We all know how hard it is to function when you’ve lost even a couple of hours sleep. So imagine trying to entertain an auditorium full of people after being awake for two nights straight.
That’s exactly what TV astronomer Mark Thompson will be doing at next month’s Norwich Science Festival in a warm-up to his record-breaking attempt in 2020.
Introduction to the Universe: Sleep Not Essential takes place at The Forum on October 26, when Mark will be presenting a beginner’s guide to the universe, talking about planets, stars and galaxies while highly sleep deprived.
The festival event is a practice run for Mark’s Guinness World Record Attempt in 2020 when he plans to complete the World’s Longest Lecture, breaking the current record of 139 hours, 42 minutes and 56 seconds. Mark said:
“About five years ago I did a 24-hour lecture for Marie Curie to raise money for them and at the time I wondered what the record was for the world’s longest lecture. I thought if it was close I would have a go at it, but then I found out that it was the equivalent of lecturing for over five-and-a-half days! So I put it to bed, but it has always been in the back of my mind.
“Then when I was talking to the team at the Science Festival this year, I started talking myself into doing it. I had conversations with sleep experts at the UEA and Cambridge University, as my big concern was about making myself ill, but they all said I would be fine.
“And they said a good way to test what it’s going to be like would be to spend two nights without sleep and then do a one-hour lecture on the third evening. So for the show on October 26 I will be doing that and if I get through it I will be ready for the world record attempt next year.”
Mark, who is well known for his work on The One Show and BBC Stargazing Live, will be hooked up to an EEG machine during the Norwich event, allowing him to measure his brain wave data. This will then be shared on his website in the hope schools will download it and use it in their science lessons.
But his biggest challenge for now is working out how to avoid the land of nod in the two nights before his lecture.
“I think the key thing will be not to just sit at home and watch television and to actually keep myself active,” he said.
“On one of the evenings I’m doing another event for the festival [Stargazing with Mark Thompson] so that will keep me up until a reasonable time but after that I will have to keep myself really busy. I’m not going to be driving anywhere because that would be dangerous, but I will keep my brain engaged and make sure during the times when sleep is really likely I am making an effort to get outside and get some fresh air. I will probably need a bit of coffee as well!”
Mark became the first patron of Norwich Science Festival in 2017 and said it is one of the highlights on his calendar each year.
“I think it’s always difficult with science because it is not something which always hits the public imagination and doesn’t always get the media attention it deserves,” said Mark. “So to have a festival in Norwich which gets science out to the public and showcases a lot of the wonderful science which is done in Norfolk is brilliant. I’ve seen it go from strength to strength.”
Tickets for Introduction to the Universe cost £5 and are available at norwichsciencefestival.co.uk.
“It’s going to be a guided tour of the universe and it’s aimed at the general public rather than a specialist audience.
“I like to think my talks are light-hearted anyway and I inject a bit of comedy as I go, and the fact that I am going to be sleep deprived for two nights means I have got no idea what’s going to happen!”
Mark is also bringing his award-winning Spectacular Science Show to the festival as part of the Learning Programme, with tickets still available for the youth groups show on October 16 at 6pm. To book, visit norwichsciencefestival.co.uk/learning.
Norwich Science Festival 2019 runs from October 18 to 26, and is organised by The Forum with support from partner organisations, venues and sponsors.
Image: credit JMA Photography