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x-change blog - day 4


The final X-Change show went out with a bang as we finished the week with plague and pestilence, prosthetic limbs, why we die and much more.

First up was Piers Mitchell, a biological anthropologist from the University of Cambridge, brought a 2000 year old skull which was found in a Roman healing shrine! He explained that people went to these places looking for cures because this was a time when there were no vaccines and antibiotics. He asked the audience which disease they would rather have out of TB, leprosy, the plague and syphilis if they had no antibiotics available to them. The audience voted, and there was an overwhelming preference for TB! However, Piers said that it would be actually better to have the plague because even though 60% of people in Britain died during the bubonic plague, modern strains are much less aggressive and so there would be a higher chance of survival.

Next up we had Emily O’Regan, the UK Young Scientist of the Year and Fred Turner, the UK Young Engineer of the Year. Great projects always start with an intriguing question. Emily wanted to find out why a captive group of flamingos at the Washington Wetland Centre, Tyne and Wear had stopped breeding. After monitoring the flock, she found that not only was there a correlation between temperature and breeding, but it was also effected by the seagull population in the area. Fred wanted to know why his brother is the only member of his family to have ginger hair! In order to study the “ginger gene”, he needed a PCR machine to copy the DNA. The problem is, they are extremely expensive (around £3000!) and so he built his own for the relatively bargain price of £250. It just goes to show that the future of Science and Engineering in the UK is very bright!

Technology in sport is incredibly topical at the moment and so Bryce Dyer, senior lecturer in product design at Bournemouth University came to talk about the role of prosthetics. He has been involved in the design of some of the sports technology used in the 2012 Paralympic games. He explained that his main role is to investigate whether the prosthetics are appropriate for use. The controversial issue of Paralympians and Olympians can ever compete against each other fairly was also raised, and it has been found that this depends on how well a prosthesis is prescribed.

Science performer Dr Ken then treated us to a few demonstrations. My absolute favourite was when he described Mendel’s Laws of Inheritance using juggling!

It goes without saying that science is incredibly important to society, but how clued up are politicians on scientific issues? Chandrika Nath, a scientific advisor in the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology helped us to answer this question. It’s a challenge to bring science to the top of the agenda because it needs to grab an MP’s attention over the many other things that they have to think about. We also found out how we as the public can have an impact on the work parliament does on science, such as writing to select committees and attending seminars that parliamentary outreach hold.

Our final speaker was Simon Watt, who addressed one of the most important but perplexing questions in biology- why do we die? While he couldn’t give away too much ahead of his show in the afternoon but it did become evident that this is a very complex question to try and answer! He also announced that the blob fish won the national vote for which creature is going to be the national mascot for the Ugly Animal Preservation Society

In today’s competition, we asked the audience to come up with song names that have been tweaked to make them more scientific. For example, Billy Gene and Sweet Ohm Alabama. The audience came up with so many hilarious questions but we could only have one winner. After much deliberation, “Brain drops are falling in my head” walked away with the prize!

It’s been such an amazing week and we’ve all really enjoyed producing this year’s X-Change shows. Goodbye for this year!

Jessica and all the X-Change team

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