Title: Why is the Brighton Science Festival so important?
The Brighton Science Festival will take place from February 15th - March 2nd in 2014; as a child-orientated celebration of science it is something of a role model, but why should adults be equally engaged and involved?
Having run for nearly a decade now, the festival has very much established itself as one of the go-to events of its type. If your child is interested in science and you live in the south of England then this should be on your calendar, particularly as much of it takes place during the half-term break.
What is it?
The title is pretty self-explanatory: it is a science festival held in Brighton, but one that is planned with 12-14-year-olds in mind. This can feel like an odd choice, since the nuts and bolts of scientific theory and application can be so complex that you might think kids would be overwhelmed or baffled by the shows that take place.
Instead, the dozens of events on the programme (taking place at a huge variety of venues) showcase science in its most accessible and fun forms - the actual theory is not what is presented, but the results are. So while the engineering concepts behind the latest robotics may be a little dry, playing with robotic Lego characters is definitely not.
However, it is not just the kids that are catered for; there are all sorts of events aimed at adults too. For example, some occasions are held in pubs and simply involve discussing scientific ideas or observing science in action. For those who like their science served with a side order of hilarity, the brilliantly named 'Festival of the Spoken Nerd: Full Frontal Nerdity' arrives from the Edinburgh Fringe to mix science, music and comedy - it is this kind of show that gives the festival its character.
Why is it so important?
In the words of the festival director Richard Robinson: "It's the best way to discover where we came from, deal with where we are and debate where we might go in the future"
Wise words indeed, but the significance goes far beyond the theoretical. It is no secret that interest in STEM subjects has dwindled in recent years and - perhaps predictably - there are now lots of jobs available in related sectors and many British firms are receiving acclaim for their innovations. In simple terms: we need more scientists.
Mr Robinson explains on the festival website that the reason why they chose to target tweens is because so many children get very excited about science in primary school but then within a short time of being at secondary school this interest wanes. Of course, puberty has a lot to answer for in this respect and there is no way of retaining the interest of all young people as they begin to investigate the world for themselves, but the aim here is to keep children engaged for longer - long enough to persuade them to do well in their preparation for GCSEs and perhaps even A-Levels.
In a nutshell, this is why the Brighton Science Festival is so important: it is preparing the country's youth to carry the scientific baton - and it is doing this in a fun way...
Why should you - an adult - care so much?
Just because the festival is aimed at kids does not mean it is a drop-them-off-and-pick-them-up situation. Not only are there a plethora of events for adults - you, the adult, are also a crucial part of what makes this thing work. When a child sees their mother or father doing something, there is generally a natural inclination to imitate. Children end up supporting the same team as their dad, or inheriting a love of the same books as their mother. The way that many of activities and workshops have been set up, it is all about adults getting involved alongside the kids, which will get them more interested in trying things out. At least this is the theory put forward by the organisers.
By turning up and either volunteering - they always need people and there is no need to be 'science smart' - you can inspire the next generation of scientists. If you are keen to work in a STEM field or already do so, then helping to mould a generation that may well be in a job within a decade is certainly worth thinking about.
At the same time, it is worth noting that many of the shows on the programme are simply very entertaining...
What's on this year?
There are all sorts of events on the programme this year - head to the website (make sure to use the 2014 section) or Eventbrite to browse through them - and there are too many to list here, but there are some events which jump out of the calendar.
For many kids the chance to make blow-guns and paper planes will appeal ('WAR Games'), while artier ones may prefer the Regency Silhouette Workshop and the aforementioned robotics workshop ('Lego Mindstorms') must appeal to the vast majority of kids.
Another potential highlight is the 'Raspberry Pi Workshop', where children can learn how to programme 'sensors, lights and fart machines', while explosive chemistry is the order of the day at 'The Bigger Bang RELOADED'.
In terms of more adult-oriented items, the 'Skeptics in the Pub' and 'Philosophers in the Pub' series should be interesting, while lectures add depth to the programme - from important fare such as 'Medicine on the Edge' to the less-serious 'The Simpsons & their mathematical secrets' with Simon Singh.
There is a lot more to check out - so head down there to have a little fun with science and make sure the next generation of school kids has the curiosity and enthusiasm to push the industry forward in future.