How to land a spaceship on an alien planet, why you might harvest whale snot, whether marine pollution can make you fat or if your enjoyment of a tipple is all down to genetics may not be your usual conversation topics when you’re down the pub with your mates. But all this and more will be discussed in hostelries around Scotland as part of the worldwide Pint of Science festival.
Talks on a mind-boggling range of current research are being held in pubs in five Scottish cities from 20 to 22 May, with Aberdeen and Dundee hosting events this year for the first time.
The diverse range of sessions on offer north of the Border – including Are Drugs Enough?, Digital Health and Adventures with a Robot – are among nearly 600 being staged across the UK.
Scientists taking part believe the festival offers a great opportunity to present some of the latest research directly to the public in an innovative and engaging way.
“What’s really special about the Pint of Science festival is the relaxed, informal atmosphere and the opportunity to mix with all sorts of people from all walks of life,” according to Dr Sian Henley, a lecturer in marine science at the University of Edinburgh, who will be presenting a talk on one of the most serious problems facing our world today – climate change.
“If you can’t speak openly about the big challenges for humanity in the pub, where can you?”, she said.
“In today’s rapidly changing world, it is arguably more important than ever before for scientists to communicate effectively with decision-makers and the general public.
“Nowhere in the world is warming faster than the focus region of this Pint of Science session: the Arctic.
“Climate change is showing its impacts all over the world, and the changes occurring in the Arctic are particularly important for the human populations who live there, the ecosystems that rely on ever-shrinking sea ice cover, and the far-flung effects on northern hemisphere weather.
“This is a fantastic opportunity to engage with the public and have open, honest conversations about some of the biggest issues affecting our planet.”
Self-confessed “barley geek” Dr Bill Thomas, from the James Hutton Institute, spoke about his passion for the grain at a special launch event for the new Dundee strand of the festival.
He believes the crop is undervalued, despite being a key ingredient in Scotland’s most famous drink.
He said: “I wanted to take part to spread the word about barley a little bit and try to educate people so if they’re out walking in the countryside they can start looking at the crops that are out there and learn to recognise them just by doing a simple diagnostic test. I’m hoping it will encourage people to take a bit more interest in the world around them.
“I also wanted to highlight Scotch whisky and what a great success it is – it’s Scotland’s number one export.
“I thought the subject was quite appropriate for the opening night of Pint of Science festival in Dundee.
“The event was held in a brewery, with head brewer Lyall Anderson giving the key presentation – about how he had left his previous career to follow his passion for beer – and a really interesting talk about yeast by Professor Graeme Walker from Abertay University.”
Environmental economist Dr Michaela Roberts, from the James Hutton Institute, is appearing in Aberdeen to discuss the benefits of urban green space.
She said: “The festival is a good platform for presenting science in an accessible and tangible way.
“I certainly hope there will be feedback. The work I’ve been doing is centred on one of the main parks in Aberdeen, so people at the event will likely have direct experience of it.
“My angle is the value of things, and that stretches far beyond the actual cost we put on things – so I’m hoping there will be a good conversation happening.
“Events like this offer us the opportunity to give back, for people to ask a lot of questions, and helps us understand their values. We can explain what we do back in our offices on the outskirts of Aberdeen and how it actually impacts things people interact with on a daily basis.”
The full programme of mind-expanding conversations and where you can join in is available on the Pint of Science website www.pintofscience.co.uk.