The British Science Festival 2013, which has just started in Newcastle, will be the first one that I haven’t attended since 1992. I first became involved because the Festival was coming to Keele in 1993, and I got involved in planning the Chemistry section’s programme. Attending the Festival in Southampton in 1992 enabled me to experience an event like this for the first time. Here’s a list of the annual British Science Festivals and their locations that I have attended since then:
2000 London (Imperial College)
2005 Dublin (Trinity College)
An important aspect of the organisation of British Science Festivals are the Scientific Sections. They are responsible for coming up with proposals for sessions to run at the Festival, and although other bodies and organisations can propose sessions, the sections still have an important role, in that they are best placed to identify the key topics and speakers in their own areas. Although the Festival continues to evolve, it is to be hoped that the sections retain an important role, but that is now for others to decide.
Going back to my involvement, I held the post of Chemistry Recorder (a quaint quasi-legal term) for the periods 1996-2000 and 2006-2012. This means that I had overall responsibility for the Chemistry programmes at the Festivals in those years, working with locally based Section Presidents and ‘Local Secretaries’ who handled much of the local organisation. Over the years I’ve been privileged to work with some very distinguished Section Presidents. They didn’t always make my life easy (!), but they nearly always came up with good suggestions for speakers and session topics.
Officially my second term of office as Recorder came to an end after the Aston Festival in 2010, but at that point I hadn’t been able to find a potential successor. So I stayed on for Bradford and Aberdeen, and I’m glad I did so, because the Aberdeen Festival was one of the best I was involved in, of all the 21 Festivals in the list above.
I finally stepped down after Aberdeen, having found a successor as Recorder, Dr Stephen Ashworth
. I am confident that the Chemistry Section is in good hands, and wish Stephen all the best in his first Festival as Recorder, and for the Festivals to come.
Of course the Science Festival leaves a gap in my life, but I thought it was important that someone with new ideas took on the role. The model I used for my sessions, which was mainly talks and question and answer sessions, was perceived by some to be old fashioned. Regardless of the merits or otherwise of that view, there is no doubt in my mind that it was time for a change. And for anyone who is concerned that I will have time on my hands, I am running a symposium in London at the end of this week, and preparing to attend a conference in Germany next week.
If you are attending the Science Festival this week, I hope you enjoy it. It is a truly unique occasion.