City Guide to Edinburgh, Scotland

City Guide to Edinburgh, Scotland

Edinburgh Science Festival 2015 - It's An "Ideas Factory"


By edg - Posted on 19 February 2015

EISF 2015

The Edinburgh International Science Festival (4-19 April, 2015) wants visitors to see it as "The Ideas Factory" - a hub for information, ideas and innovation.

Launching its programme today, Amanda Tyndall, Deputy Director of Edinburgh International Science Festival, promised “enlightened thinking and doing" from popular hands-on kids' labs to locking with leading scientific minds such as Edinburgh-based Nobel Prize winner Prof Peter Higgs, physicist Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell, and Gaia Theorist James Lovelock.

Broadcasters Jim Al-Khalili (BBC’s Light and Dark), Hermione Cockburn (BBC’s Coast), Simon Watt (Channel 4’s Natures Giants) and Helen Keen (BBC Radio 4) will join professionals from a range of other disciplines to debate and generate new ideas around a huge range of topics.

Among other familar names is Scottish stunt bike rider Danny MacAskill talking about the nature of focus and what drives him to achieve extraordinary feats (12 April), former hostage Terry Waite joining neuroscientist Sir Colin Blakemore to share his experience in captivity in an event exploring mental resilience (9 April), and best-selling author Matt Haig who will be discussing his experience with depression and using mindfulness as a tool for mental well-being (6 April).

Low carbon future?

With the United Nations climate conference in Paris in December 2015, and high expectations for a global agreement on limiting green house gas emissions to prevent catastrophic climate change, the Science Festival is holding an Energy & Environment series.

Chair of the IPCC and Nobel Peace Prize recipient Dr Rajendra Pachauri will take part in a discussion entitled The Road to Paris with experts and policy makers, including Scottish Minister for Environment and Climate Change Dr Aileen McLeod MSP.

Fossil fuels are on the slate again for two topical debates on Scottish energy: "Black Gold, White Lies? The Truth about North Sea Oil" (14 April) which investigates how much oil is really left in the North Sea, and its value to Scotland, while "Engineering Our Energy Future: To Frack Or Not To Frack?" (9 April) considers each side of the fracking debate and the Scottish Government’s recent moratorium on the matter.

Trips into neuroscience

In Brainwaves, the Festival partners with the British Neuroscience Association - as they bring their 50th biennial conference to Edinburgh for the first time - to present a series exploring brain, mind and consciousness.

Two keynote public lectures form the centre of this series: in "Why Scotland should lead the Neuroscientific Enlightenment" (12 April) Prof David Nutt, former UK Government Advisor on Drug policy, will reflect on the regulation of drugs and alcohol policy in Scotland, and calls for a reappraisal of societal attitudes to harmful drugs.

In "The Search for Consciousness: Detecting Awareness in the Vegetative State" (12 April) Dr Adrian Owen will examine how improvements in human brain imaging changed how we perceive consciousness, with MRI scanning now able to detect cognitive activity in patients once thought to be in vegetative states.

Other events include "Gender and the Brain" (10 April), examining if there such a thing as a ‘male’ or ‘female’ brain, "Neuroethics On Trial" (10 April) – where the audience turns jury to judge a panel of experts debating whether brain imaging should be admissible in a court of law, and there will be a special screening of Alex Garland’s critically acclaimed "Ex Machina" (16 April) with a discussion hosted by BBC broadcaster Dr Alex Rutherford, who acted as scientific consultant to the film. There’s even a "Neuroscience Ceilidh" (17 April) from scientist and fiddle player Lewis Hou.

Food sense

Foodies will be pleased to see the return of mini-festival GastroFest, which includes science-inspired farmers market "SciMart" (5 April). Diners will be able to explore links between our senses and our taste buds in "Sensory Experimentation" (9 April) with a series of tasters designed to trick in experiments exploring flavour, scent and texture (9 April), while "Give in to Fermentation" (15 April) investigates our ongoing fascination with the fermentation process whilst enjoying a series of beer and food pairings.

Drink design has now become a science - "GastroLab: Molecular Mastery" (11 April) unveils the mysteries of molecular mixology with Prof Andrea Sella and drinks developers Zoe Burgess and Max Venning from London's Drinks Factory, and Gin-omics for "Generation Gin" (12 April) examines the distillation secrets behind this rediscovered classic, with a selection of Scottish craft gin tasters.

City of Enlightenment

The UN International Year of Light 2015 serves as inspiration for Light and Enlightenment, a series exploring the beauty, form and function of light and its role as a metaphor for knowledge and enlightenment.

"On The Spectrum" (13 April) investigates the nature of colour and explores how we use, interact with and understand it, and "Light Fantastic" (4 April) examines the many meanings of light across the spectrum of culture. "A Sense of Wonder" (15 April) celebrates a hero of Scottish science, marking the 150th anniversary of the publication of Edinburgh native James Clerk Maxwell’s ground-breaking theory of electromagnetism.

A number of talks examine how light has been used throughout the ages as a metaphor for understanding and discovery - "The Enlightenment Debate: Hume vs Reid" (17 April) brings this idea home to Scotland, examining the legacy and influence of Scotland’s Enlightenment era thinkers – fathers of our intellectual, economic and scientific modern age.

Big data's dark and light side

Far from being the dull end of science and tech, "Numbers That Matter" highlights how integral statistics are to life in our online information age. "Social Media: Spying? Sentiment? Source of Data?" (9 April) investigates the realities of social media sharing and asks who truly owns your data, whilst "The Computing Universe" (14 April) charts the rise of the machine from computing in the 1930s to the modern day.

"Big Solutions to Big Data" (16 April) examines how we capture ‘big data’ and the big challenges and opportunities that come with it, while Australia’s Numeracy Ambassador – and stand-up comedian - Simon Pampena explores the lighter side of maths in "The Savant Garde" (11 April) - a comedy journey through the hardest maths problems of all time.

LateLab, Sci Club and Social Scifest events

The Scifest includes Lates events - where science, music and art collide - starting with the Festival’s Opening Party at City Art Centre (2 April).

The programme also features the return of popular sci-creative series LateLab taking in subjects as diverse as the Tron movie series in a special Atmosphere screening at the National Museum of Scotland to complement the Game Masters exhibition (4 April), to a scientific look at beauty at the National Portrait Gallery of Scotland in "Beauty by Design" (17 April).

Elsewhere "The Science of Game of Thrones" (10 April) asks whether the phenomena present in George R.R. Martin’s epic tales could perhaps be plausible, while "Electric Tales: The Science Years" (14 April) promises a night of comedy storytelling packed with love, competitions and a healthy dose of weird.

Late nights include two special new events – "The Big Bang Bash" (10 April) presented in partnership with the National Museum of Scotland - an "out-of-this-world" party celebrating the wonders of space and "Full Spectrum" (17 April) – the Science Festival’s first ever club night – an audio-visual experience produced with Astrojazz and Adventures in Light.

Science and Arts Cross-overs

The creative crossover continues with a new visual arts exhibition co-curated by the Science Festival, Summerhall and ASCUS Art & Science. "How the Light Gets In" showcases the work of international artists intrigued by light in all its many facets, and aims to illuminate the workings of our brain, mind and consciousness, celebrating both the Festival’s Brainwaves and Light & Enlightenment programmes.

Artists featured include Oliver Jennings, Benjamin Burtenshaw, Collins and Goto, Fraser Ross, Keith Lemley, William Latham, Andrew Carnie, Art Neuro and Julia Malle.

Reading back to the future

The Reading Experiment returns to delve into the world of science writing in its many forms – from popular science to poetry, literary fiction and sci-fi.

A series of author talks, workshops and events explores why everyone can enjoy sci-writing: in "The Science of Storytelling" winners of the Scottish Book Trust’s New Writers Award discuss how science can bring new inspiration to writers who love it (15 April), whilst "Bad Science Books? Jurassic Park" takes on the relationship between science fact and science fiction (7 April), and in "Forensic Fact Meets Forensic Fiction", author Lin Anderson examines the scientific fact behind popular crime writing (5 April).

Aside from events, this year’s SciKu poetry competition - launching March 2015 – asks entrants to create a ‘science haiku’ about the wonder of light and will be transforming a community phone box on Portobello High Street into a hub for SciKu sharing.

Kids' Activities

The Science Festival has always had a good selection of activities for families. The City Art Centre will again be transformed into a scientific playground, with stuff like the "Carnival of the Mind" where you discover the secrets of your brain, science storytelling with Timmy the Turbine and an Under-5s Science Trail.

Summerhall also has an expanded series of interactive family shows and science workshops, with more on offer for older children and teenagers. Children can make their own LED badges in Gadget Factory (9 April) find out how a lightsaber works in The Science of Star Wars (12 & 13 April) and dissect a toy mind in Robot Brain Surgery (14 April).

Older visitors can immerse themselves in the how-to world of tech, with workshops on everything from electronics and soldering, to coding and video game design.

Two new special themed days also group family activities together – in Dino Day (4 April) features robotic dinosaurs, Velma the Velociraptor, a dinosaur-dig, dino dressing-up and a special dino Easter-egg hunt.

On Space Day, (12 April) scientist Marcus Chown will talk about the wonders of the universe, with demos from the Royal Observatory Edinburgh, Rocket in your Pocket science busking, space-suit dressing-up and a planetarium.

Other family events around the city include hands on workshops at the National Museum of Scotland where their Lab Rats (7-11 April) have travelled to space and back, a Columbian jungle-themed expedition at the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, and the University of Edinburgh also presents a packed programme of events for families at the National Museum of Scotland.

The Edinburgh International Science Festival runs from Saturday 4 to Sunday 19 April 2015. Full details of the 2015 programme can be found at sciencefestival.co.uk. Tickets for all events can be booked online via the website or through the Box Office on 0844 557 2686 from 11am Thursday 19 February 2015.

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This review is an excellent introduction to the Edinburgh International Science Festival which has a world-wide reputation as the oldest Science Festival having been established for some 26 years. With six main programme strands - 'Light and Enlightenment', 'Brainwaves', 'The Reading Experiment', 'Energy and Environment', 'Gastrofest' and 'Numbers that Matter' the Science Festival events cover not only its main venues of the City Arts Centre, the National Museum of Scotland, Summerhall and the Royal Botanic Garden, but it also stretches across Edinburgh to some thirty four other venues. So the Science Festival really does involve the whole city which is splendid. There is no doubt that with so much on offer over the period 4-19 April there is something here for everyone - and particularly the children!