IF Oxford Science and Ideas Festival

A festival of over 100 science-based events.
The Iguanodon Restaurant, one of the many hands-on installations the festival has to offer
Various locations around Oxford, Fri 18th - Mon 28th October 2019
See full details and book through the IF Oxford Science and Ideas Festival website

If you've ever thought 'science isn't for me', let IF Oxford Science and Ideas Festival prove you wrong. With over one hundred events, they aim to enable thousands of conversations and connections between the public, researchers and innovators so that you can find the next idea or invention to inspire you.

A far cry from fusty ivory towers, concepts and findings will be communicated in a variety of exciting, memorable ways. From kids learning about cell biology while playing in a giant inflatable cell structure, to health issues explored through gravity-defying dance, almost every event will offer something unique in the way it’s presented. There will be a number of hands-on workshops, allowing participants to learn a range of unusual skills like forensics, carpentry and comic book making.

For those who would rather sit back and listen, though, there is also the option of attending some fascinating talks, on subjects like conservation, the ethics of AI, and why everything you thought you knew about dinosaurs is probably wrong.

Designed to be as engaging as possible for people of all ages, backgrounds and abilities, the festival is highly accessible; many events take place in convenient locations like the Westgate and Templars Square shopping centres, so you can pop in to try something new while at the shops, and most are also Pay What You Decide, meaning there’s lots of fun to be had even if you’re on a tight budget.

We can only really scratch the surface of what’s on offer, so visit the IF Oxford Science and Ideas Festival website to see all the events, venues and times, or check out our latest blog for more recommendations

October 24, 2019
Learning to laugh at the science behind the heartbreak

The Breakup Monologues, The Bullingdon, Weds 23rd october 2019

I entered the Bullingdon’s auditorium with a feeling of intrigue about what I was about to watch. Having never previously listened to a full podcast, I was about to witness one being recorded. So, I took my seat in the front row, and watched as Rosie took to the stage for a discussion about the science of heartbreak.

Rosie is an award-winning comedian and author, and she appeared unsurprisingly comfortable on the stage as she engaged us with her eloquent conversational style of presenting and keen wit. This was no mean feat considering she and her two guests were there to highlight the cultural insights that neuroscience can offer in regards to the way human beings react to breakups, divorces, and ghosting.

Within a few minutes, Rosie had discussed polyamorous relationships, added the word zombieing to our vocabulary, and enlisted guests (myself included) for her ‘aftershow sex party’. The tone of the evening had quickly been set – intriguing observations and irreverent humour relating to the science of love and heartache in the modern world.

Rosie was accompanied by evolutionary anthropologist and writer, Dr Anna Machin, and science communicator Charvy Narain. For the remainder of the recording, Rosie, Anna and Charvy discussed scientific observations in a way that’s relatable to anyone who has ever had their heart broken. The information and data came thick and fast, with conversation topics ranging from the similarities between our neurological reactions to love and drugs, to the eye-opening statistics relating to extra marital affairs. A sense of levity was maintained throughout the recording, and the trio of minds regularly commanded laughter and applause with their discussions. In one of the night’s most memorable observations, Charvy Narain compared the oxytocin rush derived from smelling a baby to taking a hit from a bong..

I walked away from the discussion with a smile on my face and a mind full of ideas. While I occasionally found the abundance of information bewildering, it was an enjoyable confusion, and I’m confident the knowledge that I managed to retain will change the way I look at relationships from this point onwards. If you’re partial to the odd podcast and want to hear the term zombieing explained, I would wholeheartedly recommend listening to Rosie, Anna and Charvy’s animated and jovial discussion.

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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