The NI Science Festival is set to return next month after revealing its seventh annual programme boasting more than 80 online public events.

The STEM celebration will return for a fortnight of wonder and intrigue from Monday 15 – Sunday 28 February.Covering everything from the natural world, our planet, and the vast expanse of space to engineering, robotics, physics, the mind and body, food and much more, the festival will present some of the most prominent scientific minds, thought-leading academics, and captivating authors.

Adopting a digital format this year, the programme is packed with interactive workshops, engaging talks and discussions, screenings and more for audiences of all ages. The festival will also host a dedicated programme of online events for schools and educators the week before the festival opens (8 – 12 February).

Among this year’s highlights is a partnership with National Geographic that will see the festival host a series of online talks with prominent science communicators, including well-known BBC science presenter Greg Foot, marine biologist Lucy Hawkes, award-winning natural history photographer Jeff Kerby, TV presenter and wildlife filmmaker Malaika Vaz, and ocean-focused bioengineer Kakani Katija.

World-renowned physicist Katie Mack will be in conversation with festival favourite Jim Al-Khalili discussing her book The End of Everything (Astrophysically Speaking), an exploration into the future of the cosmos and how it might reach its ultimate demise (Sunday 28).

From rewilding large predators to conservation, sustainability and climate change, the festival will host a series of events focusing on the natural world, including a conversation with Northern Ireland’s own Dara McAnulty, whose debut book, Diary of a Young Naturalist, won the Wainwright prize for nature writing in 2020 (Saturday 20). The festival will also host a virtual dive along the Northern Irish seabed to experience the rich diversity of our rocky reefs (Thursday 18).

Reflecting on a challenging year and the continued fight against Covid-19, scientists from the Wellcome-Wolfson Institute for Experimental Medicine (WWIEM) at Queen’s University Belfast will discuss how they are helping the global fight against the virus in Spotlight on Covid-19 Research (Thursday 18).

Dr Rachel Clarke, palliative care doctor and bestselling author of Dear Life, will be in conversation with Jan Carson about her upcoming book Breathtaking, which offers a sobering insider’s account of medicine in the time of coronavirus, drawing on testimony from nursing, acute and intensive care colleagues, and patients (Wednesday 24).

Dr Jessica Taylor will also discuss her latest book, Why Women Are Blamed for Everything: Exposing the Culture of Victim-Blaming (Wednesday 17), which explores the many reasons we blame women for male violence committed against them.

In an event sure to capture many readers’ attention, author Jenny Kleeman will discuss her book Sex Robots & Vegan Meat (Thursday 18), an investigation into how technology and innovation is redefining the fundamentals of human existence: birth, food, sex, and death.

Other standout events include: Can AI Replace Humans? (Thursday 25) with Dr Kongfatt Wong-Lin; Sweet Treat Science (Saturday 27) featuring Great British Bake Off stars Andrew Smyth and Tom Gilliford; and the Irish premiere of SISTERS WITH TRANSISTORS (Saturday 27), the remarkable untold story of electronic music’s female pioneers, composers who transformed how we produce and listen to music today.

For younger audiences, the festival will present the most outrageous science show in the world, Fartology with Gastronaut (Thursday 25). Hosted by Gastronaut Stefan Gates, embark on an unforgettable, explosive edible adventure exploring the bizarre science behind our food.

Commenting on the launch of the 2021 festival, its director, Chris McCreery, said: “Given the year that has been it is fitting that we kickstart 2021 with a festival such as ours that exists to enlighten and ignite interest in STEM. Never before have issues such as the impact of human behaviour on the environment or the remarkable advances in scientific and medical research held such prominence in the public consciousness.”

Speaking about the role of the festival, Chris added: “Our festival has an important role to play in further expanding upon our understanding and appreciation of the natural world as well as communicating the latest advances and opportunities in STEM – all achieved through a diverse and accessible festival format suitable for all ages.

“In 2021, we hope to engage audiences young and old across Northern Ireland by connecting them with international minds at the very forefront of ground-breaking research and debate. In true NI Science Festival fashion, this year’s festival promises our unique blend of popular science alongside important and timely events and discussions to encourage conversation about contemporary issues.”

Economy Minister Diane Dodds said: “Developing the skills of our people right across Northern Ireland is a key priority for me as we begin the process of rebuilding our economy and I am determined to keep skills at the centre of our long term strategic plans. I am delighted to see that the Science Festival is going ahead this year, despite the challenges from Covid-19.

“The pandemic has underlined as never before the importance of science to the community and highlights how vital it is for us to have a workforce with the skills to meet such challenges.  The demand for people with STEM related skills continues to grow higher every year and the Science Festival has an important role in engaging our young people and their families to show the wide ranging opportunities which a career in STEM can bring. I wish Chris and the team every success with the 2021 Festival.”

Alderman Frank McCoubrey, Lord Mayor of Belfast, said: “Council is delighted to support the NI Science Festival, one of four key events funded through our new Imagine festivals and events grants. These grants are a vital part of our 10 year cultural strategy, recognising the importance of high quality largescale festival programmes to benefit the city’s economy and attractiveness; and also recognising the important role the culture and arts sector holds in our recovery journey, post-Covid.

“The festival celebrates the positive impact of STEM subjects and with a stimulating, wide-ranging itinerary involving high calibre speakers, it’s a fun way of making these subjects accessible to everyone, of all ages and backgrounds. It’s also great to see a programme specifically aimed at schools and educators who are facing a challenging time at the moment.”

Councillor Brian Tierney, Mayor of Derry City and Strabane District Council, said: “The NI Science Festival is a highly anticipated event for families, academics and science enthusiasts and I am particularly impressed with this year’s diverse and comprehensive programme given that it has been moved to a virtual setting.

“The diverse schedule of over 80 events covers themes and topics to satisfy all levels and interests and the interactive nature of many of the events means everyone can get involved.

“The festival represents a fun and relaxed introduction to STEM subjects for our young people who can turn their interest and enjoyment of science, technology and mathematics into exciting career opportunities in the future.

“I would encourage people to visit the event website now and book your place for the many workshops, tours, talks and discussions on offer.”

NI Science Festival is supported by the Department for the Economy, Belfast City Council, Queen’s University Belfast, Ulster University, Derry City & Strabane District Council, Matrix, Department of Communities, British Council Northern Ireland, Open University NI, Halifax Foundation for Northern Ireland, Film Hub NI and Innovate UK.

The 2021 NI Science Festival runs 15–28 February 2021. For more information about NI Science Festival events and bookings, visit Keep up to date with the festival on social media via Facebook, Twitter and YouTube

  • Photography: Stefan Gates (Gastronaut) – Fartology with Gastronaut (Thursday 25).


Nadia Duncan

Author: Nadia Duncan


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