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.
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.
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.