My First Science Festival Experience

My First Science Festival Experience

A few weeks ago, I gave you a bit of a teaser about a demo I was planning for my Science of Swimming talk at the Cardiff Science Festival. Well, I’m pleased to say that the demos I used worked!

Last Thursday I journeyed up to Cardiff for the latter half of the festival. My talk wasn’t until the Saturday morning, so I still had a day left to work out the kinks.

I thought I would have had plenty of time to practice my talk. Not a chance; I didn’t get an opportunity to run the whole thing through in one go! So on Saturday morning I did my talk, riddled with nerves and relying on a considerable amount of panic to get me through. My audience was mixed, with some young children and some adults too. Thankfully, it turns out, my talk went rather well!

Science of Swimming

I started off with an introduction; why swimming and why physics, before moving onto a combination of the two: the physics of swimming. I looked at Bernoulli’s Principle, and how the pressure differences in the water at different points of front crawl affect our buoyancy and body positions. I also looked at the different types of friction that affect us when swimming before finishing off with the changes in swimsuit technology.

I ended up doing three different demos in my talk. The first, using two balloons, was to demonstrate Bernoulli’s principle: the pressure in a fast moving fluid is lower than in a slow moving fluid. Following this I used a hairdryer and a polystyrene ball to show how a faster moving swimmer floats higher on the water. My last demo was very simple: it was just to show how the swimsuits had changed through the ages, and how the technology has allowed swimsuits to go form completely absorbent to hydrophobic in a century.

“With your interest in science, did you find it useful knowing and understanding the physics when you were swimming?” was one of the questions I was asked after my talk. When I was swimming, I was never taught the underlying physics. I spent 24 hours in the pool every week, and not once did someone explain how it works. It’s a shame no one did because I would have found it immensely useful too.

This is the reason I did this talk in the first place; I wanted to give those who enjoy swimming the knowledge and understanding behind what they do. By having a better grasp of the fundamentals of the underlying physics, I think it will be easier for people to improve their techniques. Not only that, but it will become easier to manipulate and work with the water to get the most out of swimming.

There is so much science involved in swimming, and I only scratched the surface of what goes on. I have decided that I want to develop this talk into a workshop that I can take to swimming clubs and teams, and to be able to teach them how to use the water and their bodies to their advantage. If anyone has any ideas of what I should include, or any advice on how to proceed with this project, please let me know.

On Sunday night I repeated a small part of my talk at the Science Showoff. This was a whole different crowd, and a completely different set-up. Each of the ten acts gets 9 minutes to talk about a science topic of their choice. It was a great night; I learned lots and met some fantastic people. The sheer variety of the presentations was astounding: we learned about the physics of pole dancing, the difficulty in turning a crowd into a wind band using straws, the history of the universe, and much more.

Again, I ended up with no time to practice and was still writing my bit as the others were presenting! So, after a glass (or two) or wine, I was up in front of the crowd. I thought it would be a very daunting experience, standing on a “stage” with lights on you. It wasn’t. I loved it, and felt right at home. My talk was about the history of swimsuits; how we started off swimming in woolly jammies in the mid 1800’s and ending up at the Speedo LZR Racer, the Spanx of the swimming world, the suit that was banned in 2010 for being too good!

Science Showoff at Cardiff Science Festival 2012

I was surprised at how much I actually enjoyed presenting! I was absolutely terrified before I started – everyone who had gone on before me was extremely funny, and I just don’t know how to do funny. It was interesting to see as I went through my bit that the parts I had put in which I hadn’t thought were particularly funny actually got some laughs! This made me feel a whole lot better.

So, the result of this weekend: I absolutely LOVE presenting! I have caught the bug, and I want more. I hope that as time goes on I will get the opportunity to do plenty more events. One thing I have learned is that it is not a good idea to stress too much about a talk, don’t over prepare, and rely on a little bit of nerves and adrenaline to get you through. You’d think I would have known that after competing internationally – I virtually lived off adrenaline!

If you want to read my full review of the festival (not just my bits) follow this link.