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Cambridge Science Festival bookings open


By Alex Spencer


Research into black holes, the future of humanity and the truth about diets are some of the range of issues being explored in the upcoming Cambridge Science Festival.

Cambridge Science Festival programmes and flyers arrive at the HQ in the Old Schools in Cambridge, from left Alicia Lloyd, Lucinda Spokes and Hannah Jackson. Picture: Keith Heppell.
Cambridge Science Festival programmes and flyers arrive at the HQ in the Old Schools in Cambridge, from left Alicia Lloyd, Lucinda Spokes and Hannah Jackson. Picture: Keith Heppell.

Free tickets for the fortnight-long festival, which is supported by the Cambridge Independent, have gone online this morning and offer a packed programme of more than 350 events, all on the theme of discoveries.

Celebrating its 25th year, the festival will run for two weeks from March 11 - 24, with an impressive line-up of acclaimed scientists. These include microscopist Dame Professor Pratibha Gai, Astronomer Royal Professor Lord Martin Rees, 2018 Nobel prize winner Sir Gregory Winter, and geneticist Dr Giles Yeo - well-known from the Trust Me, I’m a Doctor TV show.

Martin Rees. Picture: Sir Cam
Martin Rees. Picture: Sir Cam

There are also talks from statistician Professor David Spiegelhalter, engineer Dr Hugh Hunt, marine biologist and author Helen Scales, THIS Institute Director Professor Mary Dixon-Woods, futurist Mark Stevenson, and science presenter Steve Mould.

Dr Lucinda Spokes, festival manager, said: “We are tremendously proud of this year’s programme due to the variety of events and the calibre of our speakers from a range of institutions and industries.

“Alongside the meatier topics we have an array of events for all ages and interests across both weekends. We have everything from the science of perfumery and how your mood affects your taste, to a science version of Would I lie to you?

“One of my personal top picks are the open days at the various institutes and departments based at the West Cambridge site on Saturday, March 23. As always, the site is hosting some truly fascinating events, everything from the future of construction and how to make Alexa smarter, to how nanotechnology is opening up new routes in healthcare, and state-of-the-art approaches to low-cost solar energy and high-efficiency lighting solutions.

“We chose the theme of discoveries because it is the 200th anniversary of the Cambridge Philosophical Society, which was started in 1819 by Charles Darwin’s mentor John Stephens Henslow and Adam Sedgwick, of the Sedgwick Museum fame. The idea behind the society was to discuss scientific discoveries at a time when Cambridge was more focused on religion and philosophy. We will also be celebrating another significant milestone in science - it is 150 years since the publication of the modern Periodic Table.”

The full programme has goes live this week and is teeming with events ranging from debates, talks, exhibitions, workshops, interactive activities, films, comedy and performances held in lecture theatres, museums, cafes and galleries around Cambridge. There are events for all ages and most are free. Online booking for the festival starts today (February 11) at sciencefestival.cam.ac.uk

With so many events on offer, audiences will be spoilt for choice. Some of the biggest events in week one include:

Is technology making us miserable? (March 11). Virtually every interaction we have is mediated through technology. Despite being ‘always-on’, are we any better off? Are we better connected? Or is technology making us miserable?

Putting radioactivity in perspective (March 12). Following a renewal of electricity generated by nuclear power, Professors Ian Farnan and Gerry Thomas, Imperial College London, discuss radioactivity in the natural world and the outcomes of decades of study on the health effects of radiation. Could these research outcomes reset attitudes be reset towards radiation and the risks?

The universe of black holes (March 13). Christopher Reynolds, Plumian Professor of Astronomy, describes how future research into black holes may yet again change our view of reality.

The long-term perspective of climate change (March 14). Professors Ulf Büntgen, Mike Hulme, Christine Lane, Hans W Linderholm, Clive Oppenheimer, Baskar Vira, and Paul J Krusic discuss how we investigate past climate and the challenges we face in applying this to the policy-making process.

Catalytic activation of renewable resources to make polymers and fuels (March 15). Professor Charlotte Williams, University of Oxford, discusses the development of catalysts able to transform carbon dioxide into methanol, a process which may deliver more sustainable liquid transport fuels in the future.

Does the mother ever reject the fetus? (March 15). Professor Ashley Moffett discusses fetal rejection and explores new discoveries that show that there are multiple mechanisms to ensure there is a peaceful environment in the uterus, where the placenta is allowed to grow and develop to support the fetus.

Top picks for the second week include:

Cambridge gravity lecture: Sir Gregory Winter (March 18). Sir Gregory is a molecular biologist and 2018 Nobel Laureate best known for his work on developing technologies to make therapeutic monoclonal antibodies. His research has led to antibody therapies for cancer, rheumatoid arthritis and multiple sclerosis.

Discoveries leading to new treatments for dementia (March 18). Professor of Clinical Neurosciences and Associate Director of the UK Dementia Research Institute, Giovanna Mallucci discusses how new research leading to insights into dementia and degenerative brain diseases may lead to new treatments.

Improving quality and safety in healthcare (March 19). THIS Institute Director Professor Mary Dixon-Woods looks at the challenges to improving quality and safety in healthcare and considers why it’s so hard to answer the question: Does quality improvement actually improve quality? With Dr Fiona Godlee, Editor in Chief of The BMJ.

Immunology: the future of medicine? (March 19) Professor Clare Bryant and a panel of Cambridge immunologists discuss how understanding disease triggers may enable entirely new approaches to treating and potentially preventing disease.

Polar ocean: the dead end of plastic debris (March 19). An estimated 80% of all the litter in our oceans is plastic, and a significant concentration of plastics debris is found in both polar oceans. The impact of this debris on the sensitive polar ecosystem could be profound. Pelagic marine ecologist Dr Clara Manno, British Antarctic Survey, explores the current research and existing situation in the polar regions.

Reluctant futurist (March 19). Old models for healthcare, education, food production, energy supply and government are creaking under the weight of modern challenges. Futurist Mark Stevenson looks at the next 30 years and asks, how can we re-invent ourselves for the future?

Adolescent mental health: resilience after childhood adversity (March 20). Adolescence is characterised by huge physiological changes as well as a rapid rise in mental health disorders. Around 45% of adolescent mental health problems are caused by childhood difficulties but fortunately not all who experience difficulties develop mental health disorders. Dr Anne-Laura van Harmelen discusses mechanisms that may help adolescents with a history of childhood difficulty to become more resilient.

Making algorithms trustworthy (March 21). Increasingly, algorithms are being used to make judgements about sensitive parts of our lives. How do we check how their conclusions were arrived at, and if they are valid and fair? Professor David Spiegelhalter looks at efforts to make algorithms transparent and trustworthy, using systems that make predictions for people with cancer as an example.

On the future: prospects for humanity (March 22). Professor Lord Martin Rees argues that humanity’s prospects on Earth and in space depend on our taking a different approach to planning for tomorrow.

Bookings open on Monday 11 February at 11am here: sciencefestival.cam.ac.uk/browse-2019-programme



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