Summer Science

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.

10 Responses to “Summer Science”

  1. Adrian Burd Says:

    30C? 30C?!!! Oh how I wish!!! That would be wonderful! It was 40C (in the shade) on my deck at the weekend!!!! Still, it’s been quite dry, with humidities of only 50-60% as opposed to our usual 80-90%.

    Have fun hobnobbing it on Wednesday!


  2. Mary Cav Says:

    My flatmate also has a stall this year – the group works on quantum solar cells so they’ve called it Quantum of Sol *groan*

    I’ll tell him to keep an eye out for you. I’m going to see it on Thursday but it looks like you’ll be gone by then?


    • telescoper Says:


      I saw the Quantum of Sol stand being set up on Monday. I was wandering around trying to scrounge a set of stepladders. I didn’t have time to see what it was about though. They’re upstairs. We’re on the ground floor. I’m staying in town Wednesday night but will probably head back to Cardiff on Thursday morning. By all means say hi to the Herschel/Planck team though. They’re all very friendly, and the exhibit is really fun. We’ve been really busy all day….kids love seeing themselves in the infrared.


  3. Bryn Jones Says:

    It is perhaps interesting that I had not been aware before your posting that the Royal Society Summer Science Exhibition is open to the public, despite having being involved in academic science for many years. I had thought that the exhibition was an invitation-only event.

    Something is wrong there. The Royal Society could improve its communication with the public about its activities, and indeed with the broader scientific community.

  4. […] In the Dark A blog about the Universe, and all that surrounds it « Summer Science […]

  5. telescoper Says:


    There didn’t seem to be any shortage of visitors who knew about it. I don’t really know how and where they advertise it though.


  6. “There didn’t seem to be any shortage of visitors who knew about it. I don’t really know how and where they advertise it though.”

    You mean the Royal Society isn’t on MySpace, Facebook, Twitter, XING, Linked-In etc etc? What Luddites!

  7. Haley Gomez Says:

    Hi Peter, After flying back from a workshop in lovely Copenhagen (and frankly feeling knackered), I went straight into the Science Exhibition. I got back yesterday after shifts on the Thursday and Friday and were completely amazed by how enthusiastic people were about the missions! We had around 8 of us on the stand yesterday morning but we were all totally occupied from 10 till 2 talking to members of the public of all ages (not surprisingly, the school kids loved the camera and wii, the elderly loved the SPIRE camera so something for everyone). One thing I really noticed was how much people thanked us after our chats. They seemed really pleased that we took their questions seriously and also amazed that we were all so passionate about it. We were responsible for one guy being phoned by his boss and shouted at as he came to the exhibition for lunch-break and spent over an hour on our stand alone talking to all of us in turn! The whole thing was very positive and I felt very proud to have helped design and write the posters, slogans and postcards. Stuart Lowe, Rob Simpson and Chris North really went all out on the interactive sky – marvelous!

  8. […] As I promised a few days ago, the “first light” images from the Herschel instrumment SPIRE have now been released […]

  9. […] was there for part of the Summer Exhibition (I blogged about it, in fact) so had the chance to play with the original version, which was set up for  large display […]

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