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 http://drelliott.net. 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 info@megamenger.com 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 http://www.hookedonmusic.org.uk/.  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 http://www.manchestersciencefestival.com/citizenscience/hookedonmusic for more information.