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Cambridge Science Festival launches 2020 programme

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Predictive policing, mini organs, growing food underground, global mega-fires and the limits of human endurance. These are a few of the topics explored during the 26th Cambridge Science Festival, which is set to host 390 events between 9 – 22 March at venues across the city.  The theme this year is ‘vision’.

Run by the University of Cambridge, the 2020 Festival examines our past and suggests a vision for the future. Some of the world’s greatest scientists, alongside the stars of the future, examine how science is changing our world. Climate features heavily as do health and new technological advances alongside fun science quiz events, comedy and theatre.

Speakers include Professor Dame Athene Donald; Professor Dame Sally Davies, former Chief Medical Officer; BBC presenter Dr Adam Rutherford; Lord Martin Rees; Baroness Bryony Worthington; Dr Emily Shuckburgh; Professor Sir Partha Dasgupta; and neuroscientist Professor Barbara Sahakian.

As ever, there are a range of talks and debates that reveal how scientists are working to understand and solve some of the greatest challenges of our time. Top picks include:

  • ExoMars rover: engineering the red planet (9 March). ExoMars is Europe’s first Rover mission to Mars, a mission in search of life, past or present, to answer one of humankind’s oldest questions: are we alone in the Universe? Abbie Hutty, Platform Delivery Manager for the Rover, discusses the mission’s aims and objectives, the major challenges and design drivers of a mission to Mars, and how the team are engineering solutions to meet those challenges.
  • 50 years is not long enough: with Professor Dame Athene Donald (10 March). Why do we still have a significant gender pay gap and only 20% female professors? What can we do to speed up progress? To mark International Women’s Day, Professor Dame Athene Donald addresses these statements and discusses them in conversation with the Vice-Chancellor, Professor Stephen J Toope.
  • From policing to fashion: how the use of artificial intelligence is shaping our work (10 March). AI 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.
  • Health & inequalities: a view of the future (10 March). Health is influenced by where we live, who we live with and what we earn. Professor Ann Louise Kinmonth, Dr John Ford and Dr Mia Gray discuss how these, and other inequalities, might influence our future wellness.
  • 2020 annual WiSETI lecture: You could die of infection (11 March). Professor Dame Sally Davies, the newly appointed first female Master of Trinity College and former Chief Medical Officer, discusses the continuing rise of antibiotic-resistant superbugs and what is being done to tackle it.
  • How ‘mini-organs’ are revolutionising biomedical research (12 March). Using state-of-the-art technology, researchers are now able to grow organoids – miniature versions of organs. Dr Emma Rawlins from the Gurdon Institute explains how organoids are grown and discusses why this new technology is so important for biomedical research. She explores current and future uses of organoids: some are science fiction, but many are exciting research horizons, including the potential for growing replacement organs, repairing damaged genes and providing personalised treatments for other diseases.
  • Smoke in the lungs of the earth (12 March). In 2019 ‘mega-fires’ raged across Brazilian Amazonia and Indonesia’s peat swamp forests. Dr Rachel Carmenta, Department of Geography, discusses the extent of the fires, distinguishes between types of fires, assesses their drivers and impacts and considers the measures needed to mitigate future events. She also references fires raging in other regions of the world (eg Australia, Alaska, California).
  • Climate change and Biodiversity: time for action (12 March). Lord Martin Rees, Baroness Bryony Worthington, Dr Emily Shuckburgh and Professor Sir Partha Dasgupta discuss the urgency of our predicament and explore options for action. Chaired by science writer and editor Oliver Morton.

The first weekend of the Festival sees hundreds of events for families, including talks on the fastest animals on earth, and weird, mind-fizzingly awesome and funny science facts; hands-on demonstrations with Microsoft HoloLens; robotic workshops; and a virtual reality cycle ride. Festival favourite, Dr Peter Wothers returns for another loud, action-packed talk showcasing the elements involved over the centuries in mankind’s quest to light his way. Further events explore what animals see, the science of snot and magical maths tricks.

The second week kicks off with a talk about CRISPR technology and the future of genome editing (16 March). The discovery of CRISPRCas9 genetic engineering technology has changed genomics research forever. Co-discoverer Professor Jennifer Doudna, University of California, Berkeley, discusses the implications of this new gene-editing tool and approaches to policies around its use.

Further talks and debates include:

  • Can we regulate the internet? (16 March). How can we combat disinformation online? Should internet platforms be responsible for what happens on their services? Are platforms beyond the reach of the law? Is it too late to regulate the internet? The Cambridge Trust & Technology Initiative explores these questions and more.
  • The sub-two-hour marathon: what does the future hold? (18 March). 1h:59min:40s for the marathon is an extraordinary achievement. How was this feat of human endurance and endeavour achieved? Dr Dan Gordon, Dr Justin Roberts, Dr Ash Willmott and Dr Francesca Cavallerio, ARU, debate the physiological, nutritional, technological and psychological components of this challenge and where the limits to human endurance may lie.
  • The future of perovskites for solar power and lighting (19 March). Imagine a world with cheap, abundant solar power and lighting, where we roll off spools of inexpensive and even coloured, high-performance solar panels or LEDs like newsprint. Halide perovskites are generating enormous excitement as next-generation solar cells and lighting technologies that can be produced at extremely low cost on flexible spools. Dr Sam Stranks, Department of Chemical Engineering and Biotechnology, reveals the breakthroughs and discusses their future as a ground-breaking technology and the challenges to get there.

The second weekend is once more dominated by events for families. On Saturday, visitors can get hands-on with cutting-edge biomedical science at the Vet School; find out how CRISPR gene-editing technology can be used to fight superbugs, how research on the ageing process in dogs can inform human medicine, and how bat conservation could help reduce pandemic risk. British Antarctic Survey, Institute of Astronomy, Wellcome Genome Campus, Cavendish Laboratory, and various museums and University Departments open their doors to the public. Visitors can discover what it takes to be a Polar explorer, study the skies through telescopes, see developments in medical implants, discover why robots are not going to take over the world, immerse themselves in Virtual Reality, and much more. On Saturday evening, the Centre for Computing History hosts the Family Gaming Night. With games from retro classics like Pac-Man and Space Invaders through to modern examples like Wii, PS3, Xbox 360 and Xbox One.

The final day of the Festival focuses on health. A range of events cover everything from the history of HIV, to stem cells, infectious diseases, cancer and new therapies. There are also brain training games, a pop-up escape room, and some messy play with the colourful world of bugs, germs, bacteria, viruses, parasites and fungal infections.

In addition to the hundreds of talks and debates, the Festival hosts a range of exhibitions, performances and tours. These include an interactive art installation exploring the Climate Bee-Mergency, and The biosphere project, a visually enthralling exhibition by international artist Joaquín Fargas, raising awareness about important issues around the preservation of Earth. In Our disgusting planet, Belle Taylor and Char Mykura bust some taboos and normalise the disgusting through frank, funny and filthy comedy. The Botanic Garden also launches a new trail, Plants inspiring technological innovation, which explores plants around the Botanic Garden that have already solved many of the problems we are currently facing.

Speaking ahead of the Cambridge Science Festival, Dr Lucinda Spokes, Festival Manager, said: “The programme this year is focussed on ‘vision’: where we were, where we are, and where we hope to be. Science offers huge possibilities to change the course of our planet for the better. With this year’s programme, we hope to inspire and excite our visitors about these possibilities.

“As ever, we have endeavoured to tackle some of our greatest challenges through a range of events including talks, debates, performances, comedy, film, tours and exhibitions. We look forward to welcoming and actively engaging with our audiences in March, hearing their views and thoughts about current and future scientific research.”

You can browse and download the full programme here from 20 January.

Bookings open on Monday 10 February at 11am.

Keep up to date with the Festival on social media via FacebookTwitter and Instagram and join the conversation using the hashtag #CamSciFest.

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 6th 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 Cambridge Independent.