Guest post: Bluedot – the ultimate festival of science
For one weekend in July, the observatory at Jodrell Bank, known for its huge radio telescope, transforms into Bluedot Festival. The site is filled with thousands of campers who come for the fantastic mix of science, art and music, all set against the amazing backdrop of the Lovell Telescope.
The festival blends the frontiers of science and art, allowing people to get hands-on with interactive stalls, talks, performances and more. This year, I was fortunate enough to attend for the second time as an exhibitor with The University of Manchester’s Dalton Nuclear Institute.
The Dalton Nuclear Institute stand is run by teams of PhD students who specialise in nuclear research. We run demonstrations and chat to festivalgoers about all things nuclear. Activities on our stall included the reactor game, neutron mazes, uranium glass and Geiger counters, as well as giveaways.
Sharing a love of science
Over the weekend, we had a whole range of visitors to the stall. These were primarily science enthusiasts attending with their families or friends, but there were also many who worked in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics). The audience at Bluedot is more varied in age than other science events, which are generally more focussed towards young adults or children. For an exhibitor, this means we have to be very adaptable in how we address our audience; it keeps you on your toes!
The topics of discussion also varied hugely, as the nuclear industry is frequently in the news – whether the story is a new build in the UK or a previous incident such as at Fukushima. While our activities are all based upon fundamental radiation and nuclear physics, there is great public interest in the wider industry. Discussions would often move towards the future of the sector and the issues surrounding energy supply or the secure and safe disposal of nuclear waste.
After a shift (and a well-earned beer) there was plenty of free time to look round the rest of the festival and have a wander round the other stalls. With two ‘science marketplaces’ – the Star Field and the Planet Field – there were loads of great displays and activities from both industry and university groups. Some of my favourites included the stands from the Cheshire Beekeepers Association and the Institute of Physics. And, of course, I have to give a shout-out to my own research group’s stall; Life at the Extremes!
This type of outreach isn’t for everyone, but there are many other ways to engage people with your research. On a personal level, I believe outreach and science communication is essential in order to prevent the scientific community from becoming insular.
When there’s no connection between scientists and the public, it is easy to understand how misconceptions about science and the scientific community might begin to arise. There is also a moral case for science communication, as much research in the UK is paid for by publicly-funded research councils. It is important we let the public know where this money goes and its implications for advancements in the real world.
Besides this, outreach is great fun. Events like Bluedot provide a good platform to open a discussion and for researchers to showcase what they do. You get a lot back from outreach work – some questions will come from a totally different angle that you’ve never considered, and you definitely find yourself needing to brush up on the basics!
Nuclear science can be a particularly evocative subject, and perhaps has more political and human factors than any other industry. Drawing public interest and having an objective conversation is therefore even more important.
Bluedot Festival is an opportunity to present nuclear science in an enthusiastic and welcoming environment – and it’s an ace weekend of music and art too. Roll on Bluedot 2018!
Words – Kat Dungan
Images – Dalton Nuclear Institute and Kat Dungan