skip to content

Chocolate, ice-cream, rockets and robots: over 100 science events for families

Children, young people and families are invited to be a part of this year’s Cambridge Science Festival (7–20 March) with a packed series of talks, games, experiments, theatre shows, demonstrations and hands-on activities.

Events for children and families kick off on a sweet note this year when BBC’s Gastronaut Stefan Gates and University College London Professor Andrea Sella return to explore meltingly edible science with Chocolatology. Serious chocoholics can also learn about its future during From bean to bar: the future of chocolate with Angus Thirlwell, the CEO and co-founder of Hotel Chocolat. While, for those who love ice cream, The science of ice cream introduces the ancient history and the science behind why ice cream tastes so good.

The biggest day for families is always the first Saturday of the Festival. Across the city, from the Guildhall and various city centre locations to the Downing and New Museums Sites, a vast range of events showcase the diverse areas of science. One such event is Chemistry in action, which invites the young visitors to don lab coats and safety goggles and try out some hands-on chemistry experiments.  

The Festival reveals more fascinating chemistry secrets during Just add water. Can a drop of water cause an explosion? Why can’t you put a chip pan fire out with water or boil an egg on Mount Everest? Festival favourite, Dr Peter Wothers, a Teaching Fellow in the Department of Chemistry at the University of Cambridge, provides answers to these and many more questions.

Speaking about his many events at the Festival over the years, Dr Wothers said: “For me, the most exciting thing is seeing how the audience reacts to the story. Whilst the bangs and flashes are fun, it’s also really exciting when you manage to get across some of the fundamental ideas of science. It’s really rewarding when young students come up to me hooked on the subject, but also when their parents come up and say they finally understand what their teacher was going on about so many years before.”

Visitors can expect even more bangs with CHaOS (Cambridge Hands-On Science) at their event Crash, Bang, Squelch! Zero experience is required and loads of fun promised – from making robots to looking at lots of science that goes ‘crash’, ‘bang’ and ‘squelch’ during live experiments.

Another Festival favourite, the compelling Dr Paul Elliott, presents an interactive 3D lecture Attack of the alien arthropods! during which participants are asked to consider what would happen if the Earth was under attack from aliens and only they could defend it.  Along the way, they will track the alien threat, study their social systems, search for weaknesses in their anatomy and use bioinformatics to decrypt their communication.

Further participation events include a demonstration of the Safe and Sound drive game during which youngsters get to take a test drive and compete with friends. There is more of the same in the evening, when children get to compete with their mums and dads at the Family retro gaming evening at the Centre for Computing History.

For those who can’t get enough science from the packed Saturday, there is another full day on Sunday. The Festival returns for more hands-on demonstrations at the Guildhall and the Sidgwick Site, where visitors can learn all about the awesome species sharks – from those with beards to tiny glowing sharks you could hold in your hand.

Also on the first Sunday at the Sidgwick Site, Dr Matt Wilkinson, a zoologist, pterodactyl flight expert and science writer based at the University of Cambridge, takes visitors on a roller-coaster ride through the four-billion-year-long evolutionary history of moving from place to place during his event Restless creatures. Meanwhile, evolutionary biologist and broadcaster Ben Garrod explores the animal kingdom from the inside out, from the smallest skeleton on Earth to the biggest during his talk I'm just big-boned... in search of the world's largest bones.  

The second week of the Festival kicks off at the Department of Engineering when the Primary rocket launchpad event returns for another year. School groups from years 5 and 6 are invited to the Department of Engineering to explore 3D geometry by making a rocket launchpad structure. The event finale is launching paper rockets with compressed air.

The Museum of Archaeology also hosts a series of events that span both weeks. The exhibition, Hide & Seek: Looking for Children in the Past, which runs throughout the Festival period, brings together children’s objects from across the region and beyond, dating from 800 000 years ago to the 20th century. A further event at the Museum, The survival game, aims to test young intrepid explorers using just natural resources and their own skills to help them as they challenge their friends to see who has what it takes to survive.

The second Saturday sees the return of School Zone, which has gone from strength to strength over the last six years. This year promises a wealth of exciting demonstrations from the next generation of scientists, mathematicians and engineers from schools across the region. In addition to School Zone, there are a series of exciting events across West Cambridge. The Institute of Manufacturing, Department of Mathematics and the Cavendish Laboratory open their doors for the day and host a multitude of events including Laser lab tours and FantasTech, during which visitors can create their own laser-etched metal ID card, see water droplets frozen in mid-air and use a laser to power a rocket along a wire.

The Institute of Astronomy hosts an open afternoon on the same day. Visitors can find out what happens when galaxies collide, or investigate possible holiday destinations at the Exoplanet Travel Bureau; watch out for visiting cybermen, Doctors, K9 and a dalek from our friends at the 15th Cyber Legion.

Further events on the second Saturday are being held at Anglia Ruskin University for the first time this year. Events include The scientific secrets of Doctor Who and What's for supper? where the participants make choices for a shopping trolley, or food for supper, and then find out what impact their choices have on carbon emissions, land use or employment. There will also be quizzes on food facts and a challenge to produce a meal with minimum environmental impact.

The final day of the Festival is held at the Cambridge Biomedical Campus, which hosts a range of medically-focussed events, including the opportunity for both parents and children to scrub up and enter a real operating room. There are a host of other interactive demonstrations on the same day. Visitors can expect to be taken on a journey around their bodies and brains to see how they work, and learn all about our marvellous metabolism.

Also on the final day, those who like the slippery, slimy science of slugs, snails and worms, should head over to Wandlebury Country Park to experience all creatures great and slimy up close and personal.

Commenting on the programme of events for children, young people and families, Cambridge Science Festival Coordinator Dr Lucinda Spokes said: “One of the core aims of the Cambridge Science Festival is to get children and young people switched onto science and thinking about the world around them. The opportunity to see and speak to some of our fantastic scientists really helps with this.”

Since its launch in 1994, the Cambridge Science Festival has inspired thousands of young researchers and visitor numbers continues to rise; last year, the Festival attracted well over 45,000 visitors. The Festival, one of the largest and most respected, brings science, technology, engineering, maths and medicine to an audience of all ages through demonstrations, talks, performances and debates. It draws together a diverse range of independent organisations in addition to many University departments, centres and museums.

This year’s Festival sponsors and partners are Cambridge University Press, AstraZeneca, MedImmune, Illumina, TTP Group, Science AAAS, BlueBridge Education, Siemens, ARM, Microsoft Research, Redgate, Linguamatics, FameLab, Babraham Institute, Wellcome Genome Campus, Napp, The Institute of Engineering and Technology, St Mary’s School, Anglia Ruskin University, Cambridge Junction, Addenbrooke’s Hospital, Addenbrooke’s Charitable Trust, James Dyson Foundation, Naked Scientists, Hills Road Sixth Form College, UTC Cambridge, British Science Week, Alzheimer’s Research UK, Royal Society of Chemistry, Cambridge Science Centre, Cambridge Live, and BBC Cambridgeshire.



Image credit: Chris Loades