I have just come back from the British Science Festival, which was held in Birmingham from the 6th to the 11th September. I was there as a British Science Association Media Fellow, which meant I had access to press conferences and embargoed news, the speakers' lounge and was allowed behind-the-scenes.
I arrived on Sunday, which was the family-orientated 'Community Day'. Birmingham University campus was humming with a carnival atmosphere. There were bouncy castles, flags, clowns, people on stilts, burger vans and ice-cream vans, like a fun-fair; but also more genteel marquees with sofas and potted plants, and canvas deck chairs outside in the sun, giving it a more 'garden party' ambiance. I saw a programmable humanoid robot, a man dressed as a skeleton and several science 'buskers' peddling their wares to enthralled children.
On the Sunday night, I listened to Professor Alice Roberts give a talk about her new book, 'The Incredible Unlikeliness of Being', which, while not new in terms of biology or embryology, was fascinating to watch. She is a compelling speaker and excels at explaining complex concepts in layman's terms. After that, I watched a hugely enjoyable talk by Professor Richard Wiseman, about the science of sleep. I learned that relying on your alarm clock to wake up is a sign of sleep deprivation, and it is best to sleep in multiples of 90 minutes. Between these two talks, I joined the Media Fellows' pub quiz, which obviously made a material difference, because we came second, out of about 25 teams.
On the Monday, the Media Fellows and I attended a press conference about an exciting Citizen Science project: the Big Bumblebee Discovery, which made me think of all the projects I could do... It was rather nice to see Dallas Campbell on the panel too.
I also attended a great session run by my colleagues at the British Association of Biological Anthropologists and Osteoarchaeologists about the bloodiest period in history, comparing the trauma found on skeletons from the Neolithic, Iron Age, Anglo-Saxon period and Medieval. I also saw another Archaeology and Anthropology session, 'The Ape that Walked', which offers an inference about how bipedalism may have evolved from arboreal locomotion on thin wobbly branches.
Overall, I had a fantastic time, not least because of the other Media Fellows in attendance, who are all brilliant, funny and super-intelligent. I came home brimming with ideas for public engagement in science events, large and small, for all ages.