Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Beautiful Bacteria, Visual Viruses, Fascinating Fungi!

Microbiology and Art
Saturday 22 October – 10 November
11am – 5pm
Cost & Booking: Free. No need to book. Drop in anytime.

Looking up at the celestial night sky or at Hubble telescope images of the universe around us, the connection between astronomy and beauty is unquestionable.
But other fields of science don’t have such a ready connection between their research subjects and beauty. Take, for example, microbiology. The study of bacteria, viruses, and fungi likely makes most people think, “Germs! Get them off me!” rather than “Ooh, that’s lovely…”

Joanna Verran, though, is out to change all that. For the 2011 Manchester Science Festival , Joanna has put together an exhibit of artwork inspired by and featuring microorganisms and infectious diseases.

After all, many microorganisms are beneficial to us, and gorgeous as well!

Manchester Science Festival blogger Nija Dalal got on the phone with Joanna, to discuss this exciting and intriguing exhibit that brings together science and art.

First off, can you describe what the event will be about?
The exhibit will demonstrate the links between science and art, specifically microbiology. The artworks were produced by science undergraduate students and citizen-scientists to illustrate the often unrecognized connections between art and science

And what exactly is microbiology?
Microbiology is the study of microorganisms, the tiny living things like bacteria, virii, fungi. They are incredibly small, and have to be seen through a microscope.

Microbes can be very beautiful and very important… and there are more of them than anything else on the planet! And they’re not all there just to make us ill—many of them play the important role of breaking things down. If they didn’t exist, we’d be over our heads in rubbish on this planet!

Did you know there are 10 times more microbial cells in and on the human body than there are human cells?

That’s amazing! I knew there were a lot, but that’s astounding! What kind of artworks can festival goers look forward to seeing at the exhibit?
There are a lot of exciting artworks being shown. For example, one of my students recreated an X-ray image of a virus using sequins. It’s really beautiful. Another piece is an embroidered quilt about scarlet fever, and it also draws on Little Women, because a character in that book, Beth, dies of scarlet fever.

There are also some fascinating photographs. Overall, the exhibit will be a very visual, very artistic way to engage with science. Hopefully, people will find a new way to think about science and microbiology, because art can help to communicate scientific understanding in an unexpected way.

The exhibit features work by your undergraduate science students and by a group called DIYBIO… What is DIYBIO?
DIYBIO is a Wellcome Trust Funded group, run by MadLab (Manchester Digital Laboratory) and Manchester Metropolitan University. The group exists to encourage citizen-run science. DIYBIO held a competition among their members for artworks that related to microbiology. The winning submissions are in the exhibit.

They’ve developed an interactive microbe map of Manchester, which can show visitors where different microbes were found around the city, mostly probably from people’s hands.

So could it be that people who come to see the exhibit may have unwittingly contributed to it?
Absolutely. You may be seeing your own microbes on that map!

Why did you choose to use academic and amateur work?
Science students tend to get pigeonholed into just doing science work, and this lets them use other talents, brings in different talents and provides a different way of communicating science. For the person looking at the work, it could be a less threatening way of looking at science.

What do you think art offers microbiology? Can art sometimes show things in a clearer way or a more dynamic way?
I think the artworks make people look at science differently, think about the message differently. That can be very interesting.

Do you think art can help people get interested in microbiology?
Yes! Microbiology is a really interesting subject and this gets people to look at it in a way that’s more accessible and helps you to make links you wouldn’t otherwise. You’d never think of the similarity between something like an xray of a virus and a cultural product like sequins, but once you’ve seen the artwork, you can see how beautiful and sparkly the original xray image looks.

I really hope this exhibit inspires people to do and think about science and art as interconnected.

The Manchester Science Festival 2011 presents Microbiology and Art
36-40 Edge St, Manchester, Greater Manchester M4 1, UK
Saturday 22 October – 10 November
11am – 5pm
Cost & Booking: Free. No need to book. Drop in anytime.

Monday, 26 September 2011

Don't try this at home!

We got the chance to grill the BBC Bang Goes the Theory team and we've been putting their questions and answers up on our blog. This week, it's Dallas' turn... don't try this at home!

What's your favourite science fact?
Space is big. Really big…

What's the most dangerous experiment you've ever done?
Typing this in the bath.

What's the most dangerour / extreme / exciting thing you've ever done?
I went diving in raw sewage in Mexico City. Human waste, animal waste, it was truly grim. Unblocking your own loo is bad enough, but unblocking a loo that 20 million people have been using is truly awful. For a day I was a human sink plunger.

How did you become a science TV presenter?
A strange combination of circumstances, chance encounters, a favourable alignment of the planets, hard work, and luck. There is no official career path to becoming a TV Presenter. The short story is that I devised a TV science series in America which I ended up presenting. From that I went on to present The Gadget Show on Channel Five and then on to the BBC to do Bang and my other BBC projects. That’s the abridged version at least. The upshot is, I have the best job in the world, and I’m incredibly lucky.

What do you think will be the next big discovery in science?
From what I understand, physics is on the brink of some exciting conclusions: The nature of dark matter (the missing matter of the Universe); confirmation of the existence of the elusive Higgs boson which will help complete the Standard Model of particle physics; perhaps a theory that will unify quantum mechanics (the strange physics of the subatomic world) and relativity (physics of really big stuff like galaxies). Not only will these things reveal more about the nature of reality, but no doubt throw up new, exciting questions and mysteries. That’s the really exciting bit of science – the stuff we don’t yet know. Exciting times.

What's the best thing about your job?
When people ask me what my favourite food is.

What's your favourite food?
All of it.

Questions from the fans

What is the most you've ever eaten in one sitting and what is the most that one person can actually eat?
I recently went to Amarillo in Texas. There’s a restaurant there where they serve a 72 oz steak – just over 2 kilograms of meat. Terrifying. If you eat it it’s free. But not only do you have to eat the steak, you have to eat the baked potato, the bread roll, the coleslaw and all the other stuff that it comes with. When I was there, there was an interstate BBQ rib eating contest going on. I’ve never seen more meat being consumed in my life. A truly awesome display. I had the salad. Followed by a 72 oz steak.

Do aliens exist?
Sometimes I think we’re alone. Sometimes I think we’re not. Either way the implications are staggering.” That’s a quotation sometimes credited to Arthur C. Clarke, and sometimes to Buckminster Fuller, but it nicely sums up my daily ruminations on the subject. The short answer is, of course, we don’t know for sure, but you’d have to be a brave person to bet that the only life in the Universe is here.

BBC Bang Goes the Theory LIVE experience will be at Campfield Market Hall, near MOSI on Saturday 22 and Sunday 23 October. Get your tickets booked now!

Bang Goes the Theory is on BBC One on Monday evenings at 7.30pm.

Friday, 16 September 2011

The Midland Future Manchester Young Writers Competition 2012

Manchester Literature Festival, Manchester Science Festival and Manchester Children’s Book Festival present the Midland Future young writers competition. Young people aged 12 – 16 are invited to write a fictional short story set at least 10 years in the future.

We are seeking North West based scientists to write scenarios about their work and vision of the future, to inspire young people who wish to enter a writing competition about future Manchester.

Scientists would need to outline one specific development they think will have a significant impact on future society, drawing on their own or other scientific research.


Possible relevant topics include:
- possible effects of future climate change on the city
- how will advances in technology change the way we communicate / travel / work
- how will medical advances affect the health and quality of life of future residents
- what effects will a changing population demographic have on life in the city

Scenarios need to be:

- a maximum of 500 words (i.e. so it fits on a double sided A4 sheet).
- aimed at 12 - 16 year olds – the tone needs to be suitable for 12 years +
- written in an engaging way as we are trying to spark their imaginations

Scenarios could include ideas such as a scientist’s "dream invention" and what their "nightmare invention" would be. Other ideas not mentioned here are also welcome.

We are also seeking some scientists to participate in schools workshops. Accompanying a writer, who would lead a creative writing workshop, scientists would speak to students about their work and the future of science, and be there to answer questions about their ideas. The students would participate in creative writing, supported by the writer.

There will be 4 – 6 workshops in schools between November 2011 - February 2012 (dates tbc) and each will last half a day. You can commit to one or more workshops. As well as the time commitment involved in going into the school, scientists will need to spend time preparing their session, liaising with the writers via email to help draw up a session plan. This stage of the process will be fully supported by us.

Successful applicants will be invited to attend the teacher launch of the Midland Future Manchester writing competition which will be led by competition judge Julie Bertagne, author of futuristic teen novels ‘Exodus’, ‘Aurora’ and ‘Zenith’. This will be an opportunity to meet like-minded scientists, writers and teachers in advance of the project. This will be held on 11 October 4pm - 6pm.

Please send a brief statement of interest and experience of working with schools, writing and/or public engagement to Cathy Bolton, Manchester Literature Festival Director: director@manchesterliteraturefestival.co.uk by Tuesday 4 October.

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Bang Goes the Theory - we grill the presenters!

We got the chance to grill the Bang Goes the Thoery presenters recently. Over the next few weeks we're posting our questions and their answers on the Manchester Science Festival blog! This week it's Liz's turn...

What's your favourite science fact?
Em... the techtonic plates on our planet are moving apart at the same rate as our finger nails grow and a tiger can tell different tiger scents apart by using the vomeronasal organ in its nose, something that we humans cannot do.

What's the most dangerous experiment you've ever done?
Taking part in a submarine rescue drill in Norway which involved going down to 100 metres in a submarine rescue system pod, 'mating' with a distressed submarine on the sea floor and opening our two respective hatches to transfer the submariners into our pod. At one point the two pilots of our pod had to lock an internal hatch, that separated the rest of us from them, to make sure that if anything went wrong during the transfer they would be okay. Apparently we were expendable but they were not!

What's the most dangerous / extreme / exciting thing you've ever done?
Wingwalking and doing a loop which involved accelerating towards the ground at ridiculous speeds in order to be able to climb high enough to do the loop, all to investigate what a gale force wind feels like. It was pretty extreme but very exciting and surprisingly enjoyable once I got over the panic - It is very peaceful up there in the skies.

How did you become a science TV presenter?
I was very lucky to be asked to audition for Bang Goes The Theory when I was just finishing my Masters in Wild Animal Biology - I hadn't even done my final exams - I still have to pinch myself every day.

What do you think will be the next big discovery in science?
That's a tough one - science can be on the edge of a big discovery at any time, that's the beauty of it. There is still so much to learn about many aspects of human biology and chemistry, as well as that of all living systems, the planet, the physics of the Universe... We are tantalisingly close to discovering life supporting planets other than our own thanks to incredible telescopes like the ones on Mauna Kea in Hawaii for example. Scientists are now saying it is not a question of if, but when we make that discovery.

What's the best thing about your job?
I get the chance to see first hand, how scientists are working on the latest technology and research for all types of science. It makes me want to get back into the lab! I am in awe of the passion and dedication of these unsung heros who all work to improve every aspect of our lives, whether it be the technology that propels our world into the future, or the latest research on cures for disease- a lot of which we take for granted. I also love the roadshows because it gives us a chance to meet some of our viewers and talk all things science with all age groups. It's a real treat to meet the scientists of the future.

What's your favourite food?
I am a big fan of Italian and Japanese food- if there was only one thing I could eat it would have to be Gyoza. I am a bit of a dumpling freak...

Questions from Bang Goes the Thoery fans
When your hands are really cold, why do they hurt when they warm up?
I suspect it has something to do with the fact that all the tiny blood vessels in your hands shrink due to the cold, which can be quite painful in itself, and they vasodilate or expand again when the hands get a chance to warm up, allowing the blood flow to increase again, and that can be a little painful too.

Do aliens exist?

It depends what you mean when you say aliens. I do think there are life forms out there, but how sophisticated they are remains to be discovered. I suspect the funny eyed egg head is unlikely to ever grace our planet.

The Bang Goes the Thoery team will be in Manchester from 22 - 23 October with thier LIVE roadshow. We can't wait! Book your free tickets now!

Catch Bang Goes the Theory on BBC1 on Monday evenings.

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Knit a Microbe! Nexus Art Cafe

As part of the Manchester Science Festival and Golden Ratio exhibition at Nexus Art Cafe, we are inviting all needle-clackers to contribute a microbe to our Golden Ratio colony!

Come and knit in the cafe, use this events page to organise a group knit, or drop by our Crafternoons sessions every Sunday at 3pm. You can drop your woolly microbe off at the Nexus counter, labelled with your name and contact details if you would like them back! They will then be displayed as a part of the Golden Ratio exhibition, which runs from 30th September - 20th November.

Please make sure your microbes are ready by 25th September so we have time to hang them all!
You can find the microbe patterns here, courtesy of Manchester Science Festival.

You can use the Nexus Facebook page to organise meets with other knitters, or join our Crafternoon group.

Monday, 5 September 2011

Bang Goes the Theory - we grill the presenters!

We couldn't be more excited that the Bang Goes the Theory LIVE experience is coming to Manchester Science Festival this year!

We got the chance to catch up with the presenters of the show and asked them loads of questions. Over the next few weeks, we'll pop the questions and their (sometimes hilarious!) answers on our blog. The first presenter we put to the test is Jem!

What's your favourite science fact?

I love the fact that an ancient Greek fellow managed to pretty accurately figure out the size of the world using sticks, shadows and logic.

What's the most dangerous experiment you've ever done?
Myself and the two guys I work with do many, many experiments in the process of building all we do for Bang. And there are quite a few that there’s no practical risk-free way of doing. You’ve just got to use your most considered judgement and hope you’ve got it right.

On-screen wise, going all the way round on a swing was the only experiment I didn’t even tell my family about. The window for success was pretty small. On reflection, I’m not even sure I should trust own engineering that much.

What's the most dangerous/extreme/exciting thing you've ever done?
I remember surfing one reef break in south west Australia that was both big and sucked pretty dry over the rocks. It struck me as amazing how you never really notice the muscles in your feet then when you really need them you can feel hundreds of them doing everything they can to make sure you stay upright.

How did you become a science TV presenter?
For years I worked behind the scenes building experiments and machines for a bunch of other science shows, and when the camera was swung in my direction I just tried to smile and be myself.

What do you think will be the next big discovery in science?
Using unimaginably small aerials to turn infra red radiation directly into usable electricity.

What's the best thing about your job?
The simply astonishing opportunity it gives me to meet and talk with some wonderfully experienced scientists and engineers.

What's your favourite food?

Questions from Bang Goes the Thoery fans

Why do some kettles whistle when they boil?
When water gets to 100 degrees and turns into steam it expands about 800 times. There’s no room for that in the kettle so it rushes out of the spout. When the steam coming out moves quickly enough through a specifically designed chamber (the kettle whistle) it sets up a vibration. This vibration causes the air in the rest of the room to vibrate, which can then wobble your ear drums. If those are wobbled at the right rate (about 1000 times per second) you interpret that as a whistling sound.

Do aliens exist?
I’d be amazed if they didn’t.
BBC Bang Goes the Theory LIVE experience will be at Campfield Market Hall, near MOSI on Saturday 22 and Sunday 23 October. Get your tickets booked now!

Bang Goes the Theory is on BBC One on Monday evenings at 7.30pm.

Thursday, 1 September 2011

Microbiology and art competiton – call for entries

Art provides an opportunity for visualisation and communication of science…
During the Manchester Science Festival 2011, MadLab will be hosting its first science themed exhibition, on the subject of Microbiology and Art (Oct 20 – Nov 11). Items on display will include a range of different representations of links between microbiology and art – photography, jewellery, embroidery, music, painting and so on – produced by science students from MMU. In addition, the Manchester Microbe Map, produced by the intrepid members of DIYBIOMCR will be on display alongside the MMU AIDS banner, and an open call for work.

Take part in the exhibition. Here’s how.
Think about the obvious links between microbiology and art – deterioration of cultural heritage, images of infectious disease, the beauty of microscopic images, disease in history, literature – and the not so obvious.

Search the subject online, you may be surprised!

If you are inspired to produce your own artwork, then submit it to hwayoung@madlab.org.uk by the 30th September.

Please include with your submission:


2.description (inspiration)



Any questions or queries can be directed to the above contact.

A panel of judges will select one entry to join the exhibition.


Submission deadline : 30th September

Winner announced : 7th of October

Exhibition launch : 22nd October

This event is part of the Manchester Science Festival 2011 and DIYBIOMCR. This blog was originally posted on the MadLab website.