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The 2019 Cambridge Science Festival is set to host more than 350 events as it explores a range of issues that affect today’s world, from challenges around climate change policy, improving safety and quality in healthcare, and adolescent mental health, to looking at what the next 25 years holds for us and whether quantum computers can change the world.

We have everything from the science of perfumery and how your mood affects your taste, to a science version of 'Would I Lie to You?'

Dr Lucinda Spokes

Celebrating its 25th year, the Festival runs for two weeks from 11-24 March and explores the theme of ‘discoveries’. An impressive line-up of acclaimed scientists includes microscopist Professor Dame Pratibha Gai, Astronomer Royal Professor Lord Martin Rees, 2018 Nobel prize winner Sir Gregory Winter, geneticist Dr Giles Yeo, statistician Professor David Spiegelhalter, engineer Dr Hugh Hunt, marine biologist and author Helen Scales, THIS Institute Director Professor Mary Dixon-Woods, futurist Mark Stevenson, and science presenter Steve Mould.

The full programme is teeming with events ranging from debates, talks, exhibitions, workshops and interactive activities to films, comedy and performances, held in lecture theatres, museums, cafes and galleries around Cambridge. There are events for all ages and most are free.
With so many events on offer, audiences will be spoilt for choice. Some of the biggest events in week one include:

  • Is technology making us miserable? (11 March). Virtually every interaction we have is mediated through technology. Despite being ‘always-on’, are we any better off? Are we better connected? Or is technology making us miserable? 
  • Putting radioactivity in perspective (12 March). Following a renewal of electricity generated by nuclear power, Professors Ian Farnan and Gerry Thomas, Imperial College London, discuss radioactivity in the natural world and the outcomes of decades of study on the health effects of radiation. Could these research outcomes reset attitudes towards radiation and the risks?
  • The universe of black holes (13 March). Christopher Reynolds, Plumian Professor of Astronomy, describes how future research into black holes may yet again change our view of reality.
  • The long-term perspective of climate change (14 March). Professors Ulf Büntgen, Mike Hulme, Christine Lane, Hans W Linderholm, Clive Oppenheimer, Baskar Vira, and Paul J Krusic discuss how we investigate past climate and the challenges we face in applying this to the policy-making process.
  • Catalytic activation of renewable resources to make polymers and fuels (15 March). Professor Charlotte Williams, University of Oxford, discusses the development of catalysts able to transform carbon dioxide into methanol, a process which may deliver more sustainable liquid transport fuels in the future.
  • Does the mother ever reject the fetus? (15 March). Professor Ashley Moffett discusses fetal rejection and explores new discoveries that show that there are multiple mechanisms to ensure there is a peaceful environment in the uterus, where the placenta is allowed to grow and develop to support the fetus.

Top picks for the second week include:

  • Cambridge gravity lecture: Sir Gregory Winter (18 March). Sir Gregory is a molecular biologist and 2018 Nobel Laureate best known for his work on developing technologies to make therapeutic monoclonal antibodies. His research has led to antibody therapies for cancer, rheumatoid arthritis and multiple sclerosis.
  • Discoveries leading to new treatments for dementia (18 March). Professor of Clinical Neurosciences and Associate Director of the UK Dementia Research Institute, Giovanna Mallucci discusses how new research leading to insights into dementia and degenerative brain diseases may lead to new treatments.
  • Improving quality and safety in healthcare (19 March). THIS Institute Director Professor Mary Dixon-Woods looks at the challenges to improving quality and safety in healthcare and considers why it’s so hard to answer the question: Does quality improvement actually improve quality? With Dr Fiona Godlee, Editor in Chief of The BMJ.
  • Immunology: the future of medicine? (19 March) Professor Clare Bryant and a panel of Cambridge immunologists discuss how understanding disease triggers may enable entirely new approaches to treating and potentially preventing disease.
  • Polar ocean: the dead end of plastic debris (19 March). An estimated 80% of all the litter in our oceans is plastic, and a significant concentration of plastics debris is found in both polar oceans. The impact of this debris on the sensitive polar ecosystem could be profound. Pelagic marine ecologist Dr Clara Manno, British Antarctic Survey, explores the current research and existing situation in the polar regions.
  • Reluctant futurist (19 March). Old models for healthcare, education, food production, energy supply and government are creaking under the weight of modern challenges. Futurist Mark Stevenson looks at the next 30 years and asks, how can we re-invent ourselves for the future?
  • Adolescent mental health: resilience after childhood adversity (20 March). Adolescence is characterised by huge physiological changes as well as a rapid rise in mental health disorders. Around 45% of adolescent mental health problems are caused by childhood difficulties but fortunately not all who experience difficulties develop mental health disorders. Dr Anne-Laura van Harmelen discusses mechanisms that may help adolescents with a history of childhood difficulty to become more resilient.
  • Making algorithms trustworthy (21 March). Increasingly, algorithms are being used to make judgements about sensitive parts of our lives. How do we check how their conclusions were arrived at, and if they are valid and fair? Professor David Spiegelhalter looks at efforts to make algorithms transparent and trustworthy, using systems that make predictions for people with cancer as an example.
  • On the future: prospects for humanity (22 March). Professor Lord Martin Rees argues that humanity’s prospects on Earth and in space depend on our taking a different approach to planning for tomorrow.

This year’s Cambridge Science Festival also celebrates significant milestones in science, including the 200th anniversary of Cambridge Philosophical Society, Cambridge’s oldest scientific society, and 150 years since the publication of the modern Periodic Table.

Speaking ahead of the Festival, Dr Lucinda Spokes, Festival Manager, said: “We are tremendously proud of this year’s programme due to the variety of events and the calibre of our speakers from a range of institutions and industries. 

“Alongside the meatier topics we have an array of events for all ages and interests across both weekends. We have everything from the science of perfumery and how your mood affects your taste, to a science version of 'Would I Lie to You?'

“One of my personal top picks are the open days at the various institutes and departments based at the West Cambridge site on Saturday 23 March. As always, the site is hosting some truly fascinating events, everything from the future of construction and how to make Alexa smarter, to how nanotechnology is opening up new routes in healthcare, and state-of-the-art approaches to low-cost solar energy and high-efficiency lighting solutions.

“A Festival of this magnitude would not be possible without the help from many people; we thank all our scientists, supporters, partners and sponsors, without whom the Festival would not happen. Most of all, we thank the audiences – there are more than 60,000 visits to the Festival events every year. We very much look forward to welcoming everyone from all ages to join us in March to explore the fabulous world of science.”

You can download the full programme here

Bookings open on Monday 11 February at 11am.

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.

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