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Our guide to the family events at the 2019 Cambridge Science Festival

Children, teenagers and families are spoilt for choice at this year’s Cambridge Science Festival with events ranging from escape games and magic shows, to treasure hunts, 3D printing in chocolate and a family gaming night.

Cambridge Science Festival
Cambridge Science Festival

The two-week festival, supported by the Cambridge Independent, runs from Monday March 11 to Sunday March 24.

Dr Lucinda Spokes, said: “Many of the events at this year’s festival are especially aimed at getting children and young people excited about science, engineering, maths and medicine.

“Each year, we see thousands of children and teenagers attend these events and it’s an absolute delight to see their minds ignited with curiosity and wonder about the world around them. This is why the Festival exists. We want to show people of all ages the amazing science that is happening all around them every day.”


Highlights for families include a day of events at the Guildhall on Saturday and Sunday (March 16 and 17) ranging from from discovering the chemistry in your cupboard and investigating crimes in crime scene identifications, to hands-on biology with staff and students from Hills Road Sixth Form, and the diet disco where they can learn how much dancing raises the heart rate.

Events for younger children kick off at the Polar Museum on the first day of the Festival, Monday March 11 with Little Explorers: Ice and Anti-Freeze. The Polar Museum presents a chillsome story of ice and anti-freeze in this sensory story session for the under 5s with renowned storyteller Marion Leeper.

Other top picks for younger children and families in the first week include fun-filled, hands-on workshops for all the family in Hands-On Science at Cambridge science centre (March 12-24). Also, in Discoveries that Enabled the Modern World (March 12), children can take part in science experiments and hear a talk at Cambridge Regional College based around important discoveries. They can learn and discover many things in unexpected places and everyday situations. In a collaboration between the Fitzwilliam Museum and the Botanic Garden, families and children hear the story about the fascinating journeys made by plants and get to create a mini garden, which they can take home with them in Plant Journeys (March 13).

Events for older children and teenagers

A Cambridge Science Festival event
A Cambridge Science Festival event

Discovering E-Textiles (March 14). Wearable technology is being talked about a lot right now. The Centre for Computing History shows how, with the help of some basic electronic components, like LEDs and switches, and some sewing skills, you can add some function, fashion and fun to the clothes, soft toys or something else you regularly use.

Be prepared for some surprises as maths and puzzle gurus Dr Hugh Hunt and Rob Eastaway share some of their favourite examples, many of them linked to real-world situations in Puzzling Surprises (15 March).

The first Saturday is one of the busiest days of the Science Festival with hundreds of events across the city centre at a variety of locations along Downing Street, the New Museum’s Site and various University of Cambridge Museums, Departments and Institutes. The Festival recommends that families plan their visits by using the map at the back of the programme.

One of the key highlights of the first weekend for all ages is the Mirror Pillar, a giant 2m high cylindrical mirror, which reflects and distorts images from the ground around it to create beautiful anamorphic artworks. The mirror pillar can be found at the Grand Arcade on Saturday and Sunday, where everyone can interact with anamorphic images by drawing and colouring, discover the mathematics and geometry behind projected and distorted images, and help build a giant picture.

A further event tipped to book up fast is the lecture, Table Talk, celebrating the 150th anniversary of the Periodic Table at the Department of Chemistry from Festival favourite Dr Peter Wothers’ (expect loud bangs and lots of excitement).

Cambridge Science Festival. (7659752)
Cambridge Science Festival. (7659752)

Highlights for young children and families on the first weekend

In Game of Bones, Dr Matt Wilkinson charts the ferocious battle for supremacy between dinosaurs and mammals: one that created the living world as we know it.

Bits and Pieces: Secrets of the Digital World: he world sends more messages today than ever before and those messages are in code. This may not be surprising, but even those codes contain more secrets than you realise. Dr James Grime reveals how to hide a secret message on the internet in plain sight and the ingenious maths within a CD that allows it to keep playing.

Animal Explorers: Discover the amazing diversity of animal life at the Museum of Zoology. Get hands-on to find out about the science of zoology. Meet live insects, uncover skulls and go on a safari around the galleries.

CHaOS Talks at Crash, Bang, Squelch! Discover all sorts of weird and wonderful science with talks from our CHaOS volunteers, including berserk fireworks and robot making workshops.

Discover Polar Science -Family Day at the Polar Museum: explore the amazing science from the coldest and harshest environments on Earth. Includes object handling, experiments, crafts, and the chance to meet intrepid polar scientists from the British Antarctic Survey.

The Science of Archaeology: Were Neanderthals fussy eaters? What can bones tell us about a person’s life? What did ancient Mesopotamia smell like? Science can help archaeologists answer these questions and many others. Discover the secrets revealed by pots, plants, soil, bones, textiles and maybe even fossilised poo.

Dr Peter Wothers (7659702)
Dr Peter Wothers (7659702)

The big world of tiny creatures. A show full of ‘ooh’ and ‘ew!’ experiments from Steve Mould, author of The Bacteria Book. Learn about bacteria and their microbial mates – from vile viruses and funky fungi, to algae, archaea and protozoa. Discover why bacteria are the most important organisms on Earth and how they keep our world and bodies working, from the truly gross and terrifying to the simply amazing.

Moonwatch at the Institute of Astronomy. Observe the moon with a range of historical and modern telescopes.

More top picks for teenagers

Maths: it’s all Greek to me! From murder and deceit to running naked down the street, the Ancient Greek mathematicians were anything but boring. Dr Tom Crawford tells you all about their mischief – mathematical or otherwise – as he brings the history of maths to life (with live experiments and togas).

An Engineer Plays with Toys. Engineers are just grown-up children playing with toys – big toys. Dr Hugh Hunt, well-known as a Channel Four TV presenter – Dambusters, Colditz, Zeppelins etc – gets to play with blocks, balls, bikes and boomerangs.

On Sunday, March 17, families can delight in yet more science from Exploring the Secret Lives of Octopuses with marine biologist Helen Scales to discovering who was coolest, dinosaurs or animals today in Animal top trumps. Families can take a delightful magical journey through science with the Cambridge Pentacle Magic Club in The Magic of Discovery and enjoy a range of the best science demonstrations in Demo derby – both events are at the Babbage Lecture Theatre just off Downing Street. Teenagers can learn how thinking like a mathematician can improve their gameplay in Playing games like a mathematician.


The second week of the festival again offers an Aladdin’s Cave of science for children, teenagers and families to enjoy.

For younger children, artist Kelly Briggs explores how the natural disintegration of artefacts can become inspiration for new artworks in the workshop Science in art (23 March).

A Cambridge Science Festival 2018 event at the Guildhall. Picture: Keith Heppell
A Cambridge Science Festival 2018 event at the Guildhall. Picture: Keith Heppell

Events for older children and teenagers

So you Want to be a Scientist? (March 18) What does it take to become a scientist? Meet scientists and find out about their jobs, what inspired them and what qualifications they needed. Expect amazing demonstrations and lots of time for questions.

What Will my Quantum Computer do for Me? (March 18) What exactly is a quantum computer? Is it just a super-fast version of a normal computer? What will it be good for? And most importantly, should you buy one? Mithuna Yoganathan provides the answers! Hint: don’t put in your pre-order until you’ve seen this talk!

Shimmer: Rainbows, Sequins and Physics (March 18). Discover more about the physics of colours in bubbles and butterflies with Dr Rox Middleton who presents a talk of glitz and science. Find out how animals use colours and how scientists are inspired by nature to make new materials for the future of fashion and function.

Meet your Friendly Neighbourhood Climate Scientists (March 19). British Antarctic Survey climate experts meet with the public for an open conversation.

Micro:Bit Treasure Hunt (March 19). We’re going on a treasure hunt! Join the team for some coding fun with the micro:bit. .

The second and final Saturday sees the Cambridge Science Festival located primarily at the West Cambridge Site. Events include a range of fascinating hands on activities, games and demonstrations (featuring everything from custard to cosmology) at the Maths Public Open Day, and the annual Schools Zone, which showcases a host of exciting demos from the next generation of scientists, engineers and mathematician.

A Cambridge Science Festival 2018 event at the Guildhall. Picture: Keith Heppell
A Cambridge Science Festival 2018 event at the Guildhall. Picture: Keith Heppell

A range of departments, laboratories and other institutions again open their doors. At the Department of Materials Science and Metallurgy, families can watch 3D printing in chocolate and see what happens to a balloon when you stretch it too fast in Cool Balloons (tipped as being the coolest event at the Science Festival).

At the Institute for Manufacturing, there is Laser Tin Can Alley, which involves firing lasers to see who can knock down the most tin cans, and the opportunity to win a prize by guessing what the latest science-based products are used for in What would you use that for? There are further open days at the Institute of Astronomy and the Cavendish Laboratory – where children and families can have fun while learning how maths helps you to be better at sport in Maths vs sports.

Saturday ends with a trip to the Centre for Computing History for a Family Gaming Night. An evening of video gaming with games that everyone can play, from retro classics like Pac-Man, to modern examples like Xbox 360. It’s a great chance for kids and parents to share experiences, compete against each other and talk about how technology and gaming have changed.

The final day of the 2019 Cambridge Science Festival, Sunday, March 24, sees the Cambridge Academy for Science and Technology hosting a whole day of events, ranging from a Teddy Bear Hospital to fun and games for teenagers with Ginny Smith in Mastering Memory. Another event recommended especially for families is Fantastic beasts and what not to catch from them – a myth busting examination into about what we can and cannot catch from animals.

A Cambridge Science Festival 2018 event at the Guildhall. Picture: Keith Heppell
A Cambridge Science Festival 2018 event at the Guildhall. Picture: Keith Heppell

Find out more and book

Download the full Cambridge Science Festival programme and book tickets https://www.sciencefestival.cam.ac.uk/ or call the festival on 01223 766 766 between 11am and 3pm. Keep up to date with the Festival on social media via Facebook and Twitter #CamSciFest.

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