A colourful symphony by the Edinburgh International Science Festival.

All festivals are about fun. Then, can science be for a festival? If I ask this question of students who are suffering from scrambling science and technology, such students at Imperial during exam-period, they all glazed at me in blank dismay. However, the Edinburgh International Science Festival shows a bright answer. If you were in the festival, then you would feel that “yes, festivals afford audiences great pleasure, and science festivals should be no exception.”

The festival, taking place during every Easter holiday, is older than some undergraduate students at Imperial. This year, it celebrated its 21st birthday with the opening event of ASIMO, the first robot in the world that walks on two legs, runs, climbs up step. It was so successful start with 8,000 audiences watching the robot ASIMO, and family venues also sailed out day after day. In total, 68,000 people visitors, including me, came and enjoyed ‘jaw-dropping, show stopping, and eye-popping science.’

For my first visit of the festival, why do I mind finding traces of Darwin in Edinburgh? The Royal Botanic Garden of Edinburgh conserves some plant species which Darwin sent to his friend Hooker during his remarkable Beagle voyage. As well as this, it also has one of the heaviest seed in the world and very old species collected in the 1600s. Of course they are displayed neither in the glass house nor in the garden. Only one day during the festival, the Botanic Garden opened its lab building, and a botanist introduced interesting stories about plant species. Yes, it is totally season-limited item of the festival.

Darwin's collection
Darwin’s collection

One day in the festival, I saw a long queue in front of a theatre; it was also an event of the festival, Dr.bunhead show. Dr.bunhead performed his show in the festival for a decade, every year the size of his show become bigger and bigger. Even though his show is famous for big explosions, he has changed subjects and contents of the show every year. He said, “Of course I believe I should change my show every year because there are some audiences visiting my show every year. One boy of them has been visiting my show from US every Easter holiday.” He stands unchallenged in the present standing science show. Over a decade, how could he gain his fame and attract people’s attention? “When I have a lecture of science communication, I give a strong emphasis one two things. Firstly, we have to be understandable. Also, we have to scrutinise our audiences: their inclinations, their interest, and their reactions.”

Can you light your own f*rts?

Can you light your own f*rts?

I would not want you to see the festival as just funny. There were plenty of well-informed talks and discussions on topics such as an ice age, future computing, and computer simulation of 3D animations. A lecture of Dr.baraff, an expert of computer simulation collaborating with Pixar animation studio in US, explained how computer simulation helped to develop an animation film. For example, he showed a draft film of Ratatouille, one of his projects, without his simulation and compared the simulation adopted film. I asked him, “When there is a technical challenge in order to build animator’s desires, how could you solve or negotiate the difference of a point of view?” He answered, “that is so simple. Animators always win!” Then, audiences laughed.

Also, the festival introduced the recent achievements of science and technology by eminent researchers. “I did my first degree at Imperial.” Dr. Andrew, a science communicator in the family event venue, said. “Now, I work for St. Andrew University to develop public engagement activities about photonics. Our purpose is that we make people to connect dots between other scientific subjects, such as optics and medicines. Our work helps young audiences, even primary school students, to understand the cutting-edge science.”

The 21st festival was a well-organised symphony. It had 170 events in 26 venues around the city over two weeks. The harmony which the sheer energy of organisations collaborating in the adventure makes it fascinating: several Scottish royal societies, many local businesses, museums, galleries, even a cinema, and three universities are involved.    

I do not deny that one strong plus for the festival is that it is in Edinburgh. Yes, I am an ex-resident of the city and even an Edinburgh-phile. Edinburgh is really one of the most attractive cities in Britain; then, there is the lively night life – after few walks from festival venues, you can have fascinating time through drinking, theatre, or concerts. It is only in Edinburgh during the science festival to enjoy cultural life, science lectures, and hands-on experiences. Now, it is your turn. What about a visit in Edinburgh next Easter holiday?


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