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Production Diary: Kathy Sykes

Day 17 — Day off

A glorious day! Jonathan, Drew and I set off for a sail to Tobago Cays at 8.30. Everyone was taking bets on when and whether we'd return today.

Went in Reggie's 40 foot yacht which shot straight to the Cays in a few hours without any tacking. Shot past Palm Island and Union Island while sprawled on the bow in the sun, all discussing life decisions and how lucky we are. Tobago Cays are lovely. We just drank in the view — the perfect white sand and palm-lined beach. The unbelievably turquoise sea was even lighter blue than Jonathan's eyes if that's possible. We leapt in and snorkelled about happily. Parrot fish, a squid that looked like an alien, big Barracuda and just billions of lovely fish stuffing up the water.

Gulped some chilled champagne along with the glorious views. Then Drew and I snorkelled like crazy around an island, landed on a white beach, rolled around in the white sand, ran up and down the beach — then had to dash back to the boat to Jonathan and Reggie's beckoning waves. Fell into a delicious, wavy, splashy sleep. Drew, Jon and I all sprawled across the bow. We all burned ourselves senseless — probably by washing off the sun tan lotion in the sea, then sleeping under a now cloudy sky.

Ooohh! Just wondrous! In the evening we caught a steel band at the hotel. Danced and sweated our socks off. Derek and I tried out mad stuff — bull charging and leaping — he's astonishingly strong — for a SAGA bloke!

Persuaded everyone to go for a midnight swim to wash off the sweat. Milky Way the clearest it's been so far. Stars shot by overhead. Sang If I give my heart in harmony (ish!) with Derek and felt at peace with the world.

Am looking forward to seeing my husband Tony — but I'll look forward to coming back too.

All went off to the Green Roof Restaurant for a merry best day dinner. Almost like a wedding with speeches and toasts. Scrumptious tuna and swordfish — and lime pie, all downed in pina coladas.

Lizanne and Cheryl arrived too (Mike L and Mike B's girlfriends). They instantly fit in and become very well liked, while the two Mikes looked chuffed to bits.

Day 18 — Thermometer

Kate told us, while we overlooked the sea, she wants ice, a thermometer and suntan lotion.

Really enjoyed the day. It's all hard though — ice perhaps near impossible in three days in this humidity and this heat and so hard to make from scratch.

A thermometer needs to measure temperature accurately to 0"C without adding in a load of heat energy and melting the ice.

Jonathan is trying out a resistance thermometer. I'm trying to melt and then blow glass to take a standard glass bulb thermometer. The difficulty is ... can I melt the glass? I'd assumed that because we had a kiln we could melt glass but the 'kiln' is just a big furnace. So it probably won't work.

Deeply worried after first few attempts. Then ... oh joy ... a bit of glass that I'd begrudgingly stuck into the side of the furnace twisted and melted delightfully but too thin for a capillary for a thermometer. But it melted — proof it can be done!

Had to leave the kiln for Mike B to make his methanol and spent time helping J to wind his 1000s of turns for coils and helping Mike L to lift water to a high barrel. Ellen did an amazing job of climbing a coconut tree. She's a great asset. Botany seems so alien from physics. I wouldn't remember any more plants if I practised for a lifetime. I chose physics in the first place 'cos I hated remembering stuff and enjoyed understanding it. And yet this alien topic is so relevant and useful. And fun!

A very long day. But exciting and fun. And great to be in such a helpful team. From suntan lotion to ice. And it's all science. A delight to have such variety. Think I'll sleep well!

Day 19 — Thermometer

The Rough Science kilnA VERY hot day. Found, carried, dropped and burnt chunks of tree. Tried desperately to get a flame hot enough to melt glass. Couldn't. Not melting it properly to blow it into a bulb. Arghh!

Had to give up on blowing a bulb — can't get hot enough flames. Tried charcoal and bellows and still couldn't get blob of molten glass.

Just so hot. So sweaty. So cross that waited ages for crew to come to film my 'frustration' too and by the time they came not only had someone else broken one decent bit of my glass — stretching — I then broke my other decent bit of glass — stretching! So my frustration scene is red frustration. So I was stomping about, with sweat all over and smoke in my eyes, wanting to kick the kiln. Sarah (the director) said I looked like I was about to cry during my filmed bit. Not crying, just cross, hot and bothered.

Sealed the thermometer with Ellen's sealant made from acidified smoked resin.

Leapt into sea afterwards and the world seemed a saner place.

Day 20 — Thermometer

An exciting day!

All of us a little manic — wanting to be sure we get our stuff working and finished in time.

Kathy's sketchMike B frantically making ether in the shade all day. Ellen burning herself to a frazzle on the beach testing her suntan lotion. Mike L claiming to have created the best vacuum pump. Jon and I trying to test and calibrate our thermometers and help set up the ice-making.

Some mad, mad moments. Mike B pretending to have drunk the rum and looking so deliciously pissed it was untrue. Me, Jonathan and Mike L taking half an hour to decide how to insulate the ice-maker. One of us alone would have done it adequately in 10 mins. Although I guess the final situation was much better I suppose.

Then, just as we were finally about to try the ice-making and the sun was looking dangerously close to the horizon, everyone starts suggesting final changes and improvements ... as we were running out of time.

People running; Ellen's legs burning up; people knocking over Ellen's distillation in the fire again; Jon and Mike getting water into the barrel; Mike B still finishing ether; fighting over where to do the ice-making ... a crazy, crazy whirl ... and the sun kept getting lower.

Finally we went for it.

Testing the glass thermometerMike L's vacuum pump WAS amazing. He crushed the container! It was all over so fast it was untrue. Barely any reading on my thermometer (we'd dumped Jonathan's thermometer for this experiment by now as it wasn't sensitive enough).

START AGAIN — as the sun gets lower. Big argument: do we ease down the vacuum? I say "yes" ... we need less tin crushing and more gentle ether evaporation. If we do that, how? All disagree ... the sky gets darker.

Finally, we restrict the flow of water so the vacuum is more gentle. This time it lasts and lasts. The thermometer drops but so slowly. It goes to a third of the way down, so 10°C temperature drop. After 20 mins it goes to half the way down — that's 15°C temp drop. And maybe to 15°C in time. But the thermal constant isn't good. It might even be frozen already?!?

The final moment? NO ICE! Just cool bottle. It showed some condensation though and a series of bits of kit that worked impressively. With just a bit more time I'm sure we could do it.

We all ran and leapt into the sea in delighted frenzy. WOW! What crazy fun.

But what challenge next?

Day 23 — Underwater Torch

Incredulous — Kate wants me and Mike B to make an underwater torch. A torch that works above water would be hard enough!

J, Ellen and Mike L are topping up the car battery (for the torch) with distilled water and also recharging it. Wow!

Mike B and I talked about how we'd do it:

Possible physics solution: a light bulb
Possible chemical solution: make phosphorus
Possible biological solution: fireflies (!)

Mike B said phosphorus making is dead hard — and he wasn't convinced it would work. So we both had to use our own approaches to make sure one thing did work. Mike B began collecting, bashing, grinding and boiling bones. I just think it's amazing how little we can know about each others' subjects. I thought chemistry was pretty close to physics but I'd be CLUELESS about making phosphorus. Mike B claimed to be clueless about circuits and wiring things. Couldn't quite believe him (it's too easy to assume that what you find easy — other people will also find easy).

I tried out lots of different filaments — all the wires that didn't have insulation (and weren't copper — it conducts too well); and also carbonised (burned) hair and paper. Thankfully — had some fab stuff that glowed wonderfully when about 5 coils long. Hurrah!! The problem was it glowed best at shorter lengths but then burned through. Needed to get low pressure inside the jar and remove the oxygen so it can't burn.

Explained voltage, current and resistance to Kate. V chuffed — she was so excited to understand it for the first time.

Meanwhile — Jonathan built an even bigger and lovelier contraption to turn the parabolic mirror to face the sun. At end of day I was ready to try out an experiment: comparing my 'bulb' (emptied of oxygen by burning a candle in it) in a filament open to the atmosphere. Expected jamjar bulb to last longer. Spectacular failure! Really funny! Probably 'cos I didn't measure filament lengths exactly (measured 4 coils instead of in cm). That'll learn me to be sloppy!

Fun day working with Mike B — who's hysterical and the '18-30' film crew. Laughed our way through the day!

Day 24 — Underwater Torch

Decided to stop messing about with resistors and just put the whole 12V across the filament. I want as much power as I can get.

So I had to try out different lengths of filament until I found one that just wouldn't burn out (since the shorter the filament — the brighter it burns).

Kathy testing her underwater torchRepeated yesterday's experiment with 12cm, 11cm, 10cm, 9cm, 8cm and this time, with more accurate measurement of filament length it worked!

Then messed around with Ellen's sealant trying to get a decent seal, that would not only keep jamjar at low pressure but would also keep water out.

Left sealant on to harden in the sun and went to do snorkelling scenes with Mike B. Sarah persuaded us to walk from lime factory to the sea in our fins. Just mad and ridiculous. Would really rather not have my thighs exposed on national TV but it would look so funny — it had to be done. I really believe science programmes need more humour (tho' some question marks about making scientists look insane!)

End of day, dusk scene of me trying out my bulb underwater. Not confident at all. But it worked. Yipee! So lucky to have so many end-of-day successes.

Day 25 — Underwater Torch

Fantastic end of day success!

Last night Mike B had to stay late at the lime factory — tending to his phosphorous. So a load of us (his team basically) stayed too: Sarah, Drew, Paul, Kate, Angie and I working in at the silhouettes in flickering candle-light.

It was wondrous! We sat around candles munching pizza, swigging beer, smokers smoking for Britain — and told ghost stories. Paul had some fab stories. Sarah and Kate had great stories of ghost-sightings. Scared ourselves senseless!

Thought today would be straightforward. Not much to do. Just making a back-up torch; devising a way to hold it off the sea floor, but below the sea — and building a duplicate in case it failed. But — of course — ended up being a mad panic again.

Began day with huge disappointment though. Mike B's arduously nurtured phosphorus — was not phosphorus. It was such a hard thing to try especially when we have no control over the temperature of the furnace. Poor Mike B — he really deserves a huge success. And however 'big' and mature he is — it' so disappointing not to get a big 'wow' when you deserve one.

Had to finish at 3 pm to get to the dive centre to get the boat to test out if the light bulb would work underwater.

Huge safety talks — a car battery on a boat, a boat needing 5 scientists (and camera crew) — and no boat handler in sight. A director who's scuba diving. Quite, quite mad.

Then had to kill an hour — waiting for sun to lower (and not fry us all up in the boat). So frustrating to have had to rush so much to get ready — then sit about and wait.

All pretty tense in boat — trying to catch sunset and shots above and below water — to me a little precious that, if my bulb worked at all — it MAY only work once (could the sealant possibly work at the high pressures the water would be at!).

The product team seemed to think this was trivial. Do they have a huge amount of confidence in my bulb? Or are they just too busy worrying about their own issues? (NB — Discovered that this was one of the few challenges they DIDN'T try out — and a couple of people had said 'it won't work'.)

Anyway — it was fine. The bulb DID glow underwater — so much so that we could see an inquisitive fish coming to study it. Very funny.

And that moment when we lowered it in — and it didn't bubble — felt just fantastic. Get goose pimples just remembering it. Just wish these moments happened so regularly in real research!