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September 2019

At the cutting edge: the British Science Festival Award Lectures, 2019

Mid-September, and it’s time again for the British Science Festival.

For the last five years, I’ve been working with the winners of this year’s Award Lectures, the festival’s flagship events. In July, we met in London to share and develop our ideas; now, as summer gives way to the stimulating nip of autumn, I’m at the University of Warwick to see cutting-edge science celebrated and witness some of the best science communication around.

The Award Lectures have been presented by the British Science Association (the BSA) since 1990. The awards recognise and promote pivotal research being carried out in the UK by early-career scientists. Notable past Award Lecture winners include Professor Brian Cox (2006), Maggie Aderin-Pocock (2008) and Richard Wiseman (2002).  The awards cover the full spectrum of scientific endeavour; the names of the awards themselves honour eminent scientists in each field.

I’ve already interviewed each lecturer. (Click through on each name to find more.) This week, I’ll be blogging about the lectures themselves on the BSA blog, exploring not just the sheer excitement of the science but also the lessons the lectures offer about best-practice science communication.

Take a look at what’s covered at this year’s festival – and then book your tickets.

Tuesday 10 September, 1100

Are we alone in the universe?

Sarah Rugheimer 2Dr Sarah Rugheimer of the University of Oxford, is the Rosalind Franklin Award Lecture winner for Physical Sciences and Mathematics. Dr Rugheimer is an astrophysicist and the 2018 Caroline Herschel Prize winner for Promising Female Junior Astronomer in the UK. She uses ultraviolet radiation to seek out signs of life on exoplanets. Her work may help us answer the ultimate question: “Are we alone in the universe?”


Book tickets


Wednesday 11  September, 1100

Unwell in unrest

Mohammed JawadDr Mohammed Jawad, of Imperial College London, is the Charles Darwin Award Lecture winner for Agriculture, Biological and Medical Sciences. Dr Jawad uses big data to probe the long-term and often hidden effects of war and conflict on public health. Just about half the world’s population is affected in some way by war; yet,beyond the obvious violence, surprisingly little is known about how conflict damages us. Dr Jawad’s work could have profound implications for the effectiveness of humanitarian aid and advocacy.

Book tickets


Wednesday 11 September, 1300

When children became evil

Laura TisdallDr Laura Tisdall, of Queen Mary University of London, is the Jacob Bronowski Award Lecture winner for Science and the Arts. Dr Tisdall’s lecture delves into the curious phenomenon of evil children – although Laura prefers to call them ‘extraordinary’ – in post-war horror films and popular culture. These fictional children seem to reflect society’s anxieties about childhood, child-rearing and – intriguingly – educational policy during the period. And those anxieties may still colour our attitudes to childhood today.

Book tickets


Thursday 12 September, 1100

Smaller, smarter, better

Jess BolandDr Jessica Boland, of the University of Manchester, is the Isambard Kingdom Brunel Award Lecture winner for Engineering, Technology and Industry. Dr Boland studies nanomaterials, which have properties at the sub-microscopic level (think one billionth of a metre – if you can). These materials is managing to probe the very odd ways in which these materials behave, in pursuit of new technologies that could transform food production, medicine, pollution control and wireless communication.


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Friday 13 September, 1100

The dark heart of the ocean

Diva AmonDr Diva Amon, of the Natural History Museum, London, is the Charles Lyell Award Lecture winner for Environmental Sciences. We know less about the deep ocean than about the surface of Mars. Dr Amon wants to put this right, not least because this extraordinary environment is increasingly vulnerable to destruction by deep-sea mining. By discovering and examining new species, Diva is paving the way to a better understanding of this remarkable landscape and ultimately, its management.

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Friday 13 September 1300

Pocket blood tests

Stuart HigginsDr Stuart Higgins, of Imperial College London, is the Daphne Oram Award Lecture winner for Digital Innovation. Many complex medical conditions demand complex diagnostic tests. Dr Higgins is using bioelectronics materials to create innovative technology that might perform several diagnostic tests simultaneously – opening up the possibility of self-diagnosis via an app on your smartphone. One size fits all? Stuart will look at the potential and the possible risks of this exciting idea.

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