Science festivals are incredible. There is much debate on whether they are an effective tool for communicating science to a broad enough audience, but there’s no doubt that the people who go to them have a great time. Below are six UK science festivals that are at the cutting edge of mixing science and culture. I haven’t been to many of them, but since researching them for this blog, I want to go to all of them! This list isn’t in order of best to worst, I’m just providing information so that you can read about them all in one place. I’d love to hear if you have been to a festival that I’ve listed to get a real idea of what they are like!
To start with, their tag-line is quite exotic:
Become wide eyed and awe-struck. Rediscover the wonder of Earth and beyond. Explore outer and inner space, the furthest reaches and the innermost depths. Music, science and cosmic culture entwine in a helix of everything that makes us human.Blue Dot Festival
Held annually since 2016 in Cheshire, England, Bluedot festival is a heady mixture of music, art and science. On stage you can find musical performances, live science experiments and expert talks. In the past, Richard Dawkins, Brian Cox, The Chemical Brothers and Alt-J have all graced the various stages, but the festival is more than big names! The Bluedot Experience encompasses all types of exploration with their main stage being situated underneath the Lovell telescope, an “ambient” night-time art show in the arboretum, expressive late-night electronic music sessions and plant based dining in The Power Plant.
In amongst all of these incredible experiences, Bluedot is also a hub for intergenerational learning; their family offerings are expansive and feature fun-packed shows on their Big Bang Stage and the Space Pavillion, Stargazing sessions and the Close Encounters Expo.
This is one that I have been to and I loved it! Hosted in Excel London, it’s more like a conference than a festival, with science related businesses like Science On A Postcard selling wares and charities like Woodland Trust encouraging you to support them. At the same time, the speakers they get for their four stages are incredible and there are plenty of interactive science activities to keep you occupied between talks.
While I was there I listened to a researcher speak about recovering items from the Mary Rose, Bobby Seagull inspired me with maths, I imitated a pigeon and compared it to real bird song, browsed a wildlife photography exhibition and observed school children carry out virtual surgery.
Each day is dedicated to a particular audience and I decided to go on the schools day because there was guaranteed to be more hands-on experiences to discover. If you live in the UK and within a reasonable distance from London, this event is perfect for a science day-trip!
This is one of my favourite concepts for a science festival; you go to a pub and learn about current science research in a way that’s easy to digest. Most cities around the UK (and also world-wide) will host a week of talks at different popular pubs or bars and you may be lucky enough to have a Creative Reactions event near you as well! This arm focuses on pairing artists with scientists to produce some stunning, thought-provoking art based on real research. I was able to go to a dedicated exhibition and met with some of the artists to talk about their work during the event.
I last attended Pint of Science when I lived in Nottingham a few years ago and there were so many talks to choose from! The event isn’t just about sitting and listening though; I got into some really interesting discussions with others at the event about the topics being covered and most of the speakers will invite you to ask questions. If you want to meet like-minded people, relax with a drink and learn something new, I highly recommend you check out Pint of Science in your area!
Hosted in a different part of the UK every year and run by the British Science Association, The British Science Festival partners with local universities to provide a completely free event. Talks, workshops and “drop-in” sessions are run over four to five days by volunteers and connects visitors with scientists from all different disciplines.
I love that they publish their evaluation documents from previous years so that anyone can read how effective they are at achieving their aims. I’ve never been to one of these festivals, but I know that they are great events to volunteer at if you want to get your foot in the door of Science Communication. This festival boasts a huge programme of 100 events, with 2019 showcasing an intriguing variety of topics including gaming and gambling, food poverty and using AI for diagnosing cancer.
As well as talks, 2019 saw visitors take part in a blind-folded, tactile tour of the universe, experience autonomous vehicles and South African Rooibos tea tasting. It seems like there is something for everyone, so keep an eye out for September’s line up!
In addition to having the most creative and beautiful programme brochures, #EdSciFest is an exciting mixture of street science experiments, art exhibitions, talks, workshops, performances and everything you’d expect from a science festival with 20 years experience. With a mixture of family friendly and adult shows, there are both free and paid experiences for you to enjoy across the city.
History of science is also woven through the festival’s theme; in 2019 it was the 50th anniversary of the Moon landings and this milestone was the main feature with organisers building the events around “jumping in to the unknown and expanding our horizons”. If I’m honest, the sheer volume of content for visitors is incredible and if you’re interested in going, I recommend going through their programme with a highlighter to narrow down what you want to see!
Self-described as a place for “debate, discovery, experiments, enjoyment and hands on fun”, Cheltenham Science Festival has been described as the “gold-standard”. Their past speakers include Brian Cox, Alice Roberts and Robert Winston, but it is also home to Fame Lab; an international science communication competition where scientists and engineers entertain the audience with their research.
Cheltenham Science Festival is just one string in the city’s festival bow; there are 3 others and between them they provide visitors with over 1000 sessions to attend! Their gallery of memories from 2019 speak of explosions, street performances that include astronauts floating, retro gaming, virtual reality and scientists presenting interactive research on stalls. I get the impression that the organisers don’t want to give too much away and the festival’s reputation is enough to persuade visitors to attend. Personally I would love to go to experience the “gold-standard” for myself!
Bonus: Einstein’s Garden at Green Man Festival
I heard a lot about this one during my masters and because it’s not a dedicated science festival, I though I would include it as a bonus part of the list. The official description is:
Uncloak your inner alchemist, discover magical mathematical powers, or get down and dirty with wildlife. But science doesn’t stop there: in Einstein’s Garden, it gate-crashes comedy, theatre, and music, too. Grab your lab goggles and unpack the secrets of the natural world and the galaxies beyond…Green Man Festival
It sounds intriguing and a great idea to add a splash of science to a UK music festival!
Making this small list of science festivals has been interesting to see the different approaches that organisations have used to bring science and celebrating it to the forefront of culture by creating notable events that elicit a desire for people to experience them. It’s debatable whether the people going to science festivals are as diverse as might be intended, but they are no doubt an innovative and immersive way to engage people in science for multiple days!
This list just covers a few UK festivals, but there are so many others. I didn’t mention Cardiff Science Festival, Bristol’s Festival of Nature or Future Fest, however you can find a complete list of UK Science Festivals on Big STEM Communicators Network.
I’d love to know if you have been to a science festival outside of the UK! Let me know in the comments or tweet me @jenniefrench95.