British Science Festival 2013 – Day 1

Having spent 12 hours on a bus, I was pretty exhausted before the festival had even begun! My first day began with volunteering on the British Science Association stand – trying to engage younger science enthusiasts with fun science games and tricks, such as the levitating static electricity wand, air-bazooka-ing a pyramid of plastic cups, fossil rubbing and a quick psychological puzzle. Spending the whole morning talking enthusiastically to kids and their parents, as well as endlessly piling up plastic cups, made me even more tired! Luckily a chocolate muffin woke me up enough to make it through the next talk – ‘Do I look good in these genes?’.

This really was a fascinating debate about the value of giving personalised nutritional advice based on our genes rather than ‘Mr Average’ guidelines – which currently only 10% of people follow. A range of points was made – for example people are more likely to pay attention to personalised advice, but there are still a lot of other factors which affect our nutritional requirements such as exercise, epigenetics and age. Also, we currently don’t fully understand our genes and so nutritionists may end up confusing or demotivating people by changing their advice after new discoveries. The debate was aided by a fun role-play showing how a family with personalised nutritional advice might fare – although they would probably be healthier and more likely to follow their diet, they could also be more stressed and have arguments over the ethics of DNA testing their child before she could give consent. Overall, a very interesting and informative talk.

To lighten up the day, I followed this with a fun comedy show entitled ‘Domestic Science’, which included a huge range of fun science jokes, sketches and hilarity. The show began with a re-enactment of the couple’s first date – including dying noodles blood red with turmeric, which turns out to be a pH indicator. Also in the show was a short sketch ‘At home with the Darwins’ which involved the adoption of an animal into the family due to it being distantly related! The bee dance was another highlight of the show – with Rob Wells dressing up as a bee, several audience members in flower and sun costumes, and some pretty awful dancing!

I ended my first day with a visit to the award-winning Kielder Observatory under the darkest skies in England – an absolutely amazing experience! Not only did we have the chance to see the Andromeda Galaxy at the time when the human genus first evolved on Earth through their fantastic telescopes, but also star-gaze under the huge arch of the milky way with Gary Fildes and his team of volunteers pointing out interesting constellations.
It was a very long, but absolutely brilliant, day – leaving me very excited for the rest of the festival!

Kate Prescott

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