9 surprising things we learned at New Scientist Live 2022

9 surprising things we learned at New Scientist Live 2022

The world’s biggest science festival brought us fun and education – it also revealed the sounds gorillas make when they eat, the surprising location of the hottest place in the solar system and much more

New Scientist Live

October 10, 2022

Boston Dynamics robotic dog struts at New Scientist Live

Jonny Donovan

New Scientist Live, the world’s largest science festival, came to a close yesterday after three days of mind-blowing discussions and exhilarating experiences. Thousands of people attended every day, meeting robots, trying out cutting-edge virtual reality setups and learning about everything from whether science can save humanity to design flaws in the human body. More importantly, we had an amazing time, but here are 10 things we learned there.

Gillian Forrest

Gillian Forrest

Tim Boddy

1. Just like humans, gorillas make noise when they eat. – and better food elicits different sounds. We heard Gillian Forrester explain that we may be able to shed some light on the long-standing mystery of how humans developed the ability to speak by studying these great apes.

2. The first person to notice climate change lived in the 11th century. Atmospheric physicist Simon Clark explained what the weather is, how the atmosphere changes – and how the first person to notice climate change was a polymath called Shen Kuo, who lived in the 11th century. He realized that the climate had changed after discovering fossilized bamboo. In a work of 1088 entitled Dream Pool Trials, Shen wrote of how a landslide exposed a cavity inside which the bamboo plants “turned to stone”. Shen suggested that the region’s climate must have been different in the distant past – making his work arguably the first written account of how the climate in specific locations might change over time.

3. Giving higher priority to science will lead to greater military security, more resilience to future threats from pandemics and climate change, and will also boost the country’s economy, according to the UK government’s chief scientific adviser, Patrick Vallance. “The current government seems to attach great importance to growth. And if you want growth, you have to have science, engineering and technology,” he said. Vallance called on all government departments to consult more experts in science, technology and engineering, and for more graduates in these fields to be employed in the civil service.

4. Ultra-processed foods are the biggest driver of obesity todayrevealed twin doctors Chris and Xand van Tulleken from the children’s TV series Operation Ouch!. They said ultra-processed foods now make up 60% of the average diet in the UK – and almost 100% for young babies. They claimed that these types of foods are the main driver of obesity today because we tend to eat more calories when processed foods are on the menu. “It’s our national diet,” said Chris van Tulleken. “It is from this that we build our bodies and the bodies of our children.”

5. It’s not true that only cancer cells have “carcinogenic mutations.” Science writer Kat Arney has delved into some of the startling scientific discoveries behind cancer. We find cells with mutations even in people without cancer. Arney said if these mutations were seen in tumor cells taken during a biopsy, doctors would assume that’s what caused the cancer, so clearly science has more to learn.

Boston Dynamic Spot Robot

Spot the robot dog at New Scientist Live

Tim Boddy

6. Nothing draws crowds as consistently as a Boston Dynamics Spot robot, who spent the three days of the show trotting around its grounds and interacting with large crowds. The event was undoubtedly an easier task than Spot’s other task: helping the UK’s Atomic Energy Agency inspect and safely dismantle nuclear power stations.

Chris Jackson on the Engage Stage at New Scientist Live 2022

Chris Jackson on the Engage Stage at New Scientist Live 2022

Tim Boddy

7. A little greenhouse gas is really necessarysaid geoscientist Chris Jackson. If there were none at all, the global temperature would average -20°C. But there can of course be too much: our climate is entering an anthropogenic era in which human-caused emissions are pushing the temperature ever higher.

8. The hottest point in the solar system is not the sun, but actually a building about 10 miles from Oxford, revealed Joe Miles of the British Atomic Energy Authority. The plasma inside the JET fusion reactor can reach 150 million °C (270 million °Fahrenheit), which is several times hotter than the surface of the sun. Figuring out how to contain this temperature – and possibly extract electricity from it – is the great engineering challenge.

9. Three of Astronomer Royal Martin Rees’ colleagues chose to freeze after their death. It’s not an option he wants to pursue himself, he told the audience.

New Scientist Live will return in October 2023 and super early bird tickets are already available. We look forward to seeing you there.

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