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Our guide to week one of the Cambridge Science Festival 2020




Drink spiking, hallucinations, growing food underground, self-healing concrete, organ preservation, and nanotechnology, these are just a few of the many topics covered during the first week of the Cambridge Science Festival, which runs from March 9-22.

The festival features a packed programme of events and cutting-edge thinkers tackling many of the critical issues we are faced with in a rapidly changing world. Most events are free.

Vision is the theme of this year's festival and events cover everything from new technology, the environment and food production to advances in healthcare, with new research offering a lookahead to the future.

Update: Hands-on weekend events at Cambridge Science Festival cancelled due to coronavirus

Check the Science Festival website before attending an event to confirm it is going ahead.

Top picks for the first week include:

Cambridge Science Festival - The Chemistry of Light A Demonstration Lecture (Credit Nathan Pitt) (31162428)
Cambridge Science Festival - The Chemistry of Light A Demonstration Lecture (Credit Nathan Pitt) (31162428)

Tuesday, March 10:

Drink spiking myths, truths, and advances in forensic science.

Reports of drink spiking have risen by over 100% during the past three years alone. Despite this, there is still some misunderstanding of the situations that drink spiking may occur, the effects of the drugs involved, and importantly, how a delay in the reporting of an incident may lead to problems with confirming incidents with forensic techniques. Dr Lata Gautam and Christopher Davies, ARU, address these issues, discuss current and recent research advances, and reveal the future of forensic detection techniques of such drugs. They also look at findings from an online survey conducted in the UK.

Now you see me: understanding how flowers manipulate pollinators.

How do some flowering plants produce the striking pigmentation patterns and amazing microscopic features that are key to attracting pollinators? Dr Edwige Moyroud, Sainsbury Laboratory, explores the function and evolution of floral patterning and looks at what plant scientists are doing to try to solve this enigma.

From policing to fashion: how the use of artificial intelligence is shaping our work.

Artificial intelligence 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.

Working on a skeleton (Cambridge Science Festival talk), sourced by Becky Wieczorek. (31162880)
Working on a skeleton (Cambridge Science Festival talk), sourced by Becky Wieczorek. (31162880)

Wednesday, March 11:

Flower power: making crops better at being pollinated.

By 2050, the global population is estimated to hit 10 billion, and we are going to need to feed them all. Around a third of our food depends on pollinating insects, but they are in decline. Hamish Symington explores how food relies on insects, and how research at the Department of Plant Sciences, University of Cambridge aims to make flowers more efficient at being pollinated.

Illusions and hallucinations: our tenuous grip on reality.

Professor Paul Fletcher, Department of Psychiatry, discusses how we construct our picture of reality using a mix of sensory data and stored knowledge. Usually this works, but it does not take much for the system to become perturbed and for us to create a reality that other people do not share.

Beyond 2020: what next for global biodiversity?

Leading conservationists from the University of Cambridge Conservation Research Institute and the Cambridge Conservation Initiative reflect on the achievements following the 2011 Aichi Biodiversity Targets as they reach the end of their implementation period in 2020.

The Cambridge Science Festival Picture: AstraZeneca (31162804)
The Cambridge Science Festival Picture: AstraZeneca (31162804)

Thursday, March 12:

Smoke in the lungs of the Earth.

‘Mega-fires’ raged across Brazilian Amazonia and Indonesia’s peat swamp forests in 2019. Dr Rachel Carmenta, Department of Geography, discusses the extent of the fires, distinguishes between types of fire, assesses the causes, impacts and considers the measures needed to mitigate future events.

Growing underground.

Dr Ruchi Choudhary, Department of Engineering, presents fascinating data from the world’s first underground farm in London and highlights the challenges and opportunities of growing food in abandoned city spaces. The Growing underground talk is set to be repeated on 14th March.

The Moon: A history for the future

Oliver Morton, science writer and The Economist’s briefings editor, explores the history and future of humankind's relationship with the Moon.

Cambridge Science Festival activities in the Guildhall, explaining some of the work by the MRC from left Lidia Ripoll Sanchez with Alexander Kartheiser. Picture: Keith Heppell. (31162927)
Cambridge Science Festival activities in the Guildhall, explaining some of the work by the MRC from left Lidia Ripoll Sanchez with Alexander Kartheiser. Picture: Keith Heppell. (31162927)

The horrible history (and the bright future) of organ preservation

Professor Mike Nicholson, Dr Sarah Hosgood and Mr Paul Gibbs from the NIHR Blood and Transplant Research Unit (BTRU) in Organ Donation and Transplantation present a whistle-stop tour of the history of organ preservation. They start way back in the 1800s, with some of the earliest attempts to preserve organs, and journey to today to explain some of the latest research on organ perfusion technologies. This research is crucial as we try and close the gap between the number of people waiting for a transplant and the number of organs available.

Every drop counts: blood donors of the future

Professor Emanuele Di Angelantonio and Dr Lois Kim from the Cardiovascular Epidemiology Unit, and Nick Gleadall, from the Department of Haematology, University of Cambridge talk about recruiting blood donors, identifying blood types and understanding the effects of frequent donation.

Cambridge Science Festival picture, supplied by Becky Wieczorek. (31162858)
Cambridge Science Festival picture, supplied by Becky Wieczorek. (31162858)

Friday, March 13:

Genetics research in autism: ethical perspectives

The Spectrum 10K study will collect DNA and life history information from 10,000 autistic people in the UK to identify genetic and environmental factors that contribute to the varied outcomes they have, with a view to ultimately improving wellbeing. Professor Simon Baron-Cohen and Dr Varun Warrier from the Autism Research Centre in Cambridge, a parent of an autistic child and an autistic person discuss the ethical issues, fears and opportunities surrounding such research.

Cambridge Science Festival (31162799)
Cambridge Science Festival (31162799)

Saturday, March 14:

This will be the festival's the busiest day of the week, with events taking place right across the city centre. Top picks include:

Mobile teaching kitchens: a community-led food revolution in India

India faces many challenges in improving food security. Obvious issues like drought are intertwined with a complex socio-economic landscape. Community-led education is one way to overcome these challenges. The TIGR2ESS Mobile Teaching Kitchen is offering tastings of one possible vision of India’s food future.

Licence to heal: the world of self-healing concrete

Are smart materials science or science fiction? Dr Regeane Bagonyi, Dr Chrysoula Litina and Dr Livia Ribeiro de Souza from the Resilient Materials 4 Life Research Team introduce you to the world of intelligent construction materials and how they can shape the future of infrastructure.

Physics of emergence in biological sciences and technology

A vertical pencil is unstable, it will fall over in a random direction. Dr Alexandre Kabla, Department of Engineering, shows how controlling mechanical instabilities such as these offers new ways to design innovative materials and simpler manufacturing processes.

Cambridge Science Festival: Credit Domininkas Photography (31162455)
Cambridge Science Festival: Credit Domininkas Photography (31162455)

The healing power of crystals

How do we use X-rays to see protein molecules and what can they tell us about disease? Dr Stephen Graham, Department of Pathology explains.

Concrete riddles

What can be wet but carry water, is never the same, and has something in common with the electric light bulb? Professor Janet Lees, Department of Engineering, discusses these and other riddles about concrete, the most widely used human-made material in the world.

Size really does matter

Nanotechnology is a buzz word many of us have heard but are uncertain what it really means. Dr Colm Durkan, Department of Engineering, dispels the myths about this branch of science and technology that has already touched many aspects of our lives – from cheaper and faster medical diagnostic tools to helping create new medicines and electronic devices. He explores the science and history of nanotechnology, examples of how it is used, the cutting-edge research being carried out and why, and the potential risks.

Cambridge Science Festival offers plenty of hands-on activities (31162442)
Cambridge Science Festival offers plenty of hands-on activities (31162442)

To view the full programme and to book tickets, please visit .sciencefestival.cam.ac.uk

Keep up to date with the festival on social media via Facebook and Twitter #CamSciFest and Instagram.

This year’s festival sponsors and partners are Cambridge University Press, AstraZeneca, Illumina, TTP Group, Anglia Ruskin University, Cambridge Epigenetix, Cambridge Science Centre, Cambridge Junction, IET, Hills Road Sixth Form College, British Science Week, Cambridge University Health Partners, Cambridge Academy for Science and Technology, and Walters Kundert Charitable Trust. Media Partners: BBC Radio Cambridgeshire and theCambridge Independent.



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