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Our guide to LifeLab: Two days of family-friendly science in Cambridge and Peterborough shopping centres, libraries and more

By Paul Brackley

A young visitor enjoys an Adventure Arcade. Picture: MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology
A young visitor enjoys an Adventure Arcade. Picture: MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology

The Grand Arcade and The Grafton shopping centres will become adventure zones as events take place on Friday and Saturday

A bite-size science event. Picture: Robert Slowley
A bite-size science event. Picture: Robert Slowley

Adventure zones at The Grand Arcade and The Grafton, a lab in a library and storytelling with a difference... these are just some of the attractions in the inspiring programme of family-friendly science events taking place on Friday and Saturday (September 28-29).

Held in shopping centres, cafes and public spaces across Cambridge and Peterborough, most of the LifeLab events are free and designed to suit all ages and interests.

Experiments in pop-up labs, a puppet show with a difference, story-telling and retro game shows are among the activities, while outdoor explorers can take a tour of discovery – guided or self-guided – around some of Cambridge’s best kept scientific secrets. Foodies can enjoy pizza with a side of science, and there’s even a comedy lab and a look at science on screen with a Saturday morning movie.

Dr Kenneth Skeldon, from the Wellcome Genome Campus Public Engagement team, which is leading the programme, said: “We’re incredibly excited to launch the LifeLab programme and look forward to welcoming people to our great programme of events. We’ll be shining a light on our region’s great strengths and opportunities in life sciences, including the many and varied career opportunities available.”

Other partners for LifeLab include the Wellcome Sanger Institute, the European Bioinformatics Institute (EMBL-EBI), the Babraham Institute, the University of Cambridge and the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge.

Designed to reach all communities, including those who have not engaged much with science or research in the past, the events focus on discovering the world around us, and the pioneering life science and opportunities on our doorsteps.

Science in the Square. Picture: Genome Research Ltd
Science in the Square. Picture: Genome Research Ltd

Events in the Grand Arcade and The Grafton centre in Cambridge and in the Queensgate shopping centre and Cathedral Square in Peterborough are free. Other events may require advanced booking or paid entry on the door.

Schools in Cambridgeshire have been taking part in warm-up activities before the events.

Laura Pellegrini, from the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology, one of the many scientists involved in LifeLab, said: “With such a diverse programme, we’re hoping that there’s something for everyone. Primarily, we’re looking forward to sharing and celebrating an aspect of our region that has put it on the global map.

“LifeLab is providing us with the opportunity to try new things in new places and we can’t wait!”

LifeLab forms part of European Researchers’ Night, an annual celebration bringing science together with society, which is happening in 27 countries across Europe on the last weekend of September.

Other events around the UK are being organised by the Natural History Museum in London, the University of Aberdeen, and the University of Bristol.

Below are the Cambridge events. View the full details and book via camlifelab.co.uk. Follow @camlifelab on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram for more.

Events in Cambridge

Adventure Arcade

Fri 28 Sept, noon–​6pm | drop-in | hands-on | all ages | free | Grand Arcade | No booking required

The Grand Arcade is being turned into an adventure zone for the day! Come and explore pop-up lab outside John Lewis and bump into buskers throughout the centre. Grapple with gut health and wonder at whipworms as some of the most exciting bioscience happening across our region is shared.

Experimental Cancer Medicine Demystified (ECMD)

Fri 28 Sept | 9.45am–4.30pm | hands-on | talk | all ages | free | CRUK Cambridge Institute, Robinson Way, CB2 0RE | Booking required

The Cambridge Experimental Cancer Medicine Centre (ECMC) is delighted to invite you to an open event for patients, carers, and anyone with an interest in cancer research. There will be hands-on demonstrations, stands including Macmillan and Maggie’s Wallace, as well as talks from researchers, nurses, allied health professionals, and patients.


Fri 28 & Sat 29 Sept | multiple times | hands-on | families | free | Cambridge Central Library, Lion Yard | Booking required

​Are you able to unravel some of life’s secrets? Science might have the answers ready! Together with researchers you will delve into the worlds of colour or DNA. Get hands-on with experiments and be transformed into a scientist.

Culture Crawl

Fri 28 & Sat 29 Sept | free | Cambridge Guildhall main entrance | Booking required

A fascinating tour of discovery around some of Cambridge’s scientific secrets. It will explore hidden sites and stories bridging past and present that have helped build Cambridge’s reputation for discovery and innovation. For anyone interested in the cultural heritage on their doorstep and how to be part of its future.

Bite-size Science: LifeLab Special

Fri 28 Sept | 7pm–9.30pm | talk | hands-on | for adults (18+) | £2 | Cambridge Science Centre, Clifton Road Industrial Estate, CB1 7ED | Booking required

​Meet scientists from across Europe over themed pizza and drinks! From cyber hacking to genetics, food security to vaccination, it’s not just the toppings that will be topical! As well as having a bite of pizza, come and enjoy a variety of bite-sized talks and hands-on activities.

Café Sci Cambridge: LifeLab Special

Fri 28 Sept | 7pm–8.15pm | talk | for adults (16+) | free | The Locker Café, 54 King Street, CB1 1LN | No booking required

A special edition of the lively monthly discussion series. Linking to Jeans for Genes Day, local researchers will share their favourite genes and try to convince you, the audience, that their gene is the best!

MovieLab Saturday

Sat 29 Sept | 10am–noon | hands-on | all ages | £5/£3b | The Light Cinema, Cambridge Leisure Park, CB1 7DY | Booking required

Watch Zootropolis, the 2016 hit, where animals big and small live the city life together. But how does size relate to DNA and how animals really live? Play your genome right and try other fun activities in the cinema foyer to find out!

Adventure Centre

Fri 28 Sept | noon–6pm | drop-in | hands-on | all ages | free | The Grafton Centre | No booking required

A science playground will be created for the day in the heart of The Grafton. Head to the upper floor plaza with a range of exciting activities. Discover the science behind health and ageing, try your hand at making a pop-up protein and visit a thought-provoking puppet show.​

Tell Me A Story

Fri 28 & Sat 29 Sept | multiple times | talk | families | free | Cambridge Central Library, Lion Yard | Booking required

Equality is rarely out of the headlines, but impressions can be formed at a young age. Join a story telling session with a difference as it inspires youngsters through stories of life and adventure, created with gender equality and social justice in mind.


Fri 28 Sept | 5pm–6pm | for kids (8+) | free | Babbage Lecture Theatre, CB2 3QF | Booking required

Just what are these kids talking about?! Join scientist teams as they try to guess the science topic as described by a group of children. Do they know what it is? Does anyone? Relive an 80s gameshow classic with a special science spin.

Genomics & Us: The Future Of Genomic Medicine

Fri 28 Sept | 6.30pm–8pm | talk | for adults (16+) | free | Babbage Lecture Theatre, CB2 3QF | Booking required​

Join Ewan Birney, director of the European Bioinformatics Institute and a panel of leading scientists, who will each share two things they believe will be different in society and medicine in the next 10 years as a result of genomics. An audience discussion will follow the panel debate.

MovieLab Friday

Fri 28 Sept | 7pm–10pm | talk | for adults & kids (12+) | £5/£3 | Booking required

Is there life on Mars? From 2020 the European Space Agency will be sending ExoMars to find out! Join Abbie Hutty as she discusses her incredible work and the excitement around Europe’s first Martian Rover. This will be followed by a showing of the 2015 sci fi hit The Martian.

The Variables Present: LifeLab Special | Booking required

Fri 28 Sept | 8.30pm–10.30pm | for adults (18+) | £5 | Cambridge Brew House, 1 King St, CB1 1LH

Join a line-up of budding comedians from the world of science and technology, as they take a humorous look at their life in the lab. Hosted by The Variables.

Quids In!

Sat 29 Sept | 10.30am–5pm | hands-on | drop-in | exhibition | all ages | £1/€1 | Cambridge Science Centre, 44 Clifton Road Industrial Estate, CB1 7ED | No booking required

Cambridge Science Centre is celebrating science across Europe. Gain entry for £1 or €1! The centre’s usual exhibits will be peppered with scientists to chat with as well as a range of extra activities to take part in.


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