Filed under: Science

ATOM Science Festival on Abingdon Market Place

There were about twenty stalls with free science activities on Abingdon Market Place today as part of the ATOM Science Festival. Talks were also ongoing throughout the day elsewhere.
These two people help at the festival. James White is the founder of the festival  and Dr. Jennifer Turner the founder of Bright Sparks Science, a Community Interest Company based in Abingdon, with an objective to make science fun.
Dr Mark Thornton has taken over Chairing the Science Festival this year. Previous to that he ran Mostly Books in Abingdon with his wife for eleven years.
Heather Brown has been involved with admin and publicity, and Dr. Graeme Smith is the Science Co-ordinator at  St Helen and St Katharine school. The animal in the picture is the Tardigrade, one of a number of weird and wonderful creatures put in shops in Abingdon for children to find.
There were lots of local scientific companies and education institutions  with demonstrations, and offering have-a-go science activities, for all the family. Oxford Instruments, who produce super magnets for research purposes, were showing some properties of magnets. The Ferrofluid in this flask shows the magnetic fields in 3d.Science
Oxford Biomedica develop gene-based medicines, and were showing some of their equipment. What I gathered is they grow kidney tissue in layers in that box and then develop a vaccine specific to the patient that gives them a boost in fighting back against illnesses. Kidney cancer was mentioned. They are also working on something that helps Parkinson Patients produce their own dopamine. The nerve cells that normally produce dopamine have died in Parkinson’s Disease..
These two Phd students from Oxford have created a system for predicting weather around the globe using 4 Raspberry pi computers (that cost about £30 each).
Abingdon Naturalists’ Society had various vessels containing creatures dipped out of a pond yesterday. This glass contains Toad Spawn and tadpoles and water plants.

Many youngsters and adults were entranced by all that was happening on these and all the other stalls.

Leave a Comment March 24, 2019

Hannah Fry – ATOM Science Festival

Hannah Fry is a Mathematician, whose speciality is mathematics and human behaviour. She is best known for her television documentaries, and recently got an award for her contributions to the public understanding of mathematics. She came to Abingdon this evening to give a talk to a packed Amey Theatre on ‘How to be Human in the Age of the Machine’ – part of the ATOM Science Festival.

The talk went through many examples where machines make decisions in real life. She talked about algorithms – that is where a machine decision is based on set rules. She also spoke about Artificial Intelligence (AI) where the machine has the ability to learn. There was the example of a Judge making a custodial sentence decision verses an algorithm. The Judge might be inconsistent at times and subject to human idiosyncrasies. The algorithm is consistent but does not understand concepts such as fairness and justice and so can go awry. She went through other examples such as generating music, disease detection, driverless cars, identifying images. In a question and answer sessions she also talked about some of the ethical issues. One conclusion was that machines work best where we as humans question their decisions, and correct their mistakes.

After the talk Hannah signed copes of her book Hello World: How to be Human in the Age of the Machine.

2 Comments March 22, 2019

If the panel had $3m dollars how would they encourage more engagement in Science

At St Helen and St Katherine School this evening there was a panel discussion at the start of the ATOM Festival – The Abingdon-on-Thames Festival of Science and Technology.
The question for the all female panel was ‘If you had $3m dollars how would you encourage more engagement in Science’. The speakers were: Shefali Sharma, Steph Hills (former student at St Helen and St Katherine), Dr Jess Hamer, Vicki Potter, and Dr Suze Kundu.

The speakers said how Science and Technology is very important in the modern world. And that diversity is important in a team working on science and technology. A wider range of minds help to find and solve the issues facing society.

Each speaker had a different way to spend the money. But it would be fair to say they all wanted to overcome physical access issues, and increase access to Science whatever people’s gender, ethnicity, and social background. Steph Hills said she would use the money to make all science facilities accessible. Having blown the $3m budget on that she suggested ways to encourage diversity for free.

It was recognised some people get put off doing Science. Top grades in Science and Maths at A Level is not the only way into a Science career. Apprenticeships with practical making and engineering skills can also lead people to work on important science programmes. One speaker mentioned conversion programmes to get people into Science who get interested in Science and Technology later in life.
After hearing all the discussion, members of the audience voted on their top priority for the $3m. (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics has the acronym STEM). Here are the results:
Improved teaching came out top. Dr Jess Hamer said there is a shortage of Maths and Science teachers in the state schools. To remedy that she suggested ensuring teaching is more valued by society; it should be better paid; teachers should be allowed to teach their specialisms early on; and have more autonomy.

9 Comments March 21, 2019

ATOM 2019 – Festival of Science

ATOM 2019
You may have seen James White driving about with an ATOM sign on the roof of his car. You may have heard Mark Thornton promoting ATOM on BBC Radio Oxford yesterday.
ATOM 2019
Hopefully you will may have seen posters, leaflets and the website. The sixth annual Science Festival is starting in Abingdon, which is the geographical centre of a lot of amazing science research at Oxford, Culham and Harwell.

ATOM 2019 will showcase some local science and some inspiring speakers – including BBC science presenter and mathematician Dr Hannah Fry.

The 2019 festival sees a broader range of formats and events than ever before. Visit to find out more.

ATOM 2019
There were some stalls on the Market Place on the first Saturday but it was too windy for the dome so that has been postponed.

Leave a Comment March 15, 2019

Planetarium on the Market Place

Peter sent me pictures of this dark inflatable igloo that he saw on the Market Place, first from outside …
then from inside where three dimensional films could be viewed in a mini planetarium.
The Science Dome could not be put up during the Abingdon Science Festival because of the weather, and was rescheduled today on Abingdon Marketplace.

Leave a Comment May 12, 2018

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