Cambridge Science Festival comes of age


What will we do if our CO2 reduction efforts don't work? How does work make you healthier? Are we becoming more experimental in our sex lives? These are a few of the many questions explored at the 2015 Cambridge Science Festival. Bookings open on Monday (9 February) at 10.30am when 18,000 tickets will be made available.


This year marks the 21st Science Festival (9 – 22 March). With 275 events over two weeks, the 2015 Science Festival is the largest yet and features everything scientific from the environment, neuroscience, health and wellbeing, to space, religion, art and much more.

The first week is packed full of events that cater to a wide variety of interests and ages. On the evening of Wednesday 11 March, Engineering our climate will explore the debate about CO2 reduction efforts. Do we just accept climate consequences of the CO2 we generate – sea level rise, desertification, ocean acidification, loss of habitat – or do we fix the damage we are causing? Dr Hugh Hunt will look at one geoengineering solution, solar radiation management, and will discuss the engineering challenges involved.

Speaking in advance of the event, Dr Hunt said: “There are several viable technologies for controlling the climate – known as ‘geoengineering’. Carbon Dioxide Removal (CDR) by sequestering CO2 is one, or Solar Radiation Management (SRM) using space reflectors is another. The SPICE project (Stratospheric Particle Injection for Climate Engineering) investigates benefits, risks, costs and feasibility of SRM by injecting reflective aerosols in the atmosphere.

“If particles can be delivered into the stratosphere at an altitude of 20km, emulating the effects of a large volcanic eruption, then global cooling of about 2 degrees Celsius could be achieved.  One way to deliver particles to 20km is to pump them through a number of high-pressure pipes suspended by balloons.  This presents many novel engineering challenges, especially the design of the pipe and pumping systems to withstand pressures up to 4,000 bar (that’s 2,000 times more pressure than a car tyre and the weight of 350 cars) and tensions up to 500 tonnes.”

Also up for debate during the first week is the question, ‘How does work make you healthier?’ On Friday 13 March, a leading panel of health experts, Professor Dame Carol Black, Expert Adviser on Health and Work to the Department of Health, Dr Steve Boorman, Chair of the Boorman review of health and wellbeing in the NHS and Dr Chris van Stolk of RAND Europe, will explore how and to what extent the workplace can improve our health and wellbeing.

Sex is just one of the big topics tackled during the second week of the Science Festival. At the event, Sex by Numbers: Statistics of our Intimate Lives, which takes place on Wednesday 18 March, renowned statistician and Science Festival favourite, Professor David Spiegelhalter will explore the findings from the latest survey of British sexual behaviour, which suggests we are becoming more experimental in our sex lives, but there is less of it taking place.  He will also look at what can be learnt from old parish registers going back to 1580, such as the proportion of brides who were pregnant when they got married (around one in three).

Commenting on more recent surveys, Professor Spiegelhalter said: “It’s tricky getting good statistics about what goes on behind closed doors. However, recent surveys are fairly reliable and show that around one in three young people have sex before they are 16, but they are becoming more careful than previous generations.  And even official statistics on the number and gender of births reveal some extraordinary facts, such as relatively more boys being born at the end of wars.  Why is this?  I will argue that it’s because of the intensity of sexual activity at those times, and conversely that the paucity of boys around 1900 suggests this was a historical minimum for sex”.

Other events of note during the Festival include a look at the emerging technologies that help generate power to meet our increasing demand for energy. A prototype solar hub will be unveiled between 11am – 12.30pm at the Botanic Garden on Tuesday 10 March.

During the evening of the same day, Tuesday 10 March, the Andrew Chamblin Memorial Lecture will be presented by one the leading theoretical physicist of our time, Professor Frank Wilczek from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. During this talk, the audience will be able to get up to speed with the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) with Professor Wilczek, who is known for his discovery of asymptotic freedom. He developed the theory that quarks behave almost like free particles when they are close together within a hadron, for which he received the Nobel Prize in 2004. His research ranges across particle physics, astrophysics and condensed matter physics.

Later that evening, visitors will be able to join TV presenter, Dr Chris van Tulleken who will ask, ‘Is there a right diet for me?’ He will be joined by the scientists from the recent BBC2 Horizon documentary What’s the right diet for you?

Other events during the first week will delve into what your Facebook says about you; the role of touch in consumer behaviour; the controversy over vitamin D levels; and robots that walk, run and dance.

The first Science on Saturday 14 March promises to be even bigger and better than previous years (with 100 events in one day), making it the busiest day of the Festival. Following last year’s overwhelming success, the Festival will return to the Corn Exchange and the Guildhall to host an eclectic mix of hands-on exhibits. Around Cambridge, the Festival will feature a further range of events from the secret world of code breaking, solar-powered cars, the adventures of molecular explorers, a journey to Mars, a story-telling session in which the audience decide what happens, and everything else in between including snot, custard fireballs, vacuum bazookas and big bangs.

For the first time ever, the Cambridge Corn exchange will also be hosting a range of hands-on activities for ‘adults only’ on Saturday evening as part of the Festival.

The second week of the Festival continues with a diverse range of events, including a new performance that draws on personal experiences of OCD; a panel of experts looking at the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, which are being implemented this year; the latest in stem cell research; experimental studies into drug addiction; and several events that deal with the subject of play and how it’s important for children and adults alike.

For the second Science on Saturday 21 March, the Festival returns to the West Cambridge Site to present a range of mathematical and astronomical talks and events. The Cavendish Laboratory and the Institute for Manufacturing also open their doors for another exciting day of talks and exhibits, including hands-on physics, laser lab tours, a live demonstration of an invisibility cloak and the chance to make a watch from scratch.

The Science Festival concludes on Sunday 22 March. Following the success of last year’s journey from bench to bedside, the Festival returns to the Cambridge Biomedical Campus to stage a packed day of all things medical, including hands-on activities and talks by leading medical research scientists. Highlights include a discussion of the power of science in popular culture by actor, Stephen McGann, the doctor on BBC’s Call the Midwife. There will be a panel discussion concerned with how heath records have the power to transform treatments – in spite of the recent headline about the perils of data sharing. Visitors will also have the opportunity to look behind the scenes and discover what makes Cambridge University Hospital tick with an extensive choice of interactive activities including the opportunity to have a go at keyhole surgery.

Commenting on this year’s Festival, Dr Lucinda Spokes, Cambridge Science Festival Coordinator said: “Every year, the Science Festival grows in both size and popularity and this year is no exception. We’re delighted to host yet another Festival that promises to be a spectacular presentation of scientific ideas and discoveries. As ever, the calibre of speakers and the quality of the events showcasing the latest in scientific research to the public is outstanding.

“This year, we are lucky to have a remarkable line up of speakers, including Professor Frank Wilczek from MIT; TV presenter, Dr Chris van Tulleken; seven of the new Fellows of the Royal Society; Professor Dame Carol Black; the Astronomer Royal, Professor Sir Martin Rees; Professor Sir Colin Humphreys; author, journalist and TV presenter, Simon Singh; comedian Robin Ince; and science songstress Helen Arney.

“In addition to the talks, debates, exhibits and activities, we have a mix of science comedy, theatrical performance and art exhibitions, which are sure to delight people of all ages.

“We very much look forward to welcoming both our regular visitors and new audiences and hope that everyone thoroughly enjoys this year’s Science Festival.”

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