The IOP reaches out to new audiences at MCM Comic Con London

This year, we took science to the MCM Comic Con Expo in London for the first time. The Expo took place from 27th – 29th October 2017 at the ExCel centre in London, where we had a stall for all three days and ran a panel on Artificial Intelligence made up of science fiction writers and a scientist.

Over the three days we interacted  with around 1750 Comic Con attendees and digitally on Twitter and Instagram with an additional 1,730. Visitors to our stall told us how pleased they were to see ‘real science’ being brought into spaces like Comic Con. We had a range of hands on physics demonstrations and activities which attendees participated in, and visitors were particularly intrigued by our demonstration of Lenz’s law (the effect which causes magnets moving though electrical conductors to be slowed by an opposing magnetic field). We showed visitors what would happen if you go to space without a spacesuit using marshmallows (basically, it’s a bad idea!), and we had on display a plasma ball to describe how lighting works.

We were inspired by the comic book idea of ‘heat vision’ to show participants what heat produced by our bodies looks like. Using an Infra-red camera attached to a mobile phone, we photographed attendees and tweeted out our photos, and even got an infra-red selfie back as a reply to one of our tweets! Visitors learnt that glass is opaque to infra-red light, so anyone wearing glasses looked like they were out on a sunny day in their shades.

On the Saturday we organised a panel discussion about Artificial Intelligence. Our panel consisted of science writers Ken McLeod, Una McCormack and Jamie Sawyer, and computer scientist Marc Deisenroth who works on machine learning at Imperial College London. Topics discussed included how reliant we are on our smart phones, how well science fiction predicts developments in technology, and the moral questions raised by the prospect of making AI sentient. On AI, Marc said “It’s more than automation; its adaptability and the capability to learn new things”. The discussion turned to new technologies, such as driverless cars which raise many moral questions, on this topic Jamie added: “It’s become a division of can versus should; we can do these things but should we be doing them?” The whole discussion was very well received and inspired a lively question and answer session.

Overall, the event was extremely enjoyable and, based on the reaction we received, very worthwhile. We reached out to a wide range of people including families and people from a wide range of backgrounds and genders. One comment we received on twitter was:  “So pleased to see this. Good job @PhysicsNews.” For the future, we look forward to exploring more events through which we can share our passion for science.

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