Sights and speeches in science: museums, events and talks in Oxford

Science and Technology

Image Credit: Magnus D (CC BY 2.0)

After a long day of lectures, labs and tutes it can be hard to be enthusiastic about even more science that is probably way over our heads. However, the combination of a huge faculty filled with brilliant minds eager to share their expertise and a university keen to boost public engagement and improve access results in a city brimming with top quality science talks and events aimed at all ages and abilities. 

Expanding your knowledge outside your course or even subject is useful over and above any potential extra marks or showing off to your tutors. Gaining a general understanding of many areas of science allows you to discover fields that you didn’t even know existed and may wish to pursue in the future. Furthermore, a more holistic view of the world leads to more interdisciplinary research and integrated ideas. 

As well as the plethora hosted by student-run societies, there are copious talks and events going on throughout the term around Oxford. In addition to one-off events, Oxford’s rich collection of museums, most relevantly the Museum of Natural History (OUMNH) and the Museum of the History of Science (MHS), are always great places to take the family or kill some time. 

The Museum of the History of Science:

Situated right next to the Sheldonian theatre, the Museum of the History of Science holds a small permanent collection dedicated to the evolution of modern science. As part of a countrywide celebration of one hundred years since women won the right to vote, the basement gallery is holding an exhibition on Women in Science giving an insight into the undervalued contributions and lives of four female scientists, including Ada Lovelace. In addition, the museum is hosting a few talks, including one by Dr Patricia Fara on the roles of female scientists during World War One.

The Museum of Natural History:

Though the biologists may be very familiar with the Museum of Natural History, its impressive facade and beautiful architecture alone makes it is a must see for students of any subject. The permanent collection includes a dazzling array of fossils and preserved specimens, with current displays on bats and women in science. Starting on the 19th of October, there will be a new exhibition on the Bacterial World and several events to accompany it, including an evening by Stand-up Philosophy that promises a bizarre fusion of comedy, philosophy and microbes! The museum hosts a variety of other events such as film screenings and a monthly ‘Café Scientific’ where you can meet prominent researchers.

The Pitt Rivers Museum:

At the back of Natural History Museum lies the entrance to the Pitt Rivers Museum; a hidden gem. Contained within its four stories are a smorgasbord of anthropological treasures. Amongst these artefacts are shrunken heads from Papua New Guinea, samurai armour from ancient Japan and snow shoes from the Arctic Circle.

As if October wasn’t already overflowing with great science events, the IF Oxford Science and Ideas Festival has organised an abundance of interesting talks, discussions, workshops and even plays that explore a wide range of scientific ideas throughout the month. Titles include: “The Science of Sin”, “Is monogamy dead?”, “How the internet is changing our lives”, “Physics: From the Lab into your Life”, “Big data: curse or cure”, and “Where are the Dementia Treatments?”. There is something for everyone and many of the events are free.

If your thirst for knowledge is still not quenched, there are also the regular talks and seminars hosted by university departments, such as the Strachey Lectures in Computer Science, but open to all university members. The Annual Charles Simonyl Lecture this year will be given by Rosalind Picard, titled: “Can we build AI with Emotional Intelligence?”, at the Oxford Playhouse. The Sheldonian Theatre is always a good place to find high-profile and influential speakers, in November they will be hosting the Romanes Lecture, given by Dr Vint Cerf, the co-inventor of the internet and Vice President of Google who will be talking about “The Pacification of Cyberspace”. Finally, Pride in STEM is hosting a showcase of LGBT research featuring four prominent scientists in fields of Neuroscience, Cardiovascular Science, Immunology and Astrophysics in the St Aldates Tavern.