“A blockbuster of a show made by nerds for nerds (or anyone nerd-curious)” Squirrel Comedy … more

Full Frontal Nerdity Notes

One of the best things about touring Full Frontal Nerdity, and turning it into a DVD and download, has been chatting to people after the shows, discussing science, maths, periodic table couture and delving a bit deeper into the some of the things that we do on stage.

So to help satisfy your post-tour and post-DVD curiosity, here’s a short “handout” with links to click and videos to watch. If you think we’ve missed out something interesting (we probably have!) email us here and let us know. In the meantime, enjoy nerding out on all this bonus material. For extra atmosphere, we’ve put our audience walk-in mixtape on Spotify.


Toroidal Vortices

Thanks to @notonlyahatrack for this great picture of epic smoke rings at Artrix Arts:

smoke ring

If you prefer the non-visual version of events, here’s the original paper by Hermann von Helmholtz. Add a bit of atmosphere by listening Helen’s Spotify playlist at the same time… and when you’re done revelling in the glory of triple integration and polar coordinates, glance at this research about how looking at mathematical formulae evokes the same sense of beauty as artistic masterpieces and music from great composers.

Don’t forget to break out the CDs, pringle tubes and plastic sheeting make your own selection of Toroidal Vortex Cannons…

Vortex Cannon exploded view

…or the DVD version if you’ve already got a copy of the full Full Frontal Nerdity show knocking around at your place… now with alternative spelling of gaffa / gaffer tape…

…and then maybe do some fun things with them, as captured by Isabelle Adam in London and @rabiariri at our Nottingham show.

NEWS DSCF4304steve smoke2

Fire Tornado

Steve really did mean it when he said you could try it at home… of course remember to be safe, be responsible, but most of all, use someone else’s bin…

Electric Gerkhin

In case you need reminding, here’s a picture of Steve’s pickle in action, taken at our Tunbridge Wells show by @LazyMandoPlayer:


As a few physicists rightly pointed out, the light that sodium emits is a not just a single shade of yellow… it’s actually two wavelengths of yellow light, very close to each other on the spectrum, known as the “sodium doublet” or “D-lines” very close to 590 nanometres. There’s a nice Wiki page here with the image below, showing all the spectral lines that can be detected in sunlight. That’s how we know the sun contains the element sodium.

Analysing these “Fraunhofer lines” actually tells us that the sun not only contains sodium, but also oxygen, helium, hydrogen, iron, calcium, magnesium and other elements, all of which have their own distinctive spectral lines. Because the lines always appear at these precise wavelengths, dictated by the structure of the elements themselves, you can use this phenomenon to work out what is happening to other galaxies way across universe. Measure the exact wavelengths of sodium lines coming from of a distant galaxy, and you might notice that they don’t appear at the wavelength you expect but are shifted towards the red end of the spectrum instead. This means that the galaxy is travelling away from us, because the light that reaches Earth has been red-shifted in a classic example of doppler shift. So, electrocuting a pickle is not only a fun thing to do, but also shows the same principle that Edwin Hubble used to prove that the universe is expanding.

Although we’ve clearly just told you all this extra stuff to dodge the real question… still want to know why two different wavelengths of yellow light could come from just one excited state of sodium? Well that’s a whole bunch of quantum mechanics we don’t have room for here. Maybe we’ll save it for our next tour show!


It’s been amazing to meet a few genuine synaesthetes in our audiences, although it has been a world of disappointment for Helen to discover that no-one wants to study her “sing-aesthesia” in more detail. Fair enough, she did just make the word up because it smelt nice at the time… There isn’t a recording of her song online, so instead please meet The Man Who Can Taste The Tube Map.


Yes! It’s fun for all the family, as you too can turn any .jpg photograph into a ready-formatted Excel spreadsheet! Click here to access the converter on the “Think Maths” website. Props to Andrew Taylor who helped develop the back-end, leaving Matt with free weekends and probably saving his relationship.

Here’s one we made earlier… an audience selfie at one of our Bloomsbury Theatre shows!
Screen Shot 2014-04-03 at 17.58.50

(thanks @jacobus_org for loaning us your phone!)


Steve has made a video for the Royal Institution’s excellent YouTube channel, all about the how Magenta doesn’t have a wavelength:

Liz Elliott sparked it all off in her blog about how this “non-existence” of Magenta has come about because of the way your visual system interprets light. Of course it IS a colour in some sense, but the weird thing about it is that it has no corresponding wavelength on the spectrum. Neither does white! And all the other non-spectral colours… But magenta is the most extreme example.

If you want to have a bit of fun with your visual system, the people behind Pantone have made this online colour challenge. It’s not a medical test (though it might be useful for calibrating your computer monitor) but it’s still fun to play with. If you’re wondering how their statement of “1 out of 255 women and 1 out of 12 men have some form of color vision deficiency” could possibly be true, take a look here for more about how red/green colour blindness is inherited on the X chromosome, and why that means it is far more common in men than women. Sorry guys!


A Love Song From The Future

Here it is again, “You & Me & Walt Disney” in all its animated glory!

It’s a bit of off-topic but Clare Adams flagged up this article on the New Scientist website – it might not be a great anniversary gift, but cooling gunshot victims and inducing a state of suspended animation might be a way for doctors to turn fatal injuries into merely life-threatening.

Binary Scarf

Here’s a quick pic of Matt’s binary scarf, error correction and all, plus a close-up of the fabulous cross-stitch frame created by a member of our Nerd Support Team, @stecks.


Jealous? Of course you are! So go ahead and learn the skill of knitting, or bribe a friend / friend’s nan to knit you your very own binary scarf! The original the pattern is here, courtesy of @matheknitician. If you want an easy binary translator for your daily use, there are several online including this one (although Matt is at pains to point out that technically we are NOT talking ASCII but actually unicode blargh blargh blargh)

All pedantry aside, we’ll leave the subject with an adorable picture from our Brighton show. NEITHER OF THESE SCARVES BELONG TO MATT! Amazings.

binary couple

The Mould Effect

By popular demand, here’s Steve’s original video:

And the slo-mo version with Earth Unplugged – Steve asks everyone to please ignore the explanation on this video, this was filmed before Biggins and Warner got hold of the problem!

Talking of Biggins & Warner, here’s a link to the actual published paper – and a video of the Cambridge University pair explaining it all:

There are more brilliant resources for schools and curious minds at Isaac Physics.

And, just make Steve even more smug than he was before, the whole story was picked up by the New York Times, dammit!

Glass Smash

Here’s a quick video from our Bath show, where cabaret superstar Ophelia Bitz popped out of the the audience and genuinely smashed it, just with the power of her voice. We were all terribly impressed, as you can hear:

The final score at the end of the tour was 21 to Helen and audience volunteers, 8 to the glass. Not bad, humanity. Not bad… Those machines still have a long way to go before they totally have us beat.

Game Of Life

Now it’s time to get down and dirty with some deeply nerdy action, and start yourself a few cellular automata. The best Game Of Life simulator we’ve found is Golly, and it’s easily available online. Download it here, or play around with an online version. Be warned that it is possibly even more addictive than 2048

Matt was lucky enough to meet the man behind the Game of Life, John Conway himself, just before our tour ended. It’s worth pointing out that Conway has done much, MUCH more with his career in mathematics than just come up with these simple rules for a game that basically plays itself. Find out about all of John Conway’s brilliantness here, before you head back to playing 2048. In a Game of Life simulator. On an Excel spreadsheet.

Here’s a fun diversion… one of our favourite ever Spoken Nerd guests, Seb Lee-Delisle, pitched in with Steve to code a moving Game Of Life ticker tape that spells out “FOTSN”. We couldn’t find a way to use it in the tour show, so instead here it is for your general amusement:

If you want to make your own Game Of Life ticker, this how you do it, but you’ll need Ruby to get it working.

If all that coding sounds like waaaay too much effort, just do what Helen likes to do – write your name in Game Of Life and watch it evolve in front of your very eyes!

Periodic Table Dress


Lots of people have been asking where Helen’s periodic table dress came from… it’s by Canadian clothing collective Smoking Lily. The good news is that they deliver to the UK, although the bad news is that you’ll need to shell out a bit extra for UK customs charge before Royal Mail will deliver it, once the package reaches this side of the Atlantic. The other bad news is that (last time we checked their website) they had sold out of the periodic table print dress but were expecting a new delivery soon. They are dutifully noting down all requests for the dress so email them to join the waiting list.

Your tweets!

Follow these links to see Our Favourite Tweets and Your Best Photos. To see all the “nerdiest thing” tweets from each city, follow this link, click on the word “stories” just under Steve’s face and scroll down to find your venue. All our favourites are there!

Our “thank you” list

There are a huge number of people to thank behind the scenes for making this tour possible: showmaster Giles Wakely, opening and closing animations by Chris Hilton, set designer Melis van den Berg, design and photography by Idil Sukan/Draw HQ, PR by Flick Morris, human marketing machines Katie and Charlotte (aka Team Nerd), and all at Phil McIntyre Entertainments and Noel Gay. Countless individuals and groups have helped “spread the nerd” about the show – too many to mention here – but as a general rule we recommend you look up your local Skeptics in the Pub, Maths Jam, BSA branchCafe Scientifique and all the science festivals around the UK. Get involved!

And finally…

Don’t forget to join our mailing list at the bottom of the page, if you haven’t already, to be sure of hearing about new tours, DVDs, downloads, books, TV and radio shows and other news before anyone else does.

Stay nerdy,

Helen, Matt & Steve

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