Tuesday, December 05, 2006

La chimie et l'hilarité - un mélange explosif

I went to a Chemistry conference in London on... well, ages ago now. November.

Thou shalt not judge.

It was honestly one of the most interesting series of talks I've listened to.

Let's start from the beginning. My journey: I got the tube with my brother (it so happened that his University is actually, literally around the corner from the Institute of Education, where I was heading). And you know what I realised? It is incredibly difficult not to eavesdrop on people's conversations in the tube. I mean, think about it - you're sitting there, sufficiently bored to nod off, with your brother next to you reading Musharraf's biography. Your mind can't help but wander to the next person's (relatively loud) conversation with their friend. After all, it needs some activity to remind itself that it's alive. Thankfully, the substance of the dialogue escapes me, so I won't be leaking any intercepted intelligence today.

I'm beginning to feel like Anne of Green Gables with all these italics. But they just work so well!

Anyway, I had reminded myself to tell you about a quaint little discussion I encountered (walked in on) in the Costa café inside WHSmith in Kingston. Three young adults, probably at university level, were just sitting there, as if time were no object, and discussing the philosophy of religion. <3

Hey - digression keeps it interesting, OK?

Well, I got there a couple of minutes late (despite having been yelled at by my brother for leaving so early because he'd forgotten some stuff at home in the rush), and was sneaked in through the back just as the forensics scientist was introducing her speech. I can't help but think that she was trying to dissuade us from forensics rather than anything else, judging from the comments about not getting paid enough, and that about 2% of her job was exciting, and the rest plain tedious. Oh! And the gory, bloody crime scenes. Euurrggghhh. But it was interesting all the same.

We were all pretty grateful to see the next guy making his subject sound at least stimulating enough to consider. I think he was talking about electronic gadgets. He explained how they work in so much detail - it's amazing how complex these chemicals are, are how they can be manipulated for so many different uses! No, really, it is!

Then there was the nanotechnology talk. This professor talked about how modern medicines weren't nano-scale robots, as depicted in the press (tabloid, I presume?), but in fact chemicals that are designed to fit exactly into the active sites of bacteria or viruses... Most of it was really very cool. Way over my head, though. *whoosh*

And then this inspirational man came along. He just spoke for the first... what, half hour of his talk? And he did it incredibly boistrously. I reckon he had a mission to deliver all of the 3000 words in his mind, while ten minutes short of the hour he'd planned for (and he was sure to remind us of the latter). But don't get me wrong - he didn't slur for pace. He must have Energizer batteries or something, because the exhertion was certainly not trivial. He just went on talking, or perhaps I should say enlightening, and I honestly don't recall a single pause, not even when he began to skip up and down the stage with test tubes in hand or when he emotively bounced on the balls of his feet as he diligently enunciated his words. I thought that his passion must have made his work really fascinating and fun.

You could tell it did. Not just for himself.

I couldn't help but make videos. Being the inexpert film-maker that I am, however, and only being armed with a like, 1.2 megapixel cameraphone at the time (that's not good quality), this was the best I could do. Oh - and the MPEG-4 format prevented me from being able to edit the movies with Windows Movie Maker.

But please, accept the shoddy work (in numerous pieces), because the substance is quite worth it.

I have saved the best for last... but for it to make sense I suggest you watch them all, in order. They're not that long.

(Watch out for the warning given to Ollie concerning exploding dustbins.)

(Oh and the brown things that the man and Ollie place on the floor in one video are violins. Yes. They played violins, and timed their music exactly with one of the experiments they had set up on the table - the colour change in the beakers would suddenly cloud up as they started the next part. HOW COOL ARE THEY?)

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