July 25, 2021

I, Science

The science magazine of Imperial College

As part of our latest Other Worlds issue, our writers review the new Planet Earth II series and Starmus III Festival

TV: Planet Earth II (BBC One) by Natasha Gertler

Who am I kidding… you’ve already seen it. But if you aren’t one of the 12.3 million viewers who have patiently waited 10 years for the sequel to the spectacular wildlife documentary Planet Earth, then I urge you to add it to the top of your shortlist. With over 117 filming trips in 40 different countries, and with a $15 million budget, this is the most watched nature documentary out there. And rightly so. Using the latest filming technology—ultra high definition ‘4K’ gyro-stabilized cameras with super-directional microphones, for the benefit of our inner AV nerd—they’ve managed to capture wildlife as never seen before.

From spectacular scenes of fighting Komodo dragons to ritual dance displays of grizzly bears, we are made privy to the secret wonders of our natural world. For every one-hour episode, they have spared 15 minutes to reveal behind-the-scene footage of what extraordinary lengths the camera crew must go to in order to achieve that golden shot. These include strapping a ‘lipstick’ camera collar around an eagle travelling at speeds of up to 200 mph, whilst we all watch and yearn for wings from our concrete jungle. The music is by Hans Zimmer and, of course, it is all narrated by national treasure Sir David Attenborough.

Plane Earth II airs on Sundays at 8pm on BBC One and BBC One HD, until 11 December. You can catch up on this season on BBC iPlayer now.

Natasha Gertler is studying for an MSc in Science Communication

Festival: Starmus III (June 2016, Tenerife) by Bruno Martin

Stars and music. That is the premise of the International Starmus Festival, held for the third time last summer in Tenerife. The festival was founded after Brian May, Queen guitarist and Imperial alumnus, moved to Tenerife to finish his PhD under the supervision of fellow astrophysicist and musician Garik Israelian.

Garik talking on stage

It comprises a week of talks by the most famous scientists, science communicators and astronauts alive today, celebrating space exploration, astronomy, music, art and a little biology and chemistry too. The event culminates in a half-day-long concert of music as stellar and varied as the festival’s cast. Last summer, this included Stephen Hawking, Neil deGrasse Tyson, Richard Dawkins, Jill Tarter, Alexei Leonov, Roger Penrose and Brian Cox, among many other well-known names.

Stephen Hawking on stage

As festivals go, Starmus is an odd one. It is not a scientific conference, where academics present their new research. It is definitely not a music festival. And nor does it feel like a public engagement event. The talks are allegedly aimed at a lay audience, but you may struggle to follow some pretty technical science. Where the speakers shine is not in the explanation of their research, which you are probably better off looking up on Wikipedia, but in their insightful discussions on policy, philosophy, history and the future of human achievement. The music is the icing on the cake to this cocktail of cerebral stimulation, from classical orchestra to progressive rock. The highlights were Chris Hadfield’s David Bowie tribute and Hans Zimmer’s gravitational wave-themed synth concert, feat. Brian May on the guitar.

physicists on stage with Stephen Hawking

Starmus IV will take place in Trondheim (Norway), summer 2017. Early bird student tickets are available before 31 December at www.starmus.com

Bruno Martin is studying for an MSc in Science Communication

All images Bruno Martin