Live from Jodrell Bank: Science Arena

It will become quite clear as you read on that this is not an interview.  This is one of those not-an-interview-posts I was talking about last month.  Enjoy!

This past Sunday I was lucky enough to attend one of the most incredible festivals – Live from Jodrell Bank.  Held at the Jodrell Bank Observatory in Cheshire, which hosts a number of radio telescopes including the ever impressive Lovell Telescope, the weekend featured an incredible line-up on the Music Stage and a fabulous array of group in the Science Arena.  It was a beautifully sunny day, the men’s Wimbledon final was on the big screen, and people of all ages were out in great numbers from the minute the gates opened.  There was ice cream, paper rockets, dancing, a model LHC, music, florescent slime in cups, sun-toasted marshmallows, food and drinks, ice-cutting diamonds, and so much more!

I was attending the festival as a part of Science Grrl, who had a tent in the Science Arena on both Saturday and Sunday.  We encouraged people to talk to us about science as well as our individual research (joining me on Sunday were Gemma – a nuclear physicist and Liz – a bioarchaeologist librarian), learn more about what we do as an organisation, support us by picking up some brilliant merchandise, and we also tested people’s knowledge of nine amazing female scientists – and taught them more about them – in our Who is She? game.

This is the first event where we’ve had this game (the brain child of Heather Williams, constructed by my capable hands) and it was an enormous success!  It involved nine photos of nine female scientists, some well-known and some who should be well-known – all who have had a major impact on their area of science (and the wider world).  We then asked people to try and match nine names and nine areas of science to the photos.  When we asked people if they wanted to have a go, the initial reactions of people ranged from, “Yeah, I’ll give it a bash!” to “Uhh, no thanks, it would just be embarrassing!” but we encouraged people to try it with the promise of hints… really good hints!  Also by saying that as a prize they could go next door to University of Manchester biology tent and make a cell-cookie, which they could then eat (they could have done this anyway, but it seemed to work).

By the end of the game people were impressed with how much they actually knew – either about the individual scientists or the areas of science – and how much they learned.  It was an absolute pleasure to help everyone (women, men, and children – playing solo or as a group) learn about the individuals featured in our game.  We also had mini-biographies on each of the women, which was handy because people had a lot of questions once they learned a little bit in the game.  By far the most ‘popular’ individual of the day was Hedy Lamarr.  I thought that given the level of interest (and surprise) people showed upon learning more about Hedy, I would post her mini-biography up here for people to read.  If you are interested in hearing more about the other women we featured, let me know and I’ll post their mini-biographies up too!

Oh and in case you are interested, Live from Jodrell Bank will be back (along with the Science Arena and Science Grrl) at the end of next month.  You should come check it out and say hi to us while you are there!


Hedy Lamarr (Hedwig Kiesler): Mathematician

Born: 1913

Died: 2000

Hedy was born in Vienna, Austria-Hungary.  She was an only child and studied ballet and piano from the age of ten.  Her mother was a pianist and her father was a bank director.

Hedy is most well known for her life as an actress, celebrated for her great beauty as a major contract star during MGM’s “Golden Age”.  She appeared in over thirty-one feature films!  However, she is also less well known for her talents in mathematics.

Hedy and composer George Antheil, her neighbour, invented an early technique for spread spectrum communications and frequency hopping, necessary for wireless communication from the pre-computer age to the present day.  It was based on a musical score that involved multiple player pianos playing simultaneously.  Together they submitted the idea of a ‘secret communication system’ for patent in 1941 and receive it in 1942.  This early version of frequency hopping used a piano roll to change between 88 frequencies and was intended to make radio-guided torpedoes harder for enemies to detect or jam!

Hedy wanted to join the National Inventors Council but was reportedly told by NIC member Charles F. Kettering and others that she could better help the war effort by using her celebrity status to sell War Bonds. 

It wasn’t until 1962 that their idea was implemented, when it was used by U.S. military ships during a blockade of Cuba.  Following this, their patent was little known until 1997 when it was given an award by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, lead to Wi-LAN Inc. acquiring 49 per cent of the patent in 1998.  Hedy and George’s frequency-hopping idea serves as a basis for modern spread-spectrum communication technology, such as Bluetooth, COFDM used in Wi-Fi network connections, and CDMA used in some cordless and wireless telephones.

For her contribution to the motion picture industry, Hedy Lamarr has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6247 Hollywood Blvd.  But it has only been since her death that she has been truly celebrated for her contribution to science!  She featured as a Boeing ‘woman of science’ in 2003 (with no mention of her film career), been the subject of an Off-Broadway play ‘Frequency Hopping’, and her story – along with George’s – has been covered on the Science Channel and Discovery Channel.

[Side note: One of the things we usually do as Science Grrls is wear a badge that says, “I’m a Scientist, Talk to Me” to encourage people to come up and well… talk to us.  Following the end of the Science Arena Gemma and I stuck around to enjoy the music, but both of us at left our badges on without realising.  We had people asking us questions and talking to us in the crowd throughout the night!  I think I might start wearing a badge like that all the time.  What do you think?

[Another side note: One of the things we usually do as Science Grrls is have props with us to try and get people to guess what sort of science we do and also to allow us to demonstrate some aspect of it for them on the spot.  Gemma had a photo multiplier tube and a piece of diamond (!), which was immensely popular.  I usually bring a model magnetic skull from our lab, but was unable to this time… so I think it’s time to invest in my own.  Does anyone have a spare £250.00 to donate to Penny University? Or better yet – a spare skull kicking about?]

3 thoughts on “Live from Jodrell Bank: Science Arena

  1. Pingback: Lancashire Science Festival - ScienceGrrl

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