The WLA student press officers go behind the scenes at today’s Infinity Festival to bring you all the latest news…

Look up at the stars, not down at your feet.

Students from across Cumbria listened to Professor Danielle George from Manchester University talk about her experiences in science and engineering, specifically radio frequency engineering. She started her talk with, “The fundamental question for scientists are why and how; it is the basis of all questions and investigations.”

Her job is to engineer and create tools for scientific purpose, linking the engineering/technology with science. This actually entails creating technology that will be launched into space or used, such as helping create ideas of satellites or even robots!

Additionally, she discussed the prospect of travelling to Proxima B, which is a planet that has never yet been explored by humans. The planet, which is thousands of miles away, is unreachable by the current ships that NASA can build, so they have engineered satellites that can process data of the planet.

Back to the beginning of the talk, she told the students the shocking fact that we have generated more data in the past 14 years than we had from the Big Bang to 2003. Furthermore, she mentioned that we could recreate sounds from when the earth was first created, the literal sound of the Big Bang. They did this purely from the data of space 13.8 billion years ago.

She told us about the robot, Valkyrie, that can learn as it goes along, meaning that the robot can be sent to Mars by NASA to learn more about the planet. They can collect this data from Mars to add to the data collected from space.

Then, to the surprise of the audience, Danielle George brought out a miniature version of Valkyrie. The robot was called ‘Now’ and could learn from what was spoken to it and from what it could see. She could ask it for its name and it would answer, but when she asked a student to come down to ask the robot to sit down, it ignored her and would not listen to instructions.

After one of the technicians told the robot to lay down on its belly, it listened to the instructions and learned how to lie down. One of the slides on the PowerPoint asked the question, “Can a robot replace Ed Sheeran?”. Many would argue no, some would argue maybe, but of course scientists would argue yes! Danielle then made the robots she had set up previously conduct the tune of Shape of You, and eventually- after many minutes of no reply- Now started to dance. Many of the audience members were thrilled to see a small cute robot dance to a very popular tune of 2017.

She ended her informative speech with the words, “Remember to look up at the stars, not down at your feet”.



In one of the workshops running at today’s Infinity Festival, at West Lakes Academy, was Robotics and how they are being used and designed for the future. Ran by two local engineers, they brought in four types of robots to show the students participating in the workshop. The smallest were small, flat robots. When switched on, they started to move around the table, avoiding bumping into anything by changing direction before crashing into something. One of the designers explained to us that the machine uses infrared sensors, invisible to the human eye to detect when it was going to hit something, which made the programming change the direction of the bot. They scuttled along the tables exemplifying how they avoid obstacles as the students placed pieces of paper and objects in their path.

The second robot introduced was designed by the designers presenting to the intrigued audience. It resembled the Mars Rover; with its impressive size, the large machine took over most of the table it was on.  This robot can go in any direction due to the unique tires that it has been fitted with. The designer demonstrated how the head can fold down, and the entire body can rotate into a long cylinder. The engineers explained to the students who were in awe, that this robot had been specifically designed for Sellafield to use. The decommissioned buildings pose a risk to humans, therefore the machine is sent. On its head it uses lasers to construct a 3D map of the interior, which is sent on a live feed to the operators.

This next strange bot is a future map maker, similar to the first. It is driven around the room by simple controls given by the students which used the same laser technology to create a 3D map which can then be used to do in many areas: decommissioned buildings, military work, police work. The possibility are endless.

The last and easily the most interesting robot of the four was a robot called NAO, who had a charming quality to it. The computer controlled machine was immediately the star of the show, with his face tracking technology and voice recognition software. He just couldn’t help showing the students his guitar playing and dancing.


Mathematical Crime

We have all seen those police shows where the problem is that there aren’t any suspects, however in real life the problem is that there are too many suspects.

Dr Steven Le Comber studied the Yorkshire Ripper where the amount of suspects was 268,000, imagine that? That meant he needed to create a graph to show where the murders took place and where about known criminals lived. He also brought a mathematical term into it called conditional probability. Conditional probability is a measure of the probability of an event given that another event has occurred. For example, the probability that any given person has a cough on any given day may be only 5%.

This theory is that a crime is more likely to be committed closer to home as the criminal will know its surroundings and can get a quick escape. They are less likely to commit a crime where they don’t know where they can escape or popular areas; the travel up there could be difficult.

Back to the Yorkshire Ripper case, the crimes all came up to two areas. One being the criminal’s home and another his mother’s home.

After that case, Dr Steven Le Comber used the same data technique to attempt to find out where Banksy lived. News broke about Banksy’s real identity the week before, and so he wanted to test his data out. After it worked, Dr Steven published a document on social media how this worked to help prevent terrorism, however people misinterpreted it to think that Banksy was a terrorist on social media.

Once he tested it on Banksy Dr Le Comber was now ready to test it on a greater scale to help save people’s lives. The data can be uses to see where malaria outbreaks are happening, and how to stop them. He opened up a huge spreadsheet of affected areas. Dr Steve le Comber knew that mosquitoes live in water, therefore they needed to find places in that area that had water however it was harder as it could be any water, even in a tire. Another key fact was that there was two species of mosquitos and only one carried the virus but the one that did lived in water.

You’re probably thinking, “What has this got to do with committing crimes near home?” Mosquitos will only breed and most of the time stay near water as that is where they feel more comfortable.

After he knew all these key facts, he could now combine them with his data. Where water was on the map, where people have caught malaria and the type of species of mosquito that carry the virus. This led to 7 places where mosquitoes were breeding, minimizing the area from the whole of Cairo to 300 square feet resulting in a more efficient search time.

Overall was a fun and interesting presentation in one where I think everyone there learned something.


Science Museum London

The students taking part in the Infinity Festival were moved from the auditorium to the numerous workshops that were being held in the WLA science and technology departments. There, they were taken into different classrooms full of the wide world of science. The science open area was hosting the Science Museum London team, who entertained their audience with tricks and flying frogs. For one of the first experiments, the team explained Isaac Newton’s laws of physics by manually pressurising a  plastic bottle which was weighted down by a friendly beanbag frog. As the pressure in the bottle rose by the foot pump it felt like the pressure in the room was rising too. Students on the front row cautiously leaned back in their seats, shifting their bags further out of the way. Suddenly, both the bottle and frog shot high into the air as all the shocked heads of both teachers and children craned upwards to track the trajectory. The misguided flight sent the two poor projectiles crashing to the floor of the first floor, metres above the heads of the participants.

Among the more scientific themes that were explored in the demonstrations was magic vs. science. The opening trick performed was the cliché parlour trick of magically whipping a table cloth out from under objects without them falling. However, this was quickly explained by the Science Museum team that it was simply the fabric of the cloth generating friction and being able to use that to keep the objects standing.

Over the course of the demonstrations done by the Science Museum team, more bangs, crashes, and gasps ensued from the shocked audience. A crowd was soon attracted to watch the extreme experiments that were being performed: the special guests, ambassadors and teachers were all memorised by the flying pringles cans and liquid nitrogen kettles. Soon, the space around the workshop had been covered from intrigued spectators, all wanting to catch a glimpse of an amazing act of science.

Lifesaving Mathematical Biology

Dr Steven Le Comber talked to students about the joys and uses of mathematical biology- starting at the very beginning about the links of maths and crime.

Le Comber started off the talk with a crime scene speculation- Operation Lynx, one of Britain’s largest crime threads- a link of abductions, rapes and violent sex attacks. With over 268,000 suspects, we wouldn’t ever know where to start, would we? There is no way the police force could ever collect the fingerprints and DNA of 5.4 million people to solve the gruesome crimes- yet it is possible to narrow it down to a small amount of people.

Already, the top suspects will (probably) have had a criminal record and a vague description existed of the criminal, yet that still wouldn’t have narrowed the suspect list down to the specifics. However, we have mathematical probability on our side.

He worked out the probability of him committing a crime in London (where he lives) and it turns out that a person is more likely to commit a crime nearer to where they live.

“Cumbria is a nice place, don’t get me wrong, but I wouldn’t go there to murder someone.” He said jokingly, showing the students the statistics of where he would most likely murder someone.

However, he later told the audience that this conditional probability was still not accurate enough to find the criminal, or pinpoint the place where the criminal resides, so they turn to a method called the Gibbs sampler.

The Gibbs sampler is used to approximate (in this particular case) where the criminal lives. They do this by finding two sources, such as where the crime occurred, to track the crime, but this usually doesn’t make much sense. This means they then switch these sources until they can close it down on the area left behind, the criminal’s house in this case. In this particular case, they managed to track down and arrest the criminal.

Le Comber then told the audience that they can apply these mathematics to biology in medical situations. In 2005, a research team used the Gibbs sampler to track mosquito larvae and malaria outbreaks and where they are in relation to each other. In Cairo, they looked at all standing water in a 300 square feet to track the clusters of mosquitoes. They could then determine where the break outs were coming from and could prevent them in the future through this method.

Mathematical biology can literally save lives, yet we believe it is boring?


Workshops Galore

To accompany the many talks at West Lakes Academy, some interesting and unique workshops were set up to educate the visitors. Here are some of them:

I first visited the biomass workshop which was all about fuels.  A contraption was set up where they could use algae to make oil. This involved heating and pressurising a special substance at a whopping 350 degrees.

They also had another contraption which actually produces algae, using liquids that bubbled violently in the tube.

One of the staff members said to me, ‘it is a renewable source of oil but sadly it could only give enough oil to supply local communities. If we heat it at 250 degrees, we can make powdered coal.’ All in all, the biomass workshop was a wonderful experience.

Then I visited the UCLAN workshop, which was all about diagnosis.

A symptom would be put  in front of you and you must ask the experts about it.  As you ask more questions, more is revealed about the symptom.  The aim is to make a diagnosis for the patient.

In my opinion a fun way to learn something new.