Stalking Simon

After following the series ‘Inside Nature’s Giants’ and spotting Simon Watt in the cafe at breakfast (in a non-stalker way!), I was really looking forward to being amongst the lucky festival goers who would get to experience all the behind-the-scenes mishaps that never make the final cut. Continue reading

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Message from UK Science Minister, David Willetts MP

David Willetts MP, Minister for Universities & Science

With this blog-post I would like to declare the British Science Festival now open.

The Festival’s tradition of locating in a different city each year (such as sea-ports and centres of industry) is an opportunity for me to enjoy a bracing and informative visit  to Aberdeen – famed as the ‘Granite City’ but also most certainly a City of Science. You can see how the Festival’s packed programme of events and sessions reflects Aberdeen’s expertise in the exploitation of natural resources (which includes new hydrogen technology).  

There are a number of events that I am looking forward to when I visit the Festival on 6th September.  Vice-Chancellor, Professor Ian Diamond has kindly agreed to show me some of the research work conducted by University of Aberdeen as part of its close relationship with oil and gas extraction. Because they are the future of that industry – I shall also be meeting young engineering apprentices from Shell UK’s St Fergus Gas Plant.

By way of contrast, a theme of the Presidential Address from Lord Krebs is that man does not live by technological fixes alone and that the future challenges our society faces have also to be solved through behavioural change. I am looking forward to hearing his insights on the value of behavioural science.

This is not the only occasion that the British Science Festival has come to Aberdeen. It is a reminder of the UK’s long history of public engagement in science that the first time was in 1859 when the Festival itself was 28 years old!

Prince Albert attended from neighbouring Balmoral and in his address he suggested that science should be to Government ‘like a favoured child to its parent, sure of his parental solicitude for its welfare’.  I think today this relationship is more of a dynamic partnership such as the scientific community also maintains with business, the media and, of course, the general public.

Improving or building on the relationship between scientists and ordinary members of the public is where science festivals like this have particular value (and why as Science Minister I attend as many as I can).  

The Sciencewise Expert Resource Centre for Public Dialogue funded by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills is part of that evolving relationship between the citizen and Government and I am pleased to announce today the go-ahead of the latest Sciencewise-ERC supported project.  The Technology Strategy Board will be working with Sciencewise-ERC to explore with members of the public the concept of stratified medicine – the ability to predict in advance which groups of patients will respond to a particular therapy and to provide the precise treatment – identifying the right therapy for the right patient at the right time in the right dose.

Science festivals are part of this wider agenda for involving the citizen in not just the ‘how’ and ‘what’ of science but also the ‘why’ – gaining an important steer on the ethical aspects of certain areas of research for instance.

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David Willetts MP, Minister for Universities & Science

A Who’s Hugh of Aberdonian science

Hugh Falconer (seated) with a very dapper William Pengelly in front of Kents Cavern in Torquay (an important fossil mammal locality), April 1858. Copyright: Forres Museum, reproduced with permission by Moray County Council.

What do you get if you put Aberdeen, the British Science Festival, and dwarf elephants together? Isn’t it obvious? Hugh Falconer, of course.

What do you mean you’ve never heard of Hugh Falconer? The man who was instrumental in introducing tea plantations to India? The man who, in 1842, brought back five tons of fossil bones to the UK from Pakistan and India, fossils which would eventually form a core part of the Natural History Museum’s collections? The man who Stephen J. Gould claimed was the first scientist to anticipate the evolutionary theory of punctuated equilibrium? Not ringing any bells? Poor Hugh Falconer – one of the most respected scientists of his day, but now he is largely forgotten. Continue reading