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Meet the Rough Scientists

Production Diary: Kathy Sykes



Day 9 — Microscope

Building a microscope that can help us see mosquitoes clearly. Quite hard working alone. Sarah started off by saying 'I think this challenge is really boring. I don't want to film this." David didn't seem too keen to film either. Ah well.

And it all means trying to melt glass again! This time it's no good stuffing it into the furnace. The soot would mess up the glass and make it dirty and a poor lens — the glass needs to be really clean and clear. Decided it wouldn't be possible to make a decent large lens ... instead decided to make a tiny glass spherical lens. Tested out some spheres of water to check the kind of magnification I might get. Felt quite reassured: got magnification of maybe 3x and glass should be better than water (higher refractive index i.e. bends light more).

Lunchtime swims aplentyGorgeous lunchtime swim — blue skies, palms and a windy site. We're in heaven here!

Due to lack of film crews and anyone to work with, people started calling me "no friends Sykes". But actually quite enjoyed the peace and quiet (through my tear-stained eyes!)

Now that we have Mike B's alcohol, I made myself a spirit burner. Happily made little spheres of glass — about 1-2mm in diameter. Made several so I'd have a chance to play around and break some.

Also helped Mike L with some maths. Pleased he trusts me and my maths enough to ask me.


Day 10 — Microscope

Lovely day. Probably my favourite so far.

Pottered about making my microscope. Didn't spend much time being filmed — so just got on and created. It was a treat to be able to saw metal and wood in the sun and put something together.

Kathy's microscopeTook ages making holes in metal — trying to make a mechanism to focus the microscope and hold the glass bead in place. Finally, in the afternoon had a glass sphere wedged into place on top of an old saucepan. Got some onion cells on some glass and a human hair. Looked at the hair which looked big but so fuzzy. I was really disappointed. Then I checked out the onion cells begrudgingly thinking there was no chance I'd see anything. And there they were — onion cells looking like little bricks in a wall. Whooped with delight. So exciting! Almost as exciting as when I was doing research — looking through an electron microscope trying to see something completely new and seeing it. Amazed that a tiny glass sphere would magnify anything as much as this. And so clearly!

Mike B and Jonathan are doing weather as their challenge. They did a hysterical weather report in the evening. What a delight! So lucky to be with a group of such bizarre, lovely, mad people.


Day 11 — Microscope

Showed Kate a mosquito under my microscope. It was a close up of a bent, hairy leg — I am still gob-smacked to be able to see so clearly. I think I'm seeing at 200x magnification. Kate was thrilled to bits and everyone kept coming over to see what else they could see. The film crew, Derek and John, just kept on filming the view. Steve had to force us to have a lunch break, we were all so excited. Looked at salt crystals, pollen, pond water, blood, spiders' webs and basically anything I could fit underneath it. Mike L wanted me to see if I could find his cheek cells and mouth bacteria. We found the cells and Mike thought he could see bacteria too — little bits of blobby background. Stretching my microscope to the limit!

Kathy's microscopeEllen and Mike L had great success in their antibacterial cream. We all need it — covered in cuts and wounds from sawing wood or drilling things. They'd been astonished at how hard it was to get bacteria to grow. It should have been rampant at these temperatures but it finally happened overnight and garlic was a great preventative of its formation. We were slavered in cream before we knew what hit us. But there are scents I'd rather to be slavered in than in garlic!

Swam back from the lime factory to Silver Beach where we were staying. Just me and Ellen — and we bombed it, really enjoyed it. Got back before the others arrived in the van.


Day 14 — Transmitter and receiver

Had a great day. It's lovely working with Jonathan — he's so mellow and we have the most surreal, bizarre conversations. And we managed to get so much done.

Transmitter: the sparks produce radio waves — huge change in current which leads to collapse of magnetic field which leads to big voltage.

And Jon helped me build a receiver ...

Kept glancing over to see the two Mikes doing crazy things with the 'Zeus Machine' (the giant lime distiller). They were hitting it in different places with sledgehammers, clambering all over like monkeys and laughing like lunatics all day. A bizarre and entertaining spectacle!


Day 15 — Transmitter and receiver

A long, hot and exhausting day — but a spectacular ending. It's just amazing to have convinced yourself something won't work in its current state — then you try one last tweak — and it does!

We began by stringing up an aerial for the receiver then tested out the receiver on the beach. A small square of wood, a coil, a chunk of coke, a bent safety pin and an old ear piece — I wasn't convinced it would work. But low and behold, after some attempts, we could hear a very, very faint sound of singing! My first radio receiver — ever!! Yipee! Wouldn't quite be able to dance around the room to it but if you listened really hard you could hear it — the Carriacou Christian channel!

Early on in the day we all had to help the two Mikes with their clocks. They wanted the huge, heavy water barrel at the top of the 'Zeus Machine'. Now, Zeus is about 2-3m high at the highest point — so this was no mean feat.

They told us just to do what they asked. When the 5 of us get together (especially at the end of the third day) we all start making suggestions for improvements and we can end up taking forever to explore all the options and get anything done.

But we had a small mishap — a beam that supported a critical beam became dislodged.

Kathy's sketchMe and Jonathan held the dislodged beam in place with ropes while Mike B hit it gently back into place with a sledgehammer (if Mike B can do ANYTHING gently with a sledgehammer!)

So Jon and I perched on top of one bit of Zeus, Mike B higher up and Mike L horribly close to the underside of the barrel all having been told "if it starts to go ... run like hell". And it went. I was just pumped full of adrenaline. Run? Too late really. And it seemed all was stable without the beam.

Finally sorted the problem but trauma all round. Mike L doesn't like hearing too many suggestions about what to do. Jonathan always wants to give lots of options. Mike L angry that he's told to be 'in charge' then have to deal with lots of options. Ellen angry and upset. Sarah angry and upset. Film crew working on — all highly entertained and not upset at all. I suspected they'd have sorted it all out in seconds. I escaped and got on with work.

At the end of day J and I sat on the beach in setting sun, trying to get receiver to pick up transmitted sparks. We'd failed and failed. About to give up when I suggested trying a different coil in transistors. And joy ... tiny, tiny clicks — in amongst the hymns of the Christian Radio Channel. Hurrah! Chuffed to bits.


Day 16 — Transmitter and receiver

Jonathan and I were both just dead tired today. We ended up doing far too much in the sun — especially at midday.

Began by setting up receiver in a different place — by the Lime Factory instead of at the beach. Should've been easy. But we 'lost' the position of the safety pin on the coke (which was used to receive the signal). I could've killed him actually. I knew just how long it had taken to set to a place that worked. Jon is always just too keen to make things better. So he just moved the safety pin — when it was actually not working 'cos of something else. Spent yonks finding a place that worked again. Yonks and yonks. FINALLY got it. V faintly. J said "we can do better than that — try to find another place." "NO — Don't touch it," I yelped, and explained how long it had taken me. Also reception varies at different times of the day so might be that. A wise call — he'd almost moved the pin and the coke himself again. I would've had to have killed him! (He is generally a joy to work with — this was my only frustration!)

Kathy with the receiverWe were building a transformer to get higher voltage out of the transmitter so it can transmit further. Thought we had loads of time but as usual it took longer than expected.

After another gorgeous lunch of bobbing in the turquoise sea, Kate told us I had to transmit the message — a word of my own choosing. I wrote it on a piece of purple paper and handed it over.

Another 'end-of-last-day' mad frenzy. Had an hour to get aerials up into position to be ready to roll at 3 pm.

Had to choose a word — began with "SUCCESS" — but realised it was just too long and hard with too many repeated letters. Went for "YES" finally.

So the big clock struck 3 pm, Mike L told me his wrist sun dial read 3 pm ... and the two production teams argued. Eventually — got the 3 pm call (again!). Ellen stuck her kite up using a bamboo pole and I tried to send a morse code "YES" to J. My sense of rhythm is appalling. Even Mike L — who would see the translation board — couldn't get it. Kept on transmitting and got better thankfully. Tried doing it fast ... and J began to get the letters. He got Y — S — but didn't stop to guess. Finally he got E ... (dot, dot, dot) rather than T which is — - — (dash, dash, dash). While J was trying to hear my morse code — the Christian Radio Station was discussing circumcision. J didn't even notice. Madness! Rah! We'd transmitted all of 50m (could've shouted further!). Did some explanations in the setting sun and really enjoyed working it all out with J. V happy! (And found out that in tests before we came here researchers had only managed to transmit 10m! V. chuffed!)