July 5, 2013
How did surgeons in Georgian England go about amputating a leg? Which plants were found in an 18th century apothecary’s shop? And what did blood-letting do to George III’s fragile health…?
Over the past few months, we’ve been busy getting to grips with leeches, smallpox, alchemy, umbilical hernias (ouch), and other delights from medical history with visitors at London’s Historic Royal Palaces – at Kew, Hampton Court, and Kensington. Working with actors and historical interpreters from Coney and Past Pleasures, we created a number of live events to tie in with the BBC TV series Fit to Rule, which explored the history of medicine through the lives and deaths of British monarchs.
At Kew Palace, one-time home of King George III, we looked at how medicinal plants – from gentian and dandelions to comfrey and ‘Peruvian bark’ (aka quinine) – were used by apothecaries to heal and soothe. Visitors could taste, sniff, and mix-up tinctures and lotions, and help the apothecary prepare treatments fit for the king…
Visitors to all three royal palaces were offered a ‘smallpox makeover’, where a medical make-up artist recreated the pustules that are symptomatic of this deadly disease, while live leeches, leech jars, and other bloodletting paraphernalia were also on hand as modern-day leech breeders talked about the use of these remarkably beautiful creatures in ancient and modern medicine.
At Hampton Court and Kensington Palace, visitors were treated to a theatrical performance of Georgian surgery techniques, complete with a range of hands-on amputation challenges, with pigs’ trotters and aubergines standing in for limbs, and strawberry bootlaces for arteries… how quickly can you saw through that bone!?
August 31, 2010
Check out recordings from our antics at the Secret Garden Party this July on the Guardian weekly science podcast, including the Synaesthesia Game, our sexy science pub quiz, and interviews with scientists Tom Wright and Petra Boynton – coverage begins about 14:25 in. Have a listen here.
August 19, 2010
The sublime Brecon Beacons beckon. Catch us August 20 to 22 in Einstein’s Garden.
Sounds of the Universe: Lewis Dartnell & Andrew Pontzen
Walks: Friday 1330 & 1630, Saturday 1100, 1400 & 1715, Sunday 1300 & 1545
Talks: Friday 1630 w/ Andrew & Sat 1330 w/ Lewis, Yurt Stage
Hear the the bassy reverberations of the surface of our Sun, the eerie shrieks of Jupiter, and feverish radio pulses from the cores of dead stars. Plus a talk on astrobiology with Lewis on Saturday.
The Synaesthesia Game: Guerilla Science & Coney
Saturday 1215 and Sunday 1345, Yurt Stage
The Professor has made a brain – but it has synaesthesia: it hears sounds when it sees colours. Come see what it thinks you sound like to look at. Unlike anything you’ve seen – or heard – before.
Flavour Feast: Becki Clarke & Rachel Edwards Stuart
Friday 1530, Saturday 1630, Sunday 1745, Workshop Tent
Celebrate the manifold facets of flavour with our sensory smorgasbord. Sample from our menu of taste tests with expert food scientists and explore the tantalizing mysteries of your senses.
Jelly Brain Dissections: Guy Billings
Friday 1530, Saturday 1630, Sunday 1745, Workshop Tent
Come for a cuppa and a slice of delicious jelly, set in the shape of your marvellous cerebrum. We will dissect, discuss and digest the most complex thing in the known universe: your mind.
Liars Picnic: Lynsey Gozna & Rachel Taylor
Friday 1900 & Sunday 1445, Yurt Stage
How good are you at spotting a lie? Forensic psychologists will teach you to spot the telltale signs. Then put your newfound shifty skills to the test in a lying match. Prizes for the finest fibbers. Cheating is compulsory – no exceptions.
August 18, 2010
Summertime means music festival season for many, but revellers at some of this year’s events may encounter science alongside the singing. Zoe Cormier, ‘guerilla scientist’, tells us more.
Anyone who passed by the Guerilla Science tent at the Secret Garden Party in July would have had reason to look twice: costumed revellers standing in front of a giant eye to make an enormous brain sing a cascade of strange noises.
The giant, pink, flowery brain is not just any giant brain. It has synaesthesia, a condition that up to one in 23 people may possess where two senses become entwined: words can have tastes, or numbers may have smells. Agency of adventure and play Coney, paired with neuroscientist Thomas Wright, devised an interactive performance to give those with a more typical sensory framework a better appreciation of what synaesthesia feels like. Contestants were asked, as Coney put it, “to see what the brain thinks you sound like to look at” and the result was a sonic and visual feast.
By blending the latest from biomedical research and neuroscience with art, music and play to create a noisy and colourful interactive experience, the Synaesthesia Game is a unique and (we hope) effective way to introduce people to a scientific concept in ways the written word or a lecture cannot.
Guerilla Science specialises in scientific events like this. Since we began staging events at music festivals in 2007 we have moved beyond simply speaking to our audiences. We try to engage people with the latest in research by blending science with art, music and play to create interactive and memorable events in unusual and generally arts-focused settings. Our handle, ’guerilla’, stems from how we pop up in places where science and scientists are not normally found: nightclubs, food markets, cinemas and (most importantly for us) music festivals.
By nestling ourselves among cabaret dancers, fire sculptures and mud wrestling pits, we aim to challenge widespread assumptions about what science is and how it works. By surprising people with a new finding (some people in vegetative states are actually conscious) or a challenging question (is gender actually an illusion?) we hope to inspire more people to think in new ways about their own lives. And through this, we hope more people understand how ‘science’ provides a window into the complexities of the human condition.
This year’s programme was larger and more experimental than ever, in great part thanks to our funding from the Wellcome Trust. After a string of smaller events in London (including a sensory feast in Borough Market and an immersive installation on perception with Secret Cinema) we are in the middle of our biggest summer festival season to date.
July took us to the Lovebox festival in London and four days at the Secret Garden Party. Now we are gearing up for the Green Man festival this coming weekend (20-22 August). The Synaesthesia Game will be with us. Transporting a giant brain from a warehouse in East London to a yurt in the middle of a field in Wales is certainly not easy, but it is most definitely worth it.
By Zoe Cormier for the Wellcome Trust