On July 15, the sun blazed down on Gunnersbury Park for a sweltering Citadel Festival. Guerilla Science took the reigns for a four-hour takeover of the Science Camp, where we explored space physiology, taste trickery, and the complexity of crushes. Rachel Williams, neuroscientist and science communicator, reflects on her experience of hosting our events.

Four hours of science, three great experiences, and a tentful of festival-goers: my perfect Sunday. Luckily, that’s exactly what I’d signed up to when accepting the invitation to host the Guerilla Science takeover at Citadel Festival 2018. What I hadn’t realised was that the crowd would be so raring to go that the heat and sweat would cause the photographer’s lens to fog up for the first time since he’d taken photos at a swimming pool. I’m going to tell you all about my favourite moments of hosting Space Yoga, Flavour Feast, and Attraction Lab in (unofficially) the world’s hottest tent.

Space Yoga

Our first event of the day was Space Yoga, a workout that unites the physiology behind strengthening yoga poses with the physical toll of being in space. Gemma Hart, an environmental humanities researcher and yoga instructor, guided us through challenging poses while Andrew Kuh, from the UK Space Agency, chipped in with scientific facts and anecdotes from the astronauts themselves.

The session wound down with a mindfulness exercise inspired by the experience of looking at the Earth from space, known as the “overview effect”. Astronauts say that if you look down from space, seeing your planet as a tiny dot that you can cover with your thumb not only makes you feel very small, it also makes all the conflict in the world seem futile and petty – as you realise there’s more that unites us as a species than divides us. Currently, Andrew’s managing the program to launch more satellites from the UK, but if the scope ever expands to launching world leaders then I definitely have a few suggestions of people who could benefit from that perspective.

Flavour Feast

Next up, we tested the ways in which our senses can warp our perceptions of flavours. Imogen Ramsey, a researcher in Brewing and Sensory Science, turned our humid tent into a lunchtime laboratory as she explained how altering the sight, smell, or even sounds of our food can totally change its flavour.

A key fact we learned is that flavour and taste are not the same thing. Most people know the core four tastes (sweet, salty, sour, and bitter), but there are two you may not have been taught about: umami and fat. Umami is the taste of foods that are fermented, or high in glutamate – think soy sauce, cheese, or cured meats. Fat has only recently been accepted as a distinct taste, as it can independently trigger dedicated taste bud cells and send signals to taste-processing centres in the brain.

Attraction Lab

To round off the day, Viren Swami, author of Attraction Explained, took us on a myth-busting adventure through the science of attraction. We explored how and why there are no “laws of attraction”, but rather trends and patterns of behaviours that vary across the wonderfully diverse population that is the human race.

We also had the chance to talk about Viren’s work in his role as Professor of Social Psychology, where he researches body image – the way that we feel about our bodies, rather than the picture we have of what we look like in our mind’s eye. Perhaps unsurprisingly for a nation of misers, the majority of people in the UK have a negative body image, which can lead to reduced confidence and mental wellbeing. However, the good news is that Viren’s research shows that focusing on what our bodies can do, like dancing, rather than simply how they look can help us feel better about ourselves.

Well, that’s my whistlestop tour of the Guerilla Science takeover at Citadel 2018! I’d like to thank Guerilla Science, and all the collaborators and crew who made the day so wonderful, as well as everyone at Citadel who joined us for the ride. Keep your eyes peeled for the return of these fabulous events in unexpected venues in the future!