Pythagoras Trousers – My first year as a reporter

This has been my first year working as a reporter for Pythagoras Tousers, a science show on Radio Cardiff. I’ve had a great time creating my monthly reports; finding an interesting subject, interviewing the relevant scientific experts, and editing the reports before they go out on Monday nights.

One of the things I learned from this is that interviewing is not as easy as I originally thought. You go in thinking, OK, I have my questions, I’ll ask my questions and just listen to the answers. When I first started doing the interviews I would research and organize my questions, but then as soon as I started talking to the scientists my questions would change. It’s not that the scientists would go off on a tangent, the problem was that I would! Several times I got really interested in a particular part of their research and we would start talking about that; delving into the nitty gritty science of it. It was great fun, but these original interviews would not have been good listening, especially not to those who aren’t experts in that particular area. Thank goodness the shows weren’t live!

After a few interviews I learned to stick with my questions, trying to keep the interview on track. Yet, the other problem was that sometimes the scientist would start going off on tangents! This was slightly more problematic, as I would then get lost, and not understand a single thing that they were talking about. On the other hand, it’s actually quite nice. These men and women spend their lives researching a particular topic, and become so involved in it, so passionate about it that their enthusiasm for it shines through in the interviews.

I finished recording and editing my last report for the 2011-2012 academic year, so I thought I would put a summary of them on here, and why I chose to report on that particular subject, with links to the respective podcasts for those of you who want to listen to them.

My first report (podcast 46) was an interview with Mark Post from Maastricht University in the Netherlands about synthetic meat, and went out on September 19th 2012. I chose this topic because I thought it was very controversial; creating many different opinions. I wanted to have a closer look at the benefits that this could bring, as well as the opposition it faced from different groups.

The second report (podcast 50) I did was an interview with Professr Ortwin Hess from Imperial College, London, which aired on October 17th 2011. I wanted to learn more about his involvement in the development of the magnetic cloak. You could think of these as invisibility cloaks, but instead of hiding objects from electromagnetic waves (light) you hide them from magnetic fields.

The next interview (podcast 55) went out on November 21st 2011, and it was an interview with Dr. Helen Czerski on the BBC television program 23 Degrees. At the time of the interview the show was still being filmed. 23 Degrees tries to discover the connection between our orbit around the sun and how life is affected by this on Earth.

After a break for Christmas and my January exams, my fourth report (podcast 68) aired on February 20th 2012. In this report I interviewed Jessica Smith from the Alzheimer’s Society to take a closer look at the Whitehall II Study. The study looks at how the brain changes with age, and how our quality of life is affected. The initial results had just been published, and I thought it would be interesting get a better understanding of this subject as it is something that will inevitably happen to all of us!

My fifth report (podcast 73) was an interview with Dr. Peter Whibberley from the National Physics Laboratory, and went out on March 26th 2012. Earlier on in the year the International Telecommunication Union’s Radiocommunication Assembly conference was held in Geneva, and Dr. Whibberley went as the UK’s representative. The main topic of discussion at the conference was to decide whether or not it was worth keeping the leap second. I wanted to interview Dr. Whibberley to find out what the results of the discussions were.

On May 21st 2012 my sixth report (podcast 81) went on air. It was an interview with Dr. Saverio Russo from Exeter University’s Centre for Graphene Science about his work on GraphExeter, a modified form of Graphene. Since 2010, when Dr. Andrew Geim won the Nobel Prize in Physics for his discovery of Graphene, several research groups have popped up all over the place trying to learn more about this new material. Dr. Russo and his colleagues had invented a new form of Graphene, by doping it with iron chloride molecules, and I wanted to find out how this improved the material and what uses it could have.

My seventh and final report for this academic year (podcast 85) will go out tomorrow evening from 8 – 8.30pm on Radio Cardiff 98.7FM, and will be available to download after 8.30pm. In this report I interviewed Professor Ulf Leonhart from St. Andrews University about his latest collaborative work on a device that has been dubbed Schroedinger’s Hat. As a physicist I am all too familiar with the thought experiment Schroedinger’s Cat, but I had never heard of the Schroedinger’s Hat, and wanted to learn more. This was the most challenging by far, as it was the most specialized (and difficult) subject to understand.

It has been a great experience doing all these interviews, and I’ve learned a great deal! Finding a new subject, trying to understand it, and then writing a report about it that will be accessible to the general public is a challenge that I readily accept. I would like to thank Rhys Phillips, the man behind the show for allowing me to get involved. I hope to write many more reports, and interview many more scientists in the future.

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