Sunday, 7 October 2012

Improbable Oxford

I took part in another Ig Nobel Improbable Event on Friday at the University of Oxford's Collaborative Applied Mathematical Institute. Great speakers, lovely audience and some of the funniest questions I've ever been asked.

The way these events work is that, after an intro, Marc Abrahams - creator and emcee of the annual Ig Nobel Prizes - selects a time keeper and someone to make a noise every 30 seconds. The participants then get up on stage, one by one, and read a two minute extract from a real scientific paper ... that they've only just seen for the first time.

The timekeepers alert you when 30 seconds, 1 minute and 1 minute 30 seconds have passed before gonging you off stage at 2 minutes. What then follows is a question and answer session where the audience can ask the reader questions about the subject of the paper. What makes it funny is that (a) the papers are inherently odd and hilarious anyway and (b) the reader knows only marginally more about the paper than the audience does. It's great fun.

The readers at this event were ... mathematician Dr Mason Porter, science writers and broadcasters Rita Carter and Brian Clegg, Professor Alain Goriely (director of CAMI), Dr Thomas Woolley (one of the bods behind Dara O'Briain's School of Hard Sums)   ...


... some fat old ex-cop and writer, Mark Lynas (author of Six Degrees), a lady whose name I don't have, I'm afraid, as she wasn't on my original list of speakers (But I think was called Xena (?) and works for a charity to do with palm oil), and a REAL rocket scientist and turbomachine engineer, Dr Thomas Povey ...

... and then came a spirited demonstration of a centrifugal force-assisted birthing device by ferociously bearded biochemist Faraz Alam ...

 ... and ended with a hilarious slideshow from comedian and writer Helen Keen and the inevitable bad poetry reading with Marc.

Another great fun event. I look forward to the next.

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