Science in tents – Cheltenham Sci Fest 2011
I’m just back from 2 days at Cheltenham Science Festival helping to promote Solar Stormwatch and the rest of the Zooniverse with Chris and Steve from the Solar Stormwatch team.
I went prepared with a list of Zooniverse projects to give out and paper models of the STEREO spacecraft. Had to do an emergency repair just outside Birmingham when the S-wave antennae fell off but they more or less survived the journey.
With the help from staff at RAL (Rutherford Appleton Laboratory) and The Royal Observatory Greenwich, Solar Stormwatch had a presence on all 6 days of the festival.
Our stall was in the Talking Point tent which was a venue for people who had just been to one of the talks to meet up afterwards for Q&A sessions. This was good and bad. Good because this meant we had a regular influx of people and bad because we couldn’t talk to anyone ourselves while the Q&A sessions were happening. However, they tended to happen mid-afternoon so we did have most of the day to lure people into the tent.
The Sun put on a well-timed display on Tuesday with a massive solar flare and CME which was a useful talking point and one of the RAL posters was ideal to show off the Sun.
We tried different approaches standing at the door of the tent. Steve’s opener was “Do you have a computer at home?” Chris went with “ Would you like to help us do some science?” I tried “Would you like to help save the Earth?” All of these questions worked to a degree. People listened as we explained how Zooniverse and Solar Stormwatch worked and some of them were aware of the recent CME. The demonstrations of Solar Stormwatch produced lots of satisfying oohs and ahhs as the storms burst out across the screen. People seemed genuinely interested and promised to visit the Zooniverse soon. Solar Stormwatch, Moon Zoo and Old Weather in particular were well received.
Over the 2 days I was there we must have spoken to around 80 people including someone whose father had helped map the Moon for early robotic missions, a huge Patrick Moore fan and a Brian Cox impersonator.
I was very pleased to see an astronomy trail at the festival which lots of groups of school kids were taking part in. There was a slight error in the Sun-Moon distance on the Moon poster but hopefully the teachers spotted it.
Cheltenham offered a good variety of science – an eclectic mix of serious and fun science with a healthy amount of explosions and smoke coming from some of the tents. Highlights included snail racing in the BBC science Zone, a cold front demo from Reading University using different coloured hot and cold water and a means of getting DNA from soil microbes.
And finally, for those on the forum wondering if there was cake……
Jules is a volunteer moderator for the Solar Stormwatch forum.