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01 July 2008
Do black holes make a noise when they collide? Why do we blink? Does the size of our particles really matter?
These are just some of the big questions Cardiff University scientists are helping to answer this summer as they embark on a week of interactive exhibitions designed to bring to life their groundbreaking research.
Only 23 interactive exhibits representing the best in UK science, engineering and technology have been selected for the prestigious Royal Society Summer Science Exhibition (30 June to 3 July), three of which are by researchers at Cardiff.
What is considered the biggest showcase of Cardiff research to date at the annual Exhibition, more than 4000 people are expected to take up the opportunity to explore the exhibition.
Can you hear black holes collide? will be a hands-on exhibit to explain the main ideas behind Einstein’s relativistic theory of gravity. The exhibition will also be the launch pad for a new online game, the Black Hole Hunter, which tests skills at listening for black hole signals. The exhibition will also give visitors the chance to discover more about Einstein’s general theory of relativity, black holes and gravitational waves, through other hands-on exhibits, state-of-the-art supercomputer simulations of colliding black holes, and mobile ring tones based on gravitational radiation from black holes.
Led by Professor Bangalore Sathyaprakash at the Cardiff School of Physics and Astronomy, the exhibition has been designed in partnership with colleagues from three other UK universities, who together are involved in a global race to be the first to discover the mysterious gravitational waves.
Professor Walter Gear, Head of School, School of Physics and Astronomy said: "We are very pleased that the outstanding work of the Gravitational Physics Group in Cardiff is being highlighted in the Royal Society exhibition. It is important that this world-leading activity is brought to the attention of the wider science community and also made accessible to young people and hopefully inspire the Einsteins of the future. "
Professor Sathyaprakash has also been successful in securing funding from the Science and Technology Funding Council to develop an interactive show called Gravity beyond the apple. Working in partnership with the award-winning science communication company, science made simple, the first shows will tour secondary schools in early 2009.
Visitors to the Exhibition will also be able to contribute to new research underway at the School of Optometry and Vision Sciences into the causes of involuntary blinking.
Led by Dr Christine Purslow, members of the Contact Lens and Anterior Eye Research Unit at the School will be answering the question Why do we Blink?, uncovering such mysteries as the reasons we blink, what happens when we blink, why we blink at different rates. Through live demonstrations of the effects of blinking on the tear film, the public will learn about what the School is doing to solve some of these mysteries. They will also be able to participate in a survey about blinking and get involved in a ‘staring’ contest.
Dr Purslow said: "A major focus of our research is understanding the mechanism behind the spontaneous, involuntary blink. The theory is that as the tear film evaporates from the surface of the eye, the eye gets cooler and this is what triggers the blink. If we can determine what causes us to blink, then we could stimulate this natural process in those who suffer from dry eyes, or even those with Parkinson’s which can lead to a reduction in the rate that people blink.
"Our exhibit has been designed to take people on a journey exploring a broad topic that everyone can relate to, encouraging people to appreciate the science behind it, and in particular the challenges faced by researchers in this field, so having the chance to involve the public at such a prestigious event is exciting for our team."
The team behind the most microscopic poem ever written, one which would fit many times onto the sharp tip of a needle, is also exhibiting. The joint School of Chemistry and The Manufacturing Engineering Centre exhibition Does size really matter? Adventures in nanospace will demonstrate that research at that size really does count.
Professor Bowker said: "Very small scales nanoparticles are dominated by their surfaces and it is the way that reactions take place at these surfaces that is the focus of our research at Cardiff. Nanoscale particles of platinum are used in the catalytic converters of cars to remove pollutants. Future applications may include the use of silver nanoparticles as surface coatings in operating theatres to make them resistant to bacteria such as MRSA."
The exhibit will explore some aspects of the chemistry of nanoscience and its applications. Visitors will be able to write their names with nanoparticles using a UV light box, work out the sizes of glowing nanoparticles and read the ‘nanopoem’ inscribed on a surface using lines that are only 40 nm thick. The School is also holding a ‘write a nano-limerick competition’ where visitors will have the opportunity to have their poem microscopically inscribed onto a surface.
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