Monday, 16 March 2015

Winning the Josh Award

Guest post from 2014 Josh Award winner Sarah Bearchell...

Sometimes curiosity has amazing consequences…. 
As Josh Award winner and as part of the Manchester Science Festival 2014, I visited Springwood School in Swinton, Greater Manchester.  The primary school has about 170 pupils who have a wide range of Special Educational Needs. The workshops were very simple: we made some clouds using dry ice and warm water as a way to explore states of matter.

The children were instantly excited when they saw the white water vapour tumbling out of our experiment.  They were utterly amazed when they were able to feel how cold and wet it was as it ran through their fingers. They heard the bubbling of the carbon dioxide as it sublimed from a solid into a gas and felt the vibrations as the bubbles popped when they reached the surface of the water. We also added blackcurrant squash to the mixture so that our clouds smelled and tasted of blackcurrants.  It was a full sensory experience!

As we worked, we used scientific language to talk about solids, liquids and gases. The more vocally-able children really enjoyed this new terminology and joined in with a loud shout of the word ‘sublimation!’  Some of the most able children asked questions about reaction rates and we were able to do experiments to investigate.

The equipment I use is designed to get the children as close as possible to the experiment, whilst keeping them safe. Dry ice is very cold; at about -78°C, that’s roughly the same temperature as the South Pole in winter. If you touch it you can get frost burns which are really painful. The experiment boxes have lids so that little fingers cannot get in but there are small holes so the cloud can escape. They are also safe to carry around so I can take the experiment to mobility impaired children.  It’s really important to me that every child can access the activities.

The Josh Award funded me to develop a new piece of equipment which I call ‘The Cloud Machine’ and with it, every child could control the making of a dry ice cloud. Most children were able to pull the cord which releases the dry ice into the warm water but some severely disabled children controlled their cloud formation by indicating to their carer when to pull the cord. Their delight was universal, as was their sense of empowerment.

I had a fantastic time exploring with the children at Springwood School but the response of one particular child raises a huge smile every time I think of him…

I was working with a group of children who were about 6 or 7 years old.  All of them were mobile, although one little boy was walking with a frame.  We made our first cloud amongst great excitement and when I made the second cloud I invited the children to come and explore it on the floor.  They all came forward with enormous enthusiasm, including the little boy who left his frame to crawl over to the cloud.

When I lifted the box to show how the bubbles were moving, the boy held on to me and pulled himself up into a standing position. He was absolutely fascinated by what was happening. When I turned to show the other children what was happening, the little boy stepped forward to follow the box.

He was walking unsupported and his teachers were utterly amazed. 

His scientific curiosity had driven him to walk and I am really proud that I had the privilege to be there when he did.
Check out Sarah's website for more information and pictures:

Tuesday, 2 December 2014

World Stroke Day 2014

On Wednesday 29th October, we featured an event organised by the Hyperacute Stroke Research Centre, the Stroke Association and the University of Manchester to celebrate World Stroke Day at Salford Royal.

More than 100 stroke survivors, carers, clinicians and scientists came together 
to see presentations by Dame Nancy Rothwell, a stroke scientist and President of the University of Manchester, Salford Royal Chief Executive Sir David Dalton and Dr Jane Molloy, who leads stroke services at the Salford Royal Foundation Trust.  

Audience members were able to tour a series of hands-on exhibits about stroke treatment and research, find out how clot-busting treatment is given, how weakened blood vessels are treated after subarachnoid haemorrhage, and learn more about new research studies, including stem cell treatments, new medicines for stroke and hear about new ways of helping people get better after a stroke.

Professor Pippa Tyrrell, who has been a stroke doctor at Salford Royal for 20 years, said: “The audience was moved to tears by the testimony of a stroke survivor called Mary, who told us the moving story of her stroke and read a poem she had written as part of a poetry workshop organised by the Stroke Association. We also heard from Kath, a carer, who described the devastating effect of her husband’s stroke on her young children, and their bravery in coping with it.  
“The Salford Royal stroke team work very closely with their research colleagues and the Stroke Association so it was wonderful to have a day when we could all meet with stroke survivors and their carers to raise awareness of the importance of stroke and new research into its treatment, and to celebrate the amazing work of the Stroke Association in working with stroke survivors to give them life after stroke.”

The event was brought to a close with an uplifting performance by the Stroke Choir, which is made up of members who are stroke survivors, carers, volunteers and people who work with the Stroke Association.

You can read another post by Dr Lloyd Gregory, Manchester Academic Health Science Centre Associate Director of Research here.

Tuesday, 28 October 2014

Ants and information

 Guest post by David Chapman, Royal Society

At first thought the words ‘ants’ and ‘information’ are hardly two peas in a pod. Ants are those tiny creatures that invade your house when the weather gets warm, or sprout wings and descend like a plague on a sunny Sunday. And information; well that’s just stuff, right? The kind of stuff you might want to take in about a particular topic, or the stuff that is manipulated by the media, subsequently regurgitated and accepted as fact.

For scientists though, the two things mean much more. Ants are a group of insects that evolved around 100 million years ago and have since spread to inhabit almost every environment on earth, with an incredibly varied set of over 12,500 classified species. Information, at its very basic level, is anything from which we can learn something; it’s a change within a system; a result of cause and effect from which we can derive data. It’s safe to say that, without information, scientists would need some pretty nifty methods to learn anything.

So how do they relate, and why is this important?

It turns out that ants are pretty good at communicating information within their colonies. Although on an individual level they take part in very simple interactions, the accumulation of thousands of these interactions over time leads to some sophisticated decision making. For example, if an external event is a threat to the colony – flooding, a predator, or a twelve-year-old with a magnifying glass – they quickly organise themselves without ever having to be told what to do; they have evolved the ability to make collective, colony-level decisions with completely decentralised control.

This ability makes them quite useful for scientists to study and Dr Elva Robinson, holder of a Royal Society Dorothy Hodgkin Fellowship, is doing just that. Elva uses Radio-Frequency Identification (RFID) (miniature computer chips strapped to individual ants – pictured) to investigate how tasks are allocated among the colony and how they adapt to changes in task need (that child with the magnifying glass is back again).

By studying these behaviours, Elva hopes to ease the very modern problem of information overload. Modern society is completely saturated with information and controlling it in the way we want is a big challenge. By understanding how these ants achieve such a feat, we can tap into 100 million years’ worth of evolutionary nouse and let these masters of information do the hard work for us.

You can find out more about this fascinating topic at Ants and information, Saturday 1 November, 2.30pm, Manchester Museum.

Part of #msf14

Monday, 20 October 2014

Behind the scenes in 3D: Printing the Future

Preparation for the upcoming exhibition opening at the Museum of Science & Industry has involved furious printing behind the scenes at Hobs Studio.  We also asked our scientists and partners to donate any 3D printed items that they used or created as part of their research to be included in the exhibition as part of a "cloud" of beautiful, wonderful and strange 3D printed items.  Here is some of the story behind a few of these items...

Prophabot (left) and Monty (right) made by Amy and Dan Mather
These toys were made by two of our favourite young scientists Amy and Dan Mather, who have worked with us at the Museum of Science & Industry for the Maker Faire as well as previous Festivals. Amy's Prophabot won the student category of The 3D Print Cup this year. You can read more about her experience creating this in her blog.

Lab Equipment
3D printed lab equipment, made in Manchester
This bespoke lab equipment really sums up the potential impact 3D printing could have on the scientific community - think of something, design it and make it yourself. In the past this may have been too difficult, costly or time consuming and so limit the science you were able to do.
The pinch valve is part of a larger assembly for environmental research on the carbon dioxide emission of soils. The interlocking parametric grid and racks are customised for holding laboratory equipment such as petri dishes and sample bottles, and the design parameters can be altered to make holders for different objects. These objects were designed using open-source tools and the design is freely available via A locally manufactured open-source printer was used to print the objects. With thanks to David Elliott, microbial ecologist in the Division of Biology and Conservation Ecology at Manchester Metropolitan University.

The video to the left shows the 3D scan of a Huntsman spider, the print of which is also included in the "cloud" of objects.

3D printed LHCb upgrade detector module

Detector Module
The LHCb experiment is one of the four large experiments at the Large Hadron Collider at CERN. Its purpose is to investigate the difference between ordinary matter (stuff that we are made from) and antimatter (same mass as the stuff that we are made from, but oppositely charged).  The experiment will undergo a major upgrade in 2018.  The University of Manchester will construct modules of one of the detectors that is closest to the proton beams (called the VELO: Vertex Locator).  They will measure the positions of particles forty million times every second.  This 3D printed module has been produced by CERN as part of the design studies for these modules.  With thanks to Rob Appleby, accelerator and particle physicist at the University of Manchester.

There are many more fascinating objects included in the exhibition, which opens this Thursday (the install of which has been the backdrop for a couple of our #scienceselfies this week).

3D: Printing the Future opens Thursday at 12pm and will stay at the Museum of Science & Industry until 19th April 2015.

Our #msf14 #scienceselfie with a sneak peek of the install this week, ahead of opening on Thursday.

Thursday, 16 October 2014

The Future is Fracking. Discuss.

Fracking for shale gas has been the game changer in the global exploration of energy. Now, the discovery of shale gas in Lancashire and at Barton Moss has brought the subject right to our doorstep.

Some people see fracking as the answer to the UK’s energy needs, others claim it causes pollution, earthquakes and is a further use of carbon. 

What do you think? 

Discuss, the home of the intellectually curious in Manchester, will be hosting a debate at the Museum of Science & Industry on Tuesday 28th October.  Joining the panel will be Happy Mondays band member, and aspiring Politician, Bez alongside two professors from the University of Manchester, on opposing sides of the debate as well as a leading Blackpool business woman. 

For the motion

Ernie Rutter, Professor of Structural Geology at the University of Manchester

Professor Rutter has said: ‘The potential importance of the development of shale gas resources to the UK economy and for a politically secure energy resource have been well rehearsed for those who have listened. The facts of the American experience of falling energy prices coupled with security of supply, job creation and economic stimulation demonstrate this potential.

Claire Smith, president, Stay Blackpool

Claire Smith has said: “Shale gas could be the catalyst to get things moving. Horner Blackpool should be the engine driver for the Fylde Coast. We must not dither on this one. It’s a chance to make a step change.”

Against the motion

Bez, Happy Mondays and anti-fracking protestor

Bez told the Guardian: “I went along to the fracking protest at Barton Moss to lend my support because of the concerns I have about environmental issues. If we allow fracking to happen in Salford and Manchester, any idea of a permaculture society will end with it. I am standing as an MP to draw attention to the debate because I believe fracking is unsafe technology and the damage it could do to the environment is irreversible.”

Professor Kevin Anderson, Deputy Director of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research at The University of Manchester
Professor Anderson has argued: “Shale gas is indisputably a high-carbon energy source. It is identical to natural gas – consequently when combusted it emits large quantities of carbon dioxide.
The science of global warming, the maths of our emissions and our pledge to limit temperature increases to below a 2°C rise lead to the conclusion that shale gas must remain in the ground if we are to avoid ‘dangerous climate change’.”

To place your vote, sign up to the event here. Join the conversation with @mcrscifest and @discussMCR #msf14 

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

3D: Printing the Future

Manchester Science Festival Director and Bez with his 3D printed bust
In preparing for the upcoming exhibition 3D: Printing the Future for the Manchester Science Festival 2014, we have been accepting donations of 3D printed items from our partners and supporters.

We also wanted to print something iconic to Manchester.  Since we already had Happy Mondays dancer Bez signed up for our debate on the future of fracking, it was an opportunity too good to miss.  Watch this short video of what we got up to when we visited Hobs Reprographics in Manchester, who are also sponsoring the exhibition, with our special guest.

Monday, 13 October 2014

#MegaMenger - builders wanted

Testing the cards in a practice build
Guest post by Katie Steckles

Stand-up Mathematician Matt Parker, along with a team of volunteers are looking to build the world’s largest fractal, using over a million folded business cards.

A Menger sponge is a fractal based on a cube, which is made of smaller cubes, which themselves are made of smaller cubes, and so on - giving it the fractal property which makes it interesting to mathematicians - plus, it looks very cool. It’s possible to build a Menger sponge using pieces of rectangular card, using a simple folding technique and a little patience.

Matt Parker and a small version of the cube 

Matt, along with a collection of other mathematicians organising events around the world, is building a MegaMenger - a giant distributed fractal, composed of 20 smaller versions of itself. The Manchester build is one of over 20 all taking place during the same week, and if all of them are completed in time we’ll have built the biggest Menger sponge ever made. There’ll be live video feeds from all the other locations, so you can watch as everything comes together.

We’ll be building part of the whole MegaMenger fractal as part of Manchester Science Festival on 25th and 26th October, and we’re looking for keen volunteers to help us build it. If you’re free on either or both days and want to be part of the building team, email and we’ll send you details of how you can get involved.  We'll also provide you with training you will need.  

"It turns out that building a Menger sponge is brilliant fun and very addictive" 
Marieke Navin, Manchester Science Festival Director

@MegaMenger #MegaMenger 
@mcrscifest #msf14 

Friday, 22 August 2014

The science behind #HookedOnMusic

We caught up with Ashley, the scientist behind the #HookedOnMusic project to find out about science behind the online game.

MSF: The game is trying to find the catchiest parts of musical hooks.  Does it matter that people have such different musical tastes?

Ashley:  No, as long as we have a lot of players! So far, more than 17,000 players have tried #HookedOnMusic.

High player numbers mean we can use models to successfully separate how much of the information comes from differences among players, versus how much comes from differences in the fragments of music. 

For example, some people are faster at these types of games, whilst other people are more familiar with pop music. 

Ashley chatting during Manchester Science Festival 2013
MSF: What are power users and why do you need them?

Ashley: Our model needs players who have played the game a number of times, ideally between 50 and 200 plays, or between fifteen minutes and an hour.

For the experiment to be a success, we need ‘power users’ who play many times and play all four of the games: "Recognise That Tune?", "What's the Hook?", "Time Trial" and "In a Row".

In summary, the more people who play for over 15 minutes, repeatedly play and play all of the games on offer, the better the quality of data.

MSF: How do you quantify catchiness?

Ashley: Catchiness is hard to define. #HookedOnMusic includes four different measures related to catchiness:

    1. Recognising a tune

    2. Time it takes to recognise a tune

    3. Following along with the tune

    4. How the catchiness of the tune compared to other fragments in the same song (in the "What's the Hook?" game).

Firstly, we combine the first three measures in a model which uses a theory of how the mind works to reduce data that can account for speed and accuracy at the same time.  

We then use the fourth measure of catchiness, the rankings from the "What's the Hook?" game. This is an extra check to ensure that the particular variant we choose captures our natural intuitions about catchiness.
To play #HookedOnMusic you need a strong internet connection

MSF: What's next for #HookedOnMusic?

Ashley: I'll be at the Science Museum Late on Wednesday 27 August, so come and have a chat with me in person if you're in London.  

The game will be live until the end of September.

The results of the analysis will be presented at the Manchester Science Festival on Saturday 1 November.  (MSF: Watch this space for the announcement of the MSF14 programme in early September)

You’ve got from now until the end of September to keep playing the game and become a power user, so what are you waiting for?

Wednesday, 4 June 2014

Our new citizen science experiment #HookedOnMusic

Imagine listening to a catchy tune. When do you nod your head and sing along? That's the hook, the most memorable part of the song, crafted by songwriters to stick in your head and exploited by DJs to get people onto the dance floor.  Everyone knows a hook when they hear it, but scientists don't know why.

With the launch of our new online game #HookedOnMusic you can join music lovers around the world to explore the science of songs and help scientists unlock what makes music catchy.

Play the game at  You don't need anything special, just a good internet connection and sound (or wear headphones).   You'll be asked to identify a song as quickly as you can by listening to short clips.  You can also vote on which part of a song do you think is catchier.  You don't need any specialist knowledge to play - just a love of music.  You can play as many times as you like; the more you play, the more data we will gather for the scientists.

We are working with scientists from the University of Amsterdam, Utrecht and the Netherlands Institute for Sound and Vision.  They will use this data to test hypotheses around what makes the hook - this most noticeable, easiest-to-recall fragment of music - is it rhythm, melody, key changes...?

Hooks have the power to jog memories and emotions; this is particularly powerful for people suffering from memory degenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer's.  The results of our experiment have the potential to provide insight into what makes music memorable and in particular what makes music memorable over the long term.  Armed with this knowledge, carers might be able to predict more accurately what music might be the most memorable for a particular patient and where to start playing that music to test most efficiently whether a patient actually does remember a piece of music.

We hope you enjoy the game and thank you for playing.  We need plenty of data for the scientists, so keep playing and spread the word.  We'll also keep you posted about live events where you can get involved and we'll be announcing the first results at the Manchester Science Festival in the autumn.

Check out for more information.

Thursday, 31 October 2013

Science as Muse: Synthesis at Manchester Science Festival 2013

Guest post by Louise Mackenzie, winner of the graduate art competition at the Synthesis Exhibition
“at first only mimesis was art, then several things were art but each tried to extinguish its competitors, and then, finally, it became apparent that there were no stylistic or philosophical constraints. There is no special way works of art have to be.”

Arthur C Danto, After The End of Art, 1997

The emptiness left by post-modernism influenced my work strongly at art school.  I was troubled by the lack of muse, the sense of nothingness within which contemporary art had to function.  It seemed to me that either I was left to create in the gaps between what already exists in the world, through appropriation or repetition, or that I could push out into the space beyond the known, through mutation and innovation.  I chose to reach beyond and my method was collaboration.  By teaming up with specialist skills and knowledge from other disciplines, it was possible to come up with novel forms of expression: for example the use of micro-algae as an oxygen producer to highlight our symbiotic relationship with the planet and hint at our abuse of it.

Louise Mackenzie, Life Support, 2013 (image Chris Foster)
The latter part of Danto’s quote is well suited to the Synthesis exhibition at Manchester Science Festival.  Showcasing work across the art-science genre, it represents an eclectic field.  Works on paper, canvas and ceramic stood alongside installations and sculptures.  Amidst new graduates (myself included) were the works of established artists such as Ivan Smith, Jo Berry, Lizz Tuckerman, the fast-paced, visceral video work of Gina Czarnecki and the serene yet startling glass micro-biology work of Luke Jerram.
Tracie Shaylor, Evolution and Atrophy, 2011 (image John Lynch)
 I was particularly drawn to the work of Tracie Shaylor and Eddy Dreadnought.  Both were eerie renditions of semi-human objects, conjuring thoughts of futures unknown  (Shaylor) and futures past (Dreadnought).  Dreadnought’s work had a garbological, post-human quality.  In pale skin tones and bone coloured hues, objects of unknown origin, strangely familiar (part of a discarded child’s scooter, a row of plastic hooks) were presented, slab-like on a matt black surface, under the surgical glare of a large lamp.  The precision and formula of the arrangement giving the appearance of archaeological finds, geometric equations and anatomical parts, all at the same time.  Shaylor’s work in contrast felt more physical.  In a dingy half-light, held within cages reminiscent of the work of Mona Hatoum, stand jars of pickled specimens.  On closer inspection the objects are dismembered male genitalia.  There is a sense of preservation and, set against the grimy brick walls of the gallery space, also one of dysfunction.  Alongside are perfect, shining aluminium discs; preserved upon them distorted images that, despite the material, have an organic quality.  The spherical shimmering surfaces convey something foetal and at the same time alien that, when combined with the caged specimens, give the unsettling feeling of a future world beyond our comprehension.

Eddy Dreadnought, Embryology of Thought, 2013 (image John Lynch)
It is the desire to push beyond what exists in the world that I think is the most important element of the Synthesis exhibition.  It inspires us to think of what is possible, if not yet realised.  With science as its muse, art has the potential to do more than imitate or illustrate, offering us insights into multiple futures.  Some that may, with the continued collaboration of art and science, become realities.

Synthesis runs until 10 November at Victoria Warehouse, Manchester

Louise Mackenzie

Monday, 28 October 2013

Bright Club
Guest post by Natasha Bray

…And there I was, heart pounding, palms sweating, trembling with nerves; yet apparently ready to go up on stage armed with a microphone with the combined goal of informing and entertaining. As a neuroscience PhD student, I can recite the usual signs of the ‘fight or flight’ response, but until that evening in Nexus Arts Café I had to test out another ‘f’ – ‘funny’…

As the audience chuckled at how the world’s first brain imaging experiment involved the scientist calling the test subject’s wife a ‘loose lady’, I silently wished that every lab meeting were this enjoyable. I told anecdotes about the temperamental experiments I had done, compared the brain’s blood flow to a banker’s bonus and, somewhat less scientifically, encouraged the use of compression socks for prolonged concentration.

Before I knew it, there was a round of applause and I’d survived! Coming off stage felt euphoric and the buzz remained for the rest of the evening as I listened to the fascinating, hilarious remaining sets of a crystal chemist, a nuclear bin man/PhD student and the only comic book historian I have (to this day) ever encountered.

As a researcher, especially in a university setting, it is all too easy to become trapped in the academic bubble and assume that everyone either a) already knows what you do, or b) couldn’t care less. On rare occasions you may even think that some horrid people c) know what you do, yet still aren’t that interested. Bright Club, however, aims to change all that.

In preparation sessions, the Bright Club organisers teach all the acts how to go about writing gags, as well as how to look like they know what they’re doing on stage. For many (myself included) it’s the first time they’ve held a microphone outside a dodgy karaoke bar. But after drafting, redrafting and a few practice run-throughs, it’s time to experiment with stand-up. Bright Club is the perfect haven for all kinds of researchers to frame their research with comedy to let the audience know why a research topic is worth their interest…and their laughs.

Natasha Bray has just submitted her PhD thesis about brain stuff and will be taking to the stage for a second time at the ‘Monster’ Bright Club on 31st October at Gorilla.

Click for more information and tickets for Bright Club Manchester at Manchester Science Festival or visit the Bright Club Manchester Facebook page.

Friday, 25 October 2013

Ice, Art & Urban Farming

Guest Post: Caroline Ward - filmmaker and visual artist
I was thrilled to attend the Festival launch this year. Since I moved to Manchester in 2010, I've volunteered my skills to the festival by editing short content for the citizen science projects, last year for Turing's Sunflowers and this year for Hooked.
I also love going to events at the festival - particularly as my interests in art, architecture, and urban farming - never fail to be excited. At the launch I was captivated by the approach of David Garcia, one of the architects in the Ice Lab exhibition - with a structure made of snow - the idea was to use materials from the immediate environment which could then, merge back into the environment. It reminded me of Robert Smithson’s sculpture Spiral Jetty. The exhibition is fascinating and covered in a previous post. My inner kid also liked the Star Wars style structures that feature in so many of the ice labs.

There's so much going on at the festival, here’s my own navigation through the programme. As an art, film and urban naturalist, my top picks are:

A special mention goes to the Great White Silence - its one of my favourite films and fully restored to its original glory by the BFI (where I used to work many moons ago). It's the poignant story of Captain Scott’s race to the South Pole yet reveals wonderful moments like penguins captured on film for the first time in this environment. And finally - to Chasing Ice - a brilliant film that just goes to show the value of picking up a camera (well several cameras) and persisting against ice and snow to show the world just what damage we are doing to the planet – I can’t think of a better way to show climate change in action.
PS my track for the HookedPlaylist is: Violin Phase by Steve Reich (see video)

Thursday, 24 October 2013

Ice Lab: Architecture in extreme environments

Guest post: Frances Keating, Conservator, MOSI

When you think of Antarctica, you are most likely to envisage one of the many images we routinely associate with the planet’s most remote and mysterious continent; possibly amazing landscapes of seemingly endless snow and ice, night skies glowing green with auroras, landmarks such as Mount Erebus or the flag at the south pole, or maybe you first think of the Antarctic wildlife, seals and cute looking penguins….

The interesting thing about the new ‘Ice Lab’ exhibition is that the angle is completely different from any of these familiar images. The focus is on a largely untold story of Antarctic architecture past, present and future, the lifestyle of the people who have to live on Antarctic research bases, and the science that these people undertake.

Having had the privilege to go to Antarctica, the exhibition resonates particularly vividly for me, for it explains the reality of a harsh and challenging environment instead of reinforcing any misconceptions of a snowy idyll, where ‘storms’ sound about as ferocious as the scene inside a shaken snow-dome. It explains the difficulty all the international Antarctic Research programmes experience trying to provide adequate structures to house scientists and base crew; buildings that somehow need to withstand winds of up to 200mph and remain stable under the weight of large quantities of snow without collapsing. As well as surviving the extreme elements, modern Antarctic dwellings also need to have far greater longevity than earlier constructions and are now being designed to incorporate the latest energy-generating technology to enable sustainability and self-sufficiency. The potential to move a whole research base from location to location is also now a reality. For many decades the most flexible living accommodation in Antarctica has been the very basic shelter provided by disused shipping containers which are relatively easy to hook onto vehicles and drag across the snow, which seems positively primitive in comparison to the new wave of space-age looking mobile bases.

Halley VI
The exhibition also contains objects that explain how base communities interact, particularly at times of celebration such as ‘Midwinter’ (the day which falls at the midpoint of the winter season when there is 24 hours of darkness). In Antarctica, the separation from family and friends puts far greater emphasis on occasions and everyone pulls together to try and make these times extra special. I find it fascinating to think that objects such as menu cards from festive dinners in the 1950s and 60s so closely resemble what would be found on an Antarctic base today. The necessity to handcraft these small tokens and gestures stands as evidence that Antarctica remains a place where resources are minimal. Only supplies that have a justifiable degree of usefulness will ever make the long, expensive, and logistically challenging journey, therefore making it impossible for anyone to indulge in a plethora of materialistic possessions during their stay. This is possibly the aspect of being in Antarctica that affected me the most personally- the realisation that we actually need very little to survive. I learnt that human beings are incredibly resilient and we have the ability to adapt, and accept and harmonise with the environment around us. Antarctica is a truly unique and magical place and Ice Lab aims to offer a tangible impression of what it is really like to be there.

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Is breathing bad for you?

Could a stroll down Oxford Road be bad for your health? Find out with the Barometer Podcast team on the 29th October at Manchester Museum during a LIVE podcast recording. Doors open at 1830 for a 1900 start. The event is free to attend. More details are available here and you can guarantee your seat here. Podcast team member, Will Morgan explains some of the science behind air pollution and why it is bad for our health.

Air pollution has been a major issue in Greater Manchester since the Industrial Revolution, with the smoke emanating from the many factories leading to smog settling over the city. The author Johanna Schonpenhauer remarked in 1830 that Manchester was:
“Dark and smoky from the coal vapours, it resembles a huge forge or workshop.”

Several of Lowry’s paintings depicted the smoke and haze coming from factories in Salford. As industrialisation and motor vehicles spread across the globe, so did the issue of air pollution. Just this week, Sydney has been blanketed by dense smoke from bush fires, while a city in Northern China is suffering with air pollution levels that are 40 times the safe limit recommended by the World Health Organisation. These are very visible examples of air pollution but often the problem is what we don’t see. Even relatively low levels of air pollution can be harmful to our health, especially if we are exposed for long periods.
  Manchester Museum’s spider crab helps me make some pollution measurements on Oxford Road.
Breathing in the fumes from cars, factories and anything else that involves burning fuel can have serious short and long-term implications for our health. Air pollution has been linked to both causing and aggravating heart and lung diseases. Globally, these are the leading causes of death and air pollution makes them worse. The World Health Organisation recently declared that air pollution is a leading environmental cause of cancer deaths. During and after major air pollution events, the number of people suffering heart attacks and respiratory problems increases.

The most dangerous type of air pollution is from tiny particles that are suspended in the air, known as aerosols or particulate matter. These are estimated to have contributed to around 3.2 million deaths in 2010. A recent report by the European Environment Agency concluded that around 90% of people living in European cities are exposed to levels of air pollution that are damaging to our health. Closer to home, it is estimated that nearly 29,000 deaths each year in the UK occur due to particulate matter pollution. Across Greater Manchester, between 1 in 17 and 1 in 19 adult deaths are attributable to particulate matter pollution.
Efforts to improve the situation have been mixed, as air pollution is a complex conundrum for both scientists and policy makers. If you want to hear more about this important issue, then I recommend joining us next Tuesday at our live podcast: Is breathing bad for you? 7pm at the Manchester Museum. See you there.

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

Guest post from Liz West, artist exhibiting at the Synthesis exhibition.
the curator of Synthesis ,Tracie Shaylor had visited and seen recent work at Bury Light Night and immediately wanted me in the show. The in-depth colour theory that I employ in all my light works ties in neatly with the exhibition being part of Manchester Science Festival.
I am most excited by site-specific work. If I was to be part of this exhibition I
wanted my ideas to be responsive to the space. With that in mind last Thursday I was given a tour of the ground floor exhibition space at Manchester's Victoria Warehouse. I had been keen to get into the space for some time and didn't want to waste this opportunity.
Upon entering the exhibition space I was blown away by the possibilities for new work, my mind started racing. Tracie had ear-marked two particular spaces for my work, upon inspection they are not the easiest to work with, but these are the spaces I am excited by the most. I like a challenge.
One of the spaces was in front of a vast window looking on to the main road past the Warehouse. A light-work would defiantly attract passers-by and act as an advertisement for the show. I aim to rework the recent commission I made for Macclesfield's Barnaby Festival by stacking the light boxes on top of each other instead of presenting them side-by-side. Configured this way it would lend itself to the space and illuminate the nearby white walls.
The second space is within the main exhibition hall. A set of blue railings guard a drop down to the floor below; this was the space I had to respond to! In this site-specific installation conceived specially for Synthesis, I will systematically arrange numerous multicoloured fluorescent stick-lights. The title of work is taken from Josef Albers text ‘Interaction of Colour’, where it is explained that a direct mixture of projected light demonstrates an additive mixture where the sum of all colours in light is white. I am super excited about it and as with most of my installations, you have to see them in the flesh to fully appreciate.

I can't wait to install these works and perhaps see you at the preview on Thursday evening?
Find out more about the preview event here and the Synthesis exhibition here. The Synthesis exhibition is at the Victoria Warehouse hotel from Friday 25 Oct - Sun 10 Nov.

Thursday, 10 October 2013

Portraits of Emotions 
Guest blog post by artist Paul Digby, who will be exhibiting at the Synthesis exhibition at Victoria Warehouse.

The four drawings on display are from a series of ten portrait drawings of people from the Chapeltown area of Leeds. I worked from photographic images made in an open studio in early 2012 where people were asked to express an emotion of there own choice. The idea for this grew out of Charles Darwin's Expressions of Emotions in Man and Animals, where in this book Darwin uses photographs by the mid nineteenth century French Doctor/Photographer Duchenne de Boulogne of an "Old man". 

The old man was a homeless person he worked with who reportedly had no nerve endings in his face and was able to have electrodes attached to emulate specific emotions.

I initially asked people to express specific emotions but soon adapted to people's desires to express emotions of there own choices. As the project progressed I felt more confident to ask specific individuals if they would pose and I selected people from the community I knew to ask.

Another artistic reference is George Seurat and particularly his drawing style. Although Seurat used Conte Crayon and I have used Graphite, I adapted his process. This involved repeating a circular movement and pattern to gradually build to a solid tone. I also used cross hatching, a similar technique for building layered tone. For four of the ten series I used paint and oil bar on paper and canvas. Seurat lived in Paris around the same time as Duchenne but I am unsure to whether they knew one another.

Other references involve contemporary psychology. During the project I was influenced by Bruce Hood's The Self Illusion, which seemed to link in to the concept of portraiture. Another idea that transfers well from psychology to art is stimuli and response. For example the art work is the artist's response to a stimuli and the viewer's stimuli for a response.

The project involved delivering a workshop to Chapelallerton Primary School in Chapeltown to sixty Year One children. They learnt how to draw portraits using cross hatching and graphite on a paper with a grain.

This project was supported by the University of Leeds School of Medicine who mid way through the project showed the work in progress in the Charles Thackrah Building. The full series was shown in the Union105 gallery in Chapeltown Leeds and the ESA show space in London. I also gave a lecture to Leeds Metropolitan University students, another supporting organisation. The project was funded by Arts Council England.

Paul is a contemporary visual artist with sixteen tears experience and has shown work in including the Manchester Contemporary, the Cornerhouse and the Saatchi gallery. He has collaborated on projects with in the Thackray Museum, Rampton Hospital and High Royds Hospital. Paul has work in the Wellcome Trust and Private Collections. He sits on the Steering Group for the Yorkshire and Humber Contemporary Visual Arts Network and teaches for the WEA.

Four of the series of drawings will be on display in the Synthesis exhibition and Paul will give a talk on the project, on Saturday 25th October at 4:00 both in the Victoria Warehouse Hotel.

Tuesday, 8 October 2013

Research: The Big Picture
Guest Post: Dee-Ann Johnson, The University of Manchester

What connects wishing trees in folklore, the inside of a living chrysalis, and 5000 years of weather?  The third annual Images of Research Competition that’s what! 

  As part of the Manchester Science Festival, we challenged  scientists and engineers at The University of Manchester to tell their research story using beautiful images and inspiring descriptions. We asked them to show why research is essential and important to everyone.  

Open to researchers in all subjects, the entries came with intriguing titles including:

·      Your eely ancestor
·      The fire empowerment
·      More than skin deep
·      Standing proud
·      Scientific research: A real bed of roses

The competition presents just a taste of the diversity and breadth of the research being conducted at the University. But whether the subject matter is poverty, locomotion, climate change, health or masculinity, we are sure of one thing – there is something of interest for everyone.

Our researchers are passionate about their work and the benefits their research can bring. 

  But now we turn the competition over to you

Cast your vote online now and help us decide which image has captured your imagination, raised your curiosity, or got you thinking about the research in a different way.

The competition runs from 7 October to 4 November 2013. The winner will be announced on 5 November 2013.