I’ve just come back from the Cheltenham Science Festival. It was a truly inspiring week of educating and entertaining science, maths and technology. Insights direct from Richard Dawkins (he didn’t claim he wanted to kill Santa), to mesmerising talks from Sean Carroll, and the hugely entertaining Famelab final (a world wide science communication competition were contestants get 3 minutes to explain their science, check out their Youtube channel (dig deep enough and you’ll find me in there somewhere)) all made for an exhilarating few days.
All of this and loads more takes place in a grassy park crammed full of marquees adored with giant molecular models, surrounded by science buskers, set in an environment where the public mingles with some of the brightest minds in science (last year I stood behind James Watson in a queue for an ice cream (he had a soft ice and then complained when it was dispensed with a left handed twist)* meanwhile Peter Higgs wondered past).
I was lucky enough to do my bit too. I helped volcanologists demonstrate what happens when lava flows through different types of rock (thermite makes a reasonable approximating to lava, although doing it in a marquee was a bit hair-raising). My show called ‘Ipads and Avatars’, presented alongside a CGI motion captured monkey, was a big hit and great fun to perform. But, what I felt most proud of were my chemistry workshops for primary school kids. Quite simply the children played with Molymods and built models of chemicals found in food and drinks. Then we talked about how your body senses these chemicals. I introduced kids as young as 7 to concepts like chirality, valency, bonding and receptor proteins. And they got it! It was a real thrill to hear their excited chatter and exclamations about how much they loved chemistry.
The Cheltenham Science Festival is a truly aspiration raising events for all ages, most especially for children. I’ve never experienced anywhere else with the same concentration of phenomenal science communicators ranging from Nobel laureates, TV personalities to equally inspiring PhD students. All of whom serve to highlight the joys, worth and excitement of science. And it really does work, the children who are lucky enough to live near to the festival and get exposed to it year after year, really do know their stuff. One 10 year old sang the whole of the Periodic Table Song to me.
Now I want to help more children, especially those that don’t have supportive backgrounds, to experience inspiring events like Cheltenham’s Science Festival. Its the sort of thing that can make all the difference to a child’s choices in life by illustrating the worth of education and knowledge, then through it what is achievable. That’s why I’m raising money for The Children’s University. They work with children living in adverse situations, sometimes from families where there’s generations of unemployment with parents who encourage kids to live on benefits. Others are brought up in care or in a host of despairing situations. In short the Children’s University is a charity that makes a real difference to young people’s lives by showing children from adverse backgrounds a world of opportunities.
Forgive me using this forum in this way, but please help support the Children’s University too by giving a little. And to add a little grist to the mill I’ll be hiking 100km around 18 peaks of Dartmoor in under 42hrs, whilst carrying 12kg pack and forgoing any electronic navigation aids (the reason for this particular madness is another story).
Hopefully we can raise enough so that todays young people can be inspired by Richard Dawkins, who can tell them, in person, that he has nothing against Santa.
* The complaint about the ice cream may not be strictly true, but he was with me in he queue.