iCAST goes to the Swindon Festival of Tomorrow



Public engagement

festival of tomorrow


In February 2023, six members of our team met at The Deanery CE Academy, Swindon, to welcome the curious crowds attending the Festival of Tomorrow, a yearly event that explores the wonders of science, innovation and the arts with the public. Dr Vlad Jarkov provides a first-hand account of the experience.

Dusting off our best smiles and oiling our rusted public engagement (PE) joints we entered the Festival of Tomorrow with a team composed of both veterans and neophytes. In the old guard was  Izzy Thomlinson (aka Dr Cement), Anna Grobelny (aka The Natural) and myself, coming back from my long retirement from the sport and looking to win the hearts and minds of young aspiring scientists and reclaim my title as the Science Viking. In the new blood team were Zakir Hossain (aka The Boss), Gulizar Balcioglu (aka The One Woman LCA Directory) and Ryan Kerr (aka The Dad Charmer). From our little table in the corner of the hall we were ready to teach science and chew bubble gum …and you can’t chew gum at school.

The day started quietly, with talks being held in the auditorium next door just before. Most of this initial couple of hours was spent chatting to people from other stalls who dared to venture out into the great unknown. This was nice, as it gave us an easy introduction/reintroduction into PE as we mostly spoke to other adults who wanted to scope out “the competition”.

As an exercise in “chucking people in at the deep end” the old guard left for lunch before the post auditorium rush. Upon their return, we were disappointed to see the table was neither on fire nor sinking under a mass of science-fuel future researchers.

Instead, the table was crowded, and the team was doing a fantastic job engaging with both the children and their carers.

Kids were captivated by a cacophony of curiosities set out by the team, which functioned like a well-oiled machine engaging the public in a three-pronged formation –

To the left of the table, we asked people to guess the environmental impact of their favourite food. This worked on two fronts – firstly, the children could simply be asked what their favourite food was, forgoing any lengthy introductions into the nature of CO2 and environmental impact; secondly, it worked as a really good way to opening up a dialogue between child and carer as to why they believe certain foods have more or less of an environmental impact. This was then followed up by Guilzar, who had a ton of extra information for anyone interested in how we work out the environmental impact of the things we use every day.

In the middle of the table, we had an activity that asked people what bio-derived raw materials made the materials we use daily. This activity was great as it was not too obvious and provided an avenue to discuss innovative sustainable technologies and the role of iCAST.

Finally, on the right of the table, we had our water filter showing the problems that microplastics pose to conventional water filtration. This was a simple demonstration that really engaged the younger children and allowed to have a conversation with the parents about plastics and biodegradable alternatives. 

We also had molymod models that, although did not end up surviving the day, were constantly being probed by young chemists looking to break bonds and make new ones.

Needless to say, we had a fantastic time and I believe so did the people who dared to be curious about our stall and who kept us busy all day long. The enthusiasm of the visitors was almost as tangible as that of the team. We can’t wait for another round of it. 

Words by Dr Vlad Jakov, iCAST Technology Translator.

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