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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!

Make me laugh ‘Oh Gifted Children’

By Ann Fenech, on 13 June 2010

Helen Arney - School for Gifted Children I very brightly managed to book for two overlapping events. So after watching the  Famelab participants perform, I snuck out during the voting process and made my way to the EDF Arena for ‘The school for gifted children‘ (thanks Jay for posting the results though!).

The school for gifted children was billed as “a fabulous night of debate, polemic and glorious comedy that shows what would result from the collision of The Royal Variety Performance and The Royal Institution Christmas Lectures“. I have never been to either of those shows, but if last night was anything to go by, why ever have I not?

I arrived at the venue as Robin Ince was introducing Kate Lancaster from the Rutherford Appelton Laboratory. She talked to us about lasers – did you know it is their 50th birthday this year? She pulled through a (laser based?) laptop failure to talk to us about lasers, and more importantly…laser hobbyists. I am sure if I was her I would be very scared of being zapped by one of them anytime soon…but she’s made of tougher things than me it seems.

Next up was Helen Arney, a musical comedian based in London. Accompanied by her ukulele, she entertained us all with tales of love-lorn mathematicians, randy chemists, and that scourge of science – risk assessments. You can check out one of her songs: Helen Arney – Indecent Proposal.

By this time the end of the show should have been fast approaching. But we were by no means closed to finish (how’s that for some extra value for money?). It was now the turn of Ray Tallis to enlighten us on the issue of atheism and the evidence for it.

Ahh – and then it was Matt Parker! I had already heard him present at the Famelab competition as the UK finalist. I was definitely not disappointed to be entertained by him again…and that’s a good thing, considering I’m going to his show tonight as well (over-dose? I think not!).

Last up was then Brian Cox (O-B-E). I must admit that not being British I have somehow only just heard about him quite recently…and never saw any of his shows (yes – boooooo to me!). So errr – I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. Not to worry. Even at 11:30 at night he managed to get through an explanation of relativity…and I actually got something out of it – light bouncing off mirrors anyone? Definitely says something for his skills.

After a long day I left the show and the Cheltenham festival grounds very tired but very much enlightened as well as entertained by the science on show. Last day today. What awaits?