We attended the Third Annual “Science of a Cocktail Party” supporting the Illinois Science Council in Chicago, Illinois on November 9, 2013, and had a great time spending an evening in the city sipping cocktails, performing scientific experiments and supporting the ISC’s efforts for science outreach.
Having started in 2006 by Monica Metzler, the Illinois Science Council (ISC) is a young non-profit organization that is filling a unique niche in our culture that is vital to the growth and success of our society: science education and outreach to the adult public. This mission was designed from the realizations that the kids seem to receive lots of science education and entertainment opportunities and the kids and adults alike have access to so many wonderful programs for the arts, like through the Illinois Arts Council (of course, we do agree that there needs to be more!). But, for busy adults, keeping tabs on the latest developments in science and technology and enriching oneself with new scientific appreciations is something entirely left to the individual.
With this goal mind, the ISC is similarly focused to the long-term efforts of Dynamic Patterns Research of bringing a greater appreciation to science to a broader public, which is why we were so pleased to have the opportunity to participate and support this particular fundraising event. Both ISC and DPR strongly believe that with an increased appreciation of science and technology, we will have a culture of better decision makers, smarter consumers, more knowledgeable voters, and more well-informed citizens who have an enhanced appreciation of ourselves and our Universe. (Read more about the complete mission of ISC.)
We started off the evening watching the creation of a fascinating cocktail — carefully measured in a beaker, of course — that featured shots delivered via syringe and a beaker lined with pop rocks. It was finished off with a the crack of a glow stick that certainly enhanced the taste and effect (psychologically speaking) of this “totally scientific” and tasty mixed drink.
The event was hosted at the incredibly inspiring showcase office center for the engineering company DIRTT (“Doing It Right This Time”), an international company that provides custom prefabricated interiors. Their engineering philosophy focuses on a 21st Century approach that moves beyond conventional construction to use computing power to go from design, to real-time 3D, to specifications, to the production floor. Environmental sustainability is tied to their bottom line. The aesthetics of this showcase space was outstanding and it was a perfect atmosphere to get excited about science.
Throughout the office space, interactive experiments were setup hosted by volunteer graduate students from Northwestern University. We first hooked our biceps up to custom designed electrodes connected to a cute robot rover, and with each flex of a muscle could control the right or left-handed acceleration of the car. The stronger the contraction the faster it moved. Maneuvering around obstacles meant carefully controlling the timing and strength of each muscle contraction. This seemingly simple electric device showed the power that is already being developed for providing extended limb control to amputees.
Next up was a demonstration of an updated version of the Sesame Street classic “which of these two aren’t like the other” where two seemingly identical images projected on big screens were flashed back-and-forth and you had to visually identify what subtle element was different between each image. This was an interesting test of “spacial blindness” where our brains like to average visual information across our field of view, which can make it challenging to identify little changes that might be obviously sitting right in front of our eyes.
Our neurological faculties were continued to be tested as we sat down to train — within only a few seconds — a specialized infrared sensor with computer software (think Kinect) to track our subtle eye movements with great precision. Using this “wireless control” system, we opened up the favorite game app Fruit Ninja and sliced away at various flying fruit by moving the cursor / machete with only our wiggling gaze.
Our two kids are pretty good at this slicing and dicing game using their fingers on a touch screen, and would certainly have been excited and jealous to see their parents concur the game with only their eyes. Needless to say, Michelle beat out Matthew’s score by a few points to rein champion in this fun visual remote control game.
Equilibrium and balance are essential feelings that we certainly take for granted. So, to better appreciate how our inner ear keeps us on our toes, we allowed Northwestern graduate students to connect two electrodes behind our ears (waivers had to be signed with both our printed name and our signature, so we knew it was serious) that were connected to a little black box with a switch. Electrical signals were passed through on one side or the other — a little tickle could be felt — and with eyes closed the body soon started falling without any awareness from the brain until a saving hand was felt on the shoulder to stop the tumble before it was too late.
We next tested our visual system’s interpretation of color as we crowded into a small closet — one which DIRRT likely did not design with the original intent for use by multiple bodies — that was illuminated by only a single wavelength of light somewhere in the green-yellow spectrum. We each inspected a handful of jellybeans only to realize that their individual colors were indiscernible as only a limited number of wavelengths were reflected (or re-radiated) from their surface atoms since they were only being excited by a single incident wavelength.
Our skin tones also made it look like the zombie apocalypse was going to originate from this very closet as a grayish matrix pattern appeared making us look rather un-dead.
The final technical demonstration we enjoyed was the MakerBot 3D printing system, which was creating before our very eyes a detailed three-dimensional model of a mansion with spires, windows, and brick walls. The detail and resolution being swiftly layered on the platform was quite exciting and the efficiency of creating an effective “solid” structure by forming a honeycomb pattern on the inside of the building was ingenious. Since Matthew performs 3D model printing routinely in his professional career of fine jewelry design and manufacturing, which requires much higher resolution than displayed by this MakerBot, it was also interesting to see that the printed material would cool and solidify fast enough to essentially be printed in “mid-air” allowing for overhanging structures to be printed without a supporting material.
A great deal of kudos must be showered down upon Monica Metzler and the ISC organization for not only hosting a wonderfully geeky, interesting, and fun evening in Chicago, but for the great mission and efforts that they have taken on to support science outreach to a broader adult population. Along with the many sponsors of the evening, including American Science & Surplus and the Hogan Marren, Ltd. law firm in Chicago, Dynamic Patterns Research is proud to be an attending supporter of the event, and we do anticipate continued support and interaction with the organization moving forward.
It is groups like the ISC that should become prevalent in every state to help launch new initiatives in science appreciation that will drive — with its effective grass-roots approach — more of our citizens into a higher-level understanding of how our Universe works, with advantages that will trickle down into our every days lives of choices and behaviors.
And what better way to complete the evening filled with science, friends, and fun … and complimentary wine from Terlato Wines International and wonderfully tasty beer from Metropolitan Brewing of Chicago … but to pick up a chisel and hammer and break off our own chunks of fine chocolate courtesy of the Blommer Chocolate Company.
If you are interested in learning more about the Illinois Science Council and how you can participate and support their efforts, please consider getting involved with the ISC. If you would like to connect more with Dynamic Patterns Research and find out what sort of goals and activities we are working on in Central Illinois, please contact us today with your interests and ideas, and socially connect with us on Facebook.