21 September 2018
Remember my name? I want to live forever
New Scientist 2018 Day 1
The atmosphere was tempered as you would expect for a science convention. Hushed conversations punctuated by a Buddha bar soundtrack as the anticipation builds in the Main Stage. This was the first day of New Scientist 2018 and I was positioned 5 rows back.
People responsible for our future gathering in this cavernous exhibition hall to discuss their challenges, findings, and achievements. Creators, explorers, geeks, engineers, and scientists. An even split of male and female, boys and girls and a host of school children ready to be inspired.
I’d planned my route. Begin at the main stage – hold position, and then move through the exhibition after lunch. It wouldn’t be that simple. There was so much to see. Hundreds of talks and exhibitors over the four days – I’d have 5 hours.
The Buddha bar soundtrack died down and the auditorium, now packed out, was ready to receive Astronaut Tim Peake joined by leading explorers, Nics Wetherill, Army GP, Antarctic Explorer who skied with 6 other women to the south pole and Will Millard, Jungle Explorer with his tales of being stung by hornets, fatigue, and weight loss.
Training and preparation were all important, each person taking two years to get ready for their adventure. The preparation was grueling, Tim living in a cave in tight confines to simulate the space station, working underwater to simulate low gravity and Nics traveling to Norway for the cold and self-reliance. They all pointed to the mental preparation required to perform in that environment and focusing on solving the challenge that is in front of you. Living in the moment. On returning they mentioned the challenges of re-entry into the world, dealing with the physical trauma alongside the mental and giving yourself time to acclimatise. [Tim Peake, Nics Wetherill, Will Millard]
Moving out into the main hall there was a lot to take in. The BP stand, particularly impressive using robotic arms and plasma screens accompanied by magicians to tell the story of BP. [BP and the Magicians @ New Scientist]
Next to them, on the earth stage, was ‘Mining the Scrapheap’. The mining and creation of gold from ore is massively wasteful. For every tonne of rock mined you get 1g of gold. If you took electrical waste (WEEE) and processed a tonne of it you would get 300g of gold. WEEE is valuable, we need to close the loop in our use of valuable resources and chemists and collaboration will make for a brighter future for all. [Jason Love – Chemist, University of Edinburgh]
Famed for being introverted the scientific and engineering community is quiet and humble yet, every stand had an important story to tell.
One stand explained research into fire and the challenge it represents for peat or forest fires. Peat fires advance 1-2cm an hour, over and under the ground. To quench this problem requires enormous amounts of water; understand it better, model it faithfully and there may be other solutions that come to light. [HazeLab – www.imperial.ac.uk/hazelab]
The Met Police and Kings College London have developed a new fingerprinting kit to aid in the identification of ivory poachers, a new powder. For everyday policing they demoed a UV camera that allows you to see the skin as it heals so you can identify if someone had an injury, say in a pub brawl, and you could still see a wound even if it had healed, to identify a suspect. [Kings College]
Imperial explained the work they had done on Alzheimer’s. Currently, we treat it by observing the cognitive degradation and provide pills to combat it. The disease is caused by a kind of plaque, a buildup of cells that overtime cause trouble. If you can focus on understanding the people who are susceptible to the disease and begin with preventative measures, akin to statins in the over 60’s, we can catch it early and monitor degradation. Of course, ethically, do you want to use genetic screening to know before you know? [Imperial]
Similarly, Moorfield eye hospital who are right on our doorstep spoke of the common ailments that people have, yet funding for rare diseases is always required. They mentioned the Argus 2 a retina implant that is making the same steps in eye bionics as the cochlear implant did for sound. [Moorfields]
In a witty talk entitled, Can you live forever? the question was, what causes ageing? Turns out the number one cause of ageing is birthdays. Who knew. If we are able to do more research into ageing we can remove the burden of age-related diseases (heart, lung, brain) have on our health systems saving way more money than treatment. The desired state is we live the same amount of time healthy, moving to living longer healthy. The worry would be an ageing population that lives longer and spend longer needing healthcare to survive. [Richard Faragher, Biogerontologist – University of Brighton]
By far and away the best conversation of the day was with a father who following complications at the birth of his son had to learn everything there was about prosthetics. He taught himself from youtube and the wider online community how to make prosthetics using 3d printing and Autodesk modeling software. For his son, he has learned the skills to build the limbs with the functions desired, self-taught with no prior experience [Ben Ryan – www.Ambionics.co.uk]
Mars rovers, VR rollercoasters, gliding simulators and the fastest car ever to be designed. There wasn’t enough time to take it all in.
- STEM education is vital to ensure the next generation has the skills to solve the complex problems our generations have left them with
- Storytelling and analogies are vital to breaking down complex topics
- Data science and mathematical models help rapidly build a better picture of our world to understand it
- All learning is valuable, you never know when a bit of knowledge is going to be useful by making new associations
- You can teach yourself almost all the skills to solve any problem