Edinburgh International Science Festival: The Appliance of Science

Edinburgh International Science Festival: The Appliance of Science

Learning about science used to mean Bunsen burners and lab coats but not anymore. talks to some of the people making it fun

With 170 events taking place in 26 venues, it’s safe to say that Edinburgh International Science Festival has got everything pretty much covered. The star of the show this year is ASIMO, the world’s most advanced robot. Appearing four times a day at the McEwan Hall (4 & 5 Apr), it can run, climb steps, shake your hand, dance, recognise people and speak.

For the first time, the City Art Centre is joining in the fun too, offering seven floors of family fun. Under-5s can drop into Wee Wonder World, while 3–6-year-olds can venture inside the Imagination Garden or make a moving mini-machine at Tiny Toys, plus a whole lot more.

Once again, the University of Edinburgh will be running its popular ‘Discover Science’ programme. Along with a host of hands-on activities for families, the University has recruited Glasgow Science Centre to deliver some of its most successful shows, including the fantastically titled Bang or No Bang (4 & 5 Apr) and Blood, Bile and Body Bits (11–13 Apr) at Adam House.

‘They’re great shows for all ages.’ says Tara Gibson of Glasgow Science Centre, ‘How much of the science aspect you get out of them depends on how old you are.’ Blood, Bile and Body Bits gives an overview of our digestive system, from what we put in our mouths to what comes out the other end, and how it helps our body function. Audience participation is high on the agenda, including the daring ‘Cream Cracker Challenge’. ‘It’s one of the most popular bits in the show,’ says Gibson. ‘The volunteers have to eat two Cream Crackers in less than a minute without any water. It shows the importance of saliva and gets the audience cheering along to help them.’ Audience members are also invited to help squish food and turn it into poo.

Meanwhile, Bang or No Bang teaches us all about risk and chance – something we encounter everyday without even noticing it. ‘It’s done in a game show style,’ says Gibson’s colleague, Jo Foo. ‘So people are contestants rather than audience members. We talk about the maths behind TV shows such as Deal or No Deal, Wheel of Fortune and Play Your Cards Right, and get everybody involved. Even little children have an understanding of whether they should guess higher or lower, heads or tails – and each time the prize is to launch a rocket.’

Proving that the arts and science can work hand in hand, Alchemy Arts is running its popular ‘Art-tastic’ workshops at the Royal Botanic Garden (8 & 9 Apr). All of the materials used by Alchemy come from scrap – be it manmade or natural – and both children and adults can make kites, butterflies and other creatures who change.
‘The workshops fit beautifully with the Festival’s theme of Evolution and Change,’ explains Alchemy’s Kate MacKay. ‘Because Alchemy Arts is all about taking something and transforming it. You transform materials, but at the same time you transform yourself.’

Edinburgh International Science Festival, Various venues, Sat 4–Sat 18 Apr. www.sciencefestival.co.uk or see listings.

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