Why Bradford is on the frontline of science this week

IT ORIGINATED as a meeting of minds in York more than 180 years ago - and has grown to such an extent that hundreds of top scientists and more than 50,000 visitors will this week attend the British Science Festival in Bradford.

Biologists Dr Jon Copley, next to life-size Antarctic deep sea vent, Dr Adrian Glover, holding a deep sea vent Shrimp and Hoff Crab, and Dr Kerry Howell, holding a Lophelia Pertusa or a section of cold-water coral.

Picture: James Hardisty
Biologists Dr Jon Copley, next to life-size Antarctic deep sea vent, Dr Adrian Glover, holding a deep sea vent Shrimp and Hoff Crab, and Dr Kerry Howell, holding a Lophelia Pertusa or a section of cold-water coral. Picture: James Hardisty

The event, organised by the British Science Association, dates back to 1831 and has already seen notable announcements on its first day - including the discovery of 90 huge stone monoliths a mile from Stonehenge by archeologists at the University of Bradford, as reported in yesterday’s The Yorkshire Post.

And with three more days of talks, debates, demonstrations and events at the university campus and across the city, there are sure to be many more.

Yesterday cutting-edge research on topics as diverse as deep sea biology, what death smells like, drinking in later life and the Rosetta space mission were discussed.

Researcher Karl Abson has an array of 20 motion capturing cameras sensitive to near-infrared light in his studio, which he uses with his horse Marie. Photo: Karl Abson/University of Bradford/PA Wire

Motion capture experts based at the University demonstrated software they had developed that can process the complicated movements of animals such as horses or cats, using reflectors stuck to their fur with Velcro.

Karl Abson, a lecturer in creative technologies specialising in bio-mechanical animation, first became interested in developing CGI technology when he realised just how lacking animation techniques were when it came to tracing animal movements. He brought his own horse into the studio and over the last three years has developed techniques that deliver such realistic motion, they are being adopted by the gaming and film industries.

He said: “Motion capture on humans has been pretty much done to death, but the software had not yet been developed for animals.

“When we first started using the horse around all the expensive equipment, it was a bit worrying, but now I probably understand her, and how she will react, better than I do most people.”

Other highlights yesterday saw biologists Jon Copley, Kerry Howell, and Adrian Glover uncover a hidden landscape of undersea mountains and volcanic vents, home to new species from hairy-chested crabs to bone-eating worms.

Today’s sessions include looking at why Facebook won’t get you any more friends, the excavation of Richard III, and a project which uses drones are being used to hunt fossils,

Fossilfinder saw a team from the University collect a new form of high-resolution images of the Turkana Basin in northern Kenya. It is now recruiting an army of “citizen scientists” to help discover fossils and ancient artefacts in the images, by examining them online.

Project Manager Dr Adrian Evan said: “Using this technology we can capture images over fossil bearing landscapes at an unprecedented scale. That will help us appreciate the zones of geological change, variations in past environment, and pinpoint more closely areas where interesting fossils are likely to appear.”

Also today, Professor Paul Kellam, a leader in virus genomics from University College London, will present research into the connection between a specific gene and the ability of an individual to fight flu.

Researchers studied the DNA of those hospitalised in the 2009 H1N1 swine flu epidemic and found these patients to have a variant from the typical version of the gene IFITM3.

Antiviral genes encoded in a person’s DNA could determine the severity of infection, which could have implications for future vaccination programmes.

Bradford has hosted the festival three times, in 1873, 1900 and the most recent being in 2011, and this year’s event includes a fringe festival of events for schools and families.

Over 180 years of science

THE FESTIVAL has a long history of discovery.

Since the first meeting in 1831, the major scientific announcements made at the meetings include English physicist James Joule’s heat experiments in the 1840s, the first demonstration of wireless transmission over a few hundred yards by Rayleigh and Ramsey in 1894, and J.J Thomson’s discovery of the electron in 1899.

The terms “scientist” and “dinosaur” can be traced to British Association meetings.

In 1860 an historic debate over Charles Darwin’s newly published theory of evolution took place between the biologist T.H. Huxley and Samuel Wilberforce, Bishop of Oxford, when the Association met in the city.