This weekend I joined a crew from Geography at the University of Manchester for the Bluedot Festival at Jodrell Bank, exhibiting some of our work on the local ecology and quaternary history, with a particular emphasis on upland environments. Along with other exhibitors, our stall was busy all weekend, and I met hundreds of interesting people enjoying the exhibits, lectures and music.
The format of music festival with science outreach (activities, lectures, stand-up, installation art etc.) works brilliantly, and I hope it runs again (update – it is!). The atmosphere was relaxed, with conversations about science projects between visitors over good food and drink all over the site. On a side note I’ve never encountered a more considerate audience – visitors and staff made a special effort to make the event work for families as well as the usual festival crowd, and make the most of what the exhibitors and artists had to offer.
I’ve been reading around some other blogs and although generally positive, I can’t help thinking some folks have missed the point a bit. Amy Parkinson’s blog on the University of Manchester website, while positive, focusses solely on the music and doesn’t mention the scores of University of Manchester staff and students in the “Star Field” exhibition area, or any of the lectures given by University staff, students and alumni (for example, the excellent Katie Steckles, who can and does make folding paper interesting!) The MEN article focusses on a certain Lee Taylor who reckons he once smelt someone smoking something illegal, and their other reviews again focus on the music, totally missing the science angle on all this – The Guardian are just as guilty.
So, to redress the balance – there were two large, full tents with short talks and lectures throughout the weekend (I heard about parasitic gut creatures, and watched electrical stimulation used to “remotely control” a body, amongst other things), and visited exhibits on meteorites, saw hardware from the Hubble Space Telescope, while in other displays young people were building robots and learning about allergies. There were lecturers and professors with their undergraduate and postgraduate students, chatting away with parents while kids tried out the interactive displays, while others were answering those science questions people “always wanted to ask” or just chatting about life as a scientist.