LOUGHBOROUGH UNIVERSITY
Report on The British Association for Advancement of Science (BA) Festival of Science September 2004
As partial fulfilment of the Lilian Elizabeth Bowmaker Bursary from Loughborough University
By
Yanfei Yang (MSc in Finance and Management)

BA Logo
As an international student studying MSc in Finance and Management at Loughborough University, UK, I was lucky to get Lilian Elizabeth Bowmaker Bursary to attend BA Festival of Science 2004. This bursary had always been given to Science students. I did not believe, when I got the congratulation email from my personal tutor, John Clarke, that I have won the bursary. The dream came true.

The festival, organised by the British Association for the Advancement of Science, aimed to make science more accessible to all. This year the festival took place at Exeter University from 6 – 10 September 2004, and throughout the city from 4 - 11 September, which attracted over 400 of the best scientists and science communicators from home and abroad to reveal the latest developments in research to the general audience.

On arrival a big welcome party was held for the students coming from different universities. It was a good ice breaker to know new friends and the party made us feel at home. In addition to the interesting and varied programmes, festival offered loads of exciting events, including exhibitions, cafe scientifique, science fiction films, special excursions to local sites, musical and drama performances and so on. It was really difficult for me to choose which programme to attend as almost ten programmes run every day at about the same time. I cherish the opportunity so much that I did not want to miss each of them. The following are the events I have attended and want to share with you the splendid experience:

Special Excursions to Local Sites

1. Organic farm tour:
We spent one day on the fantastic visit of Bickham farm which is a mixed farm with 106 acres of deep red soil, meaning it is a mix of animals vegetables and arable crops. As one of the finest examples of a traditional Victorian garden in the country, the farm boasts a viable organic system incorporating a vegetable box scheme.

2. The Eden Project----The eighth wonder of the world
The trip was too popular and we could not get a seat even there were four coaches. Haha! It could not stop us going and five of us (students who won bursaries) took two hours drive there. The Eden Project is around 200m long, 100m wide and 57m high and it is the largest greenhouse in the world. From the picture below you can see it is the ‘football shaped’ domes. Just like bees make their honeycombs, the domes are made of hexagons – 625 in total, each up to 11m wide, covered in 3 layers of transport foil-inflated to make lightweight triple-glazed pillows. Plants ranging from rainforest to temperate regions can be seen here, for example, banana trees, rice, coffee trees, pineapple etc. It seemed that I have travelled all around the world after visiting those plants from different countries.

Hottest Debates

Below are the debates which I attended:
1. Muddles of the mind
2. Fear, loathing and anger in the human brain?
3. The ESRC public debate: Is the countryside becoming the playground of the urban masses and does it matter?
4. Human cloning: risks of sensationalism and securing profit
5. Do we need a code of conduct for biological weapons?
6. Chemistry of the Earth – past, present and future

Psychology, being the subject I am most interested in, motivated me to attend the discussion by Elaine Funnell. Professor Elaine Funnell, the president of the BA Psychology Section, displayed her scientific investigations revealing the reasons that why people can do odd things when they are tired or confused. The research also showed muddles don’t usually affect all aspects of the mind, and different types of muddles can tell us about how the mind is organized.

Professor Elaine Funnell and Yanfei Yang
Rest of the topics were also very interesting. Specially, “Human cloning: risks of sensationalism and securing profit”, which was presented by four scientists. Professor Keith Campbell from Nottingham University described the basic biology of cloning, the opportunities that have arisen and some of the associated techniques that may be applied in animals and potentially in humans. Dr Robin Lovell-Badge talked about why it is a problem even cloning has many potential benefits – it involves taking a biopsy and turning into cells that are really useful. Alison Cook from Human Fertilization and Embryology Authority presented “Cloning – who’s fooling who” from the point of view of law draw-up. The Church of Scotland ‘s scientist Donald Bruce elaborated human cloning fascinates people but the debate has been confused by science fiction connotations, exaggeration, muddle and desires for notoriety, and the “therapeutic” cloning claims have misled many about stem cells.

Chemistry is one of the topics I could never let slip which lasted from 9:30am to 5 pm. The subtopics were: Earth past; ESA’s SMART-1 mission to the Moon: technology and science; Fossils of planet formation: the Rosetta mission; Meteorites: a window on planetary evolution; Earth – present and future; Atmospheric future: chemistry and climate; Atmospheric chemistry – air quality and climate change. I still clearly remember a 35 years old man sitting next to me during breakfast asking: “Will you do the presentation at the festival ?” I replied him with a smile and said :”Just attend.” Anyway I thought he should be a attendee like me or a member of staff for the festival. To my overwhelming surprise, he gave the second presentation. I came to know that he is the scientist working at European Space Agency and is mainly responsible for the launch of SMART-1, which is the first European mission to the Moon using solar electric propulsion to reach lunar capture. During his presentation I was thinking that maybe the persons next to me are all acknowledgeable scientists!

 

Exeter University
Organic Produce
An Eden view in the afternoon
Victoria Lily viewed from high up in the tree canopy
Professor Elaine Funnell and Yanfei Yang

Presentation
Stem cells – a future medical miracle cure?
Dr Stephen Minger from King's College London, who derived the first human embryonic stem cell line in the UK, talked about his work that our body can repair itself so that diseases such as Parkinson’s and diabetes have become a thing of the past. "I think if you can take embryonic stem cells and you can differentiate them into epithelium [lung tissue] then you have a cell type which will be physiologically relevant," Dr Minger said in the presentation.

Performance
The science of life
It is a filmed dramatic performance around the issues of GM and before that there was an interactive workshop exploring some of the themes, ideas and approaches touched on by the film. For example the hosts asked our group to make a sculpture using the GM food provided.

As a business school student I had no chance to approach science so closely like this. The above are just those activities which I have attended however there were far more than those in the festival. For example, I missed the trip to Plymouth Marine Aquarium and those topics like eliminating weapons of mass destruction;150 years weather foresting; bubbling with ideas – developing young children’s curiosity, creativity and communication and so on due to time constraints. Even though I am not a expert and just know the superficial knowledge of the latest technologies, it was really a wonderful opportunity for me to learn. Whether you are a professional scientist or someone else with a burning interest in a particular subject, it was likely to be something for everyone with over 120 events during the week. I hope that you can have the chance to attend the BA Festival of Science 2005 which will be held in the charming place – Trinity College Dublin.



Secretary to Prizes Committee
October 2004
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