Edinburgh Science Launches Festival's 35th Anniversary Programme

Submitted by edg on Thu, 15 Feb '24 6.39pm
Maria Tolzmann and Andrew Jenkins of Edinburgh Science Festival getting ready to take over the city
Ian Georgeson

The Edinburgh International Science Festival (EISF) launched its 35th anniversary programme this morning at the National Museum of Scotland under this year’s banner Shaping the Future. The Festival will run from 30 March to 14 April.

“The programme touches the cutting edge of invention from the worlds of A.I., robotics, space exploration to the unusual such as giant rooms made of mushrooms,” said outgoing Edinburgh Science Director and CEO, Dr Simon Gage. “And in amongst it, we look at some more familiar things in an unusual way such as disposing of the dead, poisons, the psychology of magic and virus bingo. Whether you want to blast it, build it, bury it or bake it, we have something for you and for little ones too if you have some.”

Gage’s last EISF will see science based events spread out across 30 Edinburgh venues. Of those events, 40% are free to access.

Kids activities

The latest iteration of the two-week EISF, will bring back popular hands-on activities over the five floors of the City Art Centre over the Easter Holidays. Shows for children 5+ include Bakineering, exploring the science of baking by Andrew Smyth – who may be familiar from The Great British Bake Off.

The popular Rocket Show (7 April) a family friendly investigation into rocket science returns this year. In Minecraft Disease Detectives (9 April) you can enter the Minecraft world to become a field scientist and visit different places to collect data on how a virus is spreading.

A popular science talks strand “Big Ideas” will bring a variety of experts to the EISF: Prof Chris Lintott, presenter of the Sky at Night, Prof Richard Wiseman, psychologist, magician, entertainer, Dr Erica McAlister - fly expert from the Natural History Museum, Rachel Miller, a National Geographic explorer, Laura Foster - BBC Health and Science presenter, Prof Sarah Sharples, Chief Scientific Advisor for the Dept of Transport.

Creative Informatics, a programme which aims to bridge the creative and tech industries, will be highlighting the innovative use data and digital tech in Unleashing the Power of Data (30 March – 7 April) at the NMS; in Creative AI for Creative Work (10 April) practioners will be talking about the use of AI to enhance their creative projects; and Let’s Play (12 April) is an evening exploring how screen tech is changing the way we play and experience the world around us.

In a free exhibition at the National Museum of Scotland, the Festival will highlight the consequences of over-consumption while also providing a possible solution to this problem with the use of biomaterials in future building, packaging, and fashion.

One such example on display will be Growing Room, a three metre high architectural structure grown from wool and mycelium (the root network of fungus) to give it strength and stability. It was devised and created by the Hub for Biotechnology in the Built Environment at Newcastle University.

The curious exhibit will be accompanied by Symbio, a display of biomaterial themed garments by inspiring Edinburgh-based artist Emily Raemaekers.

Nights in the Mycelium

Other popular events include Science Nights Out offering adults the opportunity to get hands-on with Science in a relaxed environment, and potentially a drink in hand. The annual Festival Opening Party remains the capital’s hot ticket – adult-only take-over of the flagship family venue, City Art Centre, but there is also Growing Home After Hours (4 April) in the National Museum of Scotland and A Night in the Undergrowth (10 April) will be another fun-gi inspired evening event at the Biscuit Factory. Another to look out for is the late, 360° screening at the planetarium of Pink Floyd's The Dark Side of the Moon (4-13 April). 

The Festival will be focussed on key venues across the city: National Museum of Scotland, Dynamic Earth, The Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, Edinburgh Zoo, Summerhall, and the Bayes Centre, with new additions this year of Panmure House, Mary’s King Close and The Biscuit Factory.

As in previous years, the Festival presents a series of BSL-interpreted, audio described and relaxed sessions. At the City Art Centre, it also offers sensory backpacks available free of charge from the ticketing desk on the ground floor, and, for the first time, a Quiet Space on the fourth floor where visitors can take a break from the excitement. Although particularly designed for those with sensory needs, these resources are available to everyone.

Edinburgh Medal

The Edinburgh Medal, awarded by the City of Edinburgh Council since 1989, this year goes to Italy’s Mario Negri Institute, a pioneer non-profit research institute dedicated to open clinical and biomedical research and renowned for its ‘patient-first’ rather than ‘patent-first’ approach. Director Giuseppe Remuzzi will accept the Medal on behalf of the Institute and share insights into how his team does science for social good during the Medal Address on 2 April.

This year’s free-to-access photography exhibition is Max Alexander’s Our Fragile Space: Protecting the Near-Space Environment (8 March – 18 April) on Mound Precinct, which explores the issue of increasing space debris and satellite crowding.

Edinburgh Zoo will be holding a Career Fayre (3-4 April) where staff will share insights into their everyday work while the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh hosts the family-favourite Easter Trail again (30 March – 14 April), and Build a Better City (11 April) imagines a city that is more in sync with nature and the planet helping keep our minds and bodies healthy.

Brave new world?

The University of Edinburgh presents ground-breaking robotic technologies such as Exoskeletons for enhanced mobility, the humanoids Talos and EVA, and robotic arms for handling objects in Bayes Centre Tour: Meet the Robots (12 April) and at the National Robotarium at Heriot-Watt University, Robotics Unveiled at the National Robotarium (12 April) introduces the UK’s cutting-edge centre for all things robotics, including a robot petting zoo.

Adult talks will ponder questions such as: “Can you trust a robot?”; the challenges and opportunities of transport decarbonisation; and how AI will impact geopolitics.

In Carbon Capture and Storage for a Net-Zero Future (8 April) a panel of Edinburgh University social scientists and geoscientists look at the risks and feasibility of sequestering carbon underground.

Climate change is a undercurrent in many Festival events, from a walk in the footsteps of Professor Black who was credited with discovering CO2 in Edinburgh in 1754 (5 April), to a talk envisioning a futuristic Edinburgh (10 April).

It's a packed Festival programme, made possible by a well developed ecosystem of interconnected relationships among Edinburgh venues and the broader scientific community. Gage puts the longevity of the EISF in part down to the long-term support of the Edinburgh City Council from the start as well as corporate sponsors and the Scottish Government who this year provided £120,000 from its Expo Fund, and £60,000 from the PLaCE programme to support the ongoing engagement programme with schools and community groups.

Culture and Communities Convener, Councillor Val Walker said: “The Science Festival is one that’s particularly close to my heart, with many fond memories of taking my son and grandchildren along over the years. I’m really looking forward to the 2024 edition and I’d encourage all our residents and visitors to get involved.”

Director's Parting words

Last month, Gage announced that he was stepping down as Director at Edinburgh Science after this year’s Festival: “I have decided the time is right to pass the leadership of this sensational organisation to someone else,” he said.

“Most of my professional life has been given to the development and sustaining of this extraordinary educational charity and it has, without question, been the privilege of my life. We have done quite extraordinary things over 35 years in Scotland and for the last 15 years overseas. We have changed the way science engagement happens forever.”

As well as watching the Festival grow from the early Nineties, Gage said that it had been a delight to have met “the greatest scientific and technological thinkers of our time, women and men that have literally revolutionised the way we see the natural world.”

He added that there had been “many moments of fun and joy” seeing the public of all ages responding to EISF interactive events and activities.

“Best of all have been the moments when people get in touch to say that their visit to one of our events opened their eyes to how much they enjoyed science and technology and that they then changed the course of their life to embrace them. I feel very lucky to have been part of all of this.”

The Edinburgh International Science Festival runs 30 March to 14 April. Book tickets via the web site