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Cambridge Science Festival is back - and it will blow your mind

By Gemma Gardner

Cambridge Science Festival features hundreds of events
Cambridge Science Festival features hundreds of events

Hundreds of events on offer over two weeks

There are events for all ages at Cambridge Science Festival
There are events for all ages at Cambridge Science Festival

Is genomics the future of healthcare? How ready are we for the infectious diseases of the future? What exactly should we be eating and how should we be exercising to stay healthy?

To say that healthcare is changing would be an understatement. The developments in technology, medicine and knowledge over the past 10 years have been tremendous. However, this pace of change can be challenging.

This year’s Cambridge Science Festival (March 12-25) aims to make sense of it all by focusing on some of these advancements and the questions raised.

In The Future of Organ Transplantation: Science, Technology, Ethics and Law (Monday, March 19), Dr Kourosh Saeb Parsy, a lecturer at the Department of Surgery, University of Cambridge and a consultant transplant surgeon at Cambridge University Hospitals NHS Trust, reviews how organ transplantation is being transformed by innovations in stem cell technology, bioengineered tissues, machine perfusion of organs and other biomedical advances currently in use or under investigation – and discusses the ensuing ethical and legal dilemmas.

Cambridge Science Festival runs for two weeks
Cambridge Science Festival runs for two weeks

Speaking ahead of the event, Dr Parsy said: “Approximately 1,000 patients die or are removed from the transplant waiting lists in the UK every year. The number of patients whose lives could potentially be saved is even higher, since many patients are never listed for transplantation due to a shortage of organs. The UK has made great strides in recent years to increase the number of organs available for transplantation.

“Yet we must overcome significant challenges in order to make this life-saving treatment accessible to even more patients. Overcoming these increasingly complex challenges requires cross-disciplinary and innovative collaborations between clinicians and biomedical scientists with physical scientists, engineers, economists, ethicists, lawyers and other experts – and of course the public, donor’s families, Government and regulatory bodies. The UK leads progress in many of these areas and continues to have a very positive impact on reducing the burden of disease from organ failure.”

Cardiopulmonary transplantation is a transformative therapy in every sense. On Thursday, March 22, Mr Pedro Catarino, a consultant cardiothoracic and transplant surgeon and director of transplantation at Royal Papworth Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, discusses the mechanics behind this type of organ donation during his talk, Oliver gave his heart to Amelia… and his lungs to Chloe.

Cambridge Science Festival brings science, technology, engineering, maths and medicine to an audience of all ages through demonstrations, talks, performances and debates. The University of Cambridge runs the festival and the majority of events are free. It draws together independent organisations in addition to many university departments, centres and museums.

Get hands on at Cambridge Science Festival
Get hands on at Cambridge Science Festival

One of the key sub themes of the festival is around the brain. Intelligence, creativity, emotion, and memory are a few of the many things governed by the brain. But what happens when it goes wrong? And what are neuroscience researchers and psychologists discovering about its abilities?

This year’s festival lifts the lid and takes an in-depth look into the workings of the brain, from psychosis and dementia to how other systems in the body control the mind and reveals some of the latest research into brain damage repair.

The packed series of neuroscience and psychology events began on Monday, March 12, as Professor Paul Fletcher presented the latest research into understanding psychosis.

He examined the experiences of psychosis to consider how they might arise out of the normal functioning of the mind during his talk, I’m Not Mad: I Only Bend Reality So That I Can See Around The Corners.

Cambridge Science Festival will attract thousands
Cambridge Science Festival will attract thousands

On Saturday, March 17, Dr Philippe Gilchrist discusses some of the relationships between day-to-day cardiovascular functioning and our thoughts, feelings and behaviours in his event, From Heart to Emotion.

Dr Gilchrist said: “When we experience stress, our body responds by releasing various chemicals such as cortisol and adrenaline, preparing us to meet the challenge. Our day-to-day cardiovascular functioning is intricately linked not just with our environment and general health, but also with our cognition, emotions, and behaviours.

“Usually when we think of acute stress, we think of the fight-or-flight response, including increases in arousal. However, certain forms of stress can also lead to paradoxical decreases in physiological activity, including decreases in heart rate and blood pressure.”

The festival will also explore the opportunities and challenges posed by technology. As well as helping us understand ourselves, the present and even the future, new technologies are also unveiling the past.

A young visitor looks at some bones at a previous Cambridge Science Festival. Picture: Keith Heppell
A young visitor looks at some bones at a previous Cambridge Science Festival. Picture: Keith Heppell

What if we could hold a proper conversation with our devices? Unlike most of us, computers are very good at quickly absorbing huge amounts of information. Unfortunately, they are less good at sharing their knowledge with us.

So, how do we teach computers to talk? Dr Milica Gasic, a lecturer at the Cambridge University Engineering department, explains during her talk, Wiki, please explain! on Wednesday, March 21.

As AI systems are widely deployed in real-world settings, including those in mobile devices, it is critical for us to understand the mechanisms by which they take decisions. On Thursday, March 15, during the Research Horizons Public Talk, Trust and Transparency in AI Systems, Dr Adrian Weller, University of Cambridge department of engineering, discusses how processes are being developed to ensure AI systems are transparent, reliable and trustworthy. The Cambridge Science Festival runs from Monday, March 12 to Sunday, March 25.

To pre-book events, visit sciencefestival.cam.ac.uk, or call: 01223 766766.

2017 Cambridge Science Festival
2017 Cambridge Science Festival

Read more

Our pick of the 2018 Cambridge Science Festival highlights


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