Tuesday, 5 March 2013

Oscillations and Illusions in the Science Gallery



I love Dublin’s Science Gallery and its eclectic and somewhat irreverent mix of science, art and creativity. It’s interactive, informative, and even provocative at times. If you haven’t been for a visit, you really need to make the time. They have talks, film showings, workshops and exhibitions across a range of subjects. Coming up in the next few weeks are a talk by economist Constantin Gurdgiev, the Irish Premiere of the film “Girl Rising”, a global campaign to empower and educate girls and young women and Fame Lab which is like an “X-factor for scientists” where young researchers hone their skills at communicating their work in a particular field to a wider audience. This week sees another installment of the 5-minute rapid-fire “Ignite” talks which allow participants to inform and convince their audience of their passion and knowledge for a wide range of topics from economics to robotics to dolphins to food production. You get to present 20 slides which are set to advance every 15 seconds, so you have to move quickly through your topic and try not to trip yourself up. The line-up for this coming session looks like a smorgasbord of interests!


The current exhibition “Oscillator – Everything in Motion” looks at pendulums, heart-beats, electricity and intriguingly from our point of view, brainwaves. According to the Science Gallery "What oscillates? From swinging pendulums to throbbing beats and harmonics, Oscillations are repetitive variations from one state to another that occur usually over time. Found in human-made systems and in physical, biological, and informational processes, they can arise, either by design or by accident. Sometimes they’re a critical component, essential to the correct function of a system, other times they might be a curiosity or a nuisance, or even a catastrophic force. Although well documented there are oscillations that we still can’t quite mathematically explain, from the vibrations of Eulers disk to the peculiar regular and chaotic motion of a Swinging Spring. In short, oscillations are ubiquitous and as such the perfect fodder for a Science Gallery exhibition!" Maybe they might recreate the fascinating synchronizing metronomes we saw the other week. Here is another version of that phenomenon, this time with 32 metronomes, in case the original five weren't enough to convince you that there is something really interesting going on here! Oscillator runs until the middle of April so there is plenty of time to join in the action.

Coming up during the summer though is the one I am really excited about. Running from mid-July until September 2013, “Illusion” will be curated by Richard Wiseman, Professor of Public Understanding of Psychology at the University of Hertfordshire. He is the author of several books including “Quirkology” and “The Luck Factor”. Professor Wiseman sounds like he has such a fun job, investigating such things as paranormal phenomena, good and bad luck, and an international experiment to find the world’s funniest joke. This bodes well for “Illusion” which will examine perception, reality and cognitive bias through the medium of physics, psychology, art and magic. The Science Gallery are currently looking for proposals for projects to be part of the exhibition, interactive performances, illusions using touch, sight, other senses, time, pretty much anything. I think this exhibition will be of particular interest to us after our explorations of cognitive systems, psychology, embodied and extended cognition and what it is that our brains actually do! Since many of us will be working away in Dublin in July, we should plan to take a break together to explore “Illusion” and challenge the perceptions we have of what we think we see, hear, smell, taste or feel before us.

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