The fifth annual Brighton Science Festival, a week-long programme of lectures, debates and activities culminated in Big Science Saturday last weekend at Brighton University’s Sallis Benney Theatre at Grand Parade. The main aim of the Festival, as stated on its website, is to cover “chemistry, physics, biology, maths, engineering, ecology, and a whole swathe of related subjects, to engage the entire family, young and old, and bring science into their everyday experience”.
Despite this family focus, director Richard Robinson reveals his main reason for organising the Festival in the first place was because he “spotted a problem with Key Stage Three science (pupils between twelve and fourteen years old). If you go to a book shop, there are mountains of kids’ books before the age of twelve, and then hardly anything after that”. In an attempt to address this, the Brighton Science Festival begins in earnest in January, with a month-long tour of Sussex schools, taking science workshops to Key Stage Three students.”
Mr Robinson enthused that the students are “so good, so clever, so witty, so determined if you say ‘are you up for it?’”, and explained that by the end of the workshops, children who had previously been apathetic towards science were reluctant to leave the classroom.
The main Festival maintained this determination to appeal to young people. ‘Bright Sparks Family Fun Day’ at Hove Park Upper School began the programme of events, with a whole host of activities including a show from the ‘Rocket Belt Man’, ‘Science Poetry’ and demonstrations and talks from some of the leading robotics engineers in the UK.
Although organisers were eager to encourage children’s involvement in the Festival, Big Science Saturday in particular had a lot to offer adults. The debate tables, manned throughout the day, encouraged lively discussions on topics as diverse as gardening, Makaton sign language and the physics of biscuit dunking. There were also numerous lectures, such as ‘Carnivorous Plants’ given by Sussex’s own Dr Peter Scott, and ‘The Guardian’ columnist Ben Goldacre’s talk on ‘Bad Science’, which, according to Mr Robinson was a “smashing good act”.
A key concern of the festival organisers was how to appeal to those who wouldn’t normally show an interest in science, with Mr Robinson discussing the importance of choosing speakers who are entertaining as well as knowledgeable, and the danger that “it is perfectly possible to be thorough with one’s research and accurate with the facts, but also completely dull”.
However, this concern did not seem to cause any problems during the Festival, as Mr Robinson spoke of “full houses” for the majority of the events programmed, and the next Brighton Science Festival has already been confirmed for February 2010.