British Science Festival 2013 – Day 6

The last day of the British Science Festival 2013 was absolutely fantastic!

My day began with an interesting talk by several local companies about ‘Chemical Innovation in the North East’. This included separate presentations by several leading researchers and companies about their work.
First up was Dr. Victoria Frank from International Paint Ltd, who discussed the latest slime release technology for sea vessel antifouling – which could lead to a 9% reduction in fuel consumption. She explained how they carried out their research and design, including rigorous testing, in order to create the Intersleek 1100SR product. The next talk was from Dr. Neil Lant, from Procter and Gamble, on the topic of new enzymes and polymers for for advanced laundry detergents.
This fascinating talk was followed by another, on harnessing marine diversity to fight infection – particularly focusing on the discovery of an enzyme which breaks up biofilms (slime coverings which often affect infections, teeth, food processing plants and wastewater treatment plants). Dr. Burgess also discussed several medicines we have developed from drugs found in marine organisms – such as Prialt, a pain reliever often used to late stage cancer sufferers. Finally, we listened to an interesting talk about the development of a novel method to synthesise a chemical known as MMA. This new method, which is currently being scaled up commercially, uses much more readily available reactants, requires less energy and lower maintenance, and has a higher atom economy.

After a quick lunch, I attended another talk – this time on mineral solutions to global problems. Professor David Manning discussed many issues, such as climate change and the demand for potash, an important component of fertilisers, in the Southern Hemisphere. He described the exciting potential for climate change to be tackled by nothing more than adding compost to demolition waste – using the formation of calcium carbonate on the rubble to capture and store carbon.

After this exciting talk, I helped at the British Science Association stand by handing out posters, stickers and membership forms to the many young visitors of the ‘Hands on Exhibition’. I also explored the rest of the exhibition and had another free rocket facepaint!

Next up was an exciting lecture entitled ‘Protons to Patients’, which discussed the current and historical research into cancer at Newcastle, how new cancer drugs are developed, and the methods used to identify cancerous tumours – particularly PET scans and the use of imaging agents.

My final talk of the day was called ‘Why do we die’, presented by Dr. Simon Watt. He discussed a range of different suggestions as to why we die – from the damage done by our metabolism over time – particularly on the shortening of telomeres – which protect the ends of DNA strands, to ‘quantum immortality theory – which states simply that we are immortal forever in some parallel universe! His final conclusion was that the need to evolve quickly caused organisms with shorter lifespans, who invest more in having more offspring more quickly rather than living forever, to outcompete immortal organisms, who invested more of their energy in themselves rather than in reproduction. This was a really fascinating and amusing talk about evolutionary theories.

I then took part in the ‘Chemistry Section Mixer’, where I discussed with current research chemists about their work as well as meeting other students and talking about their experiences of studying chemistry at university. This was a great networking event, as well as providing some excellent snacks!

After a bit of pizza for dinner, I attended an excellent workshop run by Teach First about their program and the fantastic opportunities available to highly achieving STEM graduates. This also included a job application session and the opportunity to discuss the options available to me after my degree with graduates from the Teach First Program.

Finally, it was a short walk to the International Centre for Life for ‘Lates at Life’ – the opportunity to explore the centre at night, take part in a variety of amusing activities such as anatomical hand painting, teddy bear surgery and giant Operation, and play with their range of hands-on (kids…) activities.

I can’t believe my time at the Science Festival has come to an end – the week has gone so fast! It was an absolutely amazing experience, and hopefully I’ll be able to go to it in Birmingham next year!

Kate Prescott

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