The Cheltenham Science Festival: A Reflective Review

by Emma Sheehan

On the 10th June 2018 I attended the Cheltenham Science Festival. This event was open to all members of the public, offering people a hands-on experience and included activities covering all STEM fields.

Initially I took part in the science trail, which was aimed at all ages and required participants to search the park for the answers to the questions in the quiz. This provided a fun and interactive way for the public to learn some interesting facts about a range of animals.

The Discover Zone had a variety of stands covering engineering, quantum physics, cyber security, genetic engineering, microbiology, chemistry, physics and more.

A stand by Oxford PharmaGenesis aimed to teach children aged between 7-12 about antibiotic resistance with the interactive game Dr Bug: Microbe Mayhem. This was also available as a free app and thoroughly engaged the children visiting the stand. A leaflet with information linked to downloading the app and key messages was also provided. Overall I felt that this was a successful activity, however only one-way communication seemed to be evident.

A second stand ran by The Pirbright Institute used Lego to demonstrate how CRISPR can be used to genetically modify mosquitos to prevent the spread of disease. The activity allowed participants to build a mosquito following the provided DNA instructions and then edit the genes to prevent the mosquito from spreading disease. The stand also provided informative leaflets with key facts about genetics, a description of CRISPR and how it can be implemented to treat disease. This activity was successful in engaging the public and allowed for two-way communication, with participants asking questions during the activity and the use of a poll to determine what the public believes CRISPR should be used for.

Unfortunately, I felt some stands used too much technical jargon and the execution of some activities was too fast-paced, making it difficult to process the information and therefore hard to follow. This ultimately resulted in the audience becoming dis-engaged. The target audience for these activities appeared to be older children and adults. However, young children were also present during the event so for future events activities for young children should be considered.

Volunteers obtained overall feedback for the festival by filling in questionnaires for attendees as they were walking around the event. This included questions that would allow event organisers to assess the demographic of the attendees as well as gain an insight into which activities worked well and which were less preferable to the public. Personally, I felt the questionnaire had too many questions and I was asked for feedback prior to taking part in any activities. Individual stands also had their own feedback forms.

Overall, I found this event enjoyable, informative and engaging and believe it was a success. It also provided me with inspiration and gave me things to think about and consider during the planning of my own public engagement activity. I would recommend attending this event next year.