The 10th annual Cheltenham Science Festival kicks off on June 7 and includes a range of debates and events co-organised and supported by the Royal Academy of Engineering.

In a double anniversary, the Academy will be celebrating its 35th birthday in the same week as the Cheltenham Science Festival becomes 10 years old, hence its chosen theme of ‘X’.

The Academy is a first time Principal Partner of the festival, and is hosting seven events across the week-long programme, aimed at engaging visitors in the unique contribution engineering makes to today’s society.

In keeping with the ‘X’ theme, the Academy will present X-Men vs Bionic Women, where biomedical engineer, Professor John Fisher FREng will be joined by a neuroscientist and ethicist to discuss whether humans can be made faster, smarter and stronger than is naturally possible.

Following its recent report on the vulnerabilities of GPS and sat nav systems which made headlines across the world, the Academy will also discuss Life without GPS. Satellite navigation is not only used by motorists but is vitally important for shipping, farming, health and financial services, telecommunications and tracking goods. An expert panel including Martyn Thomas FREng and Paul Cannon FREng will look at the fragility and security of GPS, and the consequences of losing the signal.

Focusing on the important role today’s engineers play in everyday life, there will also be Academy events on Mobile Health, looking at how today’s smartphones can help patients manage chronic medical conditions, led by Lionel Tarassenko FREng. Another event, Disposable Britain, will see a panel including Mike Short FREng discuss how the constant upgrade to the ‘next best thing’ creates a vast amount of redundant electrical devices and how we can design for the future to reduce the amount of waste.

The Academy’s Chief Executive Philip Greenish, said: “Cheltenham is one of the leading science and engineering festivals in the country and provides a rare opportunity for the profession to educate, entertain and enthuse the wider public in all aspects of science.

“In this our 35th anniversary year, we are delighted to be one of the festival’s Principal Partners and hope our programme of events catches the imagination of visitors of all ages.”

Royal Academy of Engineering events:

Tuesday 7 June – Town Hall, 14.30-15.30, £6 (£5) - Life without GPS

Could you live without your Sat Nav? The GPS signal is very weak and could be knocked out at any time by a solar storm or basic jamming equipment. But it is not only used when we’re trying not to get lost, GPS is also vitally important for shipping, farming, health and financial services, telecommunications and tracking goods (and people). Martyn Thomas FREngPaul Cannon FREng and Alan Grant explore the fragility and security of GPS, and the consequences of losing the signal.

Wednesday 8 June – Town Hall, 20.00-21.00, Free - Sci-Fi Engineering?

Star Trek’s flip-open communicators look primitive next to our mobile phones, and the Moon hotels imagined in 2001 – A Space Odyssey are a dated dream. Is real technology inspired by science fiction, or are the possibilities of engineering much more astonishing than anything sci-fi writes could dream up? Join some of today’s young engineers to discover where their ideas come from, what inspires them – and when we will finally get our jet packs!

Thursday 9 June – Town Hall, 14.30-15.30, £7 (£6) - X-Men vs Bionic Women

When we talk about doctors making us better we usually mean they give us back our health. But what if engineers and scientists could really make us better, better than we’ve ever been before? Faster, smarter, stronger than nature could manage. Hear from biomedical engineer John Fisher FREng and neuroscientist Barbara Sahakain about how much could soon be possible, and from ethicist Andy Miah about the new dilemmas such technologies could bring.

Thursday 9 June – Town Hall, 16.30-17.30, £7 (£6) – Under the bonnet of your iPhone

We all love our iPhones and other smart devices, but are mostly oblivious to the physics, electronics, material science and other technology behind them. Join Radu SporeaCharles OpokuSamantha Shaw and Emma Suckling as they reveal the science and history behind the modern technology that we take for granted.

Friday 10 June, Town Hall, 17.45-18.45, £6 (£5) – Mobile Health

Already, mobile phones do much more for doctors than just tell the ambulance how to find the patient. Automated text messages can remind you it’s time to take a tablet, and results uploaded by mobile can help manage diabetes, asthma or hypertension. Lionel Tarassenko FREngClare Heffernan and Timothy Gibson unveil the future of mobile medicine, including the electronic nose that could sniff your illness, and novel ways of reaching remote communities in developing countries.

Saturday 11 June, Town Hall, 18.30-19.30, £7 (£6) – Disposable Britain

With advances in new technology, a five-year-old laptop is almost a museum piece and last year’s smartphone is, well, so last year. But does constant innovation have to mean a steady stream of redundant hardware and what does this mean for the planet? Mike Short FREng of O2, Nicola Millard from BT and Julie Hill from Green Alliance discuss the problem of designing for the future. Is it up to manufacturers to change the way they produce, or is the thirst for new and better products a job for social, not electrical, engineering?

Sunday 12 June, Town Hall, 11.00-12.00 Free – Engineering the Home of the Future

From the electric toothbrush that cleans your teeth in the morning to the TV you flake out in front of, you can thank an engineer for almost everything in your house. So what are they working on for tomorrow’s homes? Find out from some young engineers how our lives will be transformed by the technology they’re working on today.

Notes for editors

  1. The Royal Academy of Engineering

    Founded in 1976, The Royal Academy of Engineering promotes the engineering and technological welfare of the country. Our fellowship – comprising the UK’s most eminent engineers – provides the leadership and expertise for our activities, which focus on the relationships between engineering, technology, and the quality of life. As a national academy, we provide independent and impartial advice to Government; work to secure the next generation of engineers; and provide a voice for Britain’s engineering community.

For more information please contact

Ed Holmes on 0207 766 0655