Londonist busies itself with plenty of art, music, film and theatre trips, but rarely do we venture into the world of science. To correct this oversight we strode purposefully into the marbled halls of the Royal Society last night for its annual Summer Science Exhibition. Within minutes we were grinning like tomfools.
For anyone with even an attogram of interest in life, the Universe and, indeed, anything, this exhibition will enthral. Entry is free, and it’s on until Thursday, so we’d vigorously suggest that you go have a look for yourself. Spread throughout the hallowed rooms of the Royal Society, 24 exhibits showcase the impressive depth and diversity of science and technology research in the UK. There’s an armoury of gadgets to play with that Q would be proud of, all backed up by informative and (in most-cases) intelligible posters. Best of all, though, is the rare opportunity to quiz top researchers about their work - and get a decent answer back.
An undoubted highlight was a replica of the Huygens space probe that recently landed on the surface of Saturn’s largest moon, Titan. We had an astronomical number of questions for principal investigator John Zarnecki, who patiently answered them all. You may remember the surface images from Titan being a bit grainy – that’s because in the time it took the probe to reach this moon, digital photography had gone through its own giant leap back here on Earth, making the craft's 0.1 megapixel images look rather puny. Prof. Zarnecki promises that a more impressive set of digitally enhanced images will soon be released.
If physics isn't your thing, then check out the wonderful display about pterosaurs, the largest animals ever to have flown. In a remarkable comparison, one of the creature's arms is laid out along the wing of a Spitfire, and not shown to be wanting. Now that would have put the willies up the Luftwaffe.
One of the biggest gosh-wow moments was provided by the display of force-feedback technology. Londonist had a play with a so-called 'haptic device', which allows the user to 'feel' objects on a computer screen. The vaguely mouse-like contraption can be manipulated in three dimensions but resists movement if the cursor comes up against a 'solid' object on the monitor. The result was incredible and will surely have many applications, most likely starting with virtual sex. Haptic technology can be explored further at the current 'Touch me' exhibition at the V&A.
Literally at the cutting edge were the surgical robots. Squatting down at the da VinciTM control panel, which was recently trialled at Guy's Hospital, we were able to manipulate a miniature scalpel and pincers by telepresence. They even entrusted us with the keys to one of those robot doctors that staff of St Mary’s have been driving round the wards (picture left).
Other displays highlighted the latest research in medicine, engineering, astronomy and even disaster management, with some particularly striking simulations of how folks would react in a Tube emergency. People of all ages and backgrounds turned out to fly through three-dimensional recreations of the universe, rotate giant projections of fruit flies and examine new evidence that the Americas were populated nearly 30 000 years earlier than previously thought.
One grumble. The show is only open during working hours for the rest of the week, preventing many from attending. But if you only skive off work for one thing this week, make sure it’s to go see this fantastic exhibition.
The Royal Society can be found at 6-9 Carlton House Terrace, above the Mall. The show is open 10-4.30 on Wednesday and Thursday this week. Full details of the exhibits can be found here.