Pondering Science and Society – Imperial Festival’s Contemplation Zone

Imperial Festival, a free two-day event showcasing Imperial’s best science and creativity, themed around Robots, Superbugs, Health & Body, the Future, and Energy and Environment will be taking place this weekend (6-7 May) at the South Kensington Campus. The Festival includes interactive experiences, workshops, tours, talks and performances – all to introduce students, staff, alumni and the public to a range of research in exciting and dynamic ways.

One part to visit this year is the Contemplation Zone, which will be focussing on the role of science in society. At the Contemplation Zone, you’ll be able to take time out to ponder the roles of politics, society, culture and communication in science, aided by art and music exploring these issues.

The zone will feature a series of installations produced by the MSc Science Communication students, as well as showing a series of digitally modified classic works of art produced by the Grantham Institute, who have adapted well-known paintings to depict present and future anthropogenic landscape changes.

There will also be an opportunity to explore some of these issues in more detail, or recap what you learnt in the rest of the Festival, with the ‘Ask the Expert’ live podcast recording.

With all this going on, and more, I,Science has put some questions to Judit Agui, the Contemplation Zone Manager (and our fantastic Events Manager here at I,Science), who is in charge of organising and curating the Contemplation Zone.

Why did you want to get involved with the Festival?

 I wanted to get involved because I think the Imperial Festival is an amazing place to showcase the talent of the students and researchers at Imperial.

Why did you decide to look at science in society?

I felt that the zone should focus on the ways science is used outside of research, and illustrate how important and influential science communication is in our society nowadays. I also wanted to show that science is not just about research, but is also about thinking critically about the role of research. This is what the Contemplation Zone is all about – it highlights the need to reflect on what we know, as well as the importance of continuing to challenge assumptions, which is what drives science, in my opinion. The Zone’s aim is to give people space and encourage them to think about this. As well as this, by reminding people that science has a huge and varied role in society, I also wanted to demonstrate that by studying science you don’t necessarily have to be a scientist in the traditional sense. You could work as a science communicator, for example!

The contemplation zone mixes science and art, why do you think art and science should be combined? What can art bring to science? 

Art is an excellent medium to communicate science because it provides a space for dialogue and helps people to interpret concepts according to their own experiences and background. It also encourages people to interact and engage, instead of being a passive audience. Art also attracts a very different audience, who might not normally visit a science museums or attend science events, and therefore art serves as a bridge to communicate science to a part of the general population who would normally not be interested in it. 

Why do you think the contemplation zone is an important part of Imperial Festival?

I feel like it is a critical part of the Festival because it encourages people to reflect and assimilate the massive amount of information they take in throughout the festival and transform it into something they can take home with them. The Contemplation Zone involves being critical in general as well, about what we hear in the media for example, which is not relevant just to science but to the lives of everyone. 

Are there any other stalls you might try and sneak away to look at? 

I’d like to check out the Superbugs Zone, as I think that the topic of antibiotic resistance is very relevant and important at the moment – we should definitely be doing more to educate people about the dangers of incorrectly using antibiotics. Rumour is that they also have amazing decorations!

The Contemplation Zone will be open on Saturday 6 May 12.00-18.00. Click here for more information about the Festival this year and to take a look at the programme.

Madeleine Finlay is studying for an MSc in Science Communication

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