Every once in a while, though, a party comes to town that is actually worth attending. For instance, every fall, Vienna throws this mad-wild shindig called the Langes Nacht der Museen. Between 5pm and midnight, you can attend all the museums you want on one €13 ticket. It's absolutely brilliant. Likewise, every spring there is the Langes Nacht der Kirchen, when all Vienna's churches are open to the public for free. These are parties that I am willing to attend.
This past Friday was European Researchers' Night. From 5pm on, dozens of research groups and institutes were set up over three floors of the Aula der Wissenschaften. My friend Miche and I trooped over and spent the evening trying out robotic hands, making slime, having 3D images made of our faces, and trying out art sonification systems. We learned about how Vienna was a big hub for spies in the years following WWII, and watched a perfectly respectable looking gentleman demonstrate how he could bypass any Windows password with a few clicks on his keyboard.
I was particularly interested in the eye-tracking glasses. I have participated in my fair share of eye-tracking experiments and run a few such tests myself. Most eye-tracking systems monitor a person's eye movements across a computer screen. They can be very useful in many cases (e.g. in studies of reading or face perception), but tend to lose track of people's eyes if they look away from the screen or move their heads. (Which people like to do. A lot.) The eye-tracking glasses I tried out at the research fair put virtually no limits on where you can look. You could actually use them to monitor what people focus on when out in the world. They would be fantastic for monitoring eye contact among ensemble musicians, if only they weren't €10,000 a pair.
The heat imaging station was my other favourite. A group of researchers have been using a type of imaging that maps out heat contrasts to study human emotions. Their hypothesis is that certain patterns of heat change in people's faces correspond to changes in emotion. For instance, when you get embarrassed, blood rushes to your face and your temperature goes up. Sounds a bit dubious to me, but anyway. They offered to take our pictures with their heat cameras, and that's not something to pass up.
Miche went first. Her picture is the normal-looking one on the right. Purple bits are cooler and yellow bits are warmer. I went next. That's me on the left with the leper nose. The tech guys laughed so hard when I walked in front of the camera. They measured an almost 10-degree Celsius difference in temperature between my leper nose and the rest of my face. I swear I wasn't even that cold, at least not by my standards.
We went for ice cream afterwards, because it was cold and raining and I had my bike and a leper nose and no raincoat. I never said I made any sense.