Fun and farts galore at NI Science Festival
Jenny Lee catches up with TV presenter and science whizz Stefan Gates ahead of his live show at this month's NI Science Festival
ARE you guilty of telling your kids to "sshh" when they giggle at or say the word fart? Well, the message from science author and TV presenter Stefan Gates is "stop".
"Parents are terrified by the word 'fart', but it's completely natural. Kids are often taught it's something rude, but it's actually just science - the biology of digesting food, the chemistry of turning it into a gas and the physics of producing a sound."
Stefan knows a lot about the subject - he's even written a book about it.
Fartology: The Extraordinary Science Behind the Humble Fart takes a comprehensive look at the journey from food to fart; the weird science behind intestinal gas; the sounds, smells and all things in between.
And this month he brings his Fartology Live show to Northern Ireland, promising mind-blowing, trouser-exploding fun for all the family.
"We are going to have a blast in Belfast. I've got a huge whoopee cushion, a vortex canon, glowing drinks, edible chemical reactions, explosions and lots of fun," says the dad of two.
The Londoner, otherwise known as The Gastronaut. is basically the science teacher we all wish we had had.
He first discovered the delights of food experimentation during his student days when his lack of disposable income forced him to get inventive.
He worked in the BBC's comedy department before teaming up with a chemistry professor to discover more about the science of food and making the leap in front of the screen with his CBBC children's series Gastronuts and Incredible Edibles.
"I put weird things in my mouth and find out what happens" laughs Stefan.
He has since made over 20 television programmes, each demonstrating his unique ability to take complex scientific concepts and make them exciting, fun and easy to understand.
These include Food Factory, Can Eating Insects Save The World? And Cooking in the Danger Zone, which saw him sampling local delicacies such as radioactive brandy in Chernobyl and rotting walrus in the Arctic.
"You can't muck about with food before it becomes a bit silly or wasteful, but the moment you start talking about the chemistry behind food or how it works inside you then you can blow stuff up and have fun.
"With both my television and live shows we are looking for very visual and dramatic ways to explain complex scientific processes.
"It's vital to inspire children at a young age and doing extraordinary things definitely helps them remember."
Stefan describes the subject of flatulence as "an amazing tool" for doing just that.
"The fart sound is all about the physics of acoustics. I got these enormous whoopee cushions especially built out of industrial latex to show the turbulence and fluid dynamics behind a fart.
"Likewise, you can describe acid-based reactions to children and they will glaze over. But the moment you give them sherbet to eat and then take apart the ingredients and see the citric acid and bicarbonate explode, then they go, 'Oh that's an acid-base reaction'."
Whilst speaking to the man with all the answers to farting, I couldn't resist throwing in one of my one.
So, do men fart more than women? "On balance men produce more volume of farts," admits Stefan, but unfortunately for the female of the species it's not all good news. "But women's farts smell worse," he adds.
And the reason? "Women have different cultures in their gut and produce more methane. So women's farts are more flammable as well," he chuckles.
What we eat also plays a major role in the type and amount of flatulence we produce, as Stefan explains.
"Smell tends to come from the breaking down of proteins, which is why cat poop is so rank.
"Volume comes from vegetables and the breaking down of fibre. That is why dog's fart so much.
"For humans, the biggest thing that causes it is Jerusalem artichoke. They have this indigestible sugar called inulin, which is one of those fibres where you can taste it but you can't break it down with enzymes. They produce an absolutely bonkers amount of gas."
:: Fartology - Gastronaut Live! takes place at Belfast's MAC on Saturday February 26 and Strabane's Alley Theatre on Sunday February 27. For tickets and full information about all events in this year's NI Science Festival, which runs from February 17-27 visit Nisciencefestival.com.
PULL BOX OR SIDE BAR
SF - The night-time installation BODY is one of the highlights of the NI Science Festival. Jenny Lee finds out more from Nathan Jackson, its creative producer and head of production
Tell us about we can expect with BODY at the NI Science Festival?
BODY is an outdoor immersive experience which combines sculptural light art with special effects and fire. It is a series of installations inspired by anatomical science which use innovative bespoke technology.
Are there different areas representing different parts of the body?
There are seven zones within the installation which relate to different parts of the body; for example one is the cardio-vascular system.
Are there any interactive experiences?
Yes, there are things within the installation which involve audience interaction and there are our BODY technicians who are always on hand to answer questions.
Is there a musical soundscape as you journey through the BODY?
There's a different soundscape in each of the areas of the installation. The sound design is by Bafta award-winning composer Sandy Nuttgens with Helen Hampton. Apart from the noises made by the sculptures themselves, all the other sounds you'll hear in the installation are made by human bodies (with one exception for the eagle-eared to spot).
What do you hope visitors take away from the experience?
I hope that BODY inspires curiosity and starts conversations.
Who designed it and is this the first time it has been seen in Ireland?
BODY was created by a team led by artistic director Richard Babington and myself. This is the first time that BODY has been seen in Ireland and only the second time it has been seen anywhere in the world.
How long will the experience take to walk through?
The experience is akin to an art gallery and some people will go through quite quickly and others will take longer and absorb things slowly but the average time is probably around 45 minutes.
:: BODY takes place at Belfast's Botanic Gardens from February 17-20 from 5pm-9pm. Tickets from Nisciencefestival.com.