Wednesday, March 9, 2016

World Science Festival 2016

The World Science Festival which began in New York in 2008,  kicked off for the first time in Brisbane last night (9th March 2016) and will end this Sunday 13th March 2016).
You can see the program of events at
If you have an interest in physics or biology you will find quite a lot of activities, there is even a maths film, and a couple of coding activities.
I think one of the highlights of the festival will be 'Breakfast with the Brians", the Brians being Brian Greene (professor of physics and mathematics at Columbia University, who has written a number of books designed to make recent developments in physics accessible to everyone) and Brian Schmidt (Nobel Prize winning Australian National University astronomer). The discussion is to be moderated by arguably the best science journalist and broadcaster in Australia, Robyn Williams (Radio Nationals' "The Science Show" Saturdays at noon and repeated Thursday at 9pm, and "Ockham's Razor" Sundays at 7:45am).
If your interest is primarily in the extraordinarily fascinating and fundamentally important discipline of chemistry, then, unfortunately, it seems your activities will  be limited to the rather hackneyed making of "slime" (borax and PVA glue) and "snow" (water added to sodium polyacrylate which can absorb hundreds of times its own mass in water causing it to "fluff up" and look vaguely like snow if you are 5 years old and have never seen snow) in the street science program.
Every day we rely on chemistry to keep us alive and functioning. Oxygen is successively extracted from the air we breathe and transported around the body to be used in chemical reactions. The products of those chemical reactions can be used immediately, stored for later use, or excreted, all by using particular chemical reactions. The same can be said for the food (including fluids that we ingest). How many times have you found yourself scrutinizing the ingredients list on a food packet to see how much "sodium", "sugar", "fat", "protein", etc it contains? And all of that is determined by chemical methods! Even when you are sick, you rely on chemists to develop drugs to make you better! As I sit here writing this, I am thankful for the developments in chemistry that provide the materials to make the computer I use, and the mug I drink my coffee out of. Later on, when I get in my car I am pleased to know that chemists have been essential in developing the materials used to make and fuel my car, and that chemists continue to make progress in developing renewable fuels and materials.
Without chemists I would not have access to modern surfactants to keep my clothes, and myself, clean. Nor would I have portable energy sources (batteries) to power my laptop, phone, torch, ipod etc Without chemists I would not have clean drinking water available through a tap in my kitchen, and maybe this is the problem ...
Do we take chemistry, and chemists, for granted?

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