Oddly, this is the first year I’ve considered going to the British Science Festival. It’s not that I wouldn’t have enjoyed it before, it just never occurred to me to go! Anyway, this year with my involvement in Science Brainwaves and a budding interest in Science Communication I’ve resolved to make sure I get there. This year the festival is being hosted by Newcastle University, which is handy for me as I have a few contacts in Newcastle who will hopefully have spare beds (or floors!) I can crash on for the week.
First step, find out how to buy tickets. Surely there’s some sort of season ticket I can buy that gets me in to all the events? No there isn’t, but hang on – that’s because most of the events are FREE! Music to my student ears! I rush to find the downloadable programme and start copying down all the things I want to go to. I realise that I might have to draw myself up a timetable and a very good map, in order to hotfoot it across Newcastle and get to 5 or so events a day. At least there seem to often be several talks on a theme, so if I miss one then at least I might be able to get to another.
In fact there seem to be several themes running through this year’s festival – whether intentionally or not I don’t know. The first one that I noticed was climate change – a fairly unsurprising topic. The second seems to be industrialisation, which is not only relevant to Newcastle but is very much a part of the first theme. The third major (and certainly intentional) theme that caught my eye was “Epifection”. This is a series of events that is supposed to simulate an epidemic infection (EPIdemic inFECTION – get it?) and how public and personal choices effect the spread of a disease. Should research concentrate on a vaccine or on a cure? Should you go to the shops or hide away inside? With constant scares in the news about the next big epidemic scare I’m curious to find out, even though I’ll only arrive on Sunday evening so I’ll miss the initial talks. That’s ok though – It’ll give me an excuse to go to the survivor’s party at the end of the week and find out first-hand how people ‘survived’ (or not!).
In general it seems that the organisers of all these events have hit the nail on the head with many of the questions in science that I’ve often wondered about. One talk is a debate about whether stopping the ageing process is really solving the problem of an ageing population, another about how being educated in more than one language effects your brain (I remember being shocked that my Canadian cousins had to do half of their school day in French at about age eleven!). In the first talk that I plan to go to on Sunday night Robert Winston even addresses the question of whether people realise that pretty much every licensed pharmaceutical they’ve ever had has been tested on animals. I’ve always wondered whether animal rights activists take this into account, and if so how they deal with it? It looks like my curiosity might finally be sated – I can’t wait to get to Newcastle!