My science month: May

This month I’ve been:

Reading…the some-may-say depressingly titled “How We Die” by former surgeon Sherwin B. Nuland. A book that discusses the details of death from our modern killers; Aids to Alzheimer’s, cancer to heart disease to murder. It appealed to me not only as someone intrigued by death (I’d be a pathologist if it wasn’t for the fact you have to study the living first) but also as someone scared of the pain of death. Aren’t we all really? I won’t go into the details here but, folks, – it ain’t pretty. So arm yourselves with this book, didn’t someone once say preparation is half the battle?

Reading about these diseases; Parkinson’s, smallpox, cancer etc. links in with my other bedside book; “The Knife Man” by Wendy Moore. A portrait of the eighteenth century surgeon John Hunter it includes references to many contemporaries of Hunter who are now either household names or pioneers of important medical treatments. Whilst Nuland is slightly inclined to include long, sometimes repetitive, paragraphs extolling his views on modern medicine or the evils of disease he should be commended for writing a book that could so easily have been written for cheap scandal, and yet faces a touchy topic with class and dignity. Moore also tackles a difficult topic with aplomb, creating a biography that manages to celebrate one of the masters of British scientific history without hero worship, painting a picture of both his foibles and fantastic discoveries. Moore was an honorary research assistant at the Wellcome Trust Centre for part of the time during which she researched the book and I believe her writing points her out to be a brilliant researcher – she could certainly teach many scientists a thing or two about discussing errors, balanced judgement effective reporting.

Wait, did I mention it’s also a brilliant read? It’s got blood, it’s got gore, it’s got prostitutes, it’s got giants and it’s got body snatching…what else could you need?!

Watching…much of May was taken up with the Norfolk and Norwich Festival which saw the good, the bad and the downright weird of the performance world descend upon Norwich. I was lucky enough to see ‘Dining with Alice’, a collaboration between Artichoke and Bompas and Parr that resulted in an eclectic alfresco dinner and performance. Alongside other shows I also caught the free finale, another outdoors affair, this time a physical theatre/cinematic display by Wired Aerial entitled As The World Tipped. The show was stunning, incorporating a stage that was lifted into a vertical position so that videos could be projected upon it whilst the cast (who had safely strapped themselves to ropes) could interact with the video action, appearing to run, dance and generally contort in time to the images displayed. The theme was climate change and I have to say the content was overblown and unimaginative but the event itself was a spectacle I was glad not to miss.

Visiting…a trip to London without soaking up some sort of culture is an anathema to me but the packed schedule of the science communication conference last week left little time for sight seeing. Luckily the conference venue was also host to the wonderfully titled “Women Make Sculpture”. It was not, as I had hoped, an exhibition of sculptures of the female form (we are, after all, the fairer sex and it is only fair we are compared to works of art) but rather a collection of seemingly unrelated sculptures; their only link being a female creator. Despite this mismatch, and a lack of captions (people, please!), there were some lovely pieces.

Missing out on… Guerilla Science’s Project Ocean – a month-long collaborative project with the Zoological Society of London that took over Selfridges department store on weekends during May running workshops, performances and demos with themes such as ‘transforming plastic rubbish’, ‘crafting coral’, ‘sea shanties’ and ‘sealife drawing classes’.

Lusting over…2011 TED fellow and photographer Camille Seaman’s iceberg photos…the cameras, the pictures, the light…can I have it all please?

Looking forwards to…The Weather Club’s Great British Weather Experiment is back in June – why not get involved? Or if you fancy staying out of the rain Stitch London has collaborated with the Science Museum knit a solar system.

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