Chloe Baker speaks to the Swansea Science Festival event organiser Sharon Bishop about the festival, the largest of its kind in Wales.
What’s the purpose of the Swansea Science Festival?
The festival is a chance to celebrate and get involved with science. Science is part of our culture just as art or music or sport is and we all use the products of science every day, often without giving it much thought!
Why is it important to get people talking and thinking about science?
Science is part of all our lives. It influences almost everything we do, such as what we eat, how we travel or how we communicate. Some of the biggest challenges we face as a society – like climate change, healthcare and energy – are underpinned by science and engineering. Researchers gradually push back the boundaries of knowledge, but the debate about what to do with that knowledge needs to involve us all.
It’s also really interesting just to find out more about our world and how it works, it is full of peculiar things!
What can we expect from the festival in terms of talks and events?
So much! There will be a lot of hands-on experiences and also theatrical presentations, talks and demonstrations. With topics as diverse as dinosaurs, dreams, Star Wars and mental health, there will be lots to explore.
The programme for adults is on Fri 8 Sept from 3.30pm until late. You could get a drink from the bar and wander round the stalls before heading to a talk about how humans have evolved with BBC presenter Ben Garrod or a quirky test of cyber safety with Swansea University’s David Mair, and then to the Science Variety Night for an evening of music and entertainment.
After kicking off on Friday evening with the Flying Atoms performance at Taliesin Arts Centre, the family programme will really get going over the weekend. Young visitors and their families can make goo, learn about powders, particles and popcorn or have fun at the chemistry carnival. We’re pleased to welcome CBBC’s Lizzie Daly on Saturday to talk about what it’s like to be an animal and on Sunday you can see CBeebies’ Becky Kitter with her Bonkers Balloon Show.
This festival sees a mixture of art and science together. Would you say that this festival challenges the idea that art and science are worlds apart?
Yes, definitely! Flying Atoms is a family performance about physics from Powys Dance; one of our events for adults features an artist and a scientist talking about how they have worked together in the treatment of mental health; and the Variety Night features a whole programme of performance and music. Art and science have a lot to offer each other.
Why is it important that art and science work together?
For me, art and science are both ways of exploring or understanding our world. Both require creativity and innovation and both benefit from exposure to a wide range of ideas. Bringing them together can help to create fresh approaches and reach new audiences. It’s also simply about being open to other viewpoints, and I’m for anything that promotes that.
What are you most excited about at the Science Festival?
I always love the things that make me see things differently. I’m particularly looking forward to an event on Friday for adults called The Interpretation of Truth, which will bring together an artist, a climate scientist and a psychologist to discuss what truth means for them in the era of so-called ‘post-truth’ and ‘alternative facts’. I’m fairly sure we’ll discover that truth means different things to different people.
I’m also looking forward to our Science Variety Night on Friday evening. It’ll be a right mix of all sorts of delights – expect music, performance and a sparkling finale (literally).
Why has the National Waterfront Museum been chosen to host parts of the festival?
We held the British Science Festival Family Weekend there last year, and they were great to work with. Having a central hub helps to create the buzz that you expect from a festival and science fits really well with their themes, so it was an easy choice. About 6,500 people came last year, which was more than we ever imagined. We’ll take over the entire building this time, and parts of Swansea Museum. Sunday is Marina Market day too, so there will be lots going on!
After the huge success of the British Science Festival last year, do you think this year’s Swansea festival will be successful in inspiring young scientists?
Yes, I hope so. I think it’s important for young people to see science outside of school and in their daily lives. If music was just about learning scales in class then we might not be so keen on it, but enjoying music for pleasure can help to make the study more meaningful. The festival is science for pleasure.
Why do you think it’s important to have events for just the adults?
For many adults, science is just a subject that their children do at school, or that they remember doing at school and not liking very much. But science is part of our culture and our lives, whatever age we are. We wanted to give adults the same chance to be curious about their world, to have a say on the issues that affect them… or just to sit back and enjoy the show!
Swansea Science Festival, Various venues around Swansea, Fri 8 – Sun 10 Sept. Admission: free. Info: www.swansea.ac.uk/swanseasciencefestival