Tuesday, 17 January 2017

Christmas Lectures: Lecture 3

Ok, so the third and final lecture was filmed on the Thursday 15 December 2016. The final lecture was all about batteries and energy storage. On the day before, half of Saiful's lab came down to the Ri to build the world record breaking lemon battery. They spent the day slicing and positioning over 1000 lemons on the carefully pre-prepared shelves. I have to say the corridor leading to the theatre smelled lovely for two days. Which was definitely an improvement on the smell of cow which had perfused itself through the corridor and the lift for the previous day after lecture 2.
Also on the Wednesday was the Program team's Christmas dinner which I got to tag along with. It was lovely. Though we did get the somewhat worrying news part way through that the box of copper nails and the box of magnesium strips that were very much needed for the construction of the lemon battery over the next 36 hours had completely vanished. This lead to Karl having to dash off as soon as he had finished eating to join the search party. When I got back, they still hadn't found them (they never did get found).

So many lemon halves, making the room smell lovely
On the Thursday itself I got permission from Hayley to go down and watch the rehearsals, as I hadn't really seen them up until that point. It was pretty interesting to see, and a surprisingly slow process. I was in the theatre for at least half an hour and not much happened. The script was being tweaked, alongside of camera positions and props. The first demo of the lecture was Saiful doing a spot of welding (as you do), so we all had to wonder round wearing some fetching eye protector goggles.

Beautiful goggles and the camera work
I also got to briefly experience Catie's job as the auto cue worker as she had to go out of the room and handed the laptop over to me. I was pretty awful at it, but to be fair on me this was the first time I had seen the script, let alone any of the rehearsals so I had no idea what Saiful was going to do next, let alone what I was doing. I think everyone was glad when Catie came back in and took the laptop back. Sadly I got called away before they started the actual welding so I missed that bit. Once I got back, team lemon battery needed extra pairs of hands so I jumped in. This basically consisted of cutting up a lot of magnesium strips into ~1cm long bits and putting them in a pile, whilst the other half of the team inserted the copper nails into the lemons and connected up the wires to the nails. This actually takes a surprisingly long time, especially with limited supplies. Thankfully emergency deliveries occurred, meaning we had enough stuff to make the battery,

More lemons
In the afternoon I had the fun task of running around London to get the present ready for Saiful. It's a tradition at the Ri to present the Lecturer with some presents from the Ri as a congratulations for completing the Lectures. Our team was giving him one of the professional photographs framed, and it was my job to get the photo printed, get the frame and get the photo. I am not very good at judging what people would class as 'nice' frames, but managed to find one that Hayley was happy with in John Lewis. Then met the lovely people at the colour company down the road and had the photo printed out in high quality and fitted to the frame. Then I finally had lunch (at about 3pm) and headed back to the lemon battery. At this stage the magnesium strips were being inserted, so we each took a stack of shelves and began the messy job of jamming strips of thin metal into a lemon and clipping the correct wire to the correct strip in the correct order without getting lemon juice everywhere. It was pretty stressful, but also a lot of fun.
The audience was coming into the building and we were still constructing and getting coated in a sticky layer of lemony magnesium dust. We had one team of people wiring up the lemons, and a second team walking around with voltmeters checking that everything was functioning correctly.
We then hit a rather horrible snag. We finished the first shelf stack with a cheer, and got one of our lovely volt meter people to check it. And the reading made all of us stop in our tracks. We had calculated that each shelf should give us about 20-25 volts, and with 14 shelves per stack we should at minimum have been having around 200 volts per stack. Instead we were barely getting 80V. The world record attempt stated that we had to break 1000 volts to get the world record. Our calculations said it should easily have worked. So, we all started panicking a little bit (funnily enough).

Thankfully our horrors were abated when someone appeared with the correct voltmeter that we would be using for the actual attempt. The smaller, simpler voltmeters that we had been using drew quite a lot of current (relatively) to take the reading, so we got a lower reading than we should have done. However, when we used the proper reading:

Yup, that reads 1215.5 volts! We did it!
And this wasn't even with all 6 racks! We achieved the record with just 4 of them. Which in some ways is kind of awesome and in other ways really annoying because we went to a hell of a lot of effort to construct all 6 of the racks and only ended up using 4 of them. But what the hey, we still got a world record!

We finished up and got the record sorted with less than 10 minutes to spare. Then the lecture started. We had fewer people in the screening rooms that evening than the previous ones and as such the Ri staff got a whole screening room to ourselves! Of course, there was much heckling and laughter and we all generally enjoyed ourselves. Again, the lecture went well and the audience got out on time

This is very new tech  - an air battery!
We got our last interviews with the kids who volunteered that evening, and all of them again were lovely. There was then lots of cleaning up and sorting out to do before the wrap party could begin. Everyone seemed to be so relieved and a little sad that it was all over, but mostly everyone was just excited and happy that they had managed to pull it all off once again.

The Ri team after the final lecture
The wrap party was fun. The team who did most of the work got lots of thanks, presents and applause and they all seemed a bit giddy with relief. There was then the application of lights, music and a lot of alcohol. I met the official photographer for the lectures and he was a lovely guy. We stood chatting for over an hour over a glass of wine before we both had to leave to get trains and such home. I'm not particularly a person who stays out late drinking and such. Just not my thing.

The next day was a little strange. The entire theatre was already back to normal, with all the set dressing and extra lights already gone. The main entrance was full of stuff, and the whole building was pretty quiet (half of the staff were having the day off and/or were very hungover from the party)

All the stuff, including the big poster board I helped sort out
We also had the joyful job of deconstructing the lemon battery. Despite the large number of G&T jokes of the previous days, trust me when I say that no one would have wanted to eat those lemons. They were slightly mouldy and covered in magnesium dust. It was sort of fun, we had music on and such.

Clean up and dismantling of the lectures and lemon battery

And so that's it. The last week was pretty quiet. My birthday was a thing that happened. The day itself wasn't great but the evening was amazing when I got to go see my dad and have dinner with him. Made the whole day worth it. Then I headed back North to the parents house for the holidays.

We sat and watched the lectures on TV over the holidays. I tweeted throughout each of the episodes (@RetroBagel if you're interested). They looked great on the TV, and thank you to all of my family and friends who watched. It was a pretty nice surprise also when I actually appeared at the end of the last episode!
The person on the right at the front is me!
So there we go, that was my 3 seconds of fame. And the 2016 Christmas Lectures were over. I'm back in London for 3 weeks after Christmas to finish off the placement, and then its back to Nottingham at the end of January to go back to my science.

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