Sunday, 26 September 2010

British Science Festival 2010!

This years festival took place at Aston University in Birmingham from 14-19 september and this time last saturday I was enjoying my final day there. You can read all about it by visiting their webpage

I love these festivals, they are so much fun, you get to meet new people and hopefully learn something. Its great to see people being enthusiastic about science and engaging with the public. I was excited as usual but even more so because this is only the second festival I have attended and on this occasion I am also a speaker. So, nervous and excited then and looking forward to my event. There are so many of them going on its impossible to see them all which is a great pity but I’ve no doubt they are all equally interesting, informative and fun. I guess I can only tell you how it was for me then.  Overall most of the events I attended here were lectures, so not many photo opportunites unfortunately.  I took a photo of the campus though and also a view from my room.

 I was staying at the Lakeside Residences which wasn’t too far from the main campus and I was overjoyed to have an internet connection in my room so I could Skype home ;) I arrived at Aston on Monday 13th September (mum’s birthday), checked in, and picked up my weekly pass for the festival. Time to explore and I bumped into @robajackson waiting outside the business school. Rob is a chemistry lecturer and reader at Keele University and a co-organiser of our chemistry event which talks place on Thursday.No sooner had I said hello when the person he was meeting showed up. A friendly seeming man who gave me his business card and invited me out to supper with himself and Rob. He was the associate dean of the university. We enjoyed a lovely french meal accompanied by a band making it almost impossible to hear each other talk. Lorelly came a long too. It seems strange to me that such a restaurant should sell real ale but far be it from me to complain. I was having a really good time already.
Tuesday, the first day of the festival, so many choices to make already! There were 2 highlights which stood out for me. The first event being ’Inspiring women in science, engineering and technology’. Three successful scientists talked about their science careers and their lives. They were Prof. Sunetra Gupta, Dr Liz Watson and Dr Sarah Baillie. We then had a buffet lunch which gave an opportunity for us all to mingle and talk to each other. This event was particularly interesting to me as I am both a woman scientist and a STEM Ambassador. Later that day, 6pm, I went to Lorelly Wilson’s ‘Chemistry with cabbage’ event. This is a one hour demonstration of science experiments you can do safely at home with everyday household items. My personal favourite is the lava lamp. This was supported by the Royal Society of Chemistry. Then it was swiftly on to the Chemistry Section Mixer, held in the common room. This was a chance to meet and chat with other speakers. It was a fun evening with lots of fun talk. I enjoyed meeting everyone there. I hope everyone else did too. Much wine was consumed. Wednesday 15th September, at 10pm I attended an event entitled ‘extending the life of the transplant’. This was supported by the Medical Research Council and Guy’s and St Thomas’ Charity. This was largely about kidney failure and organ donation. Special guest was Sue Townsend, author of ‘The Diary of Adrian Mole 13 ¾’ who suffers from kidney failure, diabetes and is registered blind L It was a long and interesting ethical debate. One or 2 other events I was tempted by but this was my last chance to spend time going over my own talk for tomorrow as I was very nervous and had never done a power point presentation before. This evening was our Chemistry Section dinner which I had been looking forward to. The venue had been changed but I got there. It was a chance to meet and chat with the people I was doing my event with tomorrow. It was so nice to meet people who also care about chemistry and I enjoyed having dinner and conversation with @katherinejhaxton a chemistry lecturer at Keele University and co-organiser of our event, @lorellywilson, and @stuartcantrill, chief editor of Nature magazine. There was plenty of time to mix and talk to others there before the meal. I had another lovely evening. I didn’t sleep to well tonight though, a combination of nerves and excitement. There were several interesting events on Thursday morning and I had a good breakfast and ventured forth. Two I wanted to go to were cancelled so I went back to my room to put the final touches on my talk. Our event was called’The Armchair chemist online’ and was supported by the Royal Society of Chemistry. This took place in the main building from 1pm until 3pm. Our aim was to explore forms of online scientific communication enabling anyone to get involved from the comfort of their armchair. The lecture theatre was relatively small and around 20 people showed up. I didn’t meet @darrenwalsh from the periodic table of video’s until we were in there setting up for our event. Katherine chaired the event and gave a great opening talk followed by an excellent talk by Stuart, then Darren and finally me. I was very nervous having not done public speaking for a while and was also worried about my laptop battery which seemed to be failing! That was alright in the end. The whole event went well and of course we at least were interested in it and were asked some good questions. I was talking about how social media had enabled me to become a STEM Ambassador. I talked about what this is and how anyone interested can get involved too. It was a priviledge to meet and work with you all. I had an exciting and memorable time. Thank you to Rob for inviting me along to do this. You are all brilliant. After our event we went for a coffee and I got a chance to talk to Darren. We all exchanged business cards. At 6.15pm I went to my first x-change which takes place every evening in the student union. Fun talks by the days best speakers. Tonight I saw neuroscientist Prof. Gina Rippon, physicist Jim Al-khalili and some guy juggling. Sorry I forgot his name. Then I got a takeaway baguette which I enjoyed in my room.
Most events on Friday seemed to be occurring at Birmingham university, shuttle buses between the 2 uni’s provided. I didn’t fancy wasting too much time on buses and I was all on my ownsome at this point so decided to see what was happening here. I sent Friday morning after breakfast wondering to the train station. It was nice to get a glimpse of the city. I changed by return journey back to Manchester for sunday morning rather than Monday which would’ve mean’t me rushing around to get to work. Silly. Mean’s I miss last day of the festival though L So at noon I got to see a talk by Dr Sarah Bell, of UCL, an expert in water hygiene. She talked about the needs of the people in developing countries and the projects she was involved with. This is a subject close to my heart.  After a quiet afternoon I ventured into town again looking for the next venue. This was the only off campus event I attended at 6.30pm and was rather excited to be seeing Dr Ben Goldacre talking about bad science. The theatre was full and as anticipated was very entertaining and interesting, his talk intermingled with sarcasm and wit. Thoroughly enjoyed it and went back to my room happy. Curry in tow.
I was to make the most of Saturday as my last day here and looking at the program over breakfast planned out what I was doing. Of course it didn’t turn out as I had planned lol. First up the food factory which was an interactive event was fully booked and they couldn’t squeeze me in. So I went to the student union to see a talk about foetal alcohol syndrome in the UK by Dr Pam Lowe of Aston University. I enjoyed this talk, it was eye opening, I learned a lot and there was a long debate with audience afterwards. A shame more people didn’t turn up, I recommend this. Pam is a nice lady. I was determined to take part in an interactive event so I toddled along to one about evolutionary art. This involved merging images together on computer to create or evolve art whch you like. I could have sat there forever doing this. I got to save images on a free memory stick so I can keep them and bring them home. It was disappointing ti discover at home that I can’t open my files as they are .nod files. Never heard of them. Happy to find my stick has tutorial and demo’s on it too. Wasn’t expecting that. Next to the room we were in was an exhibit by professional evolutionary artists. Far superior to our novice stuff as I thought it would be. Very impressive it is too. Next I had planned to go to the Skeptics Roadshow which I looked forward to expecting it to be like the much heard of but never attended by me Skeptics in a pub. Sadly it was cancelled! This meant I could go to the event ‘Life, the Universe and Everything…’ First talk was by Dr Guy Consolmagno, the Pope’s Astronomer! What an interesting and smart guy he is. The next talk was by Prof Ian Morison of Jodrell Bank ;) Then it was time for a break and I noted that this event seemed to go on along time until 10pm. An announcement was made. Apparently this evening we were to have gone out with a couple of telescopes and gazed at the moon. That would’ve been awesome but its too dull and cloudy and abit drizzly. For the most part the weather in Birmingham has been bright and sunny. At 4pm I went along to a full lecture theatre to see a 90 minute talk by geologist Prof. Iain Stewart about climate change and the human impact on it. Learnt a few things and didn’t know at the time that he is a well known science presenter. The final event for me was mean’t to be ‘The Beagle has landed!’ but this was also cancelled leaving the way free for me to attend the highly enjoyable ‘Tomorrow’s world’. This included amusing black and white video clips which are kept in the archives of Manchester’s very own MOSI! We were asked to submit our own idea’s about the future. Then there was a Q & A   session with a lively panel. This concludes the festival for me. It is impossible to attend all evets as there are so many. So whatever your own festival experience was I’m sure you had an excellent and most educational time. I bought a baguette and some drinks, had them in my room, had an early night as I have an early train home tomorrow. Goodbye Birmingham, thank you for having me, its been fun xxx   Had I been here tomorrow there are several interesting events I would’ve wished to see. Next year the British Science Festival will be held in Bradford. If you can’t wait that long and want to keep your kids entertained over the coming half term holiday why not pop along to the Manchester Science Festival. Please say hi if you see me. I’ll be there for most of the week in my role as a STEM Ambassador ;)  You can find out for information about this exciting event at their website:
Most events take place at the Museum of Science and Industry (MOSI) in Manchester and over the next month leading up to this you may see science buskers out and about promoting it. One of them may be me but come over and say hi and see what we are doing anyway. All questions happily welcomed. See you there!

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