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Our guide to the Cambridge Science Festival 2020

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Hundreds of events are in store at this year's Cambridge Science Festival which launches its programme for 2020 this week.

Predictive policing, mini organs, growing food underground, global mega-fires and the limits of human endurance are a few of the topics to be explored during the festival which is set to host 390 events between March 9 – 22 at venues across the city.

The University of Cambridge-run festival, supported by the Cambridge Independent, has chosen the theme of ‘vision’ for this year and aims to suggest a vision for the future.

Pete Wothers' chemistry demonstration (26964101)
Pete Wothers' chemistry demonstration (26964101)

Some of the world’s greatest scientists, alongside the stars of the future, examine how science is changing our world. Climate change features heavily as do health and new technological advances alongside fun science quiz events, comedy and theatre.

Dr Lucinda Spokes, Festival Manager, said: “The programme this year is focussed on ‘vision’: where we were, where we are, and where we hope to be. Science offers huge possibilities to change the course of our planet for the better. With this year’s programme, we hope to inspire and excite our visitors about these possibilities.

“As ever, we have endeavoured to tackle some of our greatest challenges through a range of events including talks, debates, performances, comedy, film, tours and exhibitions. We look forward to welcoming and actively engaging with our audiences in March, hearing their views and thoughts about current and future scientific research.”

Cambridge Science Festival (26964110)
Cambridge Science Festival (26964110)

Speakers include Professor Dame Athene Donald; Professor Dame Sally Davies, former Chief Medical Officer; BBC presenter Dr Adam Rutherford; Lord Martin Rees; Baroness Bryony Worthington; Dr Emily Shuckburgh; Professor Sir Partha Dasgupta; and neuroscientist Professor Barbara Sahakian.

As ever, there are a range of talks and debates that reveal how scientists are working to understand and solve some of the greatest challenges of our time. Top picks include:

ExoMars rover: engineering the red planet (March 9). ExoMars is Europe’s first Rover mission to Mars, a mission in search of life, past or present, to answer one of humankind’s oldest questions: are we alone in the Universe? Abbie Hutty, Platform Delivery Manager for the Rover, discusses the mission’s aims and objectives, the major challenges and design drivers of a mission to Mars.

From policing to fashion: how the use of artificial intelligence is shaping our work (March 10). AI has created a lot of buzz about the future of work. Alentina Vardanyan, Judge Business School, and Lauren Waardenburg, KIN Center for Digital Innovation, Amsterdam, discuss the social and psychological implications of AI, from reshaping the fashion design process to predictive policing.

2020 annual WiSETI lecture: You could die of infection (March 11). Professor Dame Sally Davies, the newly appointed first female Master of Trinity College and former Chief Medical Officer, discusses the continuing rise of antibiotic-resistant superbugs and what is being done to tackle it.

Cambridge Science Festival (26964134)
Cambridge Science Festival (26964134)

How ‘mini-organs’ are revolutionising biomedical research (March 12). Using state-of-the-art technology, researchers are now able to grow organoids – miniature versions of organs. Dr Emma Rawlins from the Gurdon Institute explains how organoids are grown and discusses why this new technology is so important for biomedical research. She explores the potential for growing replacement organs, repairing damaged genes and providing personalised treatments for other diseases.

Climate change and Biodiversity: time for action (March 12). Lord Martin Rees, Baroness Bryony Worthington, Dr Emily Shuckburgh and Professor Sir Partha Dasgupta discuss the urgency of our predicament and explore options for action. Chaired by science writer and editor Oliver Morton.

The first weekend of the festival sees hundreds of events for families, including talks on the fastest animals on earth, and weird, mind-fizzingly awesome and funny science facts; hands-on demonstrations with Microsoft HoloLens; robotic workshops; and a virtual reality cycle ride. Festival favourite, Dr Peter Wothers returns for another loud, action-packed talk showcasing the elements involved over the centuries in mankind’s quest to light his way. Further events explore what animals see, the science of snot and magical maths tricks.

Cambridge Science Festival Programme launch, Lucy Spokes with this years programme. Picture: Keith Heppell.
Cambridge Science Festival Programme launch, Lucy Spokes with this years programme. Picture: Keith Heppell.

The second weekend has plenty of events for families. On Saturday, visitors can get hands-on with cutting-edge biomedical science at the Vet School; find out how CRISPR gene-editing technology can be used to fight superbugs, how research on the ageing process in dogs can inform human medicine, and how bat conservation could help reduce pandemic risk.

Visitors can discover what it takes to be a Polar explorer, study the skies through telescopes, see developments in medical implants, discover why robots are not going to take over the world, immerse themselves in Virtual Reality, and much more.

On Saturday evening, the Centre for Computing History hosts the Family Gaming Night. With games from retro classics like Pac-Man and Space Invaders through to modern examples like Wii, PS3, Xbox 360 and Xbox One.

Cambridge Science Festival activities in the Guildhall, trying a bit of sports science from left Rose Chinn with father Russell Chinn and Alicia Diment ARU sports science student. Picture: Keith Heppell. (27219808)
Cambridge Science Festival activities in the Guildhall, trying a bit of sports science from left Rose Chinn with father Russell Chinn and Alicia Diment ARU sports science student. Picture: Keith Heppell. (27219808)

The final day of the festival focuses on health - everything from the history of HIV, to stem cells, infectious diseases, cancer and new therapies. There are also brain training games, a pop-up escape room, and some messy play with the colourful world of bugs, germs, bacteria, viruses, parasites and fungal infections.

The full programme is available at sciencefestival.cam.ac.uk. Bookings open on Monday 10 February at 11am.

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