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The Festival of Science and Curiosity in Nottingham

3 February 17 interview: Gav Squires

The annual Festival of Science and Curiosity takes place in Nottingham to show the public that science is part of our lives and not just something that is hidden away in laboratories, behind closed doors. This year's festival takes place between Wednesday 8 February and Wednesday 15 February, so we sat down with the curator Hasmita Chavda to find out all about it...

First things first, what is the Festival of Science and Curiosity?
It’s actually quite a grass roots festival. It's going into its third year and was created by the STEM city partnership, which is a consortium of the University of Nottingham, Nottingham Trent University, the council, organisations like Nottingham Futures, Ignite and Broadway Cinema, all coming together to enthuse people about science and technology and the arts. We see it as an important part of everyday culture.

We do it because we see it as a good thing to do, and we have networks in the city to make that happen. Nottingham is one of the six science cities but it was one of the only science cities that didn't have a major festival until we started this. Nottingham doesn't really have a major science centre. We've got Green's Windmill and Wollaton Hall, but Manchester and the other science cities all have really large, well-funded science centres. We don't, but we do have some great universities and some amazing tech, like games design. There are some really great things happening in the city, yet it very rarely translates into the public forum.

So you’re bringing science to the public...
Very much so – taking the science that's happening in the city and surrounds, and getting the general public engaged and enthused about it. There's another element, which is just about trying to make sure that people engage in science and maths so that they can have confidence and start having conversations about it.

With a lot of the things we do, like Don't Trust The Experts, it's about not just believing what you're told but it's about asking questions and being curious. Let that drive what it is you want to find out about. One of the big things we try to promote with all of the activities is asking questions – ask a scientist! Some things they may not know, but it's still really cool how you find these things out.

There was a big thing last year about people no longer trusting experts…
Exactly! This is breaking down those walls between the public and the experts. It's about being able to have these conversations where no question is stupid. One of the big things is the reality of challenging stereotypes about what an expert looks like, or what a scientist looks like. More often than not, they're relatively normal human beings and a lot of them are sociable.

This is the third year of the festival, is it bigger and better?
Yeah, each year it's organically grown. So, we take on the feedback from last year and then we develop it. This year, we've broken the festival down into three core components. It runs from the 8th until the 15th and the first couple of days are dedicated to schools. A big part of that is the Explorer's Fair, which is taking place at the Broadway.

On the Thursday and the Friday, we've got primary schools and secondary schools coming in to engage and interact with art and technology and the interplay between both. They get to do things like science busking and learning how to code to create their own games. They're very kind of short, fifteen-minute taster sessions. You get to try something new with people who do it all the time. There's some really cool edu-tech people like Museum In A Box. They do this like where they try to get museum exhibitions, make them animated, make them relevant and make them portable so that you can take them around.

There's also MiniLabs who have some of the top rated games on Apple's App Store. They have an Astrophysics cat game, which is awesome. They're going to be talking about how they created those and demonstrating to people that careers in STEM are changing and they're going to keep changing over the next ten years, until these pupils leave school. So what does that look like and how do they start imagining and being creative within that process?  We're really just trying to shift that perception that you can be either an artist or a scientist – it's way more inter-related. The future is very much the both of them coming together.


You've talked there about the Explorer's Fair and about the children coming in, but the festival is aimed at all age groups isn't it?
Yes, definitely. On the Thursday and the Friday, the main focus is on schools. Whereas in previous years, we've spread out the festival, the first one was over a period of two weeks, which was crazy. Last year we tamed it down to a week and this year, we're really just focusing on the Saturday after Light Night to be really family focused, and we're taking over the city.

We've got activities running in Central Library with hands-on, get messy science experiments. Then in Broadmarsh there are huge inflatable structures like inflatable lungs, and the pathological society are doing some things where you get to have a look at cancer cells up close and personal. Not only looking at the science but looking at the art too. And there's also an inflatable planetarium.

At the National Videogame Arcade they are dedicating their day to worms. So, the game Worms as well as actual worms and worms in space, which is cool. Then at Broadway there is just a whole range of things happening - you can get to be a TV presenter, there's digital kite flying, there's the Explorer's Fair Expo where you can have a multi-sensory experience of Frankenstein. You put on a pack and can almost viscerally feel what was happening whilst being blindfolded.

There's just a whole range of really cool things taking place all across the city condensed into one day. And then on the Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, we're going out into the community. So there are things happening in public libraries predominantly, looking at the science behind optical illusions and biofuels. We're just going out into the communities, working in areas where the families might not have the opportunities to come into the city centre, and get them to engage with science.

You're also doing something on Light Night at Think! at Cobden Chambers with a David Bowie/Brian Eno theme?
That’s the brainchild of Rick at Ignite and John at the Council and they want to pay homage to Eno and Bowie. They are looking at doing psychedelic-themed events and activities from making your own lava lamp to creating your own psychedelic backdrop all while listening to the music. And then on Saturday, they are doing the first ever science café and looking at the taste of food. There's going to be a kiosk where they're playing around with science-y drinks and science-y food and looking at how you actually taste things. We're really excited about that.

If you had to pick one event or installation that people should definitely make sure that they check out on the Saturday, which would it be?
Ooh, lots of things! I would say, get a map and go to them all. They're all happening in the city centre between the hours of 10am and 5pm, apart from a few things happening at Wollaton Hall. So, most of the activities are within a five or ten minute walk of each other. It's just a great day just to go and see all of them.

What am I most looking forward to? Well, I'm a massive foodie, so I'm really looking forward to the science café, just because I love food. I don't know if I could just pick one thing. Oh, another really cool thing that is happening is Algorave, which is happening at Rough Trade on the Sunday. There's a really great story behind Algorave – the idea was first invented in the Broadway a couple of years ago and it's a group of coders that come together and they code live electronic music. You can see the coding on screen and then you have a bit of a rave to the music. That's taking place from 3pm to 9pm and it's the first time that they've ever done it in Nottingham, even though they came up with the idea here.

The Festival of Science and Curiosity takes places across Nottingham from Wednesday 8 February and Wednesday 15 February 2017

STEMCity website

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