British Science Festival in Aberdeen

British Science Festival

Running all this past week, the 2012 British Science Festival, an annual celebration of science and technology, has taken over the quiet, out of term-time, University of Aberdeen.

We attended our first event on Friday evening where we heard Dr Stuart Clark talking about the subject of his most recent novel, Isaac Newton. It was an interesting talk, well presented, covering a lot of ground and featuring a lot of science personalities besides Newton himself.

New University Library

On Saturday morning Aberdeen was bathed in glorious summer sunshine. After visiting the new library building to pick up a programme I wandered over to the venue for the first of the events I had a ticket for, only to find a crowd of people gathered around a large, moving, Tyrannosaurus Rex! This proved to be an entertaining taster of Dr John Hutchinson’s talk which was held in the Fraser Noble building’s large lecture theatre and was filled with a diverse audience including plenty of excited, young children. His talk looked at his research into the movements of large land animals, using the contrasting examples of the Tyrannosaurus Rex and the elephant to illustrate different aspects of his investigations. The talk was hugely entertaining with plenty of interaction, humour and a lot of interesting science, particularly the geometry and physics of large animal leg systems.

At the New Library for British Science Festival

During the lunch break I took an opportunity to check out the engineering poster exhibition and chat to a few of the people there, mostly research engineers from UK universities. There was a wide range of topics, but climate change and sustainability definitely dominated the agenda. I had an interesting talk about the perception of nuclear power with a guy from the University of Manchester, and heard about current research into floating wind turbines being developed for deep water offshore applications.

Noctilucent Clouds

Later in the afternoon I attended one of the British Astronomical Association talks. Ken Kennedy, the aurora section head, was speaking about Noctilucent Clouds, a topic very close to my heart. As a passionate observer of these midsummer phenomenon whilst at university (I took the above photograph of a wonderful display in June 2007) it was great to hear that there is still strong research interest in this area and Ken’s talk was a very coherent overview of the subject and some of the latest ideas being investigated by space and ground based observers. I have resolved to get back into routinely observing for these during the next season.

King's College Chapel

After another laze in the sunshine outside King’s College, and a quick exploration of the exquisite sixteenth-century chapel I headed along to my final event of the day, Professor Iain Stewart’s talk about his latest (upcoming) geological series for the BBC which looks at the story of the continents.

Professor Iain Stewart at the British Science Festival

Having seen him last year talking to the Royal Scottish Geographical Society I knew that he was an excellent speaker, but this talk was a bit broader in its scope and touched on some interesting aspects of documentary making, particularly the cult of the presenter. Besides that though he showed plenty of images and a couple of clips from the new series and it looks fantastic. I learnt a little something about the geology below Manhattan, and that the Appalachain mountains of North America share a common geological ancestry as the Grampian mountains of Scotland.

And so the day was over. I must say I was very impressed with the festival. There was a good vibe around the University campus with lots of smiling faces and helpful volunteers and the quality of the talks and exhibitions I attended was first class. If it comes to a city near you in the future then I would definitely recommend trying to get along.

For more about the events that happened on day five of the festival check out this report from the Aberdeen University Science Magazine team, this blog post from the xchange team and this official photography gallery.

Summer Skies