MDX students, graduates and staff from across the Faculty of Science & Technology and from other programmes helped make MDX’s stands star attractions at this year’s New Scientist Live at the ExCeL Centre.
MDX was among 80 exhibitors at the annual festival of science and discovery, which features interactive exhibits, cutting edge technology showcases, talks and games. This year’s MDX displays included EEG (electroencephalography) ‘mind control’ computer challenges; an EEG-driven theramin, harp, and mirror with LED effects; tabletop robots moved around using visual programming language Scratch; isometric strength and jump height tests; and selfies with robot Baxter.
Sixth former Cam from Canterbury College, taking part in a game to assemble 3D models of molecules against the clock, said: “I like the Middlesex stands because there’s stuff to do here - there’s a massive line of people wanting to do it”. He wants to study biochemistry at university, with ambitions to go into environmental science as a career.
Third year Biology student Weronika Mazek, who hopes to go into immunology and genetics research, says the molecular assembly game was “great for school as they learn the structures easier".
Homeschooled Tania from Morden, who won one of the categories in the game, said: “I loved it - I was trying to beat myself”. She thought the show overall was “good because there are lots of children, and lots of cool stuff like robots”.
Tania's mother Kate said it was “lovely the kids can touch everything and play. It’s lovely for kids to engage in a specific way in the action behind a piece of technology, and learn how you actually make it”.
Third year MDX Maths and Data Science student Mehdi Ajami was supervising two maths challenges. “It’s focused on 3D thinking: we’re trying to give kids different shapes and ask them to make a cube using those shapes… Using tools like this, it’s so much more interesting for kids and a challenge, they’re going to love learning.
"We’ve had people stuck on the same problem for 10-15 minutes. They didn’t want to let it go! It’s been really enjoyable, I’ve been smiling the whole day”.
Mehdi transferred to MDX from UCL where he had been doing Psychology, and says he chose MDX as the specific Combined Honours degree he wanted isn’t available elsewhere, even at universities in Canada. “It’s a unique opportunity to learn a skill that we know isn’t going to go away: data,” he says.
Senior Lecturer in Sports and Exercise Science Michael Edwards was co-ordinating student volunteers for the isometric rig, involving pulling a bar in a metal frame with maximum force to test strength. Male pupils were coming back four or five times to improve their score, he said. “They’re asking who it’s for, who would use it, and we’re explaining how it can show who is strongest relative to their body weight”.
There were long queues for MDX’s VR-enhanced rollercoaster simulator, a mainstay of New Scientist Live before and after the pandemic.
MDX Professor of Creative Industries, Thrill Laboratory performance artist and broadcaster Brendan Walker gave a talk comparing the sensation of a real rollercoaster ride and a simulation, and a team led by MDX Computer Science Professor George Dafoulas gathered psychometric and physiological data from simulator participants, to monitor how different personality types respond to the ride. A MDX Film student video unit helped capture engagement with all the MDX displays.
First year Product Design student Cherise Joseph-Holloway, who was on the team facilitating the rollercoaster ride, said there had been a wide range of reactions from visitors. “We’ve had some people scream! Some were really thankful when they came off,” she says.
The display and the wider show has “really inspired” her about the possibilities of product design, she says - “being able to create all of this from scratch. I’d like to have done this when I was at school”.
Theme Director and Professor of Journalism Kurt Barling, who visited the show on Saturday said: "New Scientist Live was a reminder of the contribution science plays in responding to the challenges we face in our complex world.
“It shows how transdisciplinary approaches to finding solutions to everything, from climate change to crop growing, and medical care to funfair rides, is the prerequisite for success.
“MDX has chosen to focus on three integrating themes — sustainability - equity - culture and enterprise — to help marshal our response to many of those challenges.
"Our commitment to public engagement is part of our willingness to share and learn from others. A chance for our students to understand why their knowledge matters and how it can be put into action”.