Science in the City

‘Science in the City’ is my new favourite programme. It’s one of these programmes that make you want to go off and explore something – practically and theoretically – and not just one thing! Like Radio 4’s ‘Material World’, the show conveys the fascination that different kinds of researchers – musicians, scientists, geographers etc – have with different aspects of the world: metals, micro climates, aquatic lifeforms.

The first episode I came across was ‘The Gong Show: Exploring Metal’. Playing in an experimental pop band and having done some blacksmithing, this seemed the natural topic to attract my attention. The episode was pretty intense: musician Karen Stackpole playing different kinds of gongs while telling the audience why she is so ‘addicted’ to them. I loved this way of forming a connection to the subject of ‘metals’. Not only are the gong sounds the musician creates fascinating in themselves, but in connection with the snippets from the history of gongs she relates, lots more thought connections are being amplified: why are we so mesmerized by their sound? How did people engage with these sounds in the Bronze Age? What sounds can materials around me make that I am unaware of as yet? It also reminded me of the Christmas party last week where people started using different items from the buffet – giant pots and pot lids, cutlery, plates, glasses – to accompany and make their own kind of music… and through this, it made me think about the sensory and social qualities of scientific exploration that seem, so often, to dwell in the background. What can the sound of metal tell us – about the metal itself and about us?

The connection between what is being explored and what it can say about humans is further emphasised in the episode ‘Underwater World’, where Exploratorium biologist Karen Kalumuck places steel plates under piers at San Francisco’s Marina Yacht Harbor. She gives and example of other sorts of ‘colonies’ in our immediate surroundings and explains how biologists monitor these colonies to draw their conclusions about human ‘colonies’. She does not reveal more – this end appears to be left open for you to explore…

So, I guess, this is Mutable Matter’s holiday present to you: a short, exciting programme that is likely to spark off lots of ideas… Happy experimenting!

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