A Decadent Festival

By Ann Fenech, on 15 June 2010

Cheltenham Science Festival 2010 is over. I am back in London and back to my research. However, I will definitely not forget the brilliant time I had there. So thanks to the UCL graduate school for that (and UCL communications for allowing me to write about it).

The festival was great on so many levels!

There was a real buzz in the place. There was something for everyone, be it entertaining science or intellectually stimulating activities for those wanting a bit more.

As I have mentioned a couple of times before, I was also surprised by how interactive the whole experience was. There was no intimidation for participating in anything, be it having a go at a demonstration, or asking questions during events.

A few events will definitely remain with me. First of all are the ‘demonstration-based’ shows, The Bigger Bang, Science vs Magic, but particularly Chemistry: A Volatile History. I don’t think any kid could have watched those and not themselves becoming excited at the prospect of becoming a scientist. Also, Heston Blumenthal in Conversation with Harold McGee: the questions asked were really all over the place, but both of them answered them in a brief but definitely entertaining way. The last show I wanted to flag up was The School for Gifted Children. It was hilarious, it was entertaining…and it was scientific. What shouldn’t you love about that?

I have returned with an enthusiasm for research, an enthusiasm for science…but most of all I have become infected with an enthusiasm for getting science out there to the public.

As the festival’s theme was ‘Decadence‘, I thought I would leave you with some of the festival’s decadent highlights. Expect lights, bangs…and science!

Bug Bites

By Meghan Harper, on 13 June 2010

A few years ago, I got a call from a friend who was working in public health in Malawi. “I have malaria,” he said. “Don’t tell my mom.” Despite taking his antimalarials, he had become very ill, but thankfully in the end, recovered just fine.

Today I learned just how lucky he was, as malaria runs rampant in many areas of Africa and similarly warmer climates. It is most devastating to those under 4 who contracting and there nearly 1 million deaths worldwide every year, from a completely treatable disease. The three largest pharmaceutical companies, Pfizer, GlaxoSmithKlein, and Novartis all work together in order to develop and distribute drugs across affected regions to help improve both the life span and quality of life of the populations.

There was also some talk of how the UK may be at an increased risk for Malaria in the coming years. Historically, people in Britain have always known that malaria came from the marsh air (ma-l meaning bad, -airia indicating air). However, with the effects of global warming, the climate may once again make the specific mosquito that can spread malaria from person to person more prevalent.

It was a great talk, and it was great to hear exactly how far treatments from malaria had come, and how effective they are. There were actually quite a number of people in the audience who had contracted malaria at one point in their lives, and the perspective they brought to the group discussion was really unique.

We learned gin and tonics were originally an invention developed by the British military stationed in India to help combat malaria; the quinine in tonic water is an antimalarial. But don’t count on only a delicious cocktail to keep you safe, the dosage isn’t quite high enough!

Day one so far

By Christianne Guillotte, on 9 June 2010

Ironically, my train arrived in Cheltenham an hour and a half later than scheduled due to signaling failure. A few other festival-bound passengers and I enjoyed the humor of the situation. I just hope the speakers for today’s lecture “Intelligent Transport” arrive on time! Only kidding. Fortunately I didn’t miss any events, and I’ve had plenty of time to wander around the town and get my first look at the festival.

Despite having a few people respond to my mention of the Cheltenham Science Festival with “Cheltenham? That’s odd,” I actually find it to be a wonderfully suited place to hold this event. The town is friendly and relaxed which I’m sure is a welcome change for those accustomed to the fast-paced and hectic nature of the scientific world.

Cheltenham Town Hall, the site of the festival, is lively with activity. Everyone, from those running the activity booths to the school children giving them a try, seems to be genuinely enjoying themselves. It’s great to see people getting excited about science!

The festival is off to a fantastic start, and it’s sure to pick up more momentum at the week progresses. For now, I’m off to get my first taste of lectures… and maybe try my hand at a few of the activities I’ve been eyeing in the Discover Zone!

Welcome to Cheltenham!

By Meghan Harper, on 9 June 2010

All of the students receiving bursaries to attend this week just had a meeting with Mark Lythgoe, one of the Festival Directors here at the Cheltenham Science Festival. As he described it, his day job is serving as the Director of the Centre for Advanced Biomedical Imaging at UCL, but has been coordinating the Cheltenham Science Festival since it started 9 years ago.

Cheltenham is home to four major annual festivals, with the science festival being the newest, debuting in 2002. The first science festival had about 2,000 attendees, and started as a way for scientists to share their work and hear about what was going on in the scientific community here in the UK. This year, the festival looks very different! Having only opened yesterday, over 25,000 tickets have been purchased already to attend one of the over 90 different talks, many given some of the foremost experts in the field. The range of topics alone is staggering- from discussing the science of chocolate (yes, I am definitely attending that one!) to discussing sustainability of the London 2012 Olympic games. Dr Lythgoe let us know that audience participation is also a huge part of the festival; he wants people to be ableĀ  to interact, debate, and just be really involved in their experience.

Over 15,000 people attend the free and family events alone! Today I saw quite a few school groups who were getting really involved in enjoying their experience, and were very enthusiastic about learning.

So for now, all the tents are up, lecturers and audiences have arrived and it appears that the Cheltenham Science Festival 2010 is under way!