The University of Exeter helped to organise Science Futures at this year’s Glastonbury Festival. Co-ordinated by Lancaster University’s Professor Emma Sayer, Science Futures gives visitors the chance to learn about science and meet approachable researchers. Part of the team was Exeter PhD student Regan Mudhar, who wrote the following article.
When the sun rose on those infamous fields in Somerset a few weeks ago, we didn’t yet know what was coming – and I’m not talking about the not-so-surprising surprise Foo Fighters set. Over just five days, in the Science Futures area of Glastonbury’s Green Futures field, the Sex & Bugs & Rock ‘n Roll team broke an all-time record. We’ve been bringing ecology, environmental and climate science to music festivals for a decade now, and at this year’s Glastonbury, we were able to share our science with over 2,200 people – far outstripping last year’s record of 1,200, which we smashed through in just the first two days of the festival!
What was the secret to Sex & Bugs & Rock ‘n Roll’s record-breaking engagement? Maybe it’s because we have a bit of something for everyone – from ecology to climate, beetles to bugs named after Beatles, drawing to in-depth discussions. Maybe it’s because we strayed beyond the canvas walls of the stall to draw people in with our “busking” games, endeavouring to make this more than just science communication, but an opportunity for science engagement too. Maybe it’s because this year’s Science Futures area was bigger than ever, with its own tent for plays, demos, music and Q&As – including performances and panel discussions led by our very own Rosie Eade and Richard Betts. Or perhaps it’s down to the magic of Glastonbury – the variety of people you’ll find there.
According to our “Discover your inner festival animal” quiz, we had visitors that displayed behaviours typical of anything from a lynx to a smooth newt. We enticed many passers-by in with the promise of some real, live British dung beetles (yes, we have those in the UK) after finding out that this was their inner festival animal, or after practising at being an ecologist in our animal poo matching game.
We used arts and crafts to teach young kids about the parts of a plant, and families with slightly older kids about pollination using stuffed toys and fishing rods. Even the very big kids (read: grown-ups) went home with more than just sunburn, learning about the kinds of creatures that pollinate the plants that comprise some of their favourite drinks. And with the Glastonbury veterans we discussed how concentrations of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere have increased as the festival itself has grown in our “Headline CO2” game.
Everyone we met was so open to chatting science with us. We had some amazing, long discussions with over 500 of our visitors, with many staying to try out every single one of our activities or ask us lots of questions about our own research. We had over 30 people at both of our climate change Q&As, and many also wrote on our “If not you, who?” board, letting us know what they thought needed to happen and how scientists like us could help to limit global warming to below 1.5°C.
We were also able to carry out some community science research within the stall; 440 people voted on the one thing they could change to reduce their emissions, with a quarter committing to eat less meat, and the rest almost evenly split between swifter showers, halving phone use, hanging out washing, and foregoing the car for journeys less than two miles.
By Sunday evening, we had almost talked ourselves hoarse. But the tiredness was absolutely worth it. Seeing people note ideas for teaching ecology to school kids, knowing that someone would go home and tell their grandkids that carnivores have pointy poos, connecting with civil servants and councillors about climate change adaptation in the sunshine, or even simply having people say that they’d learnt something – there was no better feeling (not even seeing the Foo Fighters!)