Thursday, 31 October 2013

MSF 2013- 21st Century Coffee House (Penny University)

Lucky you, you've stumbled across an explosive blog post, with lasers and fire! I'm not a liar, you really have. Recently I went to a the Penny University event at the Manchester Science Festival (MSF) 2013 and I want to tell you all about it. So grab a coffee, sit back and relax...

21st Century Coffee House- Penny University Live

Yes, you did read that correctly. University for one pence. I must admit, it's not technically a whole degree for 1p, rather some talks by experts in their respective fields for 1p. If you did the maths though, you would still see it is much better value than £9000 a year! 

21st Century Coffee House? Penny University?

Yes, the name stems from 17/18th century coffee houses, which cost only 1p to enter. It didn't matter which class you were, as long as you paid 1p, you could enter and join in with discussions. They apparently very quickly became well-known as alternative places for learning, as you could speak with scholars outside of the traditional university environment. You could also get coffee there.

This event had a similar theme, where it cost 1p to enter and you could then buy coffee and listen to experts talk about their research in their specific fields. Hosted at MOSI's cafe, there were talks by 5 people, plus a quick intro about coffee and the old coffee houses themselves. 

The talks were about a wide range of topics, from bronze-age mummies to how we may have a possible cure for cystic fibrosis. The bronze-age mummy talk was very interesting for me in particular, as apparently quite a lot of mummies found in the British Isles were actually a mish-mash of various different bodies! Lovely. Another talk was on how smog is created over cities, especially in the morning, how this relates to climate change and some of the events being taken to prevent this increase in temperature. This included an example which involved oranges and lasers! 

Oranges and Lasers?

Science right there.
Yes, that famous combination, oranges and lasers. Originally, the laser was directed through the vial, but the beam wasn't visible. The orange peel acted as a pollutant, which reacted with some ozone which was already in the vial. When Sarah Moller (the speaker, pictured) shined a laser through the vial, the laser could be seen! This showed that the principle of how clouds work, by having particles which the water can grab onto. This creates bigger particles, which gets more water. You see the point. 

But this wasn't the only experiment of the night. No, no. No. Make way for exploding custard!

Exploding Custard!

Yes, exploding custard! Science communicator Ian Russell isn't a scientist. But he is brilliant science communicator and has been doing a show for years, all over the place, to get kids interested in science. This has taken him to places like the Royal Institution in London and even to Russia! He explained to the audience how children can notice things that adults can't. Why? Because adults are boring and have had most of the creativity drummed out of them at school. Startling, but it's true. 

Not to leave the audience on a low, he then showed us one of the tricks he uses in his show. That was exploding custard powder. By having the custard in powder form and mixing it with a lot of air at a high temperature, you can make it explode! So that's what he did. Have a look:
Put the powder in the tub, ready for all the air and fire...


Ta-dah! Exploding custard!


It's in the name! Penny university! It cost one pence to get in and then you could buy coffee for extra.

Will It Happen Again?

Alas, this was a one-off event for the Manchester Science Festival. However, there are plenty more awesome science events during the rest of the festival. So have a look at the guide here and see what you fancy. If you want to find out more about the Penny University, their website is here. But for now, I'm going to try and cram in some more science festival fun! Bye!

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