Thousands of enthusiasts from across the country gathered at the tenth annual Cheltenham Science Festival last week, where the contribution of engineering to society was truly reflected with a number of inspiring events.
In the Royal Academy of Engineering’s 35th anniversary year, it became a principal partner of the festival, with the aim to put engineering right at the heart of the week-long programme.
As part of the partnership, the Academy co-produced and sponsored a number of events that highlighted the unique contribution of engineers to society:
LIFE WITHOUT GPS, was a fascinating insight into just how much society has become dependent on ‘sat nav’ - from road and rail, to shipping and finance. Engineers DrMartyn Thomas FREng and Professor Paul Cannon FREng were joined by Alan Grant from the General Lighthouse Authority, to present a clear picture of the vulnerabilities in the system, what might happen if the signal goes down and to urge the case for non-GPS based back-up systems.
X-MEN VS BIONIC WOMEN, looked into the possibilities of, and ethical concerns around restoring and enhancing humans to their former youthful glory or by making them faster, smarter and stronger than nature intended. A stellar panel made up of biomedical engineer Professor John Fisher FREng, neuroscientist Barbara Sahakian and ethicist Andy Miah covered a host of topics, revealing a number of startling statistics along the way: the number of people reaching the age of 100 is set to increase sharply in the coming years and an estimated ten per cent of UK university students take drugs bought from the internet to increase their capacity to study.
UNDER THE BONNET OF YOUR iPHONE, saw four PhD students, Radu Sporea, Charles Opoku, Emma Suckling and Samantha Shaw, from the University of Surrey deliver a detailed and entertaining journey around the inner workings of a device which features so prominently in many of our lives. Chaired by theoretical physicist and BBC science presenter Professor Jim Al-Khalili, this event proved to be one of the most popular of the week, packing out one of the festival’s main arenas.
MOBILE HEALTH explored the current and future medical applications of existing technologies with biomedical engineer Professor Lionel Tarassenko FREng, veterinarian and researcher Dr Claire Heffernan and Timothy Gibson, a businessman who manufactures some of the latest technology. Chaired by Lord Robert Winston HonFREng, all three speakers highlighted the uses and benefits of devices such as mobile phones - from farmers in developing countries sending digital photos of their livestock for veterinary diagnosis of suspected conditions; to the use of social media for mental health; and the possibility of a mobile phone being able to analyse breath and blood samples.
DISPOSABLE BRITAIN provided a platform for Dr Mike Short FREng of O2, BT’s resident psychologist Nicola Millard and Julie Hill from Green Alliance to raise debate about the sustainability of our device-filled world, what happens to redundant technology and possible solutions for the future. It was suggested that manufacturers and providers of devices could be made to rent out hardware to customers rather than sell them, and that the use of rare precious metals in mobile telephones could be phased out. The new mobile ‘cloud’, which allows the storage of data away from devices was also discussed as a possible ‘greener’ way in which technology could advance.
The festival also provided an opportunity for 12 early- to mid-career engineers, to be trained in public engagement, a project funded by the Academy’s Ingenious scheme and delivered by the festival team. As well as receiving training in presenting to a wide variety of audiences, the team delivered two public events at the festival. SCI-FI ENGINEERING?, looked at technology inspired by science fiction over the years, how engineering has helped wild ideas become reality and whether engineering fact was more interesting that engineering fiction. The second event, ENGINEERING THE HOME OF THE FUTURE, brought together the dozen engineers to discuss alternative solutions for a sustainable housing stock.
As well as the Academy’s own events, engineering featured heavily across the whole festival programme.Professor Chris Bishop FREng and Dr Jamie Shotton, of the MacRobert Award winning team behind the Xbox Kinect, from Microsoft Research Cambridge, drew a large, young audience to their presentation into the science behind machine learning; Steve Haake from Sheffield Hallam University, looked at the engineering behind the world’s best sportsmen at a sell-out event and Professor Dame Wendy Hall CBE FREng FRS argued the case for the greatest scientific and engineering advance of the decade.
Cheltenham Science Festival’s tenth year proved to all who attended that science and engineering is more relevant than ever to society. The Academy’s varied list of events also demonstrated that engineers, from early career to those that are leaders in their field, must have the capacity to engage the wider public in their ideas and their work, not least to help inspire the next generation of engineers to enter the profession.
Read the blog from the Festival at www.Goodmorningcheltenham.wordpress.com