skip to content

Hundreds of ‘cool’ family events at this year’s Cambridge Science Festival

Which are cooler, dinosaurs or mammals? Were Neanderthals fussy eaters? Why are vile viruses and funky fungi so important to the human body? How much does dancing raise your heart rate? Awesome breakthroughs, controversial lightbulb moments and explosive insights revealed.

Children, teenagers and families are spoilt for choice at this year’s Cambridge Science Festival (11-24 March) with events ranging from escape games and magic shows, to treasure hunts, 3D printing in chocolate and a family gaming night.

Events for younger children kick off at the Polar Museum on the first day of the Festival, Monday 11th March with Little explorers: ice and anti-freeze. The Polar Museum presents a chillsome story of ice and anti-freeze in this sensory story session for the under 5s with renowned storyteller Marion Leeper.

Other top picks for younger children and families in the first week include fun-filled, hands-on workshops for all the family in Hands-on science at Cambridge science centre (12-24 March). Also, in Discoveries that enabled the modern world (12 March), children can take part in science experiments and hear a talk at Cambridge Regional College based around important discoveries. They can learn and discover many things in unexpected places and everyday situations. In a collaboration between the Fitzwilliam Museum and the Botanic Garden, families and children hear the story about the fascinating journeys made by plants and get to create a mini garden, which they can take home with them in Plant journeys (13 March).

Meanwhile, older children and teenagers can enjoy the following events:

Discovering e-textiles (14 March). Wearable technology is being talked about a lot right now. The Centre for Computing History shows how, with the help of some basic electronic components, like LEDs and switches, and some sewing skills, you can add some function, fashion and fun to the clothes, soft toys or something else you regularly use.

Puzzling surprises (15 March). Be prepared for some surprises as maths and puzzle gurus Dr Hugh Hunt and Rob Eastaway share some of their favourite examples, many of them linked to real-world situations.

The first Saturday is one of the busiest days of the Science Festival with hundreds of events across the city centre at a variety of locations along Downing Street, the New Museum’s Site and various University of Cambridge Museums, Departments and Institutes. The Festival recommends that families plan their visits by using the map at the back of the programme.

One of the key highlights of the first weekend for all ages is the Mirror pillar, a giant 2m high cylindrical mirror, which reflects and distorts images from the ground around it to create beautiful anamorphic artworks. The mirror pillar can be found at the Grand Arcade on Saturday and Sunday, where everyone can interact with anamorphic images by drawing and colouring, discover the mathematics and geometry behind projected and distorted images, and help build a giant picture.

Other highlights for young children and families on the first weekend:

Game of bones. Dr Matt Wilkinson charts the ferocious battle for supremacy between dinosaurs and mammals: one that created the living world as we know it.

Bits and pieces: secrets of the digital world. The world sends more messages today than ever before and those messages are in code. This may not be surprising, but even those codes contain more secrets than you realise.  Dr James Grime reveals how to hide a secret message on the internet in plain sight and the ingenious maths within a CD that allows it to keep playing.

Animal explorers. Discover the amazing diversity of animal life at the Museum of Zoology. Get hands-on to find out about the science of zoology. Meet live insects, uncover skulls and go on a safari around the galleries.

CHaOS talks at crash, bang, squelch! Discover all sorts of weird and wonderful science with talks from our CHaOS volunteers, including berserk fireworks and robot making workshops.

Discover Polar science: family day at the Polar Museum. Explore the amazing science from the coldest and harshest environments on Earth. Includes object handling, experiments, crafts, and the chance to meet intrepid polar scientists from the British Antarctic Survey.

The science of archaeology. Were Neanderthals fussy eaters? What can bones tell us about a person’s life? What did ancient Mesopotamia smell like? Science can help archaeologists answer these questions and many others. Discover the secrets revealed by pots, plants, soil, bones, textiles and maybe even fossilised poo.

Moonwatch at the institute of astronomy. Observe the moon with a range of historical and modern telescopes.

Top picks for teenagers:

Engineering Discovery: the application of science in modern vehicles with Jaguar Land Rover. How engineers use fundamental mathematics and the physical sciences in simulation models from the simplest to the most complex is illustrated by examples from the development of the award-winning Land Rover Discovery Sport.

An Engineer plays with toys. Engineers are just grown-up children playing with toys – big toys. Dr Hugh Hunt, well-known as a Channel Four TV presenter – Dambusters, Colditz, Zeppelins etc – gets to play with blocks, balls, bikes and boomerangs.

If that isn’t enough to whet those science appetites, the Festival also hosts a day of events at the Guildhall on Saturday and Sunday. Events include everything from discovering the chemistry in your cupboard and investigating crimes in crime scene identifications, to hands-on biology with staff and students from Hills Road Sixth Form, and the diet disco where they can learn how much dancing raises the heart rate.

On Sunday 17th March, families can delight in yet more science including discovering who was coolest, dinosaurs or animals today in Animal top trumps. Families can take a delightful magical journey through science with the Cambridge Pentacle Magic Club in The Magic of discovery at Cambridge Junction.

The second week of the Festival again offers an Aladdin’s Cave of science for children, teenagers and families to enjoy. For younger children, Artist Kelly Briggs explores how the natural disintegration of artefacts can become inspiration for new artworks in the workshop Science in art (23 March).

For older children and teenagers, events include:

So you want to be a scientist? (18 March) What does it take to become a scientist? Meet scientists and find out about their jobs, what inspired them and what qualifications they needed. Expect amazing demonstrations and lots of time for questions.

What will my quantum computer do for me? (18 March) What exactly is a quantum computer? Is it just a super-fast version of a normal computer? What will it be good for? And most importantly, should you buy one? Mithuna Yoganathan provides the answers! Hint: don’t put in your pre-order until you’ve seen this talk!

Shimmer: rainbows, sequins and physics (18 March). Discover more about the physics of colours in bubbles and butterflies with Dr Rox Middleton who presents a talk of glitz and science. Find out how animals use colours and how scientists are inspired by nature to make new materials for the future of fashion and function.

Meet your friendly neighbourhood climate scientists (19 March). British Antarctic Survey climate experts meet with the public for an open conversation.

Adolescent mental health: resilience after childhood adversity (20 March). Around 45% of adolescent mental health problems are caused by childhood adversity, such as poverty, parents having mental health problems, being bullied, neglect and abuse. Dr Anne-Laura van Harmelen discusses mechanisms that may aid resilient functioning in adolescents with a history of childhood adversity.  

Micro:bit treasure hunt (19 March). We’re going on a treasure hunt! Join the team for some coding fun with the micro:bit.  

Mendeleev’s dream: experience the periodic table through music! (21 March). As part of the celebrations for the International Year of the Periodic Table, a new piece of music has been devised. In this unique musical experience, Mendeleev’s Dream, everyone is invited to sing or play an element as part of a vast musical ensemble, creating an elemental harmony.

The second and final Saturday sees the Cambridge Science Festival located primarily at the West Cambridge Site. Events include a range of fascinating hands on activities, games and demonstrations (featuring everything from custard to cosmology) at the Maths public open day, and the annual Schools Zone, which showcases a host of exciting demos from the next generation of scientists, engineers and mathematician.

A range of Departments, Laboratories and other institutions again open their doors. At the Department of Materials Science and Metallurgy, families can watch 3D printing in chocolate and see what happens to a balloon when you stretch it too fast in Cool balloons (tipped as being the coolest event at the Science Festival!).

At the Institute for Manufacturing, there is Laser tin can alley, which involves firing lasers to see who can knock down the most tin cans, and the opportunity to win a prize by guessing what the latest science-based products are used for in What would you use that for? There are further open days at the Institute of Astronomy and the Cavendish Laboratory – where children and families can have fun while learning how maths helps you to be better at sport in Maths vs sports.

Saturday ends with a trip to the Centre for Computing History for a Family Gaming Night. An evening of video gaming with games that everyone can play, from retro classics like Pac-Man, to modern examples like Xbox 360. It’s a great chance for kids and parents to share experiences, compete against each other and talk about how technology and gaming have changed.

The final day of the 2019 Cambridge Science Festival, Sunday 24th March, sees the Cambridge Academy for Science and Technology hosting a whole day of events, ranging from a Teddy bear hospital to fun and games for teenagers with Ginny Smith in Mastering memory. Another event recommended especially for families is Fantastic beasts and what not to catch from them – a myth busting examination into about what we can and cannot catch from animals.

Speaking ahead of the Festival, Dr Lucinda Spokes, Cambridge Science Festival Manager, commented: “Many of the events at this year’s Festival are especially aimed at getting children and young people excited about science, engineering, maths and medicine. Each year, we see thousands of children and teenagers attend these events and it’s an absolute delight to see their minds ignited with curiosity and wonder about the world around them. This is why the Festival exists. We want to show people of all ages the amazing science that is happening all around them every day.”

Photograph credit: Julieta Sarmiento Photography

Download the full Cambridge Science Festival programme here.  Bookings can be made here or by calling the Festival on 01223 766 766 between 11am and 3pm.

Keep up to date with the Festival on social media via Facebook and Twitter #CamSciFest.


Cambridge Science Festival brings science, technology, engineering, maths and medicine to an audience of all ages through demonstrations, talks, performances and debates. Run by the University of Cambridge, the Festival draws together 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, Anglia Ruskin University, Astex Pharmaceuticals, 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.