‘Does the flap of a butterfly’s wings in Brazil set off a tornado in Texas?’ This was the heuristic question posed half a century ago by Edward Lorenz when trying to introduce Chaos Theory. On Wednesday 22 October, Bob Newport, a lecturer in the School of Physical Sciences, spoke the opening lines in the Canterbury Festival performance of ‘Chaos Cabaret’: an appropriately chaotic music-rich production written especially for the science theme of the Festival.
Performed in the unusual venue of the Speigaltent, the audience were treated to a gentle tale which really did begin with a butterfly and end with a tornado – all portrayed in music and words, and through some energetic actors weaving themselves expertly between the tables. Along the route, several aspects of science were subtly introduced. The project was initiated and steered by an ex-Kent academic, Frank Burnet, and was supported financially by the Science & Technology Facilities Council.
Throughout the project’s development Bob, an advocat of public engagement with science, provided some general advice wearing his physicist’s hat, but was later persuaded to play a more visible role on the night – including chairing a Q&A session afterwards (in which he was expertly helped by Kent emiritus professor Mohammed Sobhy).