It’s summer time. Birds are singing, trees are swaying, swathes of students everywhere are working, panicking, sitting resit examinations or enjoying their brief moments of respite before hitting the books again in September. Most of us are procrastinating.
I am trying desperately to think of a cool way to introduce myself to Professor Brian Cox. Perhaps a witty physics-related joke, or a novel way of inserting my field of study – biology – into something he’s talking about. Unlikely. I have to be prepared, though, just in case I run into him.
In a week, I get to go to the British Science Festival, this year in Aberdeen. Seven days and a seven-hour train journey is all that stands between me and another seven days of pure, unadulterated sciencey knowledge.
I don’t imagine many student journalist-biologists get to go on trips to the other side of the country, to spend a week listening and speaking to scientists at the front of today’s research. Because of the British Science Festival Student Bursary Scheme, though, I do. My mission? To report everything that happens. There’s so much on though, I can only attend so many of the events. My editor and I spent more hours than we expected fitting as many talks into my schedule as possible, and I now have a weeklong iCal calendar that looks more like a Lego house than a schedule, all coloured blocks crammed next to one another.
It wasn’t until I read the schedule that I realised how many things I Definitely Have To Know. Yes, I would like to learn how to use Maths to solve crime. Seriously, what actually is dark matter? And why is it ‘dark’ and not a word that actually describes what it is, which is invisible? How do you make a science documentary, and what happens when we run out of Earth? How many jokes are there that start ‘A physicist, a biologist and a mathematician walk into a bar”? As a seasoned aficionado of nerd humour, I will be attending all of the comedy events. As an ecology student, I’ll be attending as many of the climate-change events as I can. Especially the one by the guy who wrote one of next year’s recommended textbooks. That has to be useful.
And then, the holy grail of talks, Prof. Cox and Jeff Forshaw on extremely small and exciting physics. I was never much good at physics. At school, our teacher was boring and had bad grammar, and a stupid earring. But then this pop-star-come-science-supernova appeared and made it brilliant for me and scores of others. I am hugely and shamelessly excited for that lecture.
2012 is a good year to attend a science festival. It’s a good year to be a scientist. People like Cox and Forshaw, and the revival of shows like Doctor Who are bringing what, when I was a kiddy, was considered ‘geeky’ into the mainstream. I and other undergraduates are becoming part of a generation that thinks knowledge is cool, which makes me very proud. These festivals are a great way to get all sorts of people – especially kids and teenagers – to appreciate how brilliant the Universe is, from the quantum to the cosmic via life itself.
I’ll be carrying my copy of “Why does E=mc2?” with me everywhere, just in case I meet that supernova, and trying desperately not to look like a massive dork as I ask for an autograph. Although, I’ll be speaking to a physicist, so is that even possible?
Lucy Wyatt is a student at Queen Mary, University of London and contributes to their student science magazine QMSci, which you can also follow on Twitter. Lucy is attending the Festival as part of the Student Bursary Scheme.