Sunday, April 22, 2012

Kick off to CSF!

What an amazing start to the Cambridge Science Festival!  This is the place that really has something for everyone.  And what better way to start off the festivities than at the Science Carnival!
Every table had a pile of bright-eyed youngsters eagerly learning about robots, cells, and chemical reactions, among the many many other science topics.  And let's not forget about the liquid nitrogen ice cream!  But I must say the kicker for me was the Science of Circus performances with the amazing athletes from Simply Circus.  Can I please run away and join the circus now?

On the topic of fantasy, I spent the evening imagining what the world would be like if some events in the history of science turned out differently.  The extremely funny What if...? Alternative Histories of Science delved into the topics of phrenology, Wallaceism, and the luminiferous ether.  Phrenology, the idea that we could determine different aspects of someone's personality based on the the shapes and dimensions of the skull, could have replaced modern-day neurobiology, and certainly would make job interviews a lot quicker!  Perhaps that's why so many people in the 19th century wore top hats.  People couldn't judge you by looking at your bald head!

A similarly interesting scientific notion was the existence of the ether, which was an all encompassing substance that acted as a medium for propagating light.  It could also propagate other things, like thoughts.  After some brainstorming, we came to the conclusion that the ether was like the Force, so perhaps we would all be re-enacting Star Wars movies now.  Personally, I'd hope to be more like Empire Strikes Back than The Phantom Menace.

Somewhat less of a stretch, was Wallaceism. Why's that?  Well because basically Alfred Russel Wallace DID discover evolution, but he was too low-born for anyone to listen to him.  Enter Charles Darwin, rich party boy hot shot, who Wallace sent his work to in hopes of getting a publication, and out comes The Theory of Evolution by Natural Selection.  My favourite part of the night? When Andrew Berry suggested Darwin was the Paris Hilton of his time.  I sure hope none of Paris Hilton's ideas make their way into mainstream science.

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