I am currently in Toyko at the Japan-Australia Science Perfomers Exchange. To cut a long story short, about a dozen of us (half from Japan and half from Australia) are spending just over a week exchanging ideas about science performance and communication and developing a new show to be performed once only at Miriakan's Science Agora. It is also expected that there will be significant cultural exchange and interface. This has been one of the best parts of the program and less officially, the people involved are fabulous.
There is a significant language barrier to overcome, but we have many helpers and a hard-working interpretter, and it's amazing what one can communicate by wild gesticulation, mime and faux Pictionary. From both Japanese and Australian performers, there are still occasional moments of repeating the same word over and over at a blank face and of 2 people desperately nodding their heads in the mistaken hope that this will somehow make them understand each other. Thankfully these moments are becoming rarer.
It is quite exhilarating seeing different minds linking concepts, discovering scenes and growing characters. I always like working with other creative people, but there is a heightenned awareness of the process in this case. You have to ride through the frustration of waiting for a translator before letting your latest brilliant idea burst out of you, and I am not the only one who has literally been shaking with excitement, like a child on Christmas morning.
It's also nice to meet other people involved science performance, this strange subset of science communication (itself a pretty odd occupation). It makes you a feel a bit less weird. Now I'm off to try some apple vinegar flavoured chocolate.
The science communication scene in Australia is a pretty active and well-connected place. There are loads of talented people and lots of groups and organisations doing great work. Well now there's one more. RIAus (Royal Institution, Australia) has been officially launched in Adelaide. The launch ran across 4 days and included presentations by neuroscientist Baroness Susan Greenfield, palaeontologist Natalie Schroeder, and Dr Rob and Julia Cleghorn from Scope. There were Daleks, The Bouncers and Le Benz. There was great live music from Great Big Science Gig and families were kept rocking with Rock Chick and Science Geek. The realy good news is that RIAus has big plans for the future, all over Australia, so I'm looking forward to more great science inspiration, excitement and conversation.
There are some people who really, really want Sasquatch to be real. I suspect they’re not even that fussy – Sasquatch would be great, but Big Foot, Yeti, Yowie, Yeren, Barmanou, Orang Mawas or Tjutjuna would be fine. Unfortunately there is no credible scientific evidence that any of these creatures exists, although there is fossil evidence for giant primates many thousands of years ago in what is now China, India and Vietnam. Assigned to the genus Gigantopithecus, these primates would have weighed half a tonne and stood up to 3 metres tall (if they stood upright at all, which is in dispute). Anyway, those determined to uncover new evidence might find some hope in recent research reported in the Journal of Biogeography. More . . .
In what has to make one’s inner sci-fi nerd stir excitedly, NASA has announced research that involved making mice levitate. In the past researchers in several countries managed to levitate insects, small lumps of solid matter and globs of liquid in ultrasonic fields, but Yuanming Liu and his team at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory used a strong magnetic field.
Under normal conditions we don’t notice any effects of magnets on living tissues. Of course that doesn’t mean that there are no effects.
More . . .
When shopping, there are things that affect the likelihood of you actually buying something - price, need, peer pressure, etc. The efforts of the sales people are also an influencing factor and recent research suggests that what they look like can also make a difference. Dr Duncan Murray and Bianca Price from the School of Management at the University of South Australia have published a study in the Journal of International Business and Economics showing that the perceived attractiveness of sales assistants is a factor.
I can’t decide whether an attractive sales assistant would inspire me to purchase products or whether I would feel inadequate when confronted with gorgeous retail service. I suspect it might depend on my mood.
The study specifically looks at women in retail contexts and claims that if the customer thought the sales assistant was better looking than her, she was less likely to buy anything. Price explains that this is an example of “upward social comparison”, where individuals compare themselves with people who they see as socially superior. This can result in feelings of inadequacy, lower confidence and anxiety. That in turn can lead to “avoidant behaviours”. In the setting of a retail environment, that means avoiding dealing with the sales person, which means fewer purchases.
I’d be interested to see what results they would find for men, and I wonder if reasons for shopping in the first place effect the results – I was bored, I came into an inheritance, I just got dumped, I’m having a mid-life crisis, I desperately need new undies, I’m only here to chat up the sexy sales assistant . . .