Drink up! Pint of Science returns to Durham next month

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Pint of Science, the largest festival of science of its kind in the world, will return to Durham’s pubs this May bigger (and hopefully better) than ever before. After two years of online talks, this year’s events will once again be held in person, with over 18 Durham University researchers scheduled to take part over the evenings of 9th, 10th and 11th May.

The themes this year will be ‘Planet Earth’ at The Boat Club, ‘Atoms to Galaxies’ at Durham Amateur Rowing Club, and ‘Our Body’ at The Head of Steam. Each event will include at least two talks, live experiments, and demonstrations.

Talks will include everything from how underwater avalanches may make your Netflix buffer to the quantum mysteries of light, via microscopic worms which can be used to develop new medical treatments. Tickets are just £5, officially cheaper than the average pint in London.

This year Pint of Science Durham has even evolved beyond just including scientists, with a ‘History of Science Night’ on Wednesday 11th including Prof Giles Gasper discussing medieval science and Dr Joseph Martin exploring the life of Mildred Dresselhaus, a pioneering woman in 20th century Physics.

My personal journey with Pint of Science began when I started volunteering to organise the event last autumn, having been interested in Pint of Science since first encountering it as an undergraduate in Bristol.

Pint of Science, by bringing researchers and the public together in a fun and informal environment, can help to improve the situation

“Since I was young, I’ve been passionate about science” is probably how I started my UCAS personal statement — clichéd but true — so I naturally fell into science communication. Writing for Palatinate alongside my PhD allowed me to continue to explore science more broadly, eventually leading me to question exactly why talking about science to a wide audience is so important.

For me, the most persuasive argument is that: when someone decides on what to eat, whether to wear a mask or not, who to vote for, they are making a decision that can and should be informed by science. Clear and assessable science communication, coupled with trust in science, is then a vital tenet of a well-functioning society.

On a more practical level, there’s the issue of funding. Public spending accounts for 27% of research and development (R&D, defined as “creative and systematic work undertaken to increase the stock of knowledge”) expenditure in the UK. For the public to support this, we need to understand why (and indeed if) it’s important.

While the UK follows the ‘Haldane principle’, meaning funding decisions are decided by scientists not politicians, the total amount of public funding is ultimately decided by the Government. Hence, decisions like the one to increase total (public, private, and overseas) R&D funding to 2.4% of GDP by 2024 should, at least in theory, be reliant on ‘the will of the people’ (or at least ‘the acceptance of the people’).

Public spending accounts for 27% of research and development expenditure in the UK

While the public in the UK does have generally positive attitudes to science, the results aren’t stunning. Only 63% of people believe science does more good for the UK than it does harm. And the results aren’t universal, with some groups, like people who didn’t go to university, having less trust.

Pint of Science, by bringing researchers and the public together in a fun and informal environment, can help to improve the situation. People can directly question, chat with, and share curiosity with, scientists about their latest research outside the stifling atmosphere of a lecture hall.

“I wanted to get involved with Pint of Science because I think it’s really important for academics to communicate their research to the widest audience possible.” says Dr Dan Lawrence, Associate Professor of Archaeology.

“I think what I do is interesting and important, so I hope others will, too. Also, it will be nice to know that the people I’m prattling about my research to in the pub will actually want to listen!”

If you do want to listen, Dan will be talking about climate change in ancient cities at The Boat Club on 9th May.

To see the full event listings and book your tickets, visit the Pint of Science website.

Image: Pint of Science

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