Gareth Mitchell: From Europe's leading science university this is the official Podcast of Imperial College London.

Hello, I'm Gareth Mitchell, presenter of the BBC's Digital Planet and a lecturer here in Imperial's Science Communication Group. This is the podcast that brings you the inside track on the big stories from the heart of Imperial College. And today, gearing up for 2012, a view from our sports centre on the London Olympic Games.

Neil Mosley: We've already been involved very heavily with the preparation for the games. Indeed, the IFC visited here in February 2005. We're very much able and willing to support triathlon. Potentially supporting a small nation in the lead up to the games in a pre-games training camp.

GM: And from sports stars to Stardust. When a valuable load of cosmic dust came to Earth some of it ended up here at Imperial College.

Matthew Genge: We got the samples and I ran around like a big kid with my little brown box just showing people bits of comets, which was very exciting.

GM: Cosmic dust unlocks the secrets of the Solar System, well some of them anyway. And find out how I sneaked away from my desk for a crafty pint the other day and bumped into the rector, of all people, in the Union bar. But it was all completely legit I assure you. Find out why.

All that and more right here on the official Podcast of Imperial College London.

Stefan Szymanski on whether London will benefit from hosting the Olympics

All right, well this month's edition kicks off in the Tanaka Business School here at Imperial. And one of the many economic and business issues under analysis here is the 2012 London Olympic Games. Well, you might assume that the event is going to be hugely beneficial for London but not necessarily, so says Stefan Szymanski. He's a professor of economics here. So Stefan why is the whole idea of the 2012 Olympics not necessarily scoring highly on your own medals table?

SS: Well, I'm not opposed to the Olympics per se. I think it will be a very successful event and it'll be like a big street party. People in London and the United Kingdom will really enjoy it. What I object to is the idea that out of holding this party the United Kingdom or London is going to get rich. We are being told by the government that there will be huge economic benefits to hosting the games in terms of regeneration, in terms of income and tourism generated. And that's just not true. There are a lot of studies which show that these kind of events are a net cost to the economy just as any party is usually thought of as a net cost rather than a net benefit.

GM: And I suppose it comes down to, at the end of the day, quite simple economics, you know, is there basically going to be more money coming into London than is going out of London, as it were, in order to pay for the games?

SS: One way to think about it is that there will be a lot of new jobs generated. And the real economic question is, well, given the cost of generating those jobs could you have generated jobs more cheaply? An American colleague of mine did a study where he looked at economic job creation associated with building a stadium in a city, and he found that the cost of each job generated in that way was four times as expensive as the next best alternative. So in a sense, yes, you get some economic benefit in terms of jobs but you could have had so much more if you hadn't hosted the games.

GM: And the other argument, I suppose, in favour of having the games here is the massive regeneration that is being triggered as a result, especially out in the East End of London and in the east of the city where the games are going to be held.

SS: Well, sadly the story of economic regeneration is something of a myth. The truth is that all that is really being built that wouldn't have been built without the Olympics are the stadiums. The Olympic stadium itself, the Aquatic Centre, the Velodrome, the handball arena and one or two other buildings. Now, these are rather small buildings that are not going to have much use after the Olympics; they'll be used a bit but not much. Therefore those buildings in themselves are not going to generate any economic activity in those areas. The only thing that people can point to really that might be a sign of economic regeneration is the Olympic Village itself, which will house the athletes and will then be turned into housing after the games. But as a matter of fact the Olympic Village was going to be built anyway. That site was going to be developed around the new Stratford International rail terminal regardless of whether London hosted the games or not.

GM: And what's more, these homes that you say were going to be built anyway, because of the Olympics, they're being built obviously that much quicker. There's a very definite endpoint that they have to be completed by and that actually increases the cost because they're having to be built so quickly.

SS: Well, one of the real problems with the Olympics is not that these sites shouldn't be built it's that they have to be built to a very high specification in order to host the Olympics. And they have to be built to a very tight deadline in order to host the Olympics. And as we all know from our own private lives, you know, whenever you have a deadline for something it always ends up being more expensive than if you've got an unlimited amount of time in which to finish the job.

GM: But isn't there a certain amount of short term thinking there? If we look maybe five/ten years beyond the Olympics are we going to be reaping economic benefits after that? Not least of all because we might have a fitter population. If everyone really gets into sport because of the Olympics then that surely is good for the economy and the feeling of the country?

SS: For the amount of money we're spending on the facilities here we could have had dozens and perhaps hundreds of swimming pools and leisure centres and stadiums and facilities for sporting participation that now will not get built. Now, it's one thing to have Sir Steven Redgrave turn up at your school and give a speech about how wonderful sport is but where is the coaching? Where are the facilities in order to bring children on? And indeed, many of our poorest communities suffer most in this respect. And the use of Lottery money in order to fund the Olympics, and the running down of government budgets in order to fund the Olympics, is only going to take away from those facilities. In a sense I think the real losers in this are going to be the kids who will be deprived of facilities that they might otherwise have had.

GM: Well, people are going to say these are just grumpy old economists. Why can't they just get into the Olympic spirit, you know, a great thing for sport and a great thing for London and the country?

SS: Personally I'm perfectly happy and cheerful about the Olympics so I don't have a personal problem here. But I think the interesting quest ion to ask, a q uestion I've done some research on, is how much do people really want the Olympics? And I was part of a study commissioned by the DCMS, the government department responsible here, which involved asking people, well, how much would you actually be prepared to pay for the Olympics? And the answer came back that on average people were prepared to pay anything between £10 and £20 per head, per year, for a period of about ten years. So maybe a price of about £200 over the long term in terms of their taxes. What the Olympics is actually going to cost is going to be more like £500 to £1,000 per taxpayer for the UK. So you can shoot the messenger if you like but the real question is do you really want to pay for this yourself?

Neil Mosley on what Imperial is offering London 2012

GM: But apart from that he thinks it's a great idea. Stefan Szymanski there in the Business School. Well, whether the Olympics really is going to go down like a rather heavy shot-put for the economy is of course open to debate. And across Exhibition Road from our Business School is our state of the art sports centre called Ethos where Head of Sport for Imperial, Neil Mosley, reckons that at the very least the 2012 Olympics could be a good thing for the College. And in return, he says, Imperial has plenty to offer the games. Well, I'm ashamed to say that even though my desk is only about five minutes from the front door here at Ethos this will be actually the first time that I've set foot inside.

NM: Ethos is a brand new sports centre. It opened a year ago in January 2006. It cost the College about £17 million of which £12 million was spent on sports. We've got a range of different facilities. A 25 meter swimming pool. We've got a sports hall which is ideal for basketball and volleyball and handball and netball and badminton, and a whole range of different things, with a fantastic climbing wall. We've got a 75 station gym and a studio, which is very popular. Not to mention a range of treatments and a café area and a raft of other services that we base from the Centre. And the key advantage for Imperial students is that we're the only British university to be offering swim and gym free for our students, which we've done since we opened in January last year.

GM: As for the Olympics then, 2012. It still seems a long way off but you're already looking towards that date and thinking about how Imperial College and the sports facilities it has can be involved in the Olympics. So how exactly?

NM: Well, it's actually not that far away. It's only five years, four months, seven days and nine hours actually.

GM: At the time of recording this interview, yeah. Not far off then, as you were saying.

NM: So I'm sure that time will pass very quickly. We've already been involved very heavily with the preparation for the games. The IFC visited here in February 2005. They looked at our plans for this facility here in Ethos. We're very close to the location of the triathlon, which will take place in Hyde Park. And we've already met on site here to talk about how we can support that event.

GM: For people who don't know the Imperial College campus we are literally just over the road from Hyde Park. I guess we're geographically the closest sports centre to that location?

NM: That's correct, yeah, we will be. So not just the sports facilities here but our accommodation. Our technological services. There are a raft of different services that Imperial could offer to support an event of that kind. It could be support for the judges, for the athletes' families, for the officials, for the timekeepers, for the drugs testing. It could be for a range of different services that we could offer to support that event.

GM: Would you envisage events actually taking place here as well?

NM: I'm sure there will be supporting events. We're also interested in potentially supporting a small nation in the lead up to the games in a pre-games training camp. The advantage we have, of course, is proximity in that we're very, very close to what will be the Olympic Village in Stratford and to many of the locations.

GM: And of course there is a discussion about the economic benefits or otherwise of the Olympic Games coming to London in 2012. But as for Imperial itself it seems that the College can benefit very much from the Olympic Games coming to London. It's an opportunity for Imperial College.

NM: The whole sector can benefit from the games. Not just at Imperial but universities around the country and sports departments around the country can benefit from the games with the participation agenda that will hopefully develop and arise out of the inspiration behind the preparation for the games. And that's a huge driver for us in sports to get people involved.

GM: Well, Neil Mosley, Head of Sport here at Imperial College, thanks very much.

Headlines from around the College

It must be time for a quick skedaddle through a couple of the other stories making the headlines from around the College.

And if you're a male twin it's bad news if your sibling is female. And I don't mean because she'll steal all your favourite toy cars and boy stuff when you'd rather she just stuck to her dolls. If you're a saiga antelope a twin sister means that you're likely to be born small if you're a male. So says research just published by Imperial's Division of Biology revealing that male saiga antelope twins born with a sister are born lighter than those with a brother. And birth weight matters. Life is highly competitive for the antelopes who typically live in Russia and Siberia. Even a few hundred grams in reduced birth weight can seriously affect a male's chances of successfully mating later in life. So what might the mechanism be for disadvantaging male foetuses in such a way? Good question. And the researchers aren't sure. That's a subject for future research.

And is your telly-addict child just not concentrating and falling behind on their school work? Well, give them a diet of oily fish and evening primrose oil. At least that seems to be the conclusion of a study by a team at the Clinical Sciences Centre, part of Imperial's Faculty of Medicine. They found that levels of a compound called NAA rose dramatically in children who are given supplements of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. NAA is an indicator of brain development so more of it is good news, especially as the youngsters in this study showed a few years' worth of increased NAA in just a few days. Admittedly this was quite a small trial but the results are encouraging. One teenager suddenly found TV boring and just wanted to read books.

And you can stay up-to-date with news from the College on our Press Office website at

Stardust comes to Imperial

Well, about this time last year there was much excitement on campus as researchers got their hands on some remarkable samples of space dust from NASA's Stardust Mission. A space probe intercepted a comet on the edges of the Solar System, gathered some dust from it and returned the material to Earth. And after a slightly bumpy touchdown in Utah in January the samples found their way to the UK. By February they were at Imperial College, and reporter Daniela de Angel from our Sciences Media Production MSc followed the team over that period as they got to work on the samples here at Imperial. Well, next month the researchers themselves will tell us what they've found so far but for now let's go back, with Daniela, to those exciting days and weeks last year.

Recording: Four, three, two. We h ave main engine start. Zero and lift off of the Stardust spacecraft returning a time capsule with the elements of the formation of our Solar System.

Matthew Genge: The Stardust Mission was thought up by a chap called Don Brownlee. He's been collecting dust from space for about 20 years. He was one of the first to realise that you could collect dust falling through our atmosphere that probably comes from comets. Because, of course, we collect them in the atmosphere we don't know exactly where they come from. So Don's idea was to send a space mission to a comet specifically to catch the dust and bring it back to Earth so we've got dust particles from a known planet. And there's around a 100 scientists round the world who will work for six months on the dust and find out as much as we can about it. Because it's important to NASA to get results straightaway from the mission.

DdA: A few days before the Stardust landed Dr Matthew Genge, one of the scientists in the London team working for NASA, talks about the mission.

MG: This mission is the first time that we can collect dust from a known source, so from a known comet. We really do have no idea what comets are made out of. Astronomers will tell you that, well, there's lots of ice and there's plenty of dust embedded in the ice. And we can make a guess at what minerals are in there from observations from the ground of comets and from spacecraft observations of comets but we can't tell you what size the dust grains are. We can't tell you what composition the carbonaceous material is. What compounds it contains. And questions like this are very important because we believe that it was comets that delivered the ice to the Earth that formed the Earth's oceans. And also possibly comets delivered the carbonaceous material, the organic materials, that got life started. And we know that the Earth was bombarded by icy comets very early in its history and then shortly after that period life on Earth appeared. I'm on the team because I've worked on dust particles for about ten years now.

DdA: Two weeks after the capsule landed Dr Phil Bland, another member of the elite team, shares his experience.

PB: Watching it come in was incredibly exciting. I rang up a friend of mine in Berkeley. Potentially they could have actually seen the fireball of the capsule coming through and they did try and get to it but there was a pile-up on the freeway or something so they couldn't actually get out. So I rang her and she was just going mad as well, you know, waiting for it to come through. And then watching it land was just terrific.

Recording: Three, two, one, rapid brightening.
Descent sees it.
Near spec is required.
We see it.
Oh, that's cool.
Quite a trail.
Near spec has a great view.
HDTV, you've got a strong wake, go get it.
We got there boys.

DdA: So did NASA send you your grains?

PB: We got the samples and I ran around like a big kid with my little brown box just showing people I've got a bit of comet, which is very exciting. Then we've actually been trying to do some work on them as well.

DdA: The million dollar question is: are there any findings so far?

MG: Yes, there have been some findings so far. Unfortunately we're not allowed to say anything about them. That doesn't mean that they're shocking or that we've found three-headed aliens or something living in these 15 micron dust particles. It just means that as a scientist working on a preliminary examination on the team for NASA obviously NASA want to make all the announcements because it's their mission. If we all jump up and down broadcasting what we find there will be no central sources of information. The wonderful thing about this mission is it's probably going to provide us more information than the last 100 years of observation of comets. And just in the 10,000 or so dust particles that we actually recover, somewhere in there may be the answer to the formation of our Solar System or the origins of life.

PB: I guess I started out like most scientists as a geeky schoolboy and always a space geek as a kid, you know, read just tonnes of stuff. And to actually be in a position where, on a NASA mission getting bits of comet back in my lab to play with is bonkers. So it's really exciting.

GM: Phil Bland there with his dust from the stars. Some of the most precious material in the Universe.

Rector Sir Richard Sykes pulls a pint of Centenary ale

Well, for many the second most precious substance, especially after a long day in the lab, is a nice pint of bitter. And that's what I'm about to sample right now. I know. It's not a flimsy excuse for a drink here in the Union Bar in Imperial's historic Beit Quad. It's all part of the College's centenary celebrations. In fact for the whole of 2007 we're celebrating the 100th anniversary of the signing of the Charter that brought together the Royal School of Mines, the Royal College of Science and the City and Guilds College. Well, there are all kinds of events across the year to celebrate the centenary. And part of those celebrations include an ale especially brewed for the occasion. And it's just been unveiled officially by our rector, Sir Richard Sykes. And in fact, Sir Richard you've just ceremonially pulled the first pint. What are your first impressions?

RS: It was great to pull a pint of Imperial 100 and I've just tasted it and it's got a nice body to it. It's got a nice head to it and it tastes really malty, which I like.

GM: Yeah, absolutely. I've just tasted some as well and there is that kind of, I suppose, characteristic taste of hops in the beer. As you say, it's quite malty. And quite a healthy looking head that gradually settles down across the beer as you drink it, which is just how it should be.

RS: Yeah. I think one pint is quite sufficient but really enjoyable and I think on a warm summer's evening it's going to be very much appreciated.

GM: I agree. I think it's very much a case of quality rather than quantity. And the idea really is just to have maybe a half pint of this or possibly a whole pint during the summer, as you suggest, on a nice warm summer's evening to reflect on a 100 years of Imperial College. And it's quite a year, isn't it, this centenary year 2007?

RS: I think it's a fantastic time because it does lots of things, having the centenary year. But one of the things is it helps us to socialise more. It gives us a focus for getting together and talking about a 100 years and maybe what we'll do over the next 100 years. And to have an Imperial College beer to talk that over with I think is great. And I'd like to congratulate the brewery as well, Blindmans Brewery from Frome, who were the ones who came up with this. I'd also like to thank the students who've made this possible. They've really taken the spirit of the centenary, and I'd like to congratulate them for that.

GM: And just before I let you go and enjoy it, you did let slip as you were pouring that celebratory pint that you once upon a time worked in a pub not far from here?

RS: Yeah. I was a student in London and I used to work two nights a week in a pub. It was opposite what was then the Army and Navy Stores on Victoria Street. That's a long time ago though.

GM: Well, Sir Richard I'm glad you're enjoying the beer. The man we have to thank for it is Paul Edney who's the Director and Chief Brewer at the Blindmans Brewery, the brewery responsible. We've been doing our best, as you just heard, to describe the beer. I think we said it's malty and it's hoppy. Can you give us a bit more exacting i nfor mation about the composition of this here brew?

PE: Well, it's classed as a session beer. It's a 4.2 session beer, mid-brown in colour. It's quite a smooth taste. Not too hoppy, not too malty but very smooth from start to finish . Totally unique in ingredients to the Imperial College so it is a total one-off beer.

GM: And it sounds as if somebody might have dropped a glass of it in the background there but never mind. Just tell us a bit about your brewery then.

PE: We're basically a craft brewery. Everything is done by hand. Nothing is done by computers. It's all natural ingredients and all local ingredients as well. Natural spring water from our own land. All the ingredients, like the malt, just comes from down the road so it is totally and utterly how it used to be. Not big industry at all.

GM: And based in Somerset, which for people listening overseas is in the West of England?

PE: Yeah, a little village called Leighton which is between Frome and Shepton Mallet in Somerset. So tucked away out the way, yeah.

GM: And people might be wondering how a great big university like Imperial College discovered your brewery out in the wilds of the West of England. And it sounds as if Will Dugdale, as a project person here at the Imperial College Union, it might have something to do with your being a bit of an enthusiast of these guys' beer aren't you?

WD: Indeed I am. It actually transpired that I went down to Bath and I went to a pub there where they had a beer which I really enjoyed and I thought we could get it up for the bar here. And I came back to the College in the New Year and we were discussing doing something interesting for the centenary celebrations. I rang these guys up and asked them if they'd be happy to make a smaller brew for us and they said that they could.

GM: How did you go about briefing these people about what the beer should be like?

WD: Our concern was more to do with getting the taste nice for students. Because obviously it's a student bar but at the same time we wanted it to be something quite interesting so that people who actually like their ale as well would appreciate it. So there was quite a large area to encompass there. Now, the brilliant thing is of course that Paul and Lloyd know their beer.

GM: Brewing is kind of a science but it's also a bit of an art, isn't it Paul, so even as a really experienced brewer yourself I'd image you'd often be surprised at the results? So when the first pint came out of the barrel what did you think of it? Were you quite pleased?

PE: Yeah. When it first comes out it usually takes a couple of weeks in the container to condition it before you can actually really get the taste of it. And, again, everyone has got their own unique taste. I mean, someone who might love a beer might hate another beer. So even though we enjoyed it you can never tell what the customers are going to like. So when we got the call in to say that everyone loves it obviously it's fantastic. So it went well from there, basically.

GM: All right, big question to you then Will. Do you think that this beer is a fitting tribute to a 100 years of Imperial College?

WD: Well, I think it is to an extent in that obviously when it comes down to it it's a beer. But I like it. A lot of the senior members of staff seem to like it, and they like their beers. But also it's not too threatening for the younger students and also nice for the older generation, for those who know what they're talking about really.

GM: And indeed students from around the world come here to Imperial College to be educated. And in my humble opinion this is all part of their education. Will and Paul, thanks very much.

And on that cheery, beery note that's where we leave it for this edition. The Imperial College London Podcast is available on the first working day of each month so by my reckoning that means we'll be back with more at the beginning of May.

Ozgur Buldum is the composer who's kindly let us use his track Layla as our theme tune each month. Hear more of his music at

And Helen Morant is the producer who kindly stays up late putting all this together.

Our podcast is a co-production of the Imperial College Press Office and the Science Communication Group.

I'm Gareth Mitchell and I'll see you next month. For now though thanks for listening and good bye.