineers to take part in a professional cabaret-style show where they can show-off their entertainment skills while also celebrating their science.
First on stage and thwarted in his plans to address global hunger with GM crops, John tells us how instead he diverted his research path onto the challenge of creating glowing green fluorescent rabbits. The green fluorescent proteins he uses in his research are actually found in jellyfish, as Petra Kiviniemi told the audience, a PhD researcher who spends her time looking at fluorescent proteins.
This is probably an improvement: back in her fluorescent-jellyfish-envying past, Petra took the direct approach to fluorescence – painting her skin with glowstick juices. Unfortunately, she only accomplished chemical burns from the hydrogen peroxide that activates the fluorescence, but at least she got over those. In his five minute stand-up routine, Chico Camargo talked about the kind of skin modifications that might be permanent: microbial changes in the ecosystem that is our body that could lead to almost any adaption: digesting blood and extracting all the nutrients we need from it, for example, or sparkly skin.
Yes, that’s right: Chico is a reluctant Twilight enthusiast. But his interest lies not in the plot of the book, but in the science behind glittering vampires. In fact, he thinks it’s very possible indeed – with the correct microbes (I’m not sure anyone is looking that enthusiastically).
But if this seems surreal, at least it isn’t Fran Day’s estranged aunt Norah with the head of a camel – which is apparently exactly what the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) has been looking for all these years: something “unusual”.
Colder than space, with 600 million collisions per second, the LHC technology has now ascended to ‘Advanced Smashing’. This, in practice, means throwing away most of the data without even looking at it because there’s just too much of the stuff. Fran showered the stage with a fountain of glitter to get her point across. The sophisticated technological title for this is “pile up”. She expressed this with glitter too. By now, the stuff was starting to migrate towards the audiences’ tables, demonstrating rogue data that has to be scanned by a computer looking for invisible tortoises or estranged aunt Norahs.
Rob Shalloo recently risked becoming estranged himself, when he attempted to blow up his girlfriend’s sapphire ring using high powered lasers to analyse the elemental profile and elucidate its origin. Somebody ought to have told him about x-ray diffraction… a non-destructive version of the same idea. But, as Rob explained, nobody’s perfect, not even a diamond. In fact, the closest diamonds to perfection are industrial diamonds. Yes, these glittering beauties were made in a lab, not in distant and exotic lands, and as such are free of many of the impurities that make each natural stone unique.
In other exotic lands, David Price was busy smuggling chilli seeds home for his friend Dan Reed, a chilliologist and kind provider of the terrible Reaper chilli, the eating – and chewing – of which was Dave’s final act on stage… Andrew Lack takes a different approach to the problem of food – and digested his ideas in poetic form. He proclaimed in verse on food and health, and of the perfect pesticide: spread it out and the weeds all died. But had to cry “let’s save our bees! We want our land with wildlife please.” And expounding on their evolution, challenged Darwin with Wallicism.
Afterall, as Chico said, the best science starts with silly questions like… “What if…?”