December 2015 saw the extremely successful launch of our pub science series, Science Half Pints, with Festive Jam hosted at JamCafe, Nottingham.

This festive themed night gave our audience three great ‘Christmas science’ talks, covering topics all the way from Christmas trees and Santa Claus, to astronomical Christmas Carols, expertly delivered by Nottingham research scientists.

For our first talk of the night we took a jump into the world of those green things that seem to be everywhere, with Emily Morris’ “The Secret Life of a Christmas Tree”.

Emily, a PhD researcher in plant science at the University of Nottingham, School of Biosciences, gave us a fascinating insight into how these ancient gymnosperms used to dominate the landscape of ancient Earth and how today they account for some of the oldest and tallest trees on the planet. We even got given the low down on how the sex lives of Christmas trees and their sex-changing ways make them distinct from flowering plants

“Emily Morris bringing her passion for plant science to Festive Jam 2015” and “Explicit content warning before discussing tree genitals”.

“Santa Claus the Immortal: Ageing and How to Avoid it”, was our second talk, given by Matt Young, a PhD researcher in neuroscience from the University of Nottingham, School of Biosciences.

With a background in ageing research, Matt took us through the ins and outs of the ageing process and why it happens in the first place. As well as taking a look at some extreme examples of extra-long life spans in the animal kingdom, from naked mole rats to the immortal jellyfish, we were also taken through an investigation into the ways in which the world renowned figure of Santa Claus could have possibly lived to such an great age (having already been present in the modern idea of Christmas for more than 200 years).

Festive Jam 6Co-host Maria fielding questions about immortality for Matt after his talk.

Just in case we didn’t already have our thinking caps on after two fun talks, co-hosts Matt and Maria led us through a very science-y, Christmas pub quiz! The results were really close, with a first prize chocolate selection box going to team Let’s Get Quizzy With It, and another to team Higgs Bo Ho Ho Ho’ zons for best name.

To wrap things up we had Dr Helvi Witek, a research fellow in quantum gravity from the University of Nottingham, School of Mathematics, who gave us a completely different take on how science can be festive.

In her talk, “The Universe’s Christmas Carol: From Black Holes to Gravitational Waves”, Helvi taught us about black holes and how the massive gravitational forces they wield can create curves and waves in space-time, also known as gravitational waves. Helvi then went on to tell us how these invisible gravitational waves can be ‘heard’ here on Earth by detectors, using the example of a binary neutron star. Unfortunately, due to a technical glitch, we didn’t get to hear the recording of this sound, but nevertheless, Helvi gave us a beautiful rendition herself of what this, the universe’s Christmas carol, would sound like.

Festive Jam 7Helvi dazzling us with her theoretical modelling animation of the movements of stellar bodies.

After a science-filled evening of mince pies and quizzing (and of course of few drinks here and there) it seems Festive Jam turned out to be a very merry evening indeed. Special thanks go to our gracious host at Jamcafe in Nottingham’s cultural quarter, Hockley, who as well as entertaining our shenanigans, helped set the scene by contributing some scrumptious, homemade mince pies. A big thank you also goes out to members of the STEM Outreach Society who helped make the event as fun and enjoyable as possible!

The last thing to do now is to extend a huge thank from the STEM Outreach Notts team to all our guests who came out and enjoyed the evening with us. After all without you, we’d have no one to share all the science with! We had some great feedback from you all and really look forward the next Science Half Pints event. Watch this space!

 

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