Archive for June 29, 2009

Summer Science

Posted in The Universe and Stuff with tags , , on June 29, 2009 by telescoper

Just time for a very quick post today, owing to the hectic nature of the past (and future) few days.

Yesterday (Sunday) morning, I clambered on board a large van full of expensive and bulky gear and we lumbered away from Cardiff, down the M4 and all the way to London. The reason is the Royal Society Summer Science Exhibition, which involves various research groups setting up exhibits and demonstrating their wares to the general public in the splendid environs of the Royal Society building in Carlton House Terrace, just off Pall Mall.

Yesterday and today we’ve been setting up our exhibit, which is about Herschel and Planck  (both of which are still working perfectly, in case you wanted to ask). Unloading the van in the sweltering heat yesterday wasn’t that much fun but everyone was very helpful and we got through it.  We had temporary flooring to put down, lots of rigging and large flat monitors needed to be hoisted on to gantries. I felt a bit like a sort of up-market roadie. Most of the heavy work was done yesterday, though, and we spent today putting the computers and other electronic exhibits together and generally making it all work. I chipped in as best I could, despite my legendary incompetence with practical things. They didn’t really let me near anything really valuable anyway.

By about 2pm today we had finished, and I have to say it looks very impressive. Credit to Chris North, and the others who spent ages designing it and organizing the logistics of what is a very complicated exhibit. There are scale models of Planck and Herschel, and a full-size model of the instrument SPIRE which is on Herschel and which was designed and built by the Cardiff team. The complexity of the optical system is quite amazing. Incidentally, I heard a rumour that some test images from SPIRE are going to be released soon.. I hear they’re stunning. Watch this space.

As well as these other bits there’s an infrared camera attached to a monitor to show your hot bits, and another monitor with a wii attachment so you can see anywhere on the sky at any wavelength you wish. There are also two touch-screen displays that can take visitors through the science and technology behind these two wonderful  satellites.  It’s all very interactive, and I think it’s going to be a hit for the hands-on visitors.

To back this all up, we’ve also got mountains of leaflets, mugs, pens and other assorted memorabilia. I think they’ve overestimated how much of this stuff we can dispense in a week, but I’m sure it will come in handy in the future anyway.

An extensive rota has been organized to set the exhibit up and  keep it staffed. I had an all-day shift yesterday and was signed up for 8-3 today. Since we actually got everything done a bit early, however, I was given permission to leave. At 3pm today there was a “press preview” of the exhibition which I could’t stay for, so I figured I might as well leave before the reptiles started to arrive.

I’ll be on the stand tomorrow, trying to be nice to the public, and back again on Wednesday doing the same. The shifts are only 4 hours at a go, which is good because it’s quite tiring keeping up the enthusiasm. It’s also forecast to be extremely hot on the weather front which is another reason to keep the shifts short. I was longing for a beer by the time I finished yesterday.

I’ve also been invited to a “soirée” on Wednesday evening, which is a swanky black tie function at which sundry VIPs view the exhibits and chat with the exhibitors over champagne and canapés. ‘m quite looking forward to the chance to indulge myself and hang out with the big nobs, but I can’t say I’m looking forward to wearing the penguin suit when it’s 30C. Still, as long as the champagne is chilled I’m sure I’ll survive.

Toodle pip.