A Pint of Science: The latest research explained in the comfort of a pub!

This week saw the Pint of Science festival explode into pubs all around the world. The festival, which started in just 3 UK cities in 2012 has erupted into an international festival found in over 50 cities across 9 countries. The festival spans 3 nights (18-20 May) with the aim to “deliver interesting, fun, relevant talks on the latest science research in an accessible format to the public – all in the pub!”.

Every city has multiple pubs each with a different scientific ‘theme’, these are: Planet Earth, Our Body, Beautiful Mind, Our Society, Atoms to Galaxies & Tech Me Out. I got involved with organising the Cambridge UK Planet Earth pub hosted by Vincent at the Maypole.


All cities in the UK that hosted the Pint of Science festival this year.

Planet Earth

Our first night ‘Sensing the Planet’ discussed how different remote sensing techniques contribute to both climate and conversational research. Talks were given by Marie Edmonds, Peter Fretwell and Graeme Buchanan. Remote monitoring shows volcanoes rise up before erupting, and large volcanic eruptions have world-wide impacts. For example, satellites showed that the sulphur emitted by the Pinatubo eruption (1991) cooled the whole planet by 0.5 ⁰C for 2 years! Satellites are also being used to monitor bird colonies. Peter Fretwell’s talk showed high resolution satellites have found over 50 emperor penguin colonies in Antarctica. This was originally discovered when he noticed smears on the white ice, which turned out to be the penguins’ guano (their poo!).

Our second night, entitled ‘Rising Waters’ had three talks focusing on the analysis of increasing flood risks. Iris Moeller, with the aid of hands-on demonstrations, gave an engaging talk about how salt marshes dramatically reduce tidal surge destruction. Andy Chia-An Ku spoke on typhoon and river flooding. Did you know typhoons can rain up to 1000 mm in 24 hours? That’s twice as much as London’s rainfall in a year!

Edward Barsley, a trained architect, then described his vision of future coastal cities which have the beauty of being by the sea but the addition of being protected from it. Ed’s research has been shortlisted for the ‘Landscape Institute: How to prevent flooding film ideas competition’. The above below gives a summary of both his research and the talk he gave for Pint of Science.

Our final night at the Maypole was all about Evolution which saw three of the most engaging talks I’ve seen in my time in Cambridge. Ed Turner summed up 4 billion years of evolution in 20 minutes (and used his pint as a scale – drinking down to specific ‘highlights’ in the history of evolution). He finished his talk stressing how important the conservation of biodiversity is to the world.

Beverley Glover (Director of the Cambridge Botanical Gardens) then spoke about how plants have evolved to aid pollination. Some have developed luminescent petals to attract insects, whereas others, who particularly favour bees for pollination, have tiny conical surfaces on their petals to help them to cling on! Hannah Rowland then gave her talk entitled ‘How not to be eaten’ which included caterpillars that look like snakes and spiders that look like bird poo. What a way to end the pub part of the festival!

Photos sourced from here: http://www.grindtv.com/wildlife/caterpillar-appears-snake-camouflage/#Z0spVPAdcZT7kgJB.97  http://www.cracked.com/article_18746_the-9-most-mind-blowing-disguises-in-animal-kingdom.html

Deilephila elpenor – the snake headed caterpillar! Photo sourced from here.


Celaenia excavata – the bird dropping spider. Photo sourced from here.

Creative Reactions

In addition, Cambridge piloted an event which incorporated art within the Pint of Science festival. Each speaker was paired with a local artist who produced (at least) one piece of artwork based on their scientific research. Individual pieces were displayed beside the speaker during each talk and then again as part of an exhibition on Thursday 21 May. All different media was used to create the incredibly engaging artwork – there was even a dance performance based on a speaker from the Beautiful Mind pub.

Pint of Science will be back next May and judging from its past expansion it will be even bigger and better than ever. If you want to get involved then organisation starts around September-October time – contact the central branch for more details: contact@pintofscience.com