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Adventures in Science & Engineering

a series of 5 films on cutting-edge scientific and engineering experiments performed by people working at University of Bath, with collaboration by consultants from the Royal United Hospital, Bath. The project funded by EPSRC (Engineering & Physical Sciences Research Council). as part of its Public Awareness of Science Programme.

THE GREEN GENE, Adventures in Diabetes Control

CELLS & SCAFFOLDS, Adventures in Tissue Engineering

THE CHAOS TREASURE HUNT, Adventures in Folded Rocks

THE PADDLEWORM ROBOT, Adventures in Biomimetics

BUTTERFLY LIGHT, Adventures in Photonics and Telecommunications

THE GREEN GENE presents Jonathan Slack’s reprogramming of liver cells into pancreas cells; he has done this both with frog embryos and with human hepatoma cells. This suggests that it might be possible to transform part of a diabetic’s liver into pancreas, and so produce insulin. Drs John Reckless and Eluned Higgs, Diabetes Consultants, draw attention to the dangers of diabetes, and the frightening increase in the number of diabetics..

CELLS & SCAFFOLDS shows an operation on a damaged knee by the orthopaedic surgeon Neil Bradbury, in which he inserts new cartilage cells into the knee, these cells having been previously extracted from the patient and grown in the lab. Two chemical engineers, Julian Chaudhuri, and Marianne Ellis — who smashed her ankle playing rugby — demonstrate how these cells are grown; their intention is eventually to grow complete replacement cartilages.

THE CHAOS TREASURE HUNT is the one film without medical consequences. Chris Budd, mathematician, collaborates with Giles Hunt, mechanical engineer, on a project to describe mathematically the process by which rocks become folded under the stresses of geological time. Their work has already had large financial consequences, since their equations are being used by Australian mining companies looking for the precious minerals likely to be found in rock folds. Giles collaborates with Ahmer Wadee in a paper-crushing experiment which mimics the effects of geological time on rocks, while Jenny Wright shows the connection between delamination in rock folds and delamination in the composite materials of aircraft wings.

THE PADDLEWORM ROBOT shows a colonoscopy performed by the colorectal surgeon Mike Williamson who demonstrates the limitations of the colonoscopies currently in use. Julian Vincent, the biomimeticist, had the idea of trying to make a robot which would move through the gut as a paddleworm moves through mud. This project is work in progress, not a completed, peer-reviewed, experiment; the aim of this film is to show the need for lateral thinking in science and engineering.

BUTTERFLY LIGHT presents Philip Russell’s success in producing a new kind of optical fibre, where the information-carrying light is sent, not down glass fibre, but down a hollow core surrounded by hundreds of tiny mini-fibres, so minute that the new bundle of fibres is still only the same dimensions as conventional optical fibre. This has had many consequences already: one has contributed to a Nobel Prize; another may open a huge range of possibilities in medicine. Philip himself has been showered with prizes. Jonathan Knight takes us through the extremely difficult and complicated engineering required to produce these almost infinitesimally small thread-like tubes of glass. Fetah Benabid shows how lasers can pick up micro particles, while William Wadsworth demonstrates the special laser which can explode infra-red light into a million different colours.

Teenagers take part in all the films, whether digging up paddleworms from the mud of the Severn estuary, investigating the Bude cliffs for precious minerals, demonstrating their own sports injuries, or showing how they cope with diabetes. They chat not only about things like lasers, the internet, or constipation, but also about DNA splicing, chaos theory, and how to make a tube of glass as thin as a human hair.

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Funded by EPSRC © University of Bath 2007