Hot in Town

After a fun but frantic few days in the big city I’ve now escaped back to the relative cool of Cardiff. The Royal Society Summer Science Exhibition appears to be going very well, but my part in it has come to an end. The rest of the team will have the joy of continuing for the rest of the week and then dismantling the exhibit and returning with it at the weekend.

The exhibition proper started on Tuesday and our stand was drawing a lot of visitors right from the word go. That’s partly because we had a very good spot, right near the entrance, but we also had a bit of  coverage on the BBC News which might have helped. Inside the building we attracted quite a lot of people to our stand because we were showing infrared images on a large flatscreen monitor of people as they walked past. That seemed to draw people in large numbers to the other parts of the exhibit which was, after all, the purpose of it.

People look quite strange in the infra-red. Here’s an example:


That’s me. The calibration scale to the right is in Celsius: hot is white (37) or yellow and cold is blue or black (26). Red is in the middle, around 30 Celsius. Different people seem to have different hot spots and cold spots: most  appear to have cooler ears and lips compared to the rest of their faces, but noses vary considerably in temperature.

There was only one potentially embarrassing moment, when a group of teenage lads wandered in front of the camera. Apparently, a certain type of mens’ underwear has very high emissivity around 10 microns. I just happened to glance up at the monitor and noticed a prominent hotspot just in time to tilt the camera up before anyone else noticed. Thereafter we kept it focussed above waist level just in case…

After my shift on Tuesday I had to nip back on the tube to my temporary lodgings, shower, change into my dinner jacket and black tie, and then return to the Royal Society for the much-anticipated Soirée. Taking the tube turned out to be a mistake. The heatwave currently gripping London has turned the underground system into something resembling the inside of an oven, so I decided to walk back rather than melt again when I’d got changed. I drew a few strange looks walking through Soho in my glad rags, but at least it was cooler at street level than on the Underground.

The evening occasion  turned out to be very busy too. To my surprise, it wasn’t just champagne and posh nibbles: a substantial meal was on offer in a marquee at the back of the Royal Society building. However, there were large crowds moving through the exhibition and we only had six people on the exhibit. We therefore staggered our trips to the grub tent making sure there was always someone at the exhibit to deal with the invited guests. By the time my turn came round it was 9.30 and the whole thing closed at 10.00. I still had time for a good nosh-up and a couple of glasses of wine, though, so all was well.

At the exhibit there was a steady supply of champagne and VIP guests. Lots of Lords and Ladies and other bigwigs,  but I hadn’t the faintest idea who most of them were. These are all the kind of people who assume that everyone on the planet (a) knows who they are and (b) is impressed to have the opportunity to meet them. Being surrounded by such a sea of effortless superiority is quite intimidating but, fortunately, there were also some familiar faces who stopped by and appeared interested. The noted biologist Steve Jones dropped by, and had his picture taken in the infrared, as did John Polkinghorne. I had met Polkinghorne before not long ago, but he clearly didn’t remember me at all.

“Medals may be worn” was one of the instructions, but I had neglected to bring  my cycling proficiency badge.

9 Responses to “Hot in Town”

  1. Rhodri Evans Says:

    Surely you have a 10m swimming medal as well. No? Shame on you! “-)

  2. Anton Garrett Says:

    I don’t know about medals, but the dress code for the pavilion at Lords says that “Jackets should be worn”. Personally I prefer to be seen in a jacket that is not worn.

  3. telescoper Says:

    Rhodri: I only got ribbons for swimming, never medals. I did get a certificate for swimming in my pyjamas, but never understood why that was a useful skill.

    Anton: the instructions I got only said “black tie”, nothing about jackets or any other clothing. Maybe that’s why people were looking funny at me as I walked through the west end?

  4. “Thereafter we kept it focussed above waist level just in case…”

    Let’s see, it’s been more than 50 years since Elvis was on the Ed Sullivan show and the cameramen showed Elvis the Pelvis only from the waist up.
    I would have hoped UK science had become more understanding, liberal, realistic etc in the meantime. 🙂

    ““Medals may be worn” was one of the instructions, but I had neglected to bring my cycling proficiency badge.”

    Yes, the formalities of big science. (The absurdities of which your wearing formal dress in the Tube during a hot summer demonstrates.) About 10 years ago, I was at the Colston Symposium. The invitation to the conference dinner said “dinner jacket”. I noticed many people were somewhat nervous, since no-one had brought a dinner jacket. (A store selling them near the venue could have made a fortune.) The organisers got wind of this and Michael Berry explained, to the considerable relief of all, that “dinner jacket” was just the default for cases when the invitation didn’t specify black tie! He said that we could wear whatever we wanted, and most, including Berry, turned up at the conference dinner (on the ship “Great Britain”) just as informal as during the conference.

    • telescoper Says:

      I quite like having the excuse to dress up once in a while. Black tie isn’t all that formal as things go anyway. White tie and tails would have been excruciating in that weather.

  5. Anton Garrett Says:

    Too bad nobody wears proper hats today.

  6. Rhodri Evans Says:

    Yes I remember the swimming in pyjamas. We had to take the bottoms off, tie the ends and inflate them to use as a flotation device. What fun….

    Now if you’d turned up to your fancy do in a pair of wet inflated pyjama bottoms you would have turned a few heads.

  7. Anton Garrett Says:

    Swimming in pyjamas is a worthwhile skill in case you fall (or are thrown) into a canal or lake, in which case you won’t be wearing only a bow tie…

  8. […] and Friday as well as during a posh black tie  ”soirée” on Thursday evening. Last time I attended such an event (in 2009) was during a heat wave, which made the soirée an uncomfortably sticky experience, but […]

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