Wednesday, 4 June 2014

Mud-less Festivals, Science and Famelab!

Festivals often conjure images of folks clad in wellington boots whilst wading up to their wastes in mud. Having lived most of my childhood in Pilton (Somerset), the location for the Glastonbury Festival, my view of such events is possibly slightly biased. However another kind of festival has successfully co-evolved, albeit in the absence of mud! Many will have heard of the Edinburgh International Science Festival or the Bollington Science Festival, but yesterday it was my turn to have a splendid day in Gloucester! I spent Tuesday taking part in several events at the Times Cheltenham Science Festival that not surprisingly takes place in the charming town centre of Cheltenham.

The University of Manchester had sponsored a lecture on the new technology being applied to the study of dinosaurs. Professor Mike Benton from the University of Bristol and I were invited to discuss how the study of dinosaurs has been advanced through the application of many specialist areas, that might not normally be associated with dinosaurs, such as high-performance computing or particle physics. After we both pitched our science to the audience, it was their turn to pitch questions at us. It is always splendid when the public engagement in science is a two-way. After the talk and Q&A session, Mike was whisked away to sign some of his many books that fill the shelves, but more importantly populate the minds of many aspirational palaeontologists with splendid fossil facts. I however had to run to the BBC venue to take part in a rather fun panel discussion.

The panel included Sean Carroll,  (CalTech physicist and scientific consultant for the blockbuster Big Bang Theory), Prof. Vince Walsh (neuroscientist at UCL), Hannah Devlin (from The Times science department) and yours truly. It was an 'intimate' audience...in other words we had room for more...but those who came were marvellously active during our discussions that ranged from the differences between science education in the UK and USA to the reasons that directed each one of us into our chosen fields. The hour sprinted by and I was soon whisked away by another super efficient festival folk to my final fun event....Famelab!

I was lucky enough to help judge the Northwest Region Famelab semi-final and the NW final, but also had great fun helping judge the UK final. This superb meeting of inspirational minds focuses upon the public engagement of science and has been successfully running since 2005. Over 4000 scientists have now strutted their funky stuff across the Famelab stage which now extends to international participants from over 20 countries.

Judging Famelab events is extremely tough and the Famelab International Semi-Final was no exception last night. I know how nervous I feel before and often during the delivery of public lectures...and I have been lucky enough to be delivering such talks for over 20 years. Many of the contestants taking part in Famelab are undergraduates, but still have the confidence to deliver 3 minutes of articulate, engaging and simply wonderful science story-telling to a packed auditorium. To judge such an event is one of the hardest things I have ever had to do, but thankfully Maggie Philbin (BBC, TeenTech and all-round splendid person) and Jennifer Ouellette (scientist, author and blogger) shared this difficult task. The only saving grace with a semi-final, you can choose six of the contestants to step into the grand final...to choose six was tough, to pick a single winner....a horrible task! The contestants all despatched their talks with flair, panache and occasionally with 'pi....' urine (thankfully in plastic vials). This was a semi-final of national final winners, so the benchmark was exceedingly high. The 2 hour event dilated time through the gravitas of each talk. I strongly urge you all to watch them and learn. I think you will soon see how tough it is to choose between such splendid contestants!

No comments:

Post a Comment