4 … Radio … live …. it’s a Material World

Thursday is the zenith of the week for the small group I have had the joy of working amongst these last few days. 16:30 on Thursday, to be precise, with the live broadcast of “Material World”. I was able to be a small part of the last ever episode of this show, and contributed notes and queries on the topic of Scientific Uncertainty.


Yesterday I managed to recruit Profs Angela McLean (Oxford, Zoology) and Ian Stewart (Warwick, Maths) to the cause, to discuss the nature of certainty or otherwise in scientific discoveries, predictions, and methods. The results are available for all to hear here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b02yl46w  My bit lies between horse DNA and cutlery!ImageHaving written out a handful of potential questions for the presenter Gareth Mitchell, to put to the guests, together with expected possible responses from them, my work was incorporated into a draft script, as one third of the half hour content. I wrote some words for the website, found an appropriate photo and got permissions, and sat back. Angela arrived at NBH in good time, and Alex Mansfield took us up to the studio, guiding the process expertly as ever. Ania Lichtarowicz oversaw the entire process with calm professionalism, providing reassurance and encouragement in good measure.


Watching the show go out live was nail biting, What might go wrong? Who might dry up? Which major statesman might die in the next 30 minutes and upset the entire schedule? In the end Gareth was a master, guiding the discussion smoothly and seamlessly, a joy to watch and hear. Relief, and sadness, at the final episode of a great piece of radio. The only live science show on BBC Radio. I am glad I was there, just in time, to take part and to see it.Image


living in a material world



ImageDay three, a day of national treasures. I thought I would record some of the sights along my journey from the front door on Portland place to my desk. Today I came in through the old broadcasting house entrance, a fine example of 1930s power architecture. Two floors up and along a corridor I pass photo portraits of key characters in UK broadcasting history. Alec Guinness, John Peel, and Oliver Read are among them. But, in view of Wimbledon, one stood out today … Cliff Richards adorns the stairwell just before you reach the Radio 3 desks. Both Cliff and Radio 3 are national treasures, of course. So their inclusion here.

ImageOn reaching the Science Radio floor I discovered, as expected, that I was a desk refugee, with no-where to park myself for the day. Eventually I found a home. Soon after another visitor for the day came in to occupy the place opposite me .. Joan Bakewell, preparing for an upcoming broadcast. So, a holy trinity of national treasures to make my day complete.

Illuminated by their shining light, I set to work on my task for today: to help come up with guests and a conversation to form part of the final episode of Material World, going out live tomorrow at 4:30pm. At this point I discovered, with annoyance, the problem of getting appropriate academics to (i) answer their phone, (ii) answer their e-mails or (iii) agree to subject themselves to live discussion on the steam radio. When two excellent candidates eventually agreed to accede to my request I felt a small degree of elation. Message learnt – do try and be helpful when the beeb come knocking at your door.

I dropped by the folk on the news online section a little later, just after George Osborne had announced his comprehensive spending review. Science spending will be held level for recurrent spending but boosted for capital spending over the next couple of years. The result is probably as good as one might expect, but still represents a real terms contraction on the operating budget. The report mentioned some specific items of capital spend, including the UK space plane and its SABRE (synergistic air breathing rocket engine): a fact I managed to spot before the news desk did, to my competitive satisfaction (;-))

The afternoon was spent trying to decide how tomorrow’s Materials World piece, a conversation slot, might pan out. It involves writing a script with possible questions and potential answers, so that Gareth Mitchell, tomorrow’s presenter, will be prepared for whatever may occur. The whole process seems highly uncertain to me. Fingers crossed etc.

Day 2: all we hear is Radio Ga Ga

One of the aims of the Media Fellowships scheme is to push you out of your comfort zone. I guess that is supposed to refer to the media fellows, not the professionals whose offices they are implanted into, nor the audiences that get to enjoy the fruits of their labours.


I moved beyond my comfort zone and into a studio today. But put an audience, even a virtual unseen unknown future audience, in front a lecturer/professor and you move into dangerous territory. The experience was much better fun than I expected, but I can’t help feeling I went into free fall monologue … a recorded piece for the BBC World Service radio show “Science in Action”.

My interviewer was not across the desk from me, instead he was an ocean and a continent away in Los Angeles. It meant that the interview recording was done at our tea time, his breakfast. So, I had the day to bone up on my new area of “expertise”.

I couldn’t help but remember my father’s definition of an expert: ” ‘Imagex’ is an unknown quantity, and ‘spurt’ is a drip under pressure”. I do hope I did slightly better than that, I leave it for you to decide, I don’t know if I dare listen to the result myself … I think it comes out on Thursday, and will be available online on iplayer at some stage after that, I guess.

Other aspects of life: Logistically, today was a great improvement on yesterday. No slippage in schedules, no spillage in drinks 🙂

… meanwhile, in my head, all I hear is radio ga ga.