The Simonyi Science in Society Show


As part of my role as the Simonyi Professor for the Public Understanding of Science in Oxford I have established a new series: the Simonyi Science in Society Shows to be delivered each year by the Simonyi Professor. I have been developing a new lecture concept – “a Performance Lecture” – which combines scientific dissemination with an element of theatrical performance. The aim is to premier each show in Oxford and then to perform the show at other venues outside Oxford including science and art festivals in the UK and internationally. Using theatre, music and performance is a powerful way to bring science to an audience that might not usually be exposed to the excitement of scientific stories. With many thanks to the Simonyi Fund for support to make this initiative possible.

2017 Symmetry in Sound

Symmetry has played a critical role both for composers and in the creation of musical instruments. From Bach’s Goldberg Variations to Schoenberg’s Twelve-tone rows, composers have exploited symmetry to create variations on a theme. But symmetry is also embedded in the very way instruments make sound. The lecture culminated in a reconstruction of nineteenth-century scientist Ernst Chladni’s exhibition that famously toured the courts of Europe to reveal extraordinary symmetrical shapes in the vibrations of a metal plate.

The lecture was preceded by a demonstration of the Chladni plates with the audience encouraged to participate. Participants were able to explore how these shapes fit together into interesting tessellations of the plane. The ultimate idea is to create an aural dynamic version of the walls in the Alhambra.

2018 The Wisdom of the Crowd

From guessing the weight of a cow or the number of sweets in a jar, there is evidence that the average of a crowd’s guesses can deliver surprisingly accurate results.

During this show I carried out a number of live interactive quizzes and experiments to test these ideas and look at how these principles can be harnessed for citizen science projects. Using a new piece of software called Glisser that allowed me to collect data live and to display the results we were able to assess how wise the crowd was in different settings.

I also conducted an experiment before the lecture to see if different shaped jars change the crowd’s ability to guess the number of beans each contains.

2017-present, University of Oxford