University of Cambridge unveils extensive programme for new festival

sun coming up over the edge of the earth_ reasons for optimism

On Monday 22nd February, the University of Cambridge unveils the programme for its exciting, new festival, the Cambridge Festival, which is set to host an extensive series of free, online events that can be viewed by anyone anywhere in the world between 26 March – 4 April this year.

The inaugural Festival, which brings together the hugely popular Cambridge Science Festival and the Cambridge Festival of Ideas, aims to tackle and offer solutions for humanity’s most pressing issues, from pandemics, climate change and global economics, to human rights and the future of democracy.

Over 350 events, including debates, discussions, talks, exhibitions, lab tours, workshops, films and performances, present new ideas, research and insight into our daily lives and the issues that are affecting all of us.

The Festival features hundreds of prominent figures and experts in the world of science, current affairs and the arts, including: broadcaster and natural historian Sir David Attenborough; leading expert in carbon footprinting Professor Mike Berners-Lee; statistician Professor Sir David Spiegelhalter; marine biologist, broadcaster and writer Helen Scales; naturalist and TV presenter Chris Packham; Costa Rican climate champion Christiana Figueres, widely credited for achieving the Paris agreement; Professor of politics David Runciman; theatre director and producer and Founder of the WOW Foundation, Jude Kelly; psychologist Professor Sir Simon Baron-Cohen; human rights barrister and author Philippe Sands; TV presenter Liz Bonnin; author and broadcaster Nina Schick; and Dr Rowan Williams, the former archbishop of Canterbury.

The Cambridge Festival programme is divided into four key themes: health, environment, society and explore.

Highlights include:

On environment there are talks by internationally-known experts, including an exclusive interview and Q&A with Sir David Attenborough in Hope for Our Planet with Sir David Attenborough; environmental expert Mike Berners-Lee takes us through the facts and figures to help us understand the big picture and how we can respond to it in our everyday lives in There Is No Planet B; and Helen Scales eloquently and passionately brings to life a series of tales, based on her new book (July 2021) about deep-sea discovery in The Brilliant Abyss. Other events include:

  • Why should we be optimistic? A Q&A with Chris Packham – a chance to ask Chris Packham about why he is optimistic. Chaired by Dr Rosie Trevelyan. Participants need to register for this event to submit their questions to Chris Packham via the Earth Optimism website after 22nd February:
  • Hope for the world's climate – an interview with the Costa Rican climate champion Christiana Figueres, widely credited for achieving the Paris agreement.
  • 2040 – award-winning director Damon Gameau embarks on a journey to explore what the future could look like by the year 2040 if we simply embraced the best solutions already available to us to improve our planet and shifted them rapidly into the mainstream.

On society there are panel discussions on everything from democracy in an age of upheaval with Professor David Runciman and Nina Schick to the impact of Black Lives Matter with Professor of Black Studies Kehinde Andrews, who has a new book coming out shortly, and award-winning behavioural scientist Pragya Agarwal, who has also recently written an acclaimed book, SWAY: unravelling unconscious bias. There are further talks by distinguished academics including Professor Sir Simon Baron-Cohen on the links between neurodiversity and innovation, and James Otteson discusses his forthcoming book, Seven Deadly Economic Sins (April 2021) on the seven central economic fallacies. Other events include:

  • Crimes Against Humanity - Cambridge's place as a cradle for International Human Rights – human rights QC and author Phillippe Sands and the Vice Chancellor of the University of Cambridge, Professor Stephen Toope discuss Cambridge's place as a cradle for ideas of international human rights, and Phillippe's books East West Street and The Ratline.
  • How to make the world add up – economist and TV presenter Tim Harford and Professor Sir David Spiegelhalter discuss COVID-19 numbers and Tim's recent book How to Make the World Add Up.
  • Post-COVID Recovery and the Future of Global Economics – Dr Augusto Lopez-Claros, Chair of the Global Governance Forum, examines the immediate challenge of economic recovery from COVID-19 and discusses measures to overhaul our system of global economic governance and propel us on the path to a sustainable and equitable future.
  • Suffer the little robots? The moral and legal status of artificial beings – Dr Henry Shevlin, Research Fellow at the Leverhulme Centre for the Future of Intelligence, explores the quandaries and dilemmas posed by the possibility of artificial intelligence suffering.

On health, there are panel discussions on everything from COVID-19 research and the impact on children of growing up in an increasingly insecure world, to the future of genome editing. Events include:

  • myICUvoice - a ground-breaking iPad app allowing ICU patients to communicate with staff and loved ones – Dr Tim Baker discusses how a ground-breaking iPad app for ICU patients is transforming the experiences and wellbeing of critically ill COVID-19 patients in the intensive care unit (ICU) by helping them to communicate when ventilators prevent the vocal cords from working.
  • Why does obesity make COVID19 more dangerous? Professor Sir Stephen O'Rahilly investigates why obesity might lead to adverse outcomes with COVID-19.
  • The dilemma of genome editing – should we do all we can to age well? The 2020 Chemistry Nobel Prize winners developed a tool for rewriting the code of life. Scientists discuss current and future applications of this technology in ageing research, as well as the wider ethical dilemmas it creates for society.
  • Growing up insecure: Modern factors that shape the current generation’s (mental) health – a panel discussion chaired by Dr Ahmed Hankir. Dr Duncan Astle focuses on new research concerning how the pandemic has affected young people’s mental health; Dr Jo-Anne Dillabough examines the impact of economic and social insecurity on marginalised communities; Professor Brendan Burchell talks about youth unemployment in the wake of COVID-19; and Dr Anne-Laura van Harmelen discusses her work on the long-term impact of early adversity on development and on resilience.

On explore there is a panel discussion on how Cambridge is contributing to global development challenges, and a tour of the ‘Nobel prize factory’ – a look inside the labs of a world-class research institute, the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology, whose scientists have won 12 Nobel Prizes for important work that has helped us understand and tackle major problems in health and disease. There are live demonstrations of zero carbon technologies, and Professor Tim Minshall looks at the ways in which engineers are trying to address the many challenges we read about in the news, from COVID-19 to climate change, from toilet paper shortages to living on Mars. Other events include:

  • What sensors can do for us – Dr Oliver Hadeler from CamBridgeSens, on the use of sensors in smart phones, health care settings, buildings and more.
  • Big Data, Big Brother and The Big Blue Ocean – this talk tackles the problem of overfishing, which can seem overwhelming, but now satellite technology and anyone with a home computer can make a real difference.
  • Research and innovation for global equality – discover some fascinating Cambridge scientific collaborations that are empowering countries to strengthen their research and innovation ecosystems, achieve food security and improve their healthcare and education.

As always there are numerous events for all the family – from gameshows, escape rooms, live experiments, hands-on workshops and more. Highlights include a fun, interactive gameshow, Battle of the Beasts with the Museum of Zoology; the chance to watch spring arrive during the visually stunning Wildlife Diaries at the Botanic Garden; and the Department of Pathology's Virtual Escape Room, involving a series of on-line activities, quizzes and puzzles specially selected for the ages of each team.

Speaking ahead of the Cambridge Festival, Naomi Clements-Brod, Festival Manager (Sciences), said: “Through its sheer volume and scope, the Cambridge Festival is a true reflection of the immense impact the University of Cambridge continues to have on our world through its research. We are excited to be sharing and involving people, from right across the world, in the forward-thinking work of the University and its collaborators during the 10 days, and very much look forward to welcoming our online guests to the very first Cambridge Festival.”  

View the full programme here from 22nd February. Prior to this, you can also sign up for Festival updates via the website before the programme comes out and bookings open.

Keep up to date with the Festival on social media:

Instagram @Camunifestivals

Facebook: @CambridgeFestival

Twitter: @Cambridge_Fest

The Festival sponsors and partners are AstraZeneca and RAND Europe. The Festival media partners are BBC Radio Cambridgeshire and Cambridge Independent.

Cambridge Festival 2021 banner



The University of Cambridge is acknowledged as one of the world's leading higher education and research institutions. The University was instrumental in the formation of the Cambridge Network and its Vice- Chancellor, Professor Stephen Toope, is also the President of the Cambridge Network.

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