Mid-March is one of my favourite times of the year: the days are getting longer, I can start hanging my washing outside and Cambridge is buzzing from its annual science festival.

With over 250 events across the two weeks, it was difficult to decide what to attend but I tried to squeeze in as much as I could. Here are some of my highlights from the first week:

On Monday, Tim Radford chaired a discussion between Patrica Fara, Rosie Bolton and Gerry Gilmore asking ‘What’s new in space?’ The answer? A 1 billion pixel camera aboard the Gaia satellite, which was launched at the end of last year. Back on the ground, there’s the Square Kilometre Array, a project that is set to start building thousands of 15m wide radio dishes across two sites in the southern hemisphere from 2018. So we’ll be obtaining a lot of data – big data – but rather than answering questions, the panel said that scientists first need to figure out the right questions to ask.

Wednesday saw Molly Stevens, of Imperial College London, deliver the annual WiSETI lecture. She combined a fascinating account of her unusual career path, which she described as a series of lucky events and accidents, with an overview of the exciting research going on in her group. Rather than a general call for science to improve the way it approaches women with children, Stevens explained the practicalities of how she actually did it. Her group must be the epitomy of multidisciplinary research, containing engineers, surgeons, chemists and mathematicians. She described some interesting work they published last year where they used nano-analytical electron microscopy techniques to visualise calcific lesions around heart valves, aortae and coronary arteries to better understand the pathophysiological processes underlying cardiovascular disease.

A penguin made from crystals on the Royal Society of Chemistry stand

It was an early start on Saturday to fit in a couple of hours on the Royal Society of Chemistry’s stand in the chemistry department. We had some fantastic experiments this year. One was based on a scenario where a famous painting has been stolen from the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge. The ‘thief’ had left a note at the scene saying that they plan to strike again, so the children were tasked with using chromatography to analyse pens from the top three suspects and match it to the ink in the note. It turns out the culprit was Leonardo da Pinchi (teehee).

 The festival is still running this weekend so do go and check it out.

Jennifer Newton

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Cambridge Science Festival 2014: A smorgasbord of science, 9.5 out of 10 based on 4 ratings
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