Scifest Africa 2015

Now I am safely back home I have a little time to reflect on my trip to Scifest this year. I think I was the busiest I have ever been. This year South Africa’s National Science Festival was sandwiched between appearances at the Cape Town Science Centre and the Sci-Bono Discovery Centre in Johannesburg.

Even before setting off I was busy ensuring that all the equipment I needed to take was safely stowed in my suitcases and under the limit for all the airlines I would use! In the end I managed it and everything arrived safely in Cape Town at the same time as I did.
My first two days consisted of workshops with schools, science shows – both “The Sound of Science” and “Lasers – the light fantastic”  and some staff training all at the Cape Town Science Centre.

On finishing there I headed straight to Grahamstown for the Scifest Africa, the National Science Festival and the biggest science festival in the whole of Africa.
I was really kept on my toes at Scifest. Each day started with the laser show (by LaserX) which I introduced with a little information on lasers. On most days this was followed by a workshop at 10h00 where we made slime from wood glue and borax then tested it to see whose could stretch the furthest. Later in the day, almost every day, I presented another workshop where we made simple kaleidoscopes.

As I was sharing the main stage with the likes of Peter Wothers from the University of Cambridge (The Chemisty of Light), Holly Kershaw from Fizzics Education (Big Science Big Fun) and a team from Sci-Bono (The Bloodhound Project), Cady Coleman (Meet an Astronaut) and the FameLab South Africa final. I was only called on to present the Kitchen Chemistry show three times.

On the other hand I was kept busy with a variety of other events. On my first day I took Kitchen Chemistry to the Church Square in Grahamstown for an outdoor science show. Later in the week I managed to get rather sunburnt science busking at the Science Picnic in the Botanical Gardens.

On two evenings I played one of the highly suspicious characters in a Murder Mystery. A cast selected from the Scifest contributors were supplied with suitable back-stories. Our job then was to ham it up outrageously while being quizzed by the audience. At the end of the “investigation” the audience are invited to suggest who the culprit was. The culprit is finally revealed by DNA profiling.

In the first, grounded in some true Grahamstown history, I played the cuckolded husband and in the second, set on a space station, the forensic science expert. In both I had a motive to get rid of the victim – but wasn’t the murderer.

Each day at Scifest at 17h00 there are the so-called Sunset Shows. These showcase three or four aspects of the Festival in a single session. I took my turn in doing two of those. As Kitchen Chemistry is quite messy to do for only a fifteen minute slot, I stuck to sound and other things that I use for science busking.

This year Scifest ran a satellite Festival at the Nelson Mandela Bay Science and Technology Centre in Uitenhage. I performed the “Science of Sound” there to a packed auditorium. I also had the opportunity to do some training on the kaleidoscope workshop with the science centre staff.

As a member of the Scifest Advisory committee I was called upon to chair some of the more serious lectures. The first was by Cady Coleman, speaking about her experiences in space and how such experiences support future NASA projects. Another was by Prof. Robin Grimes, Chief Scientific Advisor to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office speaking about defects in materials, and how these are important to understand and control in order to understand material properties. The third by Dr Jeanita Pritchett on breaking down barriers in STEM subjects.

It was great fun, as usual, but this year passed in a complete whirl. However I’m already looking forward to the 20th anniversary celebrations we are planning for next year.