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Iain's Rover Diary Day 1 2 3

Day Three

Success at last! Although the solar stills had yielded only a few trickles of water each, the early morning trip up the valley with Kate revealed that overnight the bagged tree had given a good jar full. But it was becoming rather one-sided – Ellen’s botanical skills have produced a decent amount of reasonable water, whilst I have contributed a small sludge of chemical waste and a urine-infused dribble (which I drank).

Driving back past the Owens dry lake, I was anxious to redeem myself. It seemed to me that a line of vegetated mounds at the margin of the dried lake bed might be the trace of a springline, with the water seeping up from a subsurface fault below the lake. Dragging a bucket and spade, not to mention Ellen and a very sceptical Kate, across the hot salt-encrusted surface, we dug a few feet into the soft mud close to one of the mounds. Sure enough, water frothed into our hole. Our director Alexis suggests that Kate should eat Humble pie by having to dig the main hole to get the water. So for the second day I get to relax while a girl does the work. One the one hand I feel that this is likely to get me slapped by irate females (including my wife, my mum etc) when the series airs, on the other hand it looks like pretty sweaty work in the midday sun! Common sense prevails. Kate digs, we collect the water and, seriously behind schedule, we race off to get the water to Kathy and Mike.

Now this is when it gets strange. We get back to the shed to find that, alongside Kathy and Mike, putting the finishing touches to the water purification system is Lord Robert Winston. A fan of the show, he just happens to have ‘been passing’ after a conference in San Francisco (5 hours drive away!) and ‘popped in’. (Actually he had arrived at our hotel the evening before, and he and a bunch of us then spent the night in a sleazy local bar playing pool into the early hours, with me partnering Robert to shouts of “I can’t lose. I’m playing with the Lord!’ Ah, simple things.) Anyway, he’s made an honorary rough scientist for the day (off camera) and is immediately put to work to help the water filtration. After all, as one of the leading fertility experts, he’s no stranger to tubes! Meanwhile, the rest of us head off to test Jonathan’s mobile roving machine, Rover.

What a blast! The challenge is set up so the Rover is out of view over a small hill while Jonathan operates it via a home-rigged remote control system. (The man is a wizard.) A monitor hooked up to a miniature camera on the rover allows us to guide the it past a series of objects along a route laid out by the production team. Jonathan worries that the batteries may have been run down by earlier testing, but to the sound of his electronic commands, and our ecstatic screams, Rover jolts around encouragingly, hesitant at first but then ambles with increasing confidence. Against the odds and the heat, Rover was working! When it reached the finishing line and set off balloons, we just went mad with delight.

Still high from the Rover, it was back to the shed for the water testing. Waiting for us was a beaming Lord Winston with a selection of glasses of purified water. As the new kid on the RS team, it was perhaps no surprise that I had to blind-test our cheeky bouquets. There were four glasses of water: the solar still, the bagged tree, the lake-edge spring and a bottled water. Blindfolded, I had to choose the best tasting water, and in both takes picked out Ellen’s tree water – a clear success for Mike and Kathy’s purification system. And for me, the second-best water that I’d tasted in the last 48 hours!


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Iain gets a chance to relax
Scientist's Diaries

Water or wheels? How did the other members of the Rough Science team cope with the first challenge? Read their diaries to find out: