Wednesday, 29 October 2008

International Science Directors

While all the exciting public events have been going on, a group of science festival directors from around the world have arrived in Manchester. Thanks to the British Council and MOSI, 2o delegates have been sharing experiences and lessons on setting up and running science festivals. Alongside that, we have seen some of the top festival events.

So, what have we all been learning? Well, on Monday we learned about why different festivals in the UK were set up, and how their missions have changed. These can be local events, like this festival, or national programmes like the BA Festival. In the afternoon we listened to Trevor Bayliss talk about his belief that invention should be taught to all young people.

On Tuesday we compared the way our festivals, and the major UK events, are operated. It seems that no two festivals are completely alike, although we all have similar issues to contend with (funding, marketing and working with partners). In the afternoon were taken on a walk around the scientific history of Manchester, before participating in the Nowgen debate on the politics of immunisation. Judging by the live voting at the event, the audience was surprisingly representative of the UK population (with very similar views), even though 20 were from overseas.

Today was a rapid journey through the programme to commemorate Darwin Year in 2009, with presentations from two major Darwin festivals as well as UK and international coordinating projects.

So, what have we learned so far? Science festivals are thriving all around the world. UK festivals, like Manchester and Newcastle, compare well but there are some amazingly dynamic and innovative activities elsewhere. Many events are celebratory, cultural events but dialogue is becoming a common theme everywhere. We've learnt about the importance of stories in communicating complex ideas and seen how in some cases a compelling story can dominate over fact. Still to come, we'll find out about wo works in festivals and the perfect location, as well as discovering the identity of the UK's best young science communicator. And maybe, by the time we finish on friday, everyone will have adjusted to UK time.

Tuesday, 28 October 2008

The story so far, and more to come!

Already, we've (deep breath)... busked in the station, been on telly, done some city walks, launched the Planet-Box art at the library, met Our Kid, told some stories, made a massive 3D mosaic, played with noisy toys, hung out at the Trafford Centre, done a Mensa test, learnt and used some BSL, talked about dystopian novels, heard about the behaviour of moths, seen evolutionary colour in action, hunted for aliens, and solved a crime in CSI Manchester!

But there's more, so much more...

Even in the next 48 hours you could (another deep breath)...
...debate state interventions in health decisions, take a sound tour, see some cartoon science, be a dinosaur detective, watch the Cosmic Africa film, find out where your mind is, bend it like Sparky, get a plant's view of the world, and do chemistry with cabbage!

To find out more simply search on the website for any of the above! And see you at something before the next big weekend, we hope?

Friday, 24 October 2008

Liquid nitrogen on the move!

Phew! After many months of preparation I have this afternoon finally left MOSI with an auditorium choc-full of exciting Chemistry demos ready for go tomorrow at the BSL Signs for Science Chemistry Demonstration at 11am.

It's been quite a feat to pull together this event (and its partner event BSL Signs for Science Finding New Science Terms at 2.30pm) and looking back to the start I can see that I underestimated how much work needs to go into planning a fully translated event. After what must rack up to about 3000 emails between about 10 people coordinating these two BSL events has been a bit like directing a fleet of slow-moving tankers. Not that I suggest my valued colleagues are slow-moving! Rather that there was so much to do and so many people to talk to, liaise and negotiate with in order for us to pull together all the pre-requisites for the events.

Of course there are the presenters to organize getting over to Manchester, but I've also needed to recruit a BSL translator and and electronic notetaker who can work on demand so that audience members can hear, see or read whatever language they work best with. We've needed to liaise heavily with MOSI to ensure the room is fully accessible and everyone is visible to everyone else (thanks Julie for all your help!) and we've also had to track down the equipment and chemicals needed for the event - a huge thank you to the University of Manchester Chemistry Department who have furnished us with everything we need at no expense to us.

It was a little hairy transporting the chemicals across town to MOSI but I had a helper (thanks Jenny!) and additional people at both ends to pack the car and we managed to make it safely to MOSI without any angry taxis driving into the back of us and freezing us all with a burst container of liquid nitrogen!

It has been hugely gratifying to get to the end of today and see everything set up ready to go tomorrow. I hope very much we get the mixed audience we are looking for tomorrow and that they all enjoy the events. These events are a part of something bigger - we need to be actively making public science events accessible to as many people as possible. Yes it's hard work, yes it can be expensive, but it is all worth it to enable everyone to share the wonder of science. Funders take note, we need more money to make as many events accessible to as many people as possible! And organizers, we need to be considering all kinds of people when planning our events to enable as many people as possible to attend. Even simple actions - a touch table here, a hearing loop there, or a bus to get people to the venue, can open up your event to a whole new world of people. It's time to share our expertise and maybe next year Manchester Science Festival, and our other events during the rest of the year, will be a sell-out to a diverse audience and we can confidently express satisfaction at having engaged new people with science.

Spring forward, fall back...

That's right - it's that weekend again, when the clocks go back for the end of British Summer Time.

Good way to remember if it's forward or back? "Spring forward, fall back" (ok it's a bit American... but it works!)

The change happens on Saturday night/ Sunday morning so don't forget - or you'll be an hour early for everything on Sunday!

Our Kid

Monday saw the launch of Nowgen's project, Our Kid, celebrating 60 years of the NHS.

As part of it, they've made an interactive exhibition stand, and also a graphic novel detailing the experiences of teenagers with restricted growth.

Next week, they're launching a series of free debates and talks around health - IVF, leukaemia, TB and MMR - and of course a chance to see Our Kid for yourself at Manchester's Central Library.

TV galore!

Looks like we're taking over BBC NW Tonight!

Ruth's in the studio doing a demo, we've all been filmed and interviewed at Piccadilly station, and there's even some extras on their website...

And we've made the front page of BBC Manchester online.

All in all, a good haul!

BIG bang projection!

Wow! We're well impressed - thanks guys!

Wednesday, 22 October 2008

Last weekend's Yellow Trailblazer

While the Festival is warming up to start on this weekend, Building Initiative (an international group of architects and urbanists) was one of this year's trailblazers. Last Saturday (the 18th) we invited for a critical walking trail in Manchester. The weather was brilliant and we had a great time with a lot of inspiring discussions.

We started at CUBE gallery (where we present our project "How Yellow is Manchester?"), walked to Piccadilly Garden and went on to the Northern Quarter. There we "left" the inner city centre for exploring Strangeways. We were wondering what is green about the Greenquarter. We saw the beautiful buildings and lonely streets near the prison. And did you know that there is a Sikh temple hidden in-between all the wholesale and business?

We collected these and more thoughts about and places in Manchester in our publication Yellow Press. Please have a look at our website or drop in at CUBE gallery to pick up a copy of our free newspaper that tries a fresh and critical look at Manchester's current city planning!

Not all half-term fun and games...

Apart from all the obvious family half-term fun, there are loads of debates, talks and more for adults and teenagers.

Can we live without oil?

Should kids who haven’t had the MMR jab be excluded from school?

Are there aliens out there?

What is the potential for a cosmic catastrophe from astronomical phenomena?

Plus Stephen Baxter talking about his writing, Martin Rowson cartooning and much more!

Have a leaf through the website - then book and bring your colleagues and mates.

See you at something over the next week and more then!

Tuesday, 21 October 2008

Big bang imminent!

Bring on Saturday’s big bang – Manchester Science Festival is about to kick off!

There’s loads of half-term fun for all the family, as well as hot topics and current issues to be explored each day.

Talk to a futurologist, debate controversial ideas, spot our science buskers, walk the city, hear the river Mersey’s story, use BSL signs for science, do chemistry with cabbage, and join the!

With each of the nine days packed full of things to do and see, it’s impossible to highlight everything here. Go on the website and search by day, venue, theme or take a random pick -

And keep an eye out for our buskers at Piccadilly station, entertaining leisure travellers and commuters alike…

Big Science Read is really gathering pace now, with the big weekend of events on the 25-26 October. All the books and events are listed on

Amongst other things, you can hear one of the UK’s leading sci fi writers, Stephen Baxter - book now – limited places! You can also join an intriguing exploration between imagination, language and maths: find out more details and book here.

Hope to see you at something on the weekend – and spread the word!

Monday, 20 October 2008

Science busking

This week at MOSI we had some science busking training which went really well and prepared the presenters and volunteers with skills to take with them to Piccadilly station, Arndale market and the Trafford centre to teach unsuspecting members of the public science!

Saturday, 18 October 2008

Press coverage for the schools tour

The Manchester Science Festival got several mentions in local news reports on Thursday 16th and Friday 17th October.

The main hook of each was the guest lecturer at Moorside High, Steve Pearce, who has recently been commissioned by NASA to develop a potion which resembles the smell of spacce. Each report mentions the Manchester Science Festival which is great!

Please see the following links:

Channel M

BBC NW Tonight

Manchester Evening News

The Telegraph

Schools Tour Complete

The 10 day schools tour finished this week and was a HUGE success.

In the period leading up to the festival, a range of key partner organisations delivered a series of major one-day events in each Greater Manchester local authority. The pupils had chance to particupate in an interactive, demonstration-packed lecture by a high-profile scientist; a carousel of interactive activities; and a “hot news” workshop held by the Manchester Museum.

During the workshop part of the “How Science Works” events, groups of students produced exhibits based on a hot science topic which is in the news. The best of these will receive a prize for their school (kindly provided by Phillip Harris) and the chance to have their work exhibited at Museum of Science and Industry during the Festival. See our listings section for further details.

The 10 day schools tour finished this week and was a HUGE success. May thanks go to all involved including: STEMNET; the Universities of Bolton, Manchester, and Salford; the Manchester Museum; the Royal Institution; the Museum of Science and Industry; The BA; the Healthcare Scientist Network; and The Greater Manchester STEM Centre.

Friday, 17 October 2008

The story so far...

The story so far is a good one!

Not only did the RCUK debate on ageing go really well on Tuesday, but last night, we launched two major elements of the programme - the Yellow show at CUBE and our collaboration with the Literature Festival.

Both events were really well attended and had a great buzz - let's just hope we can carry that through next week and into the festival itself!

Thursday, 16 October 2008

The smell of space?

BBC NW Tonight caught up with our festival education programme schools tour today to find out about research into the smell of space.

Watch it here!

Wednesday, 15 October 2008

How cool is...


Love it!

Big Science Read highlights

Big Science Read is really gathering pace now, looking forward to the weekend of events on the 25-26 October.

A few things to draw your attention to in particular:

There’s a great chance to hear one of the UK’s leading sci fi writers, Stephen Baxter, as part of the BSR weekend. Find out more details and book here.

Also one of the many things that’s happening that weekend is “It looks like you’re writing a letter”, and “Zeroes and ones” – an intriguing exploration between imagination, language and maths. Find out more details and book here.

NOTE - change to schedule: the “Vvroop Vvroop” comic event has been moved to the 18th at the Lass O’Gowrie (not the 25th as publicised).

It comes to us all...

So the debate last night was fascinating - great input from the three presenters and some really insightful feedback and points from the floor too.

Afterwards, I was pondering that a lot of people seemed to have quite strong opinions on the subject. I guess we do all have experience of ageing in some way, and therefore people have a certain personal "expertise" to bring to the debate. And that seems to be quite markedly different from a (technical) topic like stem cells, which we've debated in the past...

Related to all this, the BBC news site had a great article the other month about ageing, death and dying. You might be interested to take a look.

Thanks to Manchester Museum for hosting, to the volunteers for helping out, to RCUK for their support and of course, to Trevor, Eileen, Marcus and Marco for their input. And thanks to everyone who came depsite the rain and distinctly autumnal weather!

See you at the Blade Runner screening next week, or something else in the festival?

Monday, 13 October 2008

The science of getting older...

It comes to us all so I reckon it's probably worth knowing a bit about its possible impacts. Ageing populations are not just an issue for society, but for all of us who are growing older and living longer. Come along tomorrow and find out more from our expert panel and debate the issues.

"When I'm 164...": a debate about the impacts of ageing
14 October, 6.30pm, Manchester Museum

Join us for a debate about the impacts of ageing populations, how our bodies age, and the need for lifetime homes and communities. There will be three expert angles in on the topic followed by an audience debate.

Hosted by Prof Trevor Cox, speakers include Prof Marcus Ormerod (University of Salford), Prof Marco Narici (MMU), and Prof Eileen Fairhurst MBE (MMU).

Supported by RCUK, the Manchester Beacon for Public Engagement, and Full of Life Festival.

Thursday, 9 October 2008

Big Science Read - coming soon to a library near you!

The Big Science Read invites you to explore, re-discover and get excited about science-themed books.

As part of the campaign, there are author readings, science experiements and writing workshops coming soon to local public libraries around Greater Manchester. Come along to spark your imagination and find out more about some fascinating subjects. There are more details on the Big Science Read site.

Wednesday, 8 October 2008

Join us for Yellow Trail Manchester, Saturday 18th, 10 am!

Building Initiative is a collaborative group of architects, urbanists and artists with a core interest in the relationship between buildings and social space, and the possibilities this can create for urban life. The group were invited by CUBE gallery to exhibit their ongoing project Yellow Space, which was originally developed for the contested urban situation in Belfast.

Thus, as we're now in Manchester, we decided to participate in the science festival, too!

We have developed Yellow Trail Manchester, a critical walking trail that explores Manchester’s contemporary zones of transition, creating an opportunity to reflect on social space and public life in the city.

Yellow Trail Manchester tries to encourage people to explore the role of the built environment in enabling and constructing different forms of social life. Through critical perception at specific locations, the trail aims to encourage the viewer to think about alternative strategies of planning culture.

Join us for Yellow Trail on Saturday, 18th October, 10 a.m. starting at CUBE gallery, 113-115 Portland Street!

You're also very welcome to attend the opening of our show at CUBE gallery on Thursday, 16th October, 6 p.m.!

Tuesday, 7 October 2008

Making Sense of Radiation

You may have seen an article in the Daily Mail, the Guardian online or heard it on the radio 4 Today programme this morning talking about a new guide to Making Sense of Radiation. The guide was produced by Sense about Science, a national charity dedicated to debunking myths of science.

The report (available here) is written by leading scientists, engineers and medical professionals and helps people to question things they’ve heard or read about radiation. It contains information showing that products on the market which claim to protect people from radiation exploit unfounded fears and generally don't do what they claim! The report also explains current evidence which shows that wi-fi, mobiles phones and masts have not been shown to have harmful effects.

Sense about Science have also got a range of other reports out and their website has some really useful information on recent reports and stories that have been picked up in the media. Recent project include work on detox products, science for celebrities, GM foods and stem cell research.

The Elements...

Monday, 6 October 2008

The science of getting older...

It comes to us all and if for no other reason, that's a great incentive to come along to our first trailblazer to find out the impacts of ageing on our bodies, our minds and wider society...

“When I’m 164…”: a debate about the impacts of ageing

Tuesday 14 October, 6.30pm-8.30pm - The Manchester Museum
Booking details: FREE. To book in advance or for more information, call 0161 275 2648

Join us for a debate about the impacts of ageing populations, how our bodies age, and the need for lifetime homes and communities. There will be three expert angles in on the topic followed by an audience debate. Hosted by Prof Trevor Cox, speakers include Prof Marcus Ormerod (University of Salford), Prof Marco Narici (MMU), and Prof Eileen Fairhurst MBE (MMU). Supported by RCUK, the Manchester Beacon for Public Engagement, and Full of Life Festival.

Guest bloggers...

You might already have noticed that we've invited some people working on the festival with us to join us in blogging over the next month - look out for some new names and other views in the coming days and weeks...

Friday, 3 October 2008

Fire Tornado!

Yesterday myself (Marieke Navin, Science Communication Officer at the Museum of Science and Industry) and presenter Howard Sharples got up close and personal with a fire tornado to illustrate some visual science for the launch of Manchester Science Festival. To work the fire tornado you light a flame at the centre of the drum, spin the drum which gives spin to the air molecules that hit the hot air around the flame, and raise up in a vortex like a tornado. We had a few teething problems with Howard over-zealously span the drum and tipped the whole thing over (on fire!) twice, and we thought we'd have to cancel the photo-shoot. But luckily with a bit of perseverance and some wooden blocks we managed to stabilise the device and shooting began! The article appeared in the MEN today, so check it out.

Thursday, 2 October 2008

Fire in the museum!

The fire tornado at today's press launch!

Launch and live site!

It's launch day today! And the website's gone live - go feast your eyes at!

Wednesday, 1 October 2008

LHC update

We mentioned a few weeks ago that the Large Hadron Collider was about to start work. You'll have noticed that we're all still here and the world didn't end! After a great start and almost to good to be true first few days, a technical failure on September 19th has meant that repairs are needed to some large sections of the ring.

These repairs are causing a delay and the LHC have recently announced that the collider will not be restarted until next spring!

To keep up to date with all the latest information, catching up with the scientific questions and even have a go at running your own collider go to the LHC website