This week, Hull and the surrounding Humberside area will transform into a large-scale celebration of science, as the University of Hull hosts the British Science Festival (11-14 September). We talk to the festival director Ivvet Modinou about creating one of Europe’s biggest science events:

How did the British Science Festival come about?

There’s been an annual meeting of scientists since the beginning of the British Science Association in 1831. Sometime in the 1990s we started calling it a festival, but the idea has stayed the same: it’s about trying to bring current researchers together to share their work with whoever’s interested. It’s hosted somewhere different every year.

How do you decide what topics to cover at the festival?

It’s extremely broad. In the programme you’ll see things about space, volcanoes, archaeology and psychology, but we also include things like music, the arts and exercise. We really try to cover the whole spectrum.

It’s not just lectures, right? There are some really unique events going on…

We work with our host organisation, the University of Hull, to create a variety of formats and engagement styles that suit their research best.

Take UV Yoga, for example. Kat Sanders, a University of Hull anatomist, will be taking people through a yoga class in the dark, where the instructor is covered in UV paint that highlights the muscles she uses in different poses. It’s a fun way to share that new anatomy research.

Do current events influence the talks?

Definitely. Each year we have the Huxley debate, where we pay homage to the famous debate about evolution between Thomas Henry Huxley and Bishop Samuel Wilberforce. That happened at the 1860 festival, seven months after Darwin’s On The Origin Of Species was published. It was an opportunity for people to have a conversation about the boundaries of science and what we don’t know, in front of an audience, as science is often seen as something that happens behind locked doors. Each year we take a topic where the fringes are still being discussed – this year it’s about plastics. We’ve also got talks about Brexit, AI and the ethics around technology.

What events are you most looking forward to?

I’m looking forward to seeing four-time UK champion beatboxer Grace Savage talk to a researcher about why beatboxing is so unique.

We also have a great event with Lemn Sissay, the poet, in conversation with Jocelyn Bell Burnell, who will be talking about how physics influences the poetry she writes.

The festival is free to attend. Was that important for your team?

Yes, we’ve tried to get rid of one of the barriers that exist around getting people to attend science events. We also know that you might come along to a science event because you really love physics and space, but you might stay for something completely different – you’re more likely to do that if it’s free.

We just want as many people as possible to be able to come to these events and feel surprised, challenged and excited about the potential of science.

Immersive events

Tired of listening to lectures? Engross yourself in these unusual events instead

Museum of the Moon

Artist Luke Jerram has hung a seven-metre model of the Moon in Hull Minster, and on 11 September, for one night only, you can sing along to space-themed tunes with the University of Hull Chapel Choir.

Artist Luke Jerram has hung a seven-metre model of the Moon in Hull Minster, and on 11 September, for one night only, you can sing along to space-themed tunes with the University of Hull Chapel Choir. © British Science Association
CSI of the Sea

If a cetacean dies after becoming beached on UK shores, ideally a post-mortem will take place. The Deep, Hull’s Aquarium, is opening for free on 12 September, when you can look around and witness a cetacean dissection in progress.

Attraction explained: how to seduce and why we love

On 12 September, psychologist Viren Swami will discuss how geography, appearance and personality affect who we fall for and why. Then you can test out your new knowledge on someone you get paired with on the night…

Distortions in Space-Time

Experience what it’s like to step into a black hole in this brand new immersive artwork. You’ll be turned into particle clouds on a giant screen, then squashed and stretched by gravitational waves. © Marshmallow Laser Feast

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