Science Events In London This Week: 7 – 14 November


Fiction Lab, the Royal Institution’s monthly book club is back tonight with Kepler by John Banville. Free and no need to book – just turn up, having read it.


The ZSL Wildlife Conservation series returns for the autumn with Shallow Seas where a panel of experts will discuss the threats to shallow zones around the coastline which contain the highest biodiversity. 6pm: free, no need to book, but first come, first served.

2011 is the International Year of Chemistry, to mark the Centenary of Marie Curie winning the Nobel Prize, and Imperial holds an event to mark the event with David Phillips examining how chemistry has helped us to understand our world and where new knowledge is leading us. 7pm, £10; book now.

Meanwhile over at UCL, there is a free talk by Jeremy Rifkin on the theme of his latest book, The Third Industrial Revolution. 6:30pm; free.


One for the crafty ones amongst you: Science London do hovercrafts! A regular scientific crafts night at Drink, Shop & Do on Caledonian Road, this month’s will show you how to make your own hovercraft. 7pm. Free entry, but get there early to be sure of a place.

On a more political front, The Building Centre hosts a debate on energy, with a panel including speakers from industry, politics and academia, asking " Should we be storing carbon, energy or nuclear waste underground?". 6:30pm; free entry, but booking essential.


Title of the week goes to Playing with dynamite: A personal approach to forensic psychotherapy, a talk at the Freud Museum by psychotherapist Estela Welldon on her personal understanding of perversions, violence and criminality based on her many years experience at the Portman Clinic. 7pm: £10, advance booking highly recommended.

The Imperial Business School gives a sneak peek inside Google tonight with a lecture by Matt Brittin, VP of Google for Northern and Central Europe. Oddly, kilts, worms and monsters are promised as topics alongside business development. Free, but book in advance.


A special event at the Wellcome, repeated on Saturday and Sunday this weekend: A Feast to Cure Melancholy. Your £15 ticket doesn’t actually buy you a feast, but you do get two drinsk and some canapes while learning about Robert Burton’s 1621 work’ The Anatomy of Melancholy’ and our minds can benefit today from Burton’s dietary and medicinal advice on food and drink, moderation and exercise, sleeping and dreaming. Book now.

You can follow the Nature Network London Google calendar of events in London at Updated daily.

Science Showoff 2

This week saw the second Science Showoff, the open mic night for scientists and science communicators everywhere and it was just as packed as the first one, with people standing squinting from the doorway as one performer attempted to educate us in the world of chillies… while eating them whole. One of my personal favourite moments was the story of Justin O. Schmidt, an entomologist at the Carl Hayden Bee Research Center in Arizona, who in 1984 published the Schmidt Sting Index, a systematic look at the relative pain of being stung by 78 species of hymenoptera (bees, wasps, ants – all things stinging). His method? Let them sting him and record how much it hurt! More brilliant are his descriptions of the pain: the Bullet Ant scores the highest rating, with the pain described as “Pure, intense, brilliant pain. Like fire-walking over flaming charcoal with a 3-inch rusty nail in your heel.’

As well as the most dangerous ants known to man, the night featured topics including icecream, neutrinos and lacrosse and to celebrate all the fantastic performers, we have put together a quick Storify of the evening, complete with some updated links to find out more.

Storify of Science Showoff: 2

Science Events In London This Week: 31 October – 6 November

The London Science Festival is sadly over, but don’t think that makes this week any less busy. Read on for some selected highlights…


Halloween at the Grant Museum of Zoology in Bloomsbury means Witches and Lizards, a special night exploring the role of animals in scare-stories, rituals and superstitions from across the world. Where better to spend Halloween than in a room full of skulls…? 5:30-8pm, £4 on the door.


After such a popular launch last month, the open mic night for science, Science Showoff, is back with a whole new line-up of performers. You can see a full list on the website, but to whet your appetite, the topics promised include chillis, lacrosse, the genetics of muggleborns, home-made plasma and liquid nitrogen made icecream. Tip: get there early, it was absolutely packed last time. Free, but a donation to charity is appreciated. Doors at 7pm at the Wilmington Arms near Farringdon.

The Royal Institution turns its attention to the 5th of November tonight with the Science of Fireworks! (their exclamation mark, not mine). 2008 RI Christmas Lecturer Chris Bishop gives a talk packed with demonstrations of pyrotechnic chemistry, warning us to expect loud bangs and flashes! 6pm, £10: book now.


Well known experimental psychologist Steven Pinker has written a new book called The Better Angels of our Nature and is doing several events around London to co-incide with its launch. Up tonight is the Royal Institution, with a talk of the same name, looking at the decline our violence in human society throughout our history. £10, 7pm: book now.

An early evening talk at Imperial asking how we perceive and deal with risk and uncertainty as individuals, organisations and societies. 5:30pm, see the website to register now.


The Annual Clifford Paterson Lecture at the Royal Society is all about the future of nano-carbons and the emergence of carbon as a material of the next generation of electronics. 6:30 – 7:30pm, free, first come, first served.

From the future to the past, a guided tour of the highlights of the Wellcome Collection’s archives on the topic of food, remedies and global interchange in our medical and cultural lives from the 17th century onwards, culminating in a look at current tensions surrounding sustainability and healthy eating. 6pm at the Wellcome Collection.


A lunchtime one for the science communicators: Science for all: popular science in the age of radio at the Royal Society. How do you get ordinary people to take an interest in science? How scientists of the early 20th century did it, their successes and failures and how things have changed today. 1-2pm; free but book.


Back the Grant Museum of Zoology, it is the Festival of Geology with a whole range of activities from handling fossils, minerals and rock, gem panning, identifying minerals and casting fossils and a whole range of talks on volcanoes, dinosaurs and more. Free and suitable for the whole family: 10:30 – 4:00. Field trips on Sunday.

You can follow the Nature Network London Google calendar of events in London at Updated daily.

London Science Festival: Closing Party at Science Museum Lates

The London Science Festival may be very sadly over, but it didn’t go out without a farewell: a closing party at the monthly Science Museum Lates. On the last Wednesday of the month, the Science Museum stays open until 10pm for an adults only event with talks, special activities, a bar and most importantly of all, the chance to try all the hands-on exhibits without being humiliated by the chiild next to you finishing first.

The theme of this month’s event was Climate Change and undoubtedly the strangest sight of the night was a group of people setting off on a guided tour of the museum… all dressed in full cockroach costume. To mark the end of the festival, we have produced a Storify of some of the pictures from Wednesday night: if we’ve missed yours, or you took some you’d like to add, do let us know!

You can see all the best of Nature’s blogs from the last week, including our #LSF coverage on the team blog Of Schemes and Memes

London Science Festival: Science Question Time – the future of drugs

The very first London Science Festival has been taking place since last week and on Tuesday night we attended the Science Question Time event at King’s College London where discussion was focused on the future of drugs.

Some of the topics discussed were the role of open innovation in new drug discovery, the economics of drug development and usage, personalised medicine and cognitive enhancing drugs.

Below is a Storify collating the tweets from the event:

Do let us know if there is anything missing as we will be continuing to update the storyboard as and when more coverage appears.

In the meantime, make sure you check out our other reports from the London Science Festival including David Willetts’ "lecture ": on science in the UK, a unique tour of the Museum of Life Sciences at King’s College and a special viewing of the film Inception.

London Science Festival: Learning about evolution at the Museum of Life Sciences

Want to look at some weird specimens pickled in jars, eat cake and learn about evolution? Open to the public for the very first time as part of the inaugural London Science Festival, the Museum of Life Sciences at the Gordon Museum Kings College London, hosted an exhibition on the mechanisms of evolution, and it wasn’t just cake that was on the carte du jour …

Hidden away, nestling near to the Gordon Museum of Kings College London, we discovered a traditional exhibition room, preserved in time, intriguingly filled with unusual displays and a wealth of old and not so old specimens from the early 19th Century onwards.

Every creature imaginable seemed to be present in one form or another – from bees, butterflies and crabs to hedgehogs, moles and sponges! Curator Gillian Sales was on hand to help explain the stories behind the skeletons and vessels full of bizarre creatures. Through these fascinating explanations, she helped to shed more light on the subject of evolution….

A bit fishy…

One of the greatest mysteries surrounding the transition of our evolutionary ancestors from sea to land is how we developed digits – fingers and toes. This exhibition aimed to present a clearer understanding of these evolutionary stages and did so particularly well through its study of the lungfish, Neoceratodus forsteri.

lung fish.bmphere.**



Next the exhibition gave us a glimpse of our ancestors in a remarkable display of skulls, providing fossil evidence of the evolution of the human, from apes to a perfect Homo sapiens skull. It is postulated that modern humans first evolved in Africa and then migrated out all over the world. According to this model, Homo sapiens gradually replaced the indigenous pre-human species of other continents, including the Neanderthals in Europe.

Pointing the finger

In March 2010, a single finger bone was found in a cave in the Denisovan region of Russia, an area known to be previously inhabited by both Neanderthals and humans. Analysis of DNA from this finger bone and from a tooth found in 2000 indicated that modern humans interbred with Neanderthals between 80,000 and 50,000 years ago in the Middle East. As a result of this interbreeding, 1-4% of the genome of people from Eurasia has been contributed by Neanderthals. This discovery may be pointing us in the right direction in our search for knowledge about the origin of modern humans, but many questions still remain to be answered.

skulls 2.bmp

It is clear from images how the differences in skull structures vary substantially. Although these variations are largely determined by genes, they would also have been significantly influenced by environmental factors such as diet and exercise. As you can tell, there are stark differences between the Homo sapiens skull and the Neanderthal skull. The rounded shape, relatively large brain, existence of a chin and lightly built skeleton are qualities associated with the Homo sapiens skull, while the Neanderthal skull is remarkably thick and has a massive brow ridge.

Three eyed oddity

A subject of considerable study is the evolution of the eye and a whole area of the exhibition was designated to this. Certain parts of the eye, such as the visual pigments, appear to have a common ancestry and the basic structure of the visual pigment is similar throughout the animal kingdom. In addition, a single gene, "_PAX6,_ “: controls the developments in eyes of all animals. Therefore all light sensing animals must share a common ancestry. ”">star.JPG

But not all animals have eyes as developed as the human eye and it was Charles Darwin who suggested a gradual evolution of the complex eye, by studying the eyes of other creatures which seemed to be less complex. These differences were ordered in a step by step progression from the most simple of eyes, to the most complex, as the exhibition helped to demonstrate. Some of the simplest eyes are nothing more than spots of a small number of light sensitive cells clustered together. Examples of creatures with simple flat eyespots include cnidarian medusa, turbellaria (flatworms with eyespots that function as both photo- and chemoreceptors), annelids (i.e segmented worms), caterpillars, and starfish.

One intriguing creature, of special interest to the museum is the Sphenodon punctatus, also known as the “living fossil.” A reptile native to New Zealand, this creature provides an interesting aspect to the story of evolution: it has a third eye whose current function is the subject of continuous research but is thought to be involved in sleep and hibernation. It is also used by zoologists as an example of the most primitive reptile they can find and the evolution of reptiles can be described as starting from the Sphenodon punctatus anatomy.

three eye.bmp

Quiz time

One of the joys of this museum was guessing what some of the specimens were before reading the labels. For a taste of the fun yourselves, can you guess which animal the skeleton in the picture above belongs to?


Clue: it is classified under the Proboscidea order….answers in the comment thread.

Vive l’evolution!


While many questions remain to be answered about human evolution, scientists have a growing bank of evidence at their disposal, so it is exciting and refreshing to see a museum like the Life Sciences opening its doors to the public on this rare occasion. To celebrate (along with the cake) we might be tempted to indulge in an aptly labelled bottle of wine we discovered in the exhibition. Let’s raise our glasses and drink a toast to the unravelling of the mysteries of evolution….VIVE L’EVOLUTION!!!!!

Science Events In London This Week: 14-30 October

The London Science Festival continues until Wednesday this week, concluding with the closing party at Wednesday night’s Science Museum Lates. Regular events also don’t stop: read on for a selection of highlights:


In All Things Bright and Small, artist and materials science Zoe Laughlin takes us on a guided tour of the micro and nano worlds, with a drinks reception afterwards to have a chance to see some of her most beautiful images displayed. Kings College’s Guys Campus, SE1, 7-9pm, free but book now.


Two of the top looking events for the London Science Festival today, Science Question Time and Your Days Are Numbered are currently sold out, but watch the website or Twitter feed for returns.

Elsewhere, the Royal Society of Chemistry enquires whether eating sustainably is a dream or reality? Appropriately timed over lunch at 12:45, tickets are £10, with lunch.


Hungry? Tuck into this grasshopper burger… Jellyfish and chips, algae bolognaise and more could be the future of food, suggests the Wellcome Collection’s guest speaker Stefan Gates in tonight’s Supper Salon on Future Food. £25 buys you a two course meal with wine while Stefan talks about what it’s going to take to feed the world with the ever increasing population. 7:30 – 10pm; book now.

The last night of London Science Festival 2011: the official closing party will be held at Science Museum Lates, with a climate change theme. Free: first come, first served, but get there early because the queue was all the way down Exhibition Road last time I went.


The Institute of Economic Affairs hosts a lecture tonight entitled Delivering Effective Competition in Healthcare. One of a series of 8 lectures on regulated industries, Nick Bosanquet, Professor of Health Policy at Imperial College will speak for about an hour, followed by a response from David Bennett, Chair of Monitor. 6:30pm at the Insitute of Director. Book now, but be warned, it’s pricey at £130 a ticket.


Well known science historian Professor Jim Secord comes to the Royal Society this lunchtime to shed light on mathematician and author Mary Somerville (1780-1872), and particularly her career in relation to debates about the role of women in the making of knowledge and her vision of science in furthering the progress of civilisation and empire. 1:00 – 2:00pm; free but book.

In the evening, the Royal Institution hosts its regular Friday Evening Discourse, open to members and guests. Tonight’s topic is Making and Repairing Muscles; tickets are free for members, £15 for guests and the lecture starts at 8pm.

You can follow the Nature Network London Google calendar of events in London at Updated daily.

London Science Festival: SCISCREEN: INCEPTION

The inaugural London Science Festival taking place this week and next, has compiled a diverse program of sciencey entertainment that makes the most of different communication formats. Reminiscent of the World Science festival that we attended earlier this year, there are lectures and museum-based events but also creative use of theatre and film.

On Thursday night we attended the science film night in Notting Hill, organised by Science London, the London Branch of the British Science Association. The Coronet Cinema was the venue for a sell-out showing of the movie, Inception, including an exciting opportunity for a Q&A with the Oscar-winning VFX company, Double Negative, the visual effects house responsible for the CGI special effects in the movie.

For those of you who haven’t seen the multi award-winning film (where have you been?) Inception, directed by Christopher Nolan, is a modern sci-fi thriller, located within the architecture of the mind. With an all star cast, including Leonardo DiCaprio, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Ellen Page, this film stuns the viewer with a strange alternate reality presented at its best through superbly creative visual imagery.

The plot is complicated and demanding, involving the unravelling of dreams within dreams. Viewing the film becomes a surreal experience, as the boundaries of fantasy and reality become steadily more blurred. Cutting-edge special effects are used to delve into the levels of psychology within dreams, leading the viewer deeper and deeper into this strange world of Morpheus, mutated by technology.

The movie puts a new spin (no pun intended, for those who’ve already seen it!) on the sci-fi tradition of alternate realities and drug-induced mind control – ideas which have opened opportunities for the imagination since Alice stepped through the looking glass and have formed the basis of films such as the cult favourite, The Matrix, or the less serious Total Recall. The imaginative dream-like quality of the story is taken to a new level by the ground breaking CGI.

Why not have a sneak peak at the film’s trailer to get a quick taster of the visual effects…

After the viewing (still in a semi-dream state!) we were lucky enough to gain a close insight into the making of the film by talking to Dr Nicola Hoyle from Double Negative, who played a leading role in developing the CGI. She talked us through the creation of these effects from the secrecy of her introduction to the concept (stuck in isolation in a small room for two hours with no phone and a script on coloured paper to prevent photocopying) to the actual techniques used to create many of the effects. With a masters degree in Maths and a PhD in Computational Engineering, Dr Hoyle was very aware of the difference between her science job and working on the film. As she pointed out; in science you can’t lie, whereas with visual effects you can cheat and nothing is impossible. Or does the film itself suggest that this premise is wrong and science can be used to create lies?

Dr Hoyle’s team was made up of people from a wide background of expertise, including scientists specialising in all aspects of the discipline. With an enormous financial budget – over $30,000,000 was spent on CGI – and a crew of 200 working 50+ hour weeks for four and a half months, superb, unrivalled lavishness of effects became possible. However, Dr Hoyle stressed that the film set was not glamorous, just sheer hard work with high level ingenuity pushed to the limits with challenging concepts.

Many of the team’s tricks of the trade were revealed, from the use of green screens and digital simulation to build artificial sets and scenes, to the painting out of harnesses, ramps and mirror reflections of cameramen. Fascinating details of the images were discussed, such as the creation of the slow-motion rain, the road damage and the addition of buildings. A thorough understanding of three-dimensional geometry was needed in order to create the limbo wall scenes with crumbling buildings and the Paris folding street scene.

With such an expert scientific input, it is hardly surprising that Inception is the type of action packed, fast-paced motion picture that is both thought-provoking and challenging, requiring the full attention of the viewer. Avoid nipping out for some extra popcorn if you want to keep up with the plot!

So, after an evening of surreal entertainment, Inception left us with a sense of deception and, as we began to wend our weary way home, I suspect a few of us were surreptitiously looking around in anticipation (or fear) of seeing a spinning top….

London Science Festival: Roberts Science Policy Lecture with David Willetts MP

The London Science Festival began on Wednesday night, setting the tone for a busy festival with David Willetts, Richard Dawkins and Festival of the Spoken Nerd all on the same night.

First up was David Willetts MP, guest speaker for the annual Gareth Roberts Science Policy Lecture hosted by the Science Council. Following heavy demand for tickets, the lecture was relocated to the Royal Society of Medicine and there was a good turnout to hear the newly elected President of the Science Council Sir Tom Blundell. Professor Blundell gave a short introduction to the origins of the Science Council and the founding president, Sir Gareth Roberts, after whom this lecture is named, before introducing the guest lecturer for the evening, David Willetts.

A well-known figure in science policy since the last election, David Willetts is Conservative MP for Havant and the Minister for Universities and Science. Mr Willetts began his lecture with a slew of facts and figures about the positive state of scientific research, claiming the UK is punching well above its weight in terms of researchers, articles, citations and other measures. He suggested that openness had been a particularly important factor in the success of the UK, citing that almost 1/2 of UK articles published listed an overseas author, while 2/3 of UK researchers had an affiliation with an overseas institution.

The bulk of the lecture was a whistle-stop tour through some of the key issues in scientific research. On the topic of funding, Mr Willetts reported that while capital has not been ring-fenced, the Research Councils had been asked to put together a list of their top priorities and six of the eight items on that list have been funded, including the Diamond Synchrotron in Oxfordshire.

Science careers were predictably a hot topic, with a mention for the Science is Vital report which was delivered to the Minister last month. The Minister’s talk and questions afterwards discussed the careers pyramid, with less than 1/10 researchers who complete post-doc work ultimately reaching Professor, but there are a range of alternative careers in science. In a highlight of the evening, Mr Willetts declared his desire to see science technicians more recognised and announced a trial register for science technicians in partnership with a host of organisations: the Society of Biology, Royal Society of Chemistry, the Institution of Chemical Engineers, the Institute of Food Science & Technology, the Association for Science Education, the Institute of Biomedical Science and the Institute of Physics and Engineering in Medicine.

Impact was a major theme, with Mr Willetts discussing a desire to measure impact without stifling research for research’s sake and taking into account different criteria for different fields. There is a concern that while the UK is fantastic at research, it is sometimes not fantastic at commercialising and making the most of that research and that will be taken into account when looking at impact, both pre-and post- research.

The tone of the lecture was upbeat and Mr Willetts concluded by assuring us that support for scientific research is strong both in the public view and within this coalition government, which Mr Willetts said is committed to promoting strong science teaching in universities, supporting pure and applied research and providing good careers for young researchers.

If you missed the event and are interested to hear Mr Willetts’ talk, a podcast was recorded and is available below – thanks to @Poddelusion.

You can also read the Storify we have put together from the event – comments and additional links welcome!

Science Events In London This Week: 17-23 October

A rather special week for local science: the very first London Science Festival begins on Wednesday! The programme could provide a best-of all on its own: events officially kick off on Wednesday, but there is a satellite event tomorrow with the SameAs space themed meet-up. Do check out the programme: most events are free, but you will need to book as many are already sold out.

In the meantime, there are still other events going on elsewhere: a quick round-up of some of the best.


The British Library hosts a debate entitled Health in the Headlines: Making sense fo the science. Does increasing free access to medical information online lead to a better informed public? What information sources should we trust? And what can medical professionals, patients and charities do to promote good evidence and tackle misleading claims? 6:30-8:30pm at the BL: free but book.

Over at Imperial, robotics researchers ask the rather provocative question :Should we fear artificial intelligence? An IC Robotics Society event, open to all. 6pm, free.


One not to be missed this lunchtime at the Wellcome Collection: the paranormal takes the spotlight as Goldsmiths psychologist Chris French, of Goldsmiths, University of London, talks about his career subjecting paranormal claims to scientific scrutiny and discusses the powerful psychological factors he believes may explain why people continue to passionately believe in supernatural forces. 1pm; free.


The Intelligence Squared debate sees economists Vicky Pryce and Simon Zadek take on Malcolm Grimston and the Guardian’s George Monbiot in the climate change policy debate. The motion: “London’s climate change policy should begin in Beijing.” 7pm: £10.

Meanwhile the Dana Centre asks Synthetic Biology: Machine or Life? with students from UCL to look at how synthetic biology is developing and making us think about living things in a new way.


The two-day Bloomsbury Festival features a packed schedule of events, many of them scientific, including Marcus’ Marvellous Mathemagicians, the Grant Museum’s Tasmanian Tiger and the ethics of neuroscience to name just three. Another one to scour the programme carefully.

You can follow the Nature Network London Google calendar of events in London at Updated daily.