Explore brains, robots and outer space at Brighton Science Festival this Feb

University of Sussex scientists will reveal secrets of the natural - and not-so-natural - world at a bumper Brighton Science Festival this February. 

Children and adults are invited to taste a flavour of the University’s world-leading research into artificial intelligence, consciousness science, understanding DNA and tackling cancer, as well as hear from physicists involved in some of the biggest experiments ever carried out. 

As a sponsor and with 36 events across the month-long programme (2-28 February), this is the University’s largest-ever involvement in the festival. 

Sussex first weighs in on the science fun on 9 February, when it hosts a talk on the Rosetta Mission, the successful European Space Agency initiative to land a device on a moving comet. 

Appetites whetted, space enthusiasts should then add Big Science Saturday (27 February) to their diaries. University of Sussex astrochemists will take visitors on a journey to the cold depths of space to see how stars and planets are born, while Sussex particle physicists working at the Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland will explain how the huge experiment could help uncover mysteries of the Universe that have existed since the Big Bang. 

That evening, physicist Dr Darren Baskill joins a panel discussion on our 330-year fascination with space and what we have left to discover. An exhibition by photographer Travis Hodges profiles mathematicians and physicists who have come from all over the world to work at the University. 

And while answers are never found at the bottom of a glass, six PhD researchers will explain their work while people enjoy a pint, at the popular PubhD showcase. Then on 25 February, Dr Jillian Scudder is offering punters at Nerd Night the chance to ask her any question about the Universe while enjoying fine ales and cake. Sharing the stage is Alice Skelton, who will talk about her fascinating research into how infants see and perceive colour. 

From baby brains to more mature minds, Sussex psychologists will be on hand during Bright Sparks Saturday (13 February) to show how the invisible building blocks of the brain fit together. They return on 16 February to dissect the Pixar movie Inside Out, which features our ‘five core emotions’ as its main characters. 

Then on Big Science Saturday (27 February), neuroscientist Professor Miguel Maravell explains how neurons in our brain see illusions, and Dr Ildiko Kemenes demonstrates how memories are created and stored. The more hands-on can take part in experiments to test how we navigate complex areas without getting lost (repeated on 28 February), make sense of our senses, train up a snail, or find out how accurate their eyewitness memory is. Meanwhile, animal-navigation expert Dr Paul Graham will show how creatures of all shapes and sizes find their way in the world. 

And it’s not just animals that can rival (or surpass) the enormous capabilities of the human brain; robots and machines are getting close too. Professor Maggie Boden, a world authority in artificial intelligence, questions whether AI can ever provide superhuman intelligence. And, on 17 February, children will have the chance to get up close and personal with robots at a workshop with university students. 

Technology is also changing how we teach. Join Sussex’s trainee science teachers on 13 February to find out how. Then the next day, Sussex psychologists invite people to visit the classroom of the future. What role is there for technology, such as tablet computers? 

This is a question also on the mind of Music Professor Ed Hughes, who has composed a new piece of work and is asking members of the public to perform it by following instructions on a set of networked iPads (Sunday 21 February). 

Festival goers also have the chance to take a fascinating tour of the human body – finding out how it works, how it breaks, and how we fix it. 

On Bright Sparks Saturday (13 February), Brighton and Sussex Medical School students will take the audience on a journey through the digestive system, and Sussex’s drug-discovery experts show how we go about creating new medicines (repeated 14 February). 

Next, our genetic code is under the microscope as scientists explain how family resemblance is passed down through generations, and audience members are given the opportunity to become DNA detectives and crack our genetic code. 

The power of engineering will also be tested as the public are challenged to build a bridge using only paper and sticky tape and James Williams will sing the praises of a hero of the chemical world, silicon. 

The festival concludes with Big Science Sunday (28 February) and a sobering lesson on two of the most deadly human diseases. Evolutionary biologist Professor Adam Eyre-Walker will discuss the origins of HIV AIDS and experts from the world-renowned Genome Damage and Stability Centre will explore the science of cancer. 

Finally, consciousness scientist Professor Anil Seth will debate the role of psychedelic drugs in treating mental disorders, and pharmacists teaching the University’s new pharmacy degree offer a closer look at the treatments we use every day.

By: James Hakner
Last updated: Tuesday, 2 February 2016