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Cheltenham Science Festival 2021 preview

Cheltenham Science Festival logo

Cheltenham Science Festival starts this week, running from 10 – 13 June.  This year, the event has a hybrid format, with a combination of socially-distanced talks, live and online workshops, and free live streaming of many of the events.  Tickets remain available for many of the events and workshops.  Check the website or download the brand new Cheltenham Festivals app for details.

In addition to the programme for adults, the festival includes a wide range of events for schools and families, including some wonderful schools and families resources already available to view, including five Maths Mayhem things to try from Kyle Evans.

Kyle is also to be found performing at the Open mic night, one of several science entertainment events including the Universilly-Challenged quiz, The Ugly Animal Preservation Society, Cheltenham-shambles: A Night of Science and Comedy – hosted by Robin Ince, and one of my perennial favourites – the Overambitious demo challenge, which this year features challengers Katie Steckles and Marty Jopson.

Other maths-related events include The Art of Data with statistician David Spiegelhalter and Stefanie Posavec, who has the cool job description of “data artist”.  And earlier on Sunday, mathematicians Katie Steckles and James Grime will be doing a series of online workshops on Spectacular Strategy: Maths and Games, with family sessions at 11:30 and 2:00 and sessions to “Hone your skills” at 5:00 and 6:30.

The theme of strategy games is also explored with online workshops on Google DeepMind’s AI chess programme AlphaZero, and another on Shogi for beginners. The AI theme will be explored further in Scientific breakthroughs: deciphering nature, in which Hannah Fry will be in conversation with Pushmeet Kohli, Head of AI for Science at DeepMind, including discussion of DeepMind’s system AlphaFold that has provided a solution to the 50-year old problem of how proteins fold.  And pit your wits against the Echoborg in the online experience I Am Echoborg – watch the clip to see what to expect.

The festival covers a wide range of topical themes.  This year, of course, that includes Covid-19 with Covid-19: Aftershocks and Being the change in the fight against covid. Being a Cheltenham festival, GCHQ is featured, with GCHQ: From Ciphers to Cybersecurity relating to the Top Secret exhibition at Manchester’s Science and Industry Museum. And there’s a strong focus on sustainability and our environmental impact, including discussions of several of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals: Clean water and sanitation, Reduced inequalities, Sustainable cities and communities and  Affordable and clean energy, a schools event to launch a pilot survey on Everyday Plastic, and talks on The Future of Food  and 2021: Our planet’s Year of Reckoning? – and if you want to know how you can make an impact, maybe If I do just one thing will help you decide – or if you have a large budget, maybe How to spend a trillion dollars!

Plus many other eminent and popular speakers including Brian Cox, Dallas Campbell, Helen Czerski, Andrew Ponzen, Martin Rees and Paul Nurse.

And finally, a recommendation for one of my favourite events each year: Famelab – an organisation that provides opportunities for young scientists to develop and showcase their presentation skills in 3-minute presentations. The FameLab UK final will be streamed live on Wednesday evening, and the winner will represent the UK at the International final in November. 


About the author

  • Martin Whitworth

    Martin Whitworth is the organiser of Cheltenham MathsJam. Although we’re not yet back to our regular meetings in a Cheltenham pub, Martin can often be found at the monthly online MathsJam meetings. Check the website for details of this and your local MathsJam, and email Martin at if you’d like to be added to the Cheltenham MathsJam mailing list.

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