LIYSF Day 14: Goodbye (P)

Hi everyone,

Today had fun moments, but had a melancholy undertone. We started the day with the “Participant’s Forum”, where a few representative students argued for and against three hot topics in science. Topics included “Should individuals or institutions get credit for research?”, “Should we fund research with no specific goal in mind?”, and “Is advanced AI something that should be researched?”. Once representatives stated their cases, the floor opened for questions and further comments. I left the session with no clear answer to any question, but many thoughts.

Next, Eric Yeatman (an electrical engineer) spoke about the future of computing and the limits of Moore’s Law. For me, the highlight of the talk occurred when he actually worked out the Fermi calculations that showed the hard limits in physics that tech companies must keep in mind. For example, using the width of an atom and the speed of light, he calculated the maximum number of components that one can fit on a chip. He also pointed out that we now need to worry about the time a signal takes to propagate across a chip if a chip is too large. Altogether, I found the talk fascinating, and it raised questions about how much more powerful computers can get.


Following Eric’s lecture, a quick closing ceremony thanked the many people behind LIYSF 2017. Then, we ate dinner, and left for the farewell party.

Fountains in Hyde park, which I visited before the farewell party.

As I mentioned before, the farewell party was fun (well, as fun as loud music, flashing lights, and dancing can be). However, once the party ended, the really touching moments started. The ballroom remained full for a while after the party ended as everyone said goodbye. Once I left the ballroom, I helped several people drag a friend who had drunk far too much back to the dorms. I didn’t return to bed until disappointingly late in the morning.

All of the Canadians who stayed in Beit.

LIYSF 2017 crammed so much into so little time. I experienced interesting lectures, fascinating site visits, and the hotbed of culture and history that is London. It was a fantastic experience, and I look forward to hearing from the next person (people?) that UFV send(s).

EDIT: Saying goodbyes the next morning was even harder. I made some good friends there, and although everyone says that they’ll keep in touch, rarely do people actually make good on such a promise. That said, some will keep in contact, and I feel like those that do will be lifelong friends.

I have a few more days left in London. I think I’ll use them to sleep, visit Brighton, the Tower of London, and a few other locations. But mostly sleep.

LIYSF Day 13: Kings, Queens…and Karaoke (P)

Hi Everyone,

I can’t believe that LIYSF is about to end. Well, I can…my body is very tired, but the weeks have flown by. I’ll definitely miss the new friends I’ve made, and hope to see them again someday.

Today started with our final set of specialist lectures. I learned about emotional recognition in computers – a tricky field, but some progress has been made. It was amazing to watch the computer pick out emotions from peoples’ faces as they enacted different expressions, and also as it picked out different emotions from different lines in emails. The speaker asked we not take pictures due to the large number of faces being displayed in the slides, but a simple google search will reveal many simple example programs online.

Next, I visited the state rooms of Buckingham Palace along with a small group of half of the people attending LIYSF. This time, Her Majesty requested that we not take pictures (not directly, but by proxy). If you ever get the chance to visit during the two weeks of the year it is open, I would strongly recommend it. Every room is ornately decorated with incredible attention to detail. Even the floors have clever patterns on the wood – which are then covered by carpets. That said, even though the rooms look amazing, I would hate to live in such a place. Many people I talked with shared that consensus; we were all terrified of bumping into something and damaging something priceless. Buckingham Palace is beautiful and ornate, but definitely not minimalist or even overly functional.

A pond in the gardens behind Buckingham Palace
The front view of Buckingham Palace.

The day ended in the Beit common room with karaoke late into the night. Some people choose the wrong songs to sing (in other words, anything by Ke$ha), but fortunately, wiser heads prevailed and dominated song selection with choices like “A Whole New World”, “Don’t Stop Me Now”, and “You Give Love A Bad Name”. As expected, the night ended with a poorly-performed but highly enthusiastic version of Bohemian Rhapsody.

Many people singing

LIYSF Day 12: Cambridge and Culture (P)

Hi Everyone,

Today, I visited Cambridge. As is LIYSF tradition, we waited around for a while once we arrived. Impatient, we asked the staff what we were waiting for, and learned that we were waiting for tour guides. We complained, as we’d hoped to spend as much time exploring the city as possible. However, our guide quickly changed our minds, as she really brought the city to life.

An image of our lovely tour guide. I don’t think I have any non-blurry photos of her as she was constantly in motion.

She began by explaining how different colleges formed the university (a college has elements of both a dorm and a department without really being either). However, as we entered the city, she illustrated different locations with quirky stories. She recognized a little corner bakery as the first place to sell a Chelsea roll. An apple tree in front of Trinity turned out to be a cutting from the famous apple tree that helped Newton describe gravity. Best of all, she detailed how a group of students secretly maneuvered a car on top of one of the buildings near King’s College. I always appreciate a good prank, so I loved that story.

Some beautifully carved graffiti in a chapel. Kids these days just don’t do graffiti like we used to…

I also ate a lunch that did not consist of a sandwich, kit-kat, apple, and crisps (well, chips, actually). Instead, I feasted upon garlic bread, a burger, onion rings, and chips (fries). This caused much rejoicing.

Most of my lunch (I couldn’t resist eating some before documenting this momentus occasion crossed my mind)

In the evening, LIYSF held its “Traditions from Home” showcase. Similarly to the talent show, students performed songs, dances, and other cultural activities. Other than the delicious food that people shared, I was particularly impressed by a New Zealand war dance. It involved a lot of chest beating, stomping, and shouting. Many Australians explained how terrifying it could be when an entire rugby team begins a match be performing it in your direction, and I could certainly see why.

A group from Mexico dancing

LIYSF Day 11: Space, Sports, and Screaming (P)

Hi Everyone,

Today started with hearing from Mark McCaughrean of the European Space Agency (ESA). He described several missions from both the past and the future of the ESA. I found his summary of the Rosetta mission particularly intriguing. As you may have heard, the probe, Rosetta, flew near a comet, then dropped a second probe, Philae, onto the comet. Although I’d gathered bits and pieces, hearing the full picture from someone with an inside view of the mission really brought it to life.

I enjoyed his talk so much that I stayed for 90 minutes after it (along with a dwindling group of others) to ask him further questions. Topics he discussed included LISA (a project to build a gravity wave detector in space) and other space agencies/corporations. He felt that Elon Musk built good hardware, but sells an “unrealistic dream” of living on mars. He also hated how Musk doesn’t appear to concern himself with problems like contaminating mars with human life, possibly destroying any native life.

A map of a few prominent ESA expeditions.

Later that day, I competed in the LIYSF olympics. Each hall had a small team who competed in various relay races and contests (from a three-legged race to a planking contest). One of the more impressive moments was when another hall won the planking contest after ~5 minutes. We then pointed to one of our spectators, who had quietly been planning alongside the competitors. She managed to plank for 10 minutes, drawing massive cheers from all of Beitside (my hall). By the end of the olympics, Beitside won the strong majority of all of the athletic events, and also produced far louder and rowdier cheers than the other halls. Sometimes those Australians are good for something…

A fuzzy picture of Beitside winning at the LIYSF Olympics.

Finally, that night, we heard from Professor Semali Perera, a chemical engineer who works in nanotechnology. Although could not follow some of the Chemistry in the talk, I marvelled at how she could create such tiny structures such as filters and adsorbents.

Anyways, I need to sleep. My voice already feels sore from all of the shouting at the Olympics…but victory was worth it.

LIYSF Day 10: Engineering, Chemistry, and the Cabaret (P)

Hi everyone,

The days are starting to blur together now. Lack of sleep and constant activity is definitely reducing my ability to do…anything, really. Such as post blog posts on time. Or remember what happened on which day (I wrote a paragraph about the Culham Fusion Centre before realizing I’d already written about it) But yet, I still try…

Today started off with another batch of specialist lectures. My first lecturer (Jameer Emamally) works in aerospace and nuclear engineering. He called his topic “Engineering in our Lives”, but really it described project management. I suffered no disappointment with that topic; project management is a vital part of engineering and students often overlook it. He often used paper airplanes as an analogy, which I think reached a range of students. Anyone can build a simple paper airplane, but creating a good one can require a surprising amount of engineering.

Next, Professor David Smith discussed his work in Chemistry. Although some of the more advanced chemistry flew over my head, he kept it mostly understandable for us non-chemistry types. I found his explanation of how anti-bacterial drugs worked fascinating. One approach is to develop molecules that bond completely with a bacterial cell wall. This breaches the cell wall, killing the bacteria.

A molecule that is used to kill bacteria

Later, I visited the science museum in London. Regrettably, we only had a couple of hours with which to visit. Even more unfortunately, my group spent too much of that time in the more kid-focussed setting, before discovering a non-obvious door to the more interesting part of the museum. There, we marvelled at a variety of exhibits as quickly as possible:

I could not stay as long at the museum as I liked because the International Cabaret was in the evening. Many people played beautiful songs, danced, and otherwise showcased their talents. Also, the Aussies ended the night with a massive dance, dressed as Australian as they could.

A few more common themes have emerged throughout LIYSF. Everyone has gotten tired of the Australia jokes, particularly the Australians. Everyone is also sick of the same lunch every day – Tesco sandwich, apple, bag of chips (not crisps), and a bottle of water. People have begun taking bets on how long the lines will last, with Christmas as a common choice. The epitome of disappointment occurs when an individual is stuck at the back of a line and only vegan options remain.

LIYSF Day 9: Fusion, Oxford, and Duct Tape (P)

Hi everyone,

Today, I visited the Culham Fusion Centre. Unlike many Nuclear Fusion research centres, they accepted the joke that “Nuclear Fusion has been 30 years away for the last 60 years”. However, they provided an explanation: Material science is bottlenecking progress, not the underlying physics, so all we need is more engineers working on the many challenges with fusion.

I found the centre fascinating. First, we visited the control room, a room covered screens (which we weren’t allowed to take pictures of). Later, we observed the tokamak reactor itself, which set a world record for the most ‘efficient’ fusion reaction ever take place (65% of the energy put in was produced). At first, this seems like a massive waste of power (the reactor uses 1% of all English electricity when running at full blast). However, the data that the reactor produces and only losing 35% of the energy offers great hope for the future.

The JET (Joint European Tokamak) nuclear fusion reactor

Our guides discussed a new reactor (ITER) under construction in the south of France. It will use superconducting magnets and other fancy modern technology, as opposed to the 70s and 80s tech in this reactor. It (theoretically) will produce 10x the energy out as the energy in and can run for far longer than the JET reactor. Although all of these numbers may seem dry and boring, they promise that humanity could someday produce almost infinite amounts of energy using nothing but seawater and lithium.

Following the Nuclear Fusion Centre, I visited Oxford, the hometown of my Grandfather. I wandered around the town for a couple of hours, admiring how old and ornately decorated the buildings were.

Classic Oxford Architecture

Finally, this night, an Australian and I auditioned a version of this trick in the hopes of performing it at the talent show tomorrow night. Hopefully, the judges will select us to perform in front of all of the LIYSF attendees.

LIYSF Day 8: Skits and Stuff (P)

Hi Everyone,

My alarm failed to go off this morning, so I woke up at 8:30, when I needed to be fed and ready to go to a lecture. I threw on clothes and sprinted to the lecture, just making it on time. Later, I learned that other people had flat-out missed some of the day’s lectures. I think the high intensity of LIYSF is taking a toll on its attendees.

The first lecturer (Prof. Sir Roy Anderson) described a variety of diseases, and spent a fair amount of time explaining why diseases like Malaria and HIV are so hard to cure. Essentially, the diseases are highly unstable (mutate quickly), rendering vaccines obsolete before they are completed. I enjoyed the lecture, but a lot of the detail in it could be learned from playing Pandemic.

Following the diseases lecture, I learned about optoelectronic prosthetics from  in his specialist lecture. He described his work restoring vision to blind people by adding photoelectric arrays behind the retina. The arrays received IR light, so the user must wear glasses that convert visible light to IR, but this technique allows functional photoreceptors to be supplemented by the implants, rather than wiping out one’s entire vision. It also takes advantage of the pre-processing that eyes do before sending information to the brain. These developments offer a 5x increase in the resolution of optoelectronic prosthetics, meaning that completely blind people could break past the “legally blind” threshold of 20:400 by improving vision to 20:250.

What an the photodiode array inside an optoelectronic device looks like.

However, learning the above information was not enough; each specialist lecture group needed to present a skit, song, rap, dance, etc to communicate what they’d learned in their lecture to the rest of the group. My group described the story of “Bruce, from Australia”, a blind man who received an optoelectronic implant and had his vision restored. Highlights of other skits included mention of “a crazy, new, experimental Australian drug” that “is non-toxic, but once destroyed 99 out of 100 kangaroos, 4 beakers, and a petri dish in clinical testing”, many other references to Australia, and a fed-up Aussie commenting that “…and I’ll speak really slowly so that the Kiwis can understand”.

Following the skits, Jason Nurse spoke about cyber security, particularly the risks of social media. He has been my favourite speaker so far (even better than James Grime), as he explained important information in a fun and humorous manner. However, his lecture showed a darker side. He played a video showing someone gaining access to someone’s phone account in under 30 seconds just by placing a call to the help desk and bluffing their way through. It really illustrated the point of this cartoon.

Jason Nurse’s description of what he does

The talk also articulated a number of concerns I have with writing this blog; all of my instincts are yelling that it’s a bad idea to put information about yourself on the internet. I’ve appeased such instincts by trying to avoid putting images of myself or naming other people on the blog, but the talk demonstrated how even the most innocuous information (who your family members are, what your birthday is, even posting that you’re watching a sports match live) can be used to pry open and potentially ruin your life.

There’s been a few common themes throughout LIYSF; Australians drawing attention to themselves, waiting in lines, events starting late. However, a more inspirational theme is how incredibly bright some of the attendees are. As I borrowed some duct tape from a fellow Canadian, another attendee, aged 17, showed off the prototype for a product he wanted to sell – a single-drink sized fridge that cools a beverage down to 4C in 2 minutes, made from styrofoam, a pair of fans, a couple of tubes, and a few other miscellaneous components. Others are working on similar projects. The talent and enthusiasm of the participants is both amazing and humbling.

LIYSF Day 7: Space Stuff (P)

Hi Everyone,

Today (yesterday?), I woke up far too early in the morning in order to visit Leicester. Fortunately, everyone else headed there agreed, so I spent the majority of the 2.5 hour bus ride asleep in relative quiet.

A bunch of tired, sleepy people from around the world

Once we reached our destination, we piled out of the bus and visited the University of Leicester. There, we met an individual (Dr. John Bridges) who recently missed an event with possibly the coolest excuse ever – “Sorry, I can’t go to the movie; I have to watch the Mars Rover”. He described the incredible amount of science in the Curiosity rover, including the wide variety of instruments (from an x-ray spectrometer to a drill), motors, and mechanical engineering to make the rover work.

Human history in space

We also heard from Dr. Victoria McCoy, who spoke about her work in protein sequencing life forms preserved in amber. This allows us to track ancestors and descendants of organisms that lives hundreds of millions of years ago. Although Biology is not my forte, it was  interesting to learn about the procedures used in tracking the protein sequences. Additionally, she is a fantastic speaker who is very passionate about her work.

Following the University of Leicester, we visited the National Space Centre. There, we built a rocket engine using a water bottle and ethanol, designed and tested our own air-based rockets, and built a comet. My initial rocket team had some creative differences, so we split into two teams – one emphasizing simplicity and weight reduction and the other going for brute strength. As my partner and I had predicted, the finesse approach led to our rocket staying airborne .5 seconds longer than the other group, achieving our objective for the event.

The finesse-based rocket that my team designed and built


An artificially-produced comet (minus the methane that makes it smell)

After we’d built the comet, we explored the National Space Centre, admiring its many exhibits. Unfortunately, we only had half an hour, so I failed to visit all of the exhibits I wanted to; I’ll need to return there. However, of those I did see, I found the exhibits on growing plants in space and the effects of space travel on the human body particularly interesting – it must be from all of the biology I’ve been exposed to recently!

Different types of simulated gravity for plants.

That night, I watched Wicked in the Apollo Theatre. The story and songs were good, but the production quality was truly incredible. The soloists were powerful and emotional, the choreography precise, and the sets believable. Best of all, a massive dragon head hung above the stage, waving around whenever a spell occurred. Despite the nosebleed seats, I’d strongly recommend seeing Wicked.

Instead of taking the Tube back, I joined a small group that strolled across Westminster Bridge, then wandered all of the way home to Imperial College London. An Australian friend and myself embarrassed the rest of the group by performing silly walks across every crosswalk, in honour of the birthplace of the Ministry of Silly Walks.

LIYSF Day 6: Numberphile and the Great Crossword Treasure Hunt (P)

Hi everyone,

Today was a very interesting day, but this post won’t be very long; I have to be awake at 5:00am tomorrow. I’ve also had to spend a significant amount of time this evening with a difficult UFV political situation; I’m not pleased that it has cropped up.

Today started with joining a small group that heard from specialist lecturer Dr. James Grime, a math communicator of Numberphile fame. He talked about methods of encryption and decoding messages, and linked breaking Enigma and Lorenz to how wifi and cell connections work. He also drilled a hole through a Justin Bieber CD (exciting) and then showed how it could still be played (disappointing) due to the error correction built-in to the CD (which again uses a similar technology). He also found several opportunities to sneak in references to this, although I was selected as the student representative to thank him and attempted a counter. Overall, it was a fantastic lecture. Oh, and he had the following line (slightly paraphrased because my memory is not perfect):

“Pure math is an art, like music. In great music, you express things like happiness, sadness, anger. In an elegant math proof, you express ‘I am very clever’”

-Dr. James Grime, LIYSF, 2017 July 31

After lunch, we heard from Professor Sarah Hainsworth, a forensic engineer. She described how her multidisciplinary team found and identified the skeleton of Richard III, including all of the brutal wounds he suffered. It was an intriguing, if gruesome lecture.

Some of the head wounds that Richard III’s skull suffered.

Following the lecture, we ate dinner, then the Great Crossword Treasure Hunt began. My team finished very quickly, but one team member made a fatal mistake, running away from our reconvening point rather than towards it, adding 15 minutes to our time. However, we feel that we should win the “best selfie” award hands-down.

Team “Free Wifi” Selfie

I also played some more Ultimate Frisbee. This time, I ended the game with only a cut on my elbow, and no face wounds. I consider that a resounding success.

I need to sleep or I may be unconscious tomorrow with my 5am wakeup. Why, oh why did past Perrin select the site visit (National Space Centre, Leicester) at the location furthest from Imperial College London?

LIYSF Day 5: Stonehenge, Salisbury, Singing, and Sniping (P)

Hi Everyone,

Today was full. First, we visited Stonehenge. Singing Aussies dominated the bus ride there, although once their bluetooth speaker died, I enjoyed some of the countryside.

English Countryside

Stonehenge looked more or less as I’d expected – a gathering of stones. One of the stones looked somewhat like a winking face. It was impressive to imagine the stones being assembled with nothing but primitive tools, but the stones themselves weren’t particularly impressive. Personally, I found the surrounding countryside just as beautiful and far less crowded.

A slightly winky stonehenge stone

I found the town of Salisbury (near Stonehenge) far more interesting. A massive 123m cathedral (which houses a copy of the Magna Carta) dominates the town’s skyline, but the town itself is just as beautiful – a lovely mix between old and modern society.

Most people were fairly tired by the end of the day, as the following photos show:

However, everyone’s energy quickly returned for the debate night. We were meant to debate whether or not countries should place monetary value on the damages caused by global warming, but it tended to spin wildly off of topic. Personally, I thought that both sides made some good points. However, I suspect that some poorly-worded statements may have caused hurt feelings by the end of the night; there were a couple of back-and-forths between New Zealand and Australia among others.

To add to the political intrigue, a treasure hunt/crossword game will take place tomorrow night. This prompted aggressive negotiations as to who joined which team, as each team of 10 needs at least 5 countries from 3 continents represented. I joined on team built around the principles of determination, smarts, and athleticism, and Tessa has joined a different one of similar calibre and competitiveness. Her team sniped a talented swede who was going to join my team, so my team swore to show them wrong. It is likely that one of us will be disappointed tomorrow night…