Festival of Ideas

Written by: Captain Skellett // July 12th, 2009 // Science at Home

What a weekend it’s been! A big night out, a hangover, a roast dinner cooked by a friend, and a good movie (The Unborn, I recommend it if you like them scary). All in all I’m exhausted, and really can’t be bothered washing the dishes right now.

This weekend was also the Adelaide Festival of Ideas, which is essentially a bunch of public lectures on a variety of topics, from the standard omg-over-it climate change ones to forty-five minutes on the vision, perception and ‘cognition’ of honeybees – sounds awesome, right? Unfortunately I missed the honeybee one, but I did make it to a couple other sessions.

The first was by renowned science communicator, author, and journalist Simon Singh, who talked about alternative medicine and his new book “Trick or Treatment.” He was extremely engaging and a great public speaker, so I strongly recommend you see him if you get the opportunity. That said, I’d heard most of what he said before (homeopathic preparations are so diluted that they are pure water, without a molecule of drug), plus I think it was aimed at an audience with jack-all background in science so he spent yonks explaining the placebo effect and double-blind randomized trials.

The second guy was a bit more of my cup of tea, his name was Antonio Lazcano and he talked about the origin and evolution of life. I was a bit skeptical going in that it would be like “Charles Darwin for Dummies” but it really wasn’t, it was fantastic! His speech ran the full gambit from the formation of the solar system to the evolution of HIV, from the primordial soup to prokaryotes. Again, most of the ideas I was already familiar with, but he presented them with so much detail, enthusiasm and such a large serving of jokes that it was absolutely fascinating.

One of the coolest things he talked about was the Murchison meteorite, which fell in Victoria, Australia, in 1969. It is almost five billion years old, meaning it formed the same time as Earth was forming. The pieces were sped to NASA (“of course, NASA took them straight away” he said with rolling eyes) and analysis revealed a whole stack of organic chemicals – fatty acids, sugars, amino acids, urea, purines and pyrimidines – in short, the building blocks of life.

Murchison meteorite

On the note of amino acids, the Murchison meteorite contains over 80 of them. 80 AMINO ACIDS WTF??? That’s way more amino acids than I’ve ever heard about! Apparently some were actually found in enantiomeric excess, bearing in mind these molecules are of extraterrestrial origin, how the hell did that happen?!

To be honest, it’s late on a Sunday night and even though I think this is fascinating, I don’t have the energy to research any further into them right now – the info isn’t easy to find and my brain is le tired. BUT if you’re interested in finding out more about alien amino acids, post a comment and I’ll make it happen. 🙂

Captain Skellett

I be Captain Skellett. Me blog started in April 2009 when I was working full time and didn’t get a chance to talk science. Now I have changed jobs and talk science all the time, but that doesn’t stop me blogging. More About Captain Skellett   Google


4 Responses to “Festival of Ideas”

  1. lindsay says:

    wow – and I was there too! all I managed to do was watch the movie (scary) and take it back and make some cheese and bananas on toast. I found the clip for some one talking about Simon Singh’s 9 million light years http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=21iUUe-W8L4
    if the address doesn’t work go to you tube and search Simon singh and 12 or 13 billion light years

  2. Luke says:

    Wow. thats cool. I wish I appreciated science more when I was younger. So much catching up to do.

    Thanks for a good read. 🙂

    Captain Skellett Reply:

    Thanks for a good comment!

  3. Lab Rat says:

    Wow…that is interesting. And i would be interested in finding out more…in a pinch i could probably hazily recall about 30-40 amino acids, but I would really like to know about the others…do you have the structures?

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