IF Oxford Science and Ideas Festival

A festival of over 100 science-based events.
Various locations around Oxford, Fri 12 October - Mon 22 October 2018

Ever fancied yourself as a bit of a Morse type? Bring yourself and your Lewis (or Hathaway) along to CSI Oxford: Forensic Challenge on Monday 15th and collect physical and digital evidence to work out whodunit and see what secrets science can unearth. In 8 Minutes, dance, film and music will take us on a journey through the universe, exploring our relationship with the star that gives us light. If you want to keep exploring, curious adults can have a go at keyhole surgery, find out why chocolate tastes so good, and discover the incredible properties of diamonds at the Explorazone in the Town Hall.

The Prism of Gender gives us the opportunity to see what happens when a professor and a Drag Queen get together look at identities and discuss the future of gender roles, and whether we needed them in the first place, and What IF premieres a collection of rap and hip hop music, spoken word and short stories about what it’s like growing up today. Discover Black Panther science and African heritage with University of Oxford researchers and local heroes at Blackbird Leys Comunity Centre. Enter the world of Wakanda to explore the science and ideas from the blockbuster film, investigate technologies of tissue engineering, test out jet engines and space shuttles, or even make your own mini movie.

Bookings at if-oxford.com/event-list

October 19, 2018
An undeniably good idea.

Festival Dinner, Hertford College, Thu 18th Oct 2018.

The invitation to the first ever IF Oxford Science and Ideas Festival dinner didn't give much away, only that there would be a short talk from a philosophy professor at the end, so I arrived not really knowing what to expect. The concepts of 'science and ideas' covers an area too broad to count as a theme in itself, so the subject of the talk had endless possibilities. Champagne was served on arrival in a classy, cosy drawing room, glitteringly typical for an Oxford college celebration. Guests were left to their own devices, and as I was a lone attendee, I set about finding someone to talk to.

I ended up discussing the many useful applications of virtual reality with two charming representatives of an engineering company, before considering the complexities of language and translation with a delegation from Grenoble, France. Grenoble is one of Oxford's 'twin towns', and our French visitors were on a mission to discover new ways to make the most of this pairing. The variety of interests, expertise and backgrounds ensured that the discussions were far removed from what you would normally expect from a networking event, and the reception was so much the better for it.

Dr Dane Comerford, the festival's director, told me that the choice to have a fully vegetarian menu was a deliberate one, in keeping with the scientific theme, given the overwhelming body of research suggesting that meat consumption is terrible for the planet. The intention was to demonstrate that a meat-free three-course meal can be just as luxurious as its carnivorous equivalent, and it certainly succeeded. The starter was a blue cheese soufflé, twice-baked for extra crispiness, accompanied by a poached pear with a pickled walnut dressing. These looked very pretty on the plate and were even more delightful to eat, with the strong saltiness of the blue cheese softened by the sweetness of the pear so that the balance of flavour was just right.

The wild mushroom roulade was also fantastic, proving just as hearty as a pie or roast, without the guilt. I couldn't quite taste the shallot in the dressing as much as I would have liked, but this is a minor quibble: the overall effect was impressive and filling. The chefs clearly saved the best for last, however, with a dessert that was simply stunning: a delicious medley of different appley elements all combining magnificently. The apple sorbet was particularly interesting - you could almost pick out the variety of apple just from the taste - as was the almost toffee-like seed florentine (about which I had been a bit perturbed when I saw it on the menu!). Based on this experience of vegetarian fine dining, I would console meat-eaters that giving up their carbon heavy steaks will open a world of culinary possibilities.

Professor Peter Millican in something of a legend amongst Oxford's philosophy undergraduates, renowned for his lively and engaging lectures, so I was looking forward to hearing him speak, even though I didn't know what the topic would be. He did not disappoint, covering in an astonishingly brief (yet somehow detailed) manner a few hundred years of scientific revolutions dramatically changing how humans understood the world, different philosophical arguments about identity, and whether artificial intelligence can be considered conscious. In case that last one alarms the reader, don't worry! Prof Millican reiterated that it can't.

The post dinner discussion provided an inspiring and enlivening aspect to a truly special occasion, and if this event can be seen as a microcosm of the festival itself then I would urge you not to miss it: it runs until this 22nd October and intends to return next year.

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