What would the British summertime be if we didn’t have festivals to look forward to? There were more than a thousand of them in 2016, and a study published last year found that people who go to concerts have a higher sense of wellbeing. Needless to say, there are plenty of reasons to scrape the mud off your tent this year.
But it isn’t just music fans that are catered for. There are plenty of mind-expanding experiences to be had at festivals, but rather than relying on banging tunes and boozy nights, science festivals focus on talks from some of the most well-known scientists with incredible experiments performed in front of the crowd. Of course, some of these boutique festivals have some pretty excellent bands and musicians joining in the fun as well, especially those with a scientific twang.
We absolutely LOVE Bluedot festival here at BBC Focus, and it’s not hard to see why. For a start, it’s held at one of the most iconic spots in astronomy, Jodrell Bank Observatory, under the shadow of the Lovell Telescope (now celebrating its 60th year), and secondly, not only is there an awesome music line up (headliners this year are The Chemical Brothers, The Flaming Lips, Future Islands and The Blue Planet in Concert with The Hallé), there are some amazing speakers from the world of science and technology.
The biggest name to be added to the bill is the controversial evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins, and is joined by other friends of Focus like Jim Al-Khalili, Alice Roberts and Robin Ince. This year the Dot Talks explore quantum mechanics, the search for extraterrestrials, black holes, cyborgs, solar flares, climate change, the invisible universe, and Doctor Who.
Manchester Science Festival
Manchester is a magnificent city built on a rich history of science and industry, so it seems only fitting that England’s largest science festival should be held in this northern metropolis. With events, talks and exhibitions held in over 100 venues across the city and Greater Manchester region, there is plenty to get curious minds buzzing with some of the biggest ideas in science.
The headline exhibition this year is Electricity: The spark of life, which will use real data to create an immersive experience showing the past, present and future of electricity usage in the region. Although the full line-up for this year has yet to be announced, it’s always a cracking selection of speakers and exhibitions, for example, last year the Museum of Science and Industry held an exhibition all about Robots, and the 1830 Warehouse transformed into a giant, climbable spider’s web made from sticky tape. We’ll definitely let you know when we know more.
Nestled into a green, lake-side patch of wilderness in Warwickshire, Also Festival is a place to camp out and discuss big ideas. We’re looking forward to having a laugh with Professor Sophie Scott, a neuroscientist who studies laughter and performs stand-up comedy in her spare time (she recorded a podcast with us last year ahead of her Royal Society Christmas Lecture), and listening to Dr. Michael Brooks and Rick Edwards, the brains behind the Science(ish) podcast. In between, there’s music, wild swimming, a wine masterclass, and even a talk about tea and theoretical physics. Count us in!
Cheltenham Science Festival
Cheltenham might be a leafy spa town in the Cotswolds, but they sure do know how to throw a festival! In between hosting jazz, music and literary festivals, the town welcomes the biggest names in science to come on down and have a natter about what is getting them excited. This year speakers include 2017 Royal Society book prize winner Cordelia Fine, Hannah Fry, Dallas Campbell and a whole host of other boffins ready to spread the word of science. And for an extra bit of fun, just like last year you can take the kids on the BBC Focus Discovery Trail around the main site – be sure to send us some pictures on Twitter if you do!
After most festivals we tend to come out with fewer grey cells than we had going in, but HowTheLightGetsIn is the largest music and philosophy festival in the world, so no excuses not coming away with at least a little bit more knowledge and wonder than before. Set under the Black Mountains in the beautiful Welsh countryside, the town of Hay-on-Wye (famed for literary festival and multitude of book shops) hosts an incredible line-up of more than 500 events and artists across 12 stages, including a few names that have cropped up between the pages of BBC Focus (David Nutt, the former Chief Drugs Adviser to the government, theoretical physicist Erik Verlinde, and futurist Anders Sandberg). Between them and the artists, authors, columnists, comedians, philosophers, and politicians, this is definitely the brainiest festival on the list.
Pint of Science
As the world’s largest festival of public science talks, Pint of Science drags all kinds of researchers out of their labs and into your local pub. The talks span neuroscience, chemistry, geosciences and even the interaction of art and science, and alongside there’s live experiments, quizzes, comedy and games – and beer, of course.
There are events happening in 32 cities across the nation, so wherever your local is you should find something nearby, and if you do happen to be off on your jollies there are talks in 20 more countries around the world – santé!
Music festivals with great science tents
Maybe a whole weekend dedicated to science is a bit much for you (not us we say!), but if you do need a break from the dubious dubstep coming from the tent next to you, or the kids need something to keep them entertained for a bit, loads of festivals have a dedicated science tent.
In July, Latitude Festival (Suffolk, 12-15 July) features a Wildlife, Weird Science and Adventure area where this year you can examine volcanic rock and go pond dipping, Deer Shed Festival (North Yorkshire, 20-22 July) has a huge science programme filled with VR, music gadgets and slime making, and Womad (Wiltshire, 26-29 July) are teaming up with CERN, University of Lancaster and the Institute of Physics and Science & Technology Facilities Council for their Physics Tent.
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