DAMTP at the 'Secret Garden Party'


Staff and students of the Department of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics took part in Guerilla Science's outreach initiative at the Secret Garden Party music festival in July this year.

The aim of Guerilla Scientists is to bring science to music festivals, an innovative experiment in the UK. Such an unusual mission statement may cause some to doubt of the usefulness of an initiative of this kind, but science talks in music festivals are surprisingly successful and well attended. The group, founded in 2007, was present at the Latitude and Secret Garden Party festivals this year, with Department staff and students making important contributions in the latter.

Chris Taylor, a PhD student in nonlinear dynamics, opened the second day of talks at the festival with a presentation on crowd behaviour. He talked about how simple, local rules applied to individuals are enough to explain the behaviour of a crowd, the synchronised flight of a flock of starlings or the complicated patterns of bacterial colonies.

In a talk about the dynamic Sun, Dr Helen Mason showed beautiful images of our star. She explained how solar flares and variations in the solar cycle can affect the temperature of our planet but strongly denied that such phenomena are the cause of the recent global warming, which is a consequence of human actions. On the contrary, Helen mentioned how the study of the Sun and its mechanism of energy production is important in the development of fusion power, a clean source of energy.

On the third day of the festival, Dr Ben Allanach talked about the current theories of the universe and fundamental physics in his talk on the origin of symmetry. To explain the basics of string theory, Ben brought his guitar to show how different elementary particles can be thought of as harmonics of the same note, or as different vibrations modes of the same string.[Helen]

The central individual of the participation of DAMTP in this thriving science outreach initiative is Mark Rosin, who was recently awarded with the Science and Technology Facilities Council Science in Society small award. Mark is a PhD student in astrophysical fluid dynamics in the Department and one of the organisers of the Guerilla Science tent.

Public engagement programs such as the Guerilla camp are extremely beneficial for both the audience and the speaker. Graduate students are given the opportunity to improve their communication skills and, together with lecturers, help demystify the ideas surrounding scientists and mathematicians while contributing to the improvement of scientific literacy of the general public. The involvement of staff and students from DAMTP in public engagement activities is undoubtedly important and the science tent at the Secret Garden Party is an example of how successful such events can be.

Photos by Zoe Cormier.