Yesterday I went with my brother to a Science and Technology Showcase for secondary school students which was held at Plymouth University. When we arrived we were given our Event Passes and after a short wait we were shown to a lecture theatre for careers talks from four different speakers.
First was a talk from Grant Cole (Twitter) to talk about the work of being a Geologist. His work involves studying rocks and fossils, and he has been all over the world, including Iceland, Death Valley, and a salt mine in Sicily. Grant said that he does lots of field work on his own and he has done his research from the air and off-road. Parts of his job sounded really exciting – lots of travelling, glacial walking and making new discoveries.
Next was Kathy Redfern (Twitter), who is a nutritionist. Her work is researching the “impacts of food and nutrition on the health and wellbeing of humans (or animals)” to give advice for the prevention of illness. She specifically works with pregnant women, and she says some of the benefits of her job is that no two days are the same and she gets to travel around the UK and to Portugal.
The third speaker was Jon Waters who is studying Mathematics and is part of the Theoretical Physics Group. His current research is in lasers and he explained that normal torches contain a wide band from the visible light spectrum but lasers only contain a narrow band and can concentrate energy to a fine point. Jon said that his work involves getting used to not knowing the answer. His work involves coming up with mathematical models and performing theoretical tests and he learns new things every day.
The last talk was from a psychologist called Leonie Cooper. She has worked at the National Marine Aquarium and now is working with an intelligent robot called Snap. Her research is in using mental imagery to train people to have healthier behaviours. She says that people seem to find that robots are less judgemental to talk to than other people. Leonie is also interested in how games and apps could be used to reach thousands.
After the talks were finished we went to a big marquee filled with stands from different university departments. It was split into three sections, and we were given thirty minutes in each section. First I went to a stand where I took my thumbprint and compared it to one from an imaginary suspect that I lifted with powder and tape. There was a psychology stand where I did a lie detector test. I had wires attached to the finger on my left hand and my left ear, and I had to pick a card out of five. They were shuffled and I had to lie about which card I had as they were turned over one by one. The wires measured skin response (sweat increases conductivity) and heart rate. The lie detector didn’t pick up my lie I think because I was nervous throughout the whole test! I also had a quick look at other chemistry and biology stands.
In the next section was a stand for the South West Retro Computing Archive, where I did some coding in Basic on a BBC Microcomputer from the 80’s, and J got the hi-score on Pac-man. I have been to one of their events before and they have a huge range of retro consoles to play and learn about. On the BBC computer there is a “return” key instead of an enter key, a “break” key to reset the whole computer, and you have to write your code in numbered lines for the system to read in order.
We then went to the Computing and Games Development stand where me and my brother played Pirate Panic, a game written by some of the students at the stand. Pirate Panic is a multiplayer game where the players have to work together to keep a ship afloat and moving until it reaches land. It’s a really fast paced game which encourages you to panic, just like the pirates! I thought it was exciting and good for teamwork. I also tried a VR game using a headset and I had to shoot lasers at robots. It was a lot of fun to play but my arm was aching after a few minutes because the shoot button was on the headset. We also met and spoke to Nicholas Wade who is in his final year and is working to launch his own games studio called Nikomus Games.
Next I went to the Electrical and Electronic Engineering and Robotics stand. I watched people play with some of the university’s robots and J used a red ball and a sensor to control LED lights that were on the stand. There was a challenge to find the right frequency on one machine by turning a knob and getting a turning circle on a small screen to stay still. We were told that the shape the green light was making was a visual representation of the frequency it was on. J was able to do it but I ran out of time, and we were both given 3D printed tags for taking part.
In the last section there was a Geography stand where I got to try an HTC Vive VR Headset to explore London using Google Earth. It was brilliant and I loved using the handheld controller and that you could still see it in the virtual space! We then went to the i-DAT stand where they had a small black dome which we entered. Inside there was a film projected onto the dome ceiling about being an astronaut. A voiceover explained that there were different levels of G-Force as we watched a CGI representation of a G-Force training machine. We heard how astronauts need to keep exercising while they are in space so they aren’t too weak when they get back to Earth and we saw an astronaut using an exercise bike. We also met Luke Christison who works in the Immersive Vision Theatre (in the Planetarium) which we have tickets to visit in a couple of weeks.
The last stand we visited was about meteorites and the Solar System. I looked at a rock from Mars and compared it to a rock from Earth under a microscope. A woman working on the stand explained to me that the Earth rock had formed in a volcano, and I could observe that both rocks had been made the same way, so at some point there must have been volcanoes on Mars as well! There were some pieces of meteorite on the table and a few of them looked alien. A man from the stand talked to us about the scale of the solar system. He said if we used a scale of 1 metre to 1 Astronomical Unit (AU), and imagined the Sun was right in front of us, the edge of our Solar System would be in Taunton and our nearest star would be in London!
I really enjoyed going around the marquee and the talks in the beginning were interesting. My favourite parts were the Retro Games area and the Games Development area, and I really want to try out more VR gaming and exploration technology and learn more about how it works. I would also like to do more study in electronics and robotics, geology and geography, and psychology, and find out more about Leonie Cooper’s research.