New Scientist Live 2022: 9 surprising things we learned

The world’s largest science festival brought us entertainment and education – it also revealed the sounds gorillas make while eating, the surprising location of the hottest place in the solar system and much more

New scientist live

October 10, 2022

A robotic dog from Boston Dynamics at New Scientist Live

A Boston Dynamics robotic dog shows off his stuff at New Scientist Live

Jonny Donovan

New Scientist Live, the world’s largest science festival, ended yesterday after three days of mind-bending talks and exciting experiences. Thousands of people attended every day, meeting robots, trying out state-of-the-art virtual reality setups, and learning everything from whether science can save humanity to design flaws in the human body. Most of all we had a great time. Here are nine incredible things we learned there.

Gillian Forster

Gillian Forster

Tim body

1. Just like humans, gorillas make noises when they eat – and better food evokes different sounds. We heard Gillian Forrester explain that by studying these great apes, we might be able to shed light on the long-standing mystery of how humans evolved the ability to speak.

2. The first person to notice climate change lived in the 11th century. Atmospheric physicist Simon Clark spoke about what weather is, how the atmosphere is changing — and how the first person to notice climate change was a polymath named Shen Kuo, who lived in the 11th century. He realized that the climate had changed after discovering fossilized bamboo. In a work named 1088 dream pool essays, Shen wrote about how a landslide uncovered a cavity where bamboo plants “had turned to stone.” Shen suggested that the region’s climate must have been different in the distant past – arguably making his work the first written account of how the climate in specific locations might change over time.

3. A higher priority for science will lead to more military security, increase resilience to future threats from pandemics and climate change, and will also boost the country’s economy, according to the UK government’s chief scientific adviser Patrick Vallance. “The current government seems to have a strong focus on growth. And if you want growth, you have to have science, engineering and technology,” he said. Vallance urged all government agencies to bring in more experts in science, technology and engineering and to hire more graduates in these fields into public service.

4. Highly processed foods are the leading cause of obesity todayrevealed twin doctors Chris and Xand van Tulleken from the children’s television series Operation Ouch!. They said ultra-processed foods now make up 60 per cent of the average diet in the UK – and practically 100 per cent for young babies. They claimed that these types of foods are the number one reason for obesity today, as we tend to eat more calories when processed foods are on the menu. “It’s our national diet,” said Chris van Tulleken. “It’s what we build our bodies and our children’s bodies from.”

5. It’s not true that only cancer cells have “cancer-causing mutations.” Science writer Kat Arney explored some of the surprising science behind cancer. We even find cells with mutations in people without cancer. Arney said if these mutations were found in tumor cells taken from a biopsy, doctors would assume they caused the cancer, so the science clearly has more to learn.

Boston dynamic spot robot

Discover the robot dog at New Scientist Live

Tim body

6. Nothing draws the crowds like a Boston Dynamics spot robot, who spent the three days of the show trotting around his enclosure and interacting with large crowds. The event was undoubtedly an easier task than Spot’s other task: supporting the UK Atomic Energy Agency in the safe inspection and decommissioning of nuclear power plants.

Chris Jackson on the Engage stage at New Scientist Live 2022

Chris Jackson on the Engage stage at New Scientist Live 2022

Tim body

7. A little greenhouse gas is actually neededsaid Geoscientist Chris Jackson. Without them, the world temperature would average -20 °C (-4 °F). But of course it can also become too much: Our climate is entering an anthropogenic age in which man-made emissions are driving the temperature ever higher.

8. The hottest spot in the solar system isn’t in the sun, it’s actually inside a building about 10 miles from Oxford, revealed Joe Milnes of the UK Atomic Energy Agency. The plasma inside the JET fusion reactor can reach 150 million °C (270 million °F), which is many times hotter than the sun’s surface. Figuring out how to contain that temperature — and eventually use it to generate electricity — is a daunting engineering challenge.

9. Three of Astronomer Royal Martin Rees’ colleagues have chosen to be frozen after death. It’s not an option he wants to pursue himself, he told the audience.

New Scientist Live returns in October 2023 and Super Early Bird tickets are already available. We look forward to seeing you there.

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