Where scientists are stars and nanophysics is “fun and fantastic”

New Scientist Live event unites science, research and people

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Participants at the Royal Society of Engineering exhibit, with its superhero theme. (Photo by Ian Evans)

A 7-year-old girl stares intently at the screen in front of her. She’s trying to steer a microscopic polystyrene ball around a racing circuit a few hundredths of a centimeter long using a laser beam for propulsion. The fastest time for completing this “tractor beam” circuit is 27 seconds, but the girl gets distracted before she can finish, hearing the woman next to her introduce herself as a physicist. “You’re a physicist?” exclaims the girl in amazement. “That’s amazing! I love physicists!”

Billed is a festival of ideas, discovery and “What Ifs,” New Scientist Live took place at Excel in London on September 22 to 25. With four immersive zones covering Brain & Body, Technology, Earth, and Cosmos, the event was all about engagement, whether between scientists of different disciplines, science and the public, or companies and researchers.

“I think the key to its success is that it’s interactive,” said David Malizia, an Account Executive for New Scientist based in Boston. “You go to some shows, and it’s all just people standing in their booth and handing out flyers. Here, at every booth people have an opportunity to get involved.”

Scientists with “star power”

The four zones each featured their own theatre, showcasing presentations from high profile figures in the world of science and technology, including European Space Agency astronaut Tim Peake. “It’s incredible the star power these people have,” Malizia said. “When Tim walked across the exhibition hall yesterday, you couldn’t get near him.”

In other discussions, Dr. Paul Newman, robotics whiz and BP Professor of Information Engineering at the University of Oxford, explained the machine learning technology behind electric cars. Meanwhile, Amy Bilderbeck, Billy Boyle and Ruth McKernan, led a discussion on the future of healthcare, where data was a crucial ingredient in the delivery of personalized medicine.

Making science interactive

The theme of engagement was prevalent throughout, with the Royal Society of Engineering using superhero-themed props to showcase advances in prosthetics. Elsewhere, a team of human lab rats set challenges for human participants. The “tractor beam” circuit that captured the imagination of the little girl was part of Mendeley’s stand and demonstrated the kind of projects that can come from the collaborative working enabled by Mendeley Groups.

“It’s essentially brining an engineering solution to a medical problem,” said Dr. Nick Brooks, a research lecturer in Chemistry at Imperial College London. “The device can be used in cancer research to analyze the biological processes inside a living, dividing cell in a way that hasn’t previously been possible.”

The wall of questions

Monitoring the questions on the Mendeley Wall.

Activities at the Mendeley exhibitAlso on the stand was the Mendeley Wall, which invited attendees to pose science-related questions like: “How are super-bugs formed?” and “Why should scientists make research accessible?”

“We’re asking researchers visiting the stand to see what they can answer, and tweeting out the responses,” said John Beyer, Community Engagement Manager for Mendeley. “People are enjoying it – we had one comment that it was the liveliest stand at the show.”

The team also took the opportunity to ask visitors to test out some new Mendeley features, including an onboarding program designed to help new users get to grips with its features more quickly.

“They made something as niche as nanophysics come alive”

A presentation on Materials Today and its expanding scope and journal portfolio.Elsevier’s Materials Today journal team held an entire festival within the festival. With a lineup of talks, presentations, poster sessions and panel discussions, their daylong bonanza featured the latest in materials science. Topics ranged from science communication to the weird and wondrous development of graphene in a kitchen blender and the science behind restoring the Mary Rose. Attendees formed a mix of hardcore (materials) researchers and laymen, and speakers included Prof. Mark Miodownik, Dr. Alan Leshner, Dr. Eleanor Schofield and Prof. Jonathan Coleman.

Joe d’Angelo, Executive Publisher for Materials Science at Elsevier, called the speakers “inspiring and funny.”

“They really made something as niche as nanophysics come alive with fantastic examples,” he said. “It really was great to be able to tap into the Materials Today Council network to have these speakers be part of our event.”

Elsevier also showcased its broad-scope open access journal Heliyon with a stand that highlighted some of the high-profile research published in the journal. “It’s been about a year since we’ve had our own booth at an exhibition,” said Heliyon Marketing Manager Mary Beth O’Leary. “The difference is notable – people are much more aware of what we’re doing, much quicker to recognize the journal name, and people have been very enthusiastic about the quality of the articles we’re publishing.”

“You get to build ideas together”

Attendees of the Reaxys PhD Prize Symposium, held at New Scientist Live this year. (Photo by Ashley Bingham, A&M Photography, London)

Additionally, New Scientist Live served as the venue to reward this year’s Reaxys PhD Prize finalists and winners at its annual Symposium. The Reaxys PhD Prize is the leading prize for PhD students in chemistry around the world. Read more about it here.

Finalist Lauren Doyle of the Piers Research Group at the University of Calgary, said, “You get to meet these people that are doing chemistry that you’re reading about and discuss the chemistry with them.”

Her final comment encapsulated the approach behind the whole event: “You get to build ideas together.”

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