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25 highlights from the Cambridge Festival

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A fantastic new programme of online events – which brings together the much-loved Cambridge Science Festival and the Cambridge Festival of Ideas – begins later this month.

Sir David Attenborough. Picture: Keith Heppell
Sir David Attenborough. Picture: Keith Heppell

More than 350 events are planned for the first Cambridge Festival, organised by the University of Cambridge.

It is an astonishing array of online talks, presentations and events, which the Cambridge Independent is proud to support.

Taking place from Friday, March 26 to Sunday, April 4, the programme – revealed in full on Monday (February 22) – is organised into four key themes: health, environment, society and explore.

The virtual festival brings together two much-loved Cambridge institutions – the Festival of Ideas and the Science Festival – and can be enjoyed by anyone in the world with internet access.

David Cain, festival manager (arts, humanities and social sciences), said: “The past year has been one of the most turbulent that any of us can remember on so many fronts.

"Through the hundreds of events focused on tackling the many issues we’re all facing, from climate change to pandemics, we hope that the Cambridge Festival offers people insight and a new perspective on these critical, global challenges.

“Alongside the many researchbased discussions and debates, there are also a huge array of art exhibitions, films and familyfriendly events that will appeal to everyone, young and old.”

Rosie Trevelyan, who will be speaking at the Cambridge Festival
Rosie Trevelyan, who will be speaking at the Cambridge Festival

Naomi Clements-Brod, festival manager (science), added: “Now more than ever, scientists need to involve and engage the public with their work. Our aim with the science-based events at the Cambridge Festival is to share the latest, ground-breaking research from Cambridge and beyond, empowering everyone to explore so that they can understand and learn more about the world around them.

“We want to inspire people to see and experience things differently, and for them to interact with all the events on offer.”

Many events require pre-booking - visit festival.cam.ac.uk to see the full programme and reserve your place.

Here are some recommended highlights from a packed programme.

Online astronomy talks

Throughout the Cambridge Festival, the Institute of Astronomy will be hosting live online talks about space, suitable for all ages. Available on demand. Monday, March 29.

A girl stargazing
A girl stargazing

MRC CBU Science Night: Thinking about the brain

A range of online talks covering cognition, the brain and unit technology. Downloadable brain-related activities and interactive games. All ages, available on demand with downloadable content. Friday, March 26.

The human brain
The human brain

Lets talk about poo!

Professor Stephen Baker, molecular microbiologist at the University of Cambridge and ‘the super sleuth of poop’, will be sharing a fascinating view down his microscope so you can learn “what’s in your poo”, “what can your poo tell us” and why “a healthy gut means a healthy you”. All Ages, available on demand. Friday, March 26.

A virtual exploration of the Botanic Garden

Find out what’s in season, what’s in bloom, and explore some of the reserve areas of the Cambridge University Botanic Garden with their head of horticulture. All ages, available on demand. Friday, March 26.

Crime and punishment in Cambridge in the 1850s

A short documentary that takes a look at Victorian crime, using the stories of those recorded in Cambridge gaol in the 1851 census. Adults, available on demand. Friday, March 26.

Dead souls, barge haulers, and onion domes: Quizzing through the Slavic world

This event merges an interactive component with a series of mini-lectures from the Slavonic faculty intended to showcase the research diversity of the section. The audience will participate directly by answering quiz questions, which, in turn, serve as a springboard for exploration of certain topics in art, culture, literatures, and the languages of the Slavic world. Saturday, March 27.

The experiment files at Crash, Bang, Squelch! 2021

Ever wondered how to use ketchup to clean coppers, make mini-explosions, or create your own sunset? CHaOS’s interactive experiment file workshops are here to show you how!

Complete two weird and wonderful experiments in real time along with friendly student volunteers, learning loads of cool science along the way. Downloadable activities available to do at home. Available on demand, for children under 12. Saturday, March 27.

Mastering mental health through video games

Professor Paul Fletcher (Department of Psychiatry) and Tameem Antoniades (founder and chief creative at Ninja Theory) share how they collaborated to create the BAFTA Award-winning game Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice, as well as how they are now working together to develop a new approach to mental health using videogame art and design and biometric wearable devices. Adults and young adults, available on demand. Saturday, March 27.

Saving animal species

Conservation success stories at the Museum of Zoology. Explore the Museum of Zoology with conservation experts and discover the wildlife conservation success stories behind the animals on display. All ages, available on demand. Sunday, March 28.

Bringing the curtain down: Mikhail Gorbachev and the collapse of the Soviet Union

The collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 was one of the most significant events in the 20th century. To mark its 30th anniversary, Dr Jonathan Davis, Anglia Ruskin University, examine the causes of the quiet end of communism in the USSR. Adults and young adults. Monday, March 29.

USSR flag
USSR flag

How our bodily fluids help diagnose cancer earlier

A live-streamed talk from four group leaders from the Cancer Research UK Cambridge Centre, whose research groups are all focused on the challenge of detecting cancer earlier and thereby improving outcomes for patients. Adults. Sunday, March 28.

Ask the Experts: Aliens!

Evolutionary biologist Wallace Arthur takes on all things alien, answering your questions about extraterrestrial life. Are we alone in the universe? All ages, available on demand. Sunday, March 28.


As the world locked down in 2020, researchers at the University of Cambridge were busy at their laboratory benches revealing new insights into SARS-CoV2 to help in the global fight against Covid-19.

Here, they present a selection of Covid-19 talks highlighting the research and interests of some of the scientists within the Department of Pathology. Adults and young adults. Sunday, March 28.

Safe sex for teenagers: A journey through historical and educational sources

Sex education materials for young people remain a contentious topic in today’s society and have been the object of recurrent debates since the postwar period. This online talk will provide a historical overview of the evolution of educational materials aimed at young people and produced by sexual health charities from the 1960s. Adults and young adults. Monday, March 29.

Yellow-shouldered parrot: Venezuela

Once threatened by the pet trade, the numbers of this beautiful parrot species have more than doubled in the last 10 years. All ages. Thursday, April 1.

Yellow-shouldered parrot (Amazona barbadensis) taking flight
Yellow-shouldered parrot (Amazona barbadensis) taking flight

In conversation with Sir David Attenborough

An exclusive interview with Sir David Attenborough, discussing his hope for our planet including a brief Q&A session. All ages. Sunday, April 4.

Why should we be optimistic about nature’s future? A Q&A with Chris Packham

Ask Chris Packham about why he thinks there are reasons to be positive about our planet’s future. All you need to do is register for this event to submit your questions to Chris Packham. This Q&A session will be chaired by Rosie Trevelyan. All ages. Monday, March 29.

Chris Packham
Chris Packham

Public health and architecture

Did you know that architecture can affect your health? Join this discussion with Cambridge researchers to find out how, why and what can be done. Adults and young adults. Tuesday, March 30.

The Pattern Seekers: A new theory of human invention

Professor Simon Baron-Cohen on his new book which celebrates the role of human cognitive diversity in invention. Adults and young adults. Tuesday, March 30.

Prof Simon Baron-Cohen at Trinity College, Cambridge. Picture: Keith Heppell
Prof Simon Baron-Cohen at Trinity College, Cambridge. Picture: Keith Heppell

A vision of home: Ideas on home, house and household inspired by Christian Social Ethics

Home is the existential longing of all humans, yet owning a house is out of reach for so many. But what is home? A true vision of home is both material and relational and invites us to explore with what it means to be human. Adults and young adults. Wednesday, March 31.

Connections: Covid-19 one year on

As part of the ‘Connections’ series, Lucy Cavendish College hopes you can join them for a fascinating virtual talk featuring experts discussing Covid-19. Adults. Wednesday, March 31.

Coronavirus. COVID-19, 3D Render
Coronavirus. COVID-19, 3D Render

AI: Hype vs reality

Data science and AI have the potential to transform the discovery and development of medicines. However, there is a lot of hype surrounding AI. Join the discussion to find out what advances are realistic to expect in the next 5-10 years. Adults. Wednesday, March 31.

Craic and shenanigans in search of English words borrowed from Irish

English words such as ‘shenanigans’, ‘smithereens’ and ‘whiskey’ are commonly thought of as borrowings from Irish. Find out which are, which are not, and which might be. Adults and young adults. Thursday, April 1.

Suffer the little robots? The moral and legal status of artificial beings

A talk on the quandaries and dilemmas posed by the possibility of artificial suffering by Dr Henry Shevlin, research fellow at the Leverhulme Centre for the Future of Intelligence. Adults and young adults. Friday, April 2.

Growing up insecure

Panel discussion on mental health and wellbeing for young people in an age of insecurity with Duncan Astle, Anne-Laura van Harmelen, Brendan Burchell and Jo-Anne Dillabough, chaired by Ahmed Hankir. Adults. Saturday, April 3.

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

Keep up to date: Instagram: @Camunifestivals, Facebook: @CambridgeFestival, Twitter: @Cambridge_Fest

Read more:

Cambridge Festival asks: can robots ever truly mimic humans?

Full programme for Cambridge Festival is launched

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Submit your questions for Sir David Attenborough to answer at the Cambridge Festival

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