As the 150 year-old British Science Festival comes to town, director Ivvet Modinou tells Edwin Gilson about its illustrious history and universal appeal. Below, we pick our 13 highlights from the extensive programme. 

Why is the festival coming to Brighton this year and how will you make use of the city?

Firstly, local researchers are a cornerstone of the programme – it’s built around their experience and expertise. The festival is about cutting-edge research; we’re looking for the best of British science. With Brighton specifically, the city is really strong on engineering, digital technology and the arts. So all of those things are big on the agenda. There are also a lot of medical-based events across both universities in the city.

You’ve created a festival beer and are working with North Laine Brewhouse. Do you want to show how science is part of everyday life, even if it’s just drinking a pint?

For us, it’s about making science a part of culture. Audiences can be much more sophisticated than we might think. Even if you’re not studying it or a working scientist, you can still enjoy it. It’s like music or film – it’s another interest that you could have.

Can it be hard to get people interested in science?

Sometimes people think of science as just a subject they did at school. What we want to show is that it can be so much more. You don’t have to be an expert to engage with it at all. If I went to the cinema I’m never going to be Martin Scorsese, but I can still engage with it on a level.

There’s a discussion on clean eating. Do you want to start topical debates on modern trends?

These are topics that people read about in the newspaper and watch on TV. It’s about putting the content out there and having that conversation openly. A lot of our audiences just come and listen. It might take a few days to let the information marinate.

The festival has been running for 150 years. Has it got bigger and bigger in that time?

It started off with the annual meeting of the Association of the Advancement of Science which started in 1831. It was an opportunity for scientists to talk about the cutting edge of science but it was always open to the public. It became technically a festival about 15 or 20 years ago. That was just a change of language to fit in with times.

There have always been famous announcements that have come out of the festival. Sir Richard Owen used the word dinosaur for the first time when he presented a paper at one of our early meetings. It’s the same with the word scientist – at the time scientists were called natural philosophers. But the actual natural philosophers got angry about that.

Some scientists have become cult heroes recently, like Brian Cox. Surely this can only be a good thing?

It’s nice because it shows that people appreciate science. But it’s important to acknowledge the people that do work in this area every day. It’s good to challenge the stereotypes around scientists; who they are, what they do, what they look like.

The Guide’s picks of the festival

Do Drinking Guidelines make sense?

Westlain 100, University of Brighton, September 7, 3pm

Most of us wonder – even worry – about our alcohol intake and it doesn’t help that official guidelines seem to shift often. This talk by Richard de Visser will improve your understanding of how to spot when you’re overdoing it and what exactly a unit of alcohol is. De Visser will also give you tips on how to apply this information the next time you’re out on the tiles. Needless to say, this event is suitable for ages 18 plus.

Are You Having Fun Yet?

One Church Brighton, September 7, 6pm

Put simply, this talk from Ben Fincham asks the question ‘what is fun?’. And how is it different from happiness or pleasure? Suitably, Fincham promises the talk will be entertaining as well as informative.

Dead and Buried: An Anthropological Tour of Woodvale Cemetery

Woodvale Cemetery, September 5, 4pm

Learn about the history of the cemetery while you ponder big questions around death and body disposal. Hosted by a local historian.

Women in Science: Changing Culture, Improving Diversity

Sallis Benney Theatre, September 5

Hilary Lappin-Scott explores the issues and challenges facing equality in science, focusing on the lack of women working in the technological and engineering industries. What can be done to change this? There is a networking reception after the talk.

Psycho: Shaping Mental Health Narratives

Duke of York’s Cinema, September 8, 4pm

The 1960s was the decade that cinema became preoccupied with psychology, and what better example of this crossover than Alfred Hitchcock’s chilling masterpiece Psycho? A panel of scientists and film historians talk about the film in relation to mental health.

Rebuild Brighton: An Infrastructure Game

Location TBD, Brighton City Centre, September 9, 1pm

Imagine a post-apocalyptic Brighton in which crucial infrastructure has been destroyed. In this unique game, participants must use maps and clues left by city planners to find out what is still standing and what must be rebuilt. All survivors must come together to put Brighton back together again. Tickets must be booked in advance.

AI: Past, Present and Future

Sallis Benney Theatre, September 6, 4pm

Scientist and author Margaret Boden reflects on her several decades researching artificial intelligence, in conversation with science writer Jon Turney. She will discuss the implications for robot technology looking into the next few years and beyond. A fascinating insight into a topical issue.

Why Did I Donate My Genome to the Public?

Old Courtroom, September 8, 5pm

Colin Smith is the first person to donate his genome sequence under open consent in the UK – waiving anonymity. Join the discussion with Colin to understand the reasons for his decision, and why others should consider doing the same.

Reimagining Aliens

Sallis Benney Theatre, September 8, 8pm

We have long been fascinated with aliens and the idea of life beyond our planet. How have these life forms been represented in science fiction, either on screen or in video games, and do they have any basis in scientific reality? Join broadcaster and film buff Adam Rutherford and game designers Emma Smith and Alistair Hope to discuss how the arts have influenced our notion of alien life.

Discover Quantum

Attenborough Centre for the Creative Arts, September 8, 11am

Step into the fascinating world of quantum computing and experience the sights and sounds of the Ion Quantum Technology research lab at the University of Sussex. A group of researchers, led by Professor Winfried Hensinger, are working to build the world’s first large-scale quantum computer. 

Brighton Pier Takeover

Brighton Palace Pier, September 8, 5pm

Experience science on the seafront as researchers, artists and entertainers amaze thrill-seekers at the seaside attraction. From experiments and games to interactive installations and cabaret acts, there will be something for everyone at our pier extravaganza. Access to Brighton Palace Pier is always free, but to celebrate the British Science Festival coming to the pier, wristbands for unlimited rides will be £7. 

Visions of the Large Hadron Collider 

Fabrica Gallery, September 5, 8pm

The Large Hadron Collider is recreating conditions similar to those that existed in our universe shortly after the Big Bang. Physicist Antonella De Santo, artist duo Semiconductor and humanities researcher Beatrice Fazi have a conversation on LHC science, art and philosophy.

The Lanes After Dark

The Lanes, September 5, 8pm

A takeover of the pubs in The Lanes, bring you an evening of exploration and entertainment to show you that when the sun sets, science comes alive. Choose your tipple and join the bar crawl in this celebration of curiosity.

British Science Festival, September 5 to 9. Visit for more information and tickets