At 10am on Saturday BBC Vets in Practice star Steve Leonard will launch this year's Cambridge Science Festival, an eight-day celebration of science that encompasses events and workshops aimed at every age group, from the toddler upwards. He will then give a children's lecture Extreme Animals Uncovered (Babbage Lecture Theatre, New Museums Site) to explain what it's like to film with dangerous animals.

A University of Cambridge initiative that celebrates its 10th anniversary this year, Cambridge Science Festival 2003 involves a record number of departments opening their doors to the general public.

"The aim is to inspire young people to get involved in science and to make the exciting work going on at the university accessible to the local community," says festival organiser Sarah Shaw.

There will be lots of opportunities for children to get stuck into experiments in student-run events such as Crash Bang Squelch (Elementary Laboratory, Department of Zoology and Lecture Theatre, Department of Chemistry, this Saturday, 10am to 5pm), The Time Truck (outside Sedgwick Museum, this Saturday, 10am to 4pm) and SeeKing Science (Department of Material Science and Metallurgy, this Saturday, 2-4pm).

Talks from top scientists promise some big bangs and, in the case of one lecture (It's a Gas by Dr Peter Wothers, Department of Chemistry, this Saturday, 12pm and 3pm), an intriguing Rice Krispies inferno. Another talk guaranteed to have the young audience sitting on the edge of their seats is A Virtual Tour of the Universe, a journey back in time with Dr Lisa Wright from the Institute of Astronomy (Babbage Lecture Theatre, New Museums Site, this Saturday, 2pm).

For tiny tots, the most exciting - and certainly the noisiest and messiest - events take place this Saturday. Two art-based events aimed at small children are Big Picture (Foyer, Babbage Lecture Theatre, New Museums Site, 11am-12 noon), a chance to join illustrator Peter Kent as he draws a huge picture, and Rumble in the Jungle (11am-12 noon, Teaching Room B, Arts School, New Museums Site), an activity led by children and staff from Patacakes Nursery.

Each year the festival pushes back the boundaries in making links between science, ethics and the arts. This year there's the chance to sharpen your wits by taking part in two discussion sessions. The Radical Science Debates (this Saturday, 12.30-4.30pm, Room 1, Mill Lane Lecture Rooms) will tackle issues such as the safety of pesticides and GM foods. In Extremes of Vision (Faculty of Law, Sidgwick Site, Wednesday, March 19, 7.30-9pm) a distinguished panel will examine the different ways in which artists and scientists view the world and take questions from the floor.

Events for slightly older children and adults continue throughout next week. The Institute of Astronomy is running Night Sky viewing sessions for ages eight upwards on Wednesdays 19 and 26 March from 8-9pm, and Saturday, 22 March, from 7-9pm. Sessions will run only if the sky is clear (to check call the institute after 5pm on 01223 337548).

Science Festival events are not confined to the university. Organisations actively contributing to the scheme this year include Wysing Arts, the Arts Picture House, Cambridge & County Folk Museum, and Borders Bookshop. The ADC Theatre invites schools and adults to join British Antarctic Scientists and artists to create an installation in an inflatable dome called White Canary (20, 21 and 22 March to book places phone the box office on 01223 511511).

Highlights of the second Saturday (22 March) include a Maths Public Open Day at the Centre for Mathematical Sciences (Wilberforce Road), where mathematicians working on everything from prime numbers to volcanoes are staging displays, interactive demonstrations and talks to illustrate the huge range of their work. At 2pm, in a talk called Ozone and Climate with Ozone Spin-off, aimed at ages 11 and up, Professor Michael McIntyre will ask some fundamental questions about global warming and explain how the sun spins internally.

Last year Cambridge Science Festival attracted more than 35,000 visits, with as many as 50 per cent of visitors coming for the first time. Most visitors were part of family groups, with primary age children representing the second largest group after adults. There was a marked increase in visitors travelling 10 miles or more to take part in events.

"We're thrilled that the festival is attracting increasing numbers, including people who may not visit the country's major science museums," says organiser Sarah Shaw. "Our events have the kind of informal, lively atmosphere that families really like. Visitors get the chance to meet lots of young scientists, who are full of enthusiasm about their work. And everything's free!"

For more information on Cambridge Science Festival phone 01223 766766 or go to

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