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Science Museum Lates

On Wednesday night I stood in a very long queue, full of interesting-looking young people, to get into the Science Museum. Once in, I stayed (with the vast majority of the other visitors) right up until it closed at 10pm.

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I can’t tell you how happy that makes me feel to write that.

I discovered Science Museum Lates (monthly 18+ nights hosted by London Zoo, the Natural History Musuem and the Science Museum) a few weeks ago after Googling ‘science events London’*…and I must admit I was sceptical. Surely these nights are just another ploy to get young people drinking and spending their very little money, with ‘doing something different’ simply being the marketing bait to lure them in? Wouldn’t it just be another ‘London attraction’ for the tourists who want something ‘off the beaten track’, and it’d be horribly busy with millions of cameras in tow, right? And the science won’t be real science – it’ll just be the popular subjects dressed up in fake lab coats and lens-less black rimmed glasses: ‘geek chic’ if you will…?

Well I’m so very pleased to admit that I was wrong.

Thousands of us piled into the magnificent Science Museum eager to make the most of the packed programme of talks, interactive displays and demonstrations. Thousands of us surrounded the exhibits (normally crowded by school groups) taking in their majesty, brilliance and beautiful stories. We lined up outside the various lecture theatres and briefing rooms and hidden corners of the museum to hear experts and comedians talk about the theme of the month – the science of hedonism.

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Yes, we had a drink or two. Yes, there were DJs. Yes, the majority of the talks scratched the surface of their topic without delving into the complexity behind them. But my god, what a breath of fresh air!

I was overwhelmed by the number of visitors, the energy in the building, the array of topics on show, the lack of cynicism amongst the crowd and the fact that so many of the people who’d turned up looked just like me! (I’d foolishly expected a relatively low-key affair with very few 20-somethings…)

But what made me really excited and feel almost a sense of pride (GO SCIENCE), is that the people wanted to be there. They asked questions. They laughed at the nerd jokes. They looked happy and inspired and interested. Science was cool for the night, but because it was true and wonderful, not because it was a fad. There was no classroom hierarchy of cleverness, swattiness, geekiness… It was as if it wasn’t even (what most people think of as) science – it was just ‘amazing stuff’.

There was one presentation in particular where I felt this the most. Eighty of us were ushered into an intimate space in the ‘Science in the 18th Century’ section where we sat on the floor and on surrounding benches and were encouraged to gather in closer to the presenters – it felt more like a chat in a quirky bar than a talk in the Science Museum. The 30 minute slot was described thus: ‘Hooks are the foundation of hit singles, but what makes a good hook?’ and we were given an incredible insight into #HookedOnMusic – a citizen science experiment which sets out to discover what makes songs catchy. Comedian Helen Arney hosted the talk, providing us with plenty of laughs and stirring thoughts, joined by Ashley Burgoyne (the scientist behind the experiment) and Marieke Navin (from Manchester Science Festival – the producers). It was a privilege to hear about such an interesting endeavour, and the data and science and experimental background was fascinating, but what really got me was the audience. Predominantly young, people were laughing and nodding and engaging. Discussion was prompted. Questions, which there was no shortage of, were pondered. It was incredible to be in a setting where having a think, an open chat and an opinion on science was not only welcome, it was bloody trendy.

And anyone could pipe up – you didn’t have to be an expert on music or citizen science or data. It was as if someone had injected us all with a level of confidence, we were all experts and all our opinions counted. I felt like I was part of something – when I asked a question, I felt the kudos from the rest of the audience (which was so unlike the sneers I received when I wanted to find out more during physics classes at school…) The floor was just so open to our thoughts and suggestions, it really did feel like we were capable of shaping and building and puzzling over another project, just by sitting in that room and bouncing ideas off one another…

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And oh how I wish that’s how science was all of the time – delivered with energetic dialogue and plenty of infectious enthusiasm, but more importantly, open for all. These days, we know better than ever that collaboration is a powerful seed for new ideas, new thoughts, new discoveries – that session felt like a science incubator, like a start-up, like a group of people who wanted to do something, and what a buzz it gave me…

So thanks Science Museum Lates – you’ve given me a taste of something I want more of. It feels like the start of a journey into not only feeding my own love of science and technology, but of exploring the ways in which others can be convinced of its wonder, everyone can get involved in the current conversations and science could, without losing its integrity, be brought to the masses…as you certainly did a cracking job of it on Wednesday night.


*Yes, I googled ‘science events london’. What of it?!

For more info on #HookedOnMusic, take a look here