Monday, 30 July 2012

Seeking Perfection scoops public engagement prize

Manchester Science Festival is part of a team that has scooped a prize in a European competition for best innovations in University outreach and public engagement.

A creative project called Seeking Perfection has been awarded the ‘Recognition of Distinction’ as part of the ‘EngageU’ programme. Over 100 projects were submitted from Universities across Europe, but this project was selected because of the quality of the collaboration between The University of Manchester, Nowgen, Contact Theatre and the Manchester Science Festival. The creative approaches used made this a distinctive and innovative project. The project team created a short video about the project. To watch this, please: click here 

Natalie Ireland, Director of Manchester Science Festival and Kate Dack, Nowgen's Public Programmes Manager were delighted that the Seeking Perfection project was recognised for its creativity and the depth of the engagement process.
The Seeking Perfection project explored human enhancement - which provides a rich vein for public engagement, exploring issues such as boosting athletic performance, taking stimulant drugs to improve memory and using plastic surgery. A team of 15 young people worked with researchers, ethicists and artists over a six week period to develop a performance about enhancement with creative partners. This was delivered in unusual settings, such as busy shopping centres, to reach local communities who would not typically engage with biomedical science. Seeking Perfection successfully promoted engagement with local communities.

The performance was then taken to the Zion Arts Centre, complimented with a public debate on issues brought up in the project. Andy Miah, Sarah Chan, Mark Gasson and David James were on the panel and expertly discussed and debated the issues with a lively audience. 

The project team had diverse backgrounds, but they were able to share their strengths to allow everyone to try something new. The Seeking Perfection project is contributing towards building a society where all can realise their potential. In this project the young people worked successfully as collaborators with university researchers, artists and also with other professionals in the team.

Seeking Perfections performers take to the stage
Many of the teenagers involved described being more intrigued by science after the project. One said: “I thought when I finished school I would never have to think about science again, and I’ve learnt it’s around us all the time and I should maybe pay more attention. I might blink and the world could be a completely different place.”

Seeking Perfection relied on the talent and experience of researchers within the University of Manchester, the enthusiasm and creativity of young people involved and the artistic backgrounds of Contact Theatre and artists involved. 

This project was funded by a People Award from the Wellcome Trust and we thank them for their support.

Further information about the competition: click here

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

Science meets fiction

Friday saw the culmination of lots of hard work of dedicated young authors from around Manchester. Earlier this year we partnered with the Manchester Literature Festival and the Manchester Children’s Book Festival to launch "The Midland Future Manchester Young Writers Competition", a writing competition for young people about the future of Manchester. There were so many fantastic entries and the winner and runners up were announced at the event at MOSI on Friday. Authors of brilliant science fiction spoke about their work and life at the event, making it a brilliant event. Congratulations to winner Josh, the runners up and all the writers. Here’s a review of the event from local blogger Hannah Clarke...

Having only snippets of knowledge on the authors attending the Science Meets Fiction event today at the Museum of Science and Industry, I wasn’t fully sure what to expect. Would there be Doctor Who Daleks roaming the event? Would there be a live experiment to show the public the advance of science? Would the authors try to explain their own theories on time travel? You’ll soon see.

As I sit in the MOSI, I quickly recognise there isn’t a better home for this event, as the authors, Julie Bertanga, Jane Rogers and Saci Lloyd all delve into how science inspires them and what role it plays in their novels.

As well as the full room of 11-16 year-old students having their scientific minds in top form, there is also a sense of anticipation, as this event will also reveal the winners of ‘The Midland Future Manchester Young Writers Competition’, judged by Julie Bertanga.

As each author takes their place at a microphone, they all have their own way of drawing the audience in and grabbing their full attention, enlightening and inspiring us by talking about their inspirations, then reading short fragments of their latest novels. Julie starts with her novel Exodus, the first of a trilogy (Zenith andAurora are the second and third books), where she shares with us how the idea of this novel came from reading an article in a newspaper 10 years ago. The article itself was an SOS from the South Sea Islands, as climate change was taking an unheard, dramatic effect in the form of rising sea levels. The story follows Mara’s life 100 years from now after the impact of climate change. Julie also expresses how the science of today has huge inspiration behind her work, such as the recent discovery of the Higgs Boson (‘The God Particle’) and how this explores the destructive and creative aspects of human nature.

Jane Rogers is next with her novel The Testament of Jessie Lamb. Taking place a mere six months in the future, the thought that not much can change is deceiving. Jane takes long, dramatic pauses, intensifying the story, almost bringing it to life. The novel explores a threat of biological terrorism as the disease MDS (Maternal Death Syndrome) starts to attack. By targeting pregnant women, it is quickly evident that this will soon be the cause of a shrinking population. The novel explores an inter-generational conflict between the youths and their elders with the characters having to succeed in finding a solution, which the previous generation failed to do.

Last to speak is the very animated, and funny, Saci Lloyd. Saci quickly informs us that she sees herself as a political writer and rather than basing her novels in the future with futuristic ideas, she enjoys taking today’s problems and twisting them. The audience is quickly engaged in Saci’s lively presence, guaranteeing laughter from everyone when reading a critical email from someone who said the future in her book wasn’t ‘realistic’ enough as the car company Saab have stopped creating a model which featured in her books. Reading from her novel Momentum, we hear how the characters Uma and Hunter are in London where parkour is popular, even more so than getting the bus.

We get to the Q&As. I learn how the ideas can advance just like science and how important science is within literature. We are told that science should support the story rather than the other way round.

“Take an idea and run with it.”

A member of the audience asks the authors how long it takes them to write a novel. Saci and Julie say roughly 1 to 2 years, whereas Julie says 5. They also share how not every novel they write finds instant fame and success. Exoduswas difficult to get published and also sell in North America. Julie also received emails from librarians telling her to stop writing ‘scary, climate-changing stories’. Tips get passed around on how to overcome procrastination; turning off the internet being one of the top ones. 

 “Writing is like snakes and ladders.” 

Now is the time to reveal the winners of the competition and present the top three with signed copies of the books from today's authors on top of a pocket video camera for first prize. 

Third place belongs to Rubab Zahra, with After the Dark Days

Second place belongs to Joseph Arthur Smith, with Fodder

First place belongs to Josh Degenhardt, with When the Rain Falls They Talk of Manchester

Julie finishes by reading the dramatic, edge-of-seat, winning piece. One thing is clear, these authors better watch out!

Monday, 9 July 2012

Exhibition call out: It’ll never work!

In conjunction with Manchester Science Festival this autumn, the fantastic Nexus Art Cafe have decided to celebrate the themes of invention, ingenuity and innovation in their next exhibition.

From the beauty of the blueprint to the enchanting rhythm of an ECG, the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics offer up a whole wealth of creative opportunity and inspiration.

Nexus Art Cafe are seeking artwork and imagery from artists, scientists, and engineers that showcases innovative and interesting ideas in a beautiful way.

Think inspiring infographics, magnificent maps, delightful diagrams and awesome anatomies – be it the stuff of hard scientific fact, or something a little more fantastical – the walls of Nexus will celebrate the creative side of these industries which so often gets overlooked.

If all this has sparked an idea or two, then get in touch. Please send an artist’s statement (no more than 500 words each), up to five images of the work you’d like to submit (max 1000 pixels square/72 dpi), and an artist’s CV to:, with ‘It’ll Never Work’ as the subject title. Submission Deadline is 5pm on Wednesday 1st August.