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Camp Energy – Survival of the physicists


How much carbon dioxide is produced from the energy you use in a week and how does this contribute to the problems of global warming and climate change? How can physics help? How many students can you fit into a tent?

This month at the Cheltenham Science Festival, Camp Energy – Survival of the Physicists will answer these questions. Four physics students have been challenged by the Institute of Physics to camp out at the festival from 7 to 11 June and live as carbon neutrally as they can. They will use their knowledge of physics to generate energy that produces as little carbon dioxide as possible.

Anthea Cain, one of the students taking part in the camp said “We’re hoping that, unlike Big Brother, our camp won’t have any walk outs or evictions! However, like the fourteen contestants in the house, we will be living in a closed environment and facing daily challenges set for us by our own Big Brother, the Institute of Physics.”

The challenges are designed to show how physics can help to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide released in basic everyday activities. The tasks will cover the key areas of food, travel, entertainment and wellbeing, as follows:

- Day 1: building and using a solar cooker
- Day 2: making bio-diesel from chip fat
- Day 3: making a crystal radio and being entertained by a bicycle-powered sound system
- Day 4: building a hot tub using an old bath, radiator and coppiced charcoal

Festival visitors also have the chance to make a difference themselves at Camp Energy by signing pledge cards to promise changes in behaviour to reduce emissions. For example people can promise to not leave electric appliances on stand-by or switch to a renewable energy source for their electricity supply.

If the students can survive life at Camp Energy – and each other! – they will get to spend the final afternoon with the BBC’s Quentin Cooper (presenter of Radio 4’s science programme, Material World) at a panel discussion of the week’s activities answering audience questions about how to reduce carbon dioxide emissions without going to the same lengths.

Caitlin Watson, project manager at the Institute of Physics, said: “Where we get our energy from is currently a very hot topic but how many of us know how to make a difference? With Camp Energy, we are going to an extreme in order to highlight that physics is part of the solution in both reducing demand and developing alternative supplies.”

Dr Wendy Buckley, a physicist at Carbon Footprint, the company who helped develop the pledge cards said “The average amount of carbon dioxide produced by four people over the course of a week is 770kg, enough to fill 1.8 million balloons. The students are aiming to reduce that as much as possible and show that physics can affect all our lives in a very real and important way.”

Helen MacBain | alfa
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