Tuesday, February 17, 2015

NI Science Festival (19 Feb-1 Mar): maths, sound science, films, games, zombies & stars

The inaugural NI Science Festival starts this week and over 11 days it will explode 100 events in venues across Belfast, Derry, Armagh, Glengormley and beyond.

Festival Director Chris McCreery jumped from a career in lobbying and public affairs to set up and run the science festival. He told me at the festival launch that being able to programme so many events in its first year “reflects the vibrancy of Northern Ireland’s tech sector, universities and the real interest amongst the general public as well as public interest”.

We wanted to create a festival for all, focussing on both kids and adults … Science is such a core part of culture and society that it had to be celebrated.

There are hands-on workshops for children – and a world record breaking World’s Largest Science Lesson – as well as theatre, film, music and comedy for adults. Many of the shows have been developed specifically for the festival, and local universities, science bodies along with the Department for Employment and Learning and Belfast City Council have added their support.

The full programme is available on the festival website. and you can follow last minute updates @niscifest.

Some highlights ...

Thursday 19 February

The Internet’s Own Boy: The Story of Aaron Swartz // 7.30pm // Belfast Film Festival Beanbag Cinema // £6 // If you missed the screening of a shortened version on BBC Four, head down to the Beanbag Cinema at 23 Donegall Street to discover the story of programming prodigy and information activist Aaron Swartz. He co-founded Reddit, helped develop RSS, but also had a passion for social justice and political organising combined with an aggressive approach to information access that ensnared him in a two year legal nightmare. It was a battle that ended with the taking of his own life at the age of 26. A personal story about what we lose when we are tone deaf about technology and its relationship to our civil liberties.

Saturday 21 February

The Art and Science of Sound // 3-5pm // QUB Sonic Arts Research Centre // Free // SARC is an ear and eye-opening research facility dedicated to all things sonic. Between 11am and 2pm, they’ll be running workshops (booking required) and then at 3pm they’ll throw open the doors to everyone to get their hands on demos of:
  • Haptics in Virtual Reality - Ever wanted to be inside a video game? Well now you can! Come and experience virtual reality first hand with the Oculus Rift head mounted display and Leap Motion hand tracking.
  • Two Weeks - Lose track of real-time as you delve into the sounds of 'Two Weeks' – a sound installation compressing a whole week in one hour which will run on a loop for the duration of the open session.
  • Shaping sounds with gestures - Try out (or watch) two digital gestural interfaces developed to manipulate different types of audio synthesis, pre-recorded video files and live video feeds.
  • Robots in Education - This display shows how humanoid robots are used in Electrical Engineering to interactively teach students how to program.
  • The DIY sound-artist – Learn how to turn your Rock Band 3 controller into a polyphonic synthesiser, your Wii mote into an audio scrubber and your Xbox Kinect into a granular engine.

Sunday 22 February

Zombie Science: Brain of the Dead // The Black Box // 1-2pm, 2.30-3.30pm, 4-5pm // £6/£3 // A spoof lecture from the Zombie Institute for Theoretical Studies lifts the lid on the Zombie skull and peers into the brain of the infamous movie monster. Presented by expert Zombiologist Doctor Ken Howe. Brain of the Dead is the third show in the Zombie Science spoof lecture series, which has attracted sell-out performances at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. This is the science you need to survive the inevitable zombie apocalypse!

Tuesday 24 February

The Higgs' Boson and Cancer Therapy // 7-8pm // Ulster Museum // Free // Belfast-born Prof Steve Myers will talk about our relationship as a civilisation with particle accelerators, sophisticated and often enormous machines that are normally seen as providing us with insight into the dawn of the universe. But they also have a use in the treatment of cancer, scientific research into the properties of materials and in security.

Armagh Planetarium Open Night // 7-9pm // Free // The planetarium is hosting a viewing session providing views of the Moon, planets and deep sky objects through our 12 inch telescope. Observations require clear sky. Pre-booking required if you also want to enjoy the free Beyond the Blue digital theatre show at 7.30pm.

Lifting the Lid: Ongoing Adventures in the World of Pseudoscience // 8pm // Sunflower Bar // £5 // Join Belfast Skeptics and Michael Marshall (Project Director of the Good Thinking Society and Vice President of Merseyside Skeptics) who will explain what happens when you begin to crack the surface of pseudoscience, revealing the surprising, sometimes shocking and often-comic adventures that lie beneath.

Wednesday 25 February

Sir Bernard Crossland Lecture: Alligator, Sex and Scars // 6-7.30pm // Riddel Hall // Free // Prof Mark Ferguson illustrate how unexpected discoveries open up new scientific and commercial opportunities.

Thursday 26 February

Turing Lecture // 5.30pm-8.30pm // Belfast City Hall // Free // The BCS and IET are bringing this year’s Turing Lecture to Belfast. VP of Global Technology at Cisco, Dr Robert Pepper will talk about The Internet Paradox: How bottom-up beat(s) command and control and discuss the next market transition to the Internet of Everything and the interplay between policy and technology as well as highlighting early indicators of what the future may hold for the Internet. FULLY BOOKED

Friday 27 February

Friday Salon: Stargazing with Mark Thompson // 1-2pm // The Black Box // £6/£3 // Join the “people’s astronomer” as he reveals the hidden nature of the universe and brings it to life with mind-blowing demonstrations.

Be An Astronomer for the Night // 6.30-9pm // BBC Blackstaff Studios // Free // Operate a real life telescope and take your own images of your favourite astronomical objects by joining Mark Thompson (BBC Stargazing Live) and astronomers from the Open University for an evening exploring the night sky with the Open University’s remotely-operated PIRATE telescope in Mallorca. Drop in to Great Victoria Street, no booking required.

Sunday 1 March

How to (Almost) Solve the Riemann Hypothesis // 1.30pm // The Black Box // £3 // Four years ago musician Colin Reid watched a BBC documentary about Leonard Euler's famous result pi squared over six. This is what happened next ... an alternative look at mathematics's most famous unsolved problem.

My Life As An Experiment // 8pm // The Black Box // £8 aged 18+ // A scientist puts his life, his career, and his field under the microscope in this theatrical essay on the scientific method as he communes with the Muses of Science: Curiosity, Diligence, Inspiration, and Obsession. Live music, songs, and flights of imagination, devised and produced by the always incredible Wireless Mystery Theatre along with Drs Ruth Kelly and Alan Trudgett from QUB.

Other events …

Make it Digital With the BBC is taking over BBC NI’s Blackstaff Studios on Great Victoria Street for three days. Open on Thursday 26th 10am-7pm, Friday 27th 10am-9pm and Saturday 28th 10am-7pm, you’ll find no end of interactive digital goodness: coding games inspired by Doctor Who, digital fabrication, gaming, robotics, workshops, Open University talks. You’re free to drop-in and join in the fun, though it may be worth booking for workshops with limited places. See the BBC’s programme brochure for details.

Playspace // Gaming culture takes over the Queens Film Theatre for a weekend of workshops, screenings and tournaments, including Halo on a cinema screen. Local game developers will be showing off their creations in the café/bar. See the QFT’s leaflet for full details and times of events over the two days, Saturday 28 February and Sunday 1 March.

  • Saturday 28 February at 3pm – From Bedrooms to Billions, the story of how a small number of individuals fuelled the creation of the video games industry.
  • Saturday 28 February 7.30pm – Tron and a panel discussion on the shared future of film and gaming at 7.30pm on Saturday.
  • Sunday 1 March at 6pm – Scott Pilgrim vs The World, a hilarious homage to the 8-big gaming world, based on Bryan Lee O’Malley graphic novels and directed by Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead).

Glasgow Science Centre’s Bodyworks exhibition is visiting W5 from Friday 20 to Sunday 22 February. Dozens of hands-on exhibits taking a look inside the human body, examining synthetic body parts and taking a 3D virtual journey through the body’s systems and a walk through a giant heart.

Following the NI Science Festival, watch out for the monthly science café that will be organised in the Black Box, along with the regular Friday Salon lunchtime events.

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