Are we all holograms? What goes into the perfect pint? Can we cure cancer in our lifetime? What makes a superhero? Are we any closer to solving the mystery of time?

Asking the most important questions about the world today, Cheltenham Science Festival is back at full scale for its 20th birthday from 7 - 12 June with six days of spectacular science in Imperial Gardens. Bringing together the UK’s most respected scientists, favourite science communicators, writers, and artists to talk about today’s hottest topics. 

Cheltenham Science Festival Images from a previous Cheltenham Science Festival in Imperial Gardens, Cheltenham

In year two of the Festival’s ‘Be The Change’ theme, four *Guest Curators and a group of five Young Changemakers will show how science is shaping our future.

*Guest Curators Deborah James, Alom Shaha, Daze Aghaji and Polly Denny. With Jim Al-Khalili, Evie Meg, Claudia Hammond, Mark Miodownik, Helen Czerski, Marty Jopson, Stefan Gates, Camilla Pang, Jonathon Porritt, Bryony Gordon, GCHQ, Vagina Museum, Marcus du Sautoy, Highly Sprung Performance

Over 130 ticketed events include Deborah James asking can we cure cancer in our lifetime? Jeff Forshaw considering if we are all holograms, and Jim Al-Khalili questioning if we are any closer to solving the mystery of time. Topics to be explored cover art and design, social sciences, psychology and neuroscience, chemistry, engineering, entertainment, the environment, history, current affairs, technology, food, sport, space and the universe.

Cheltenham Science FestivalImages from a previous Cheltenham Science Festival in Imperial Gardens, Cheltenham

Free activities for all ages at Cheltenham Science Festival 2022

Visitors can look forward to hundreds of free activities in several interactive spaces on site. The Arcade is a brand-new zone, full of fun, creative and cryptic challenges. VOICEBOX will have a series of free digital events on Instagram and TikTok covering today’s hottest topics, from neurodiversity and video game design to body image and sustainable fashion, life hacks and collaborative artworks. Making a welcome return are the popular Discover Zone and MakerShack, while the Apollo stage has free events and workshops for all ages. Also on site are the GE Pavilion, Hartpury Science Hub, The Woodland Trust and a free Science Trail.

Thousands of schoolchildren will be welcomed back to the Festival village to enjoy shows, get hands-on in class-sized workshops, take on challenges in the interactive zones, learn about careers in STEM and quiz scientists on their cutting edge-research.

Taking the Science Festival onto Cheltenham High Street for one day only, Highly Sprung’s CastAway is a gravity-defying outdoor performance (Saturday 11 June) that explores the impact of today’s throwaway society on our waterways.

The Festival’s Head of Programming Marieke Navin said: “We can’t wait for people of all ages to share incredible ideas and experiences at our Science Festival in June. We hope they go away energised and inspired, and able to talk more confidently about science.”

Cheltenham Science Festival guest curators 2022Images - Cheltenham Science Festival guest curators 2022 - Deborah James, Alom Shaha, Daze Aghaji and Polly Denny

Cheltenham Science Festival 2022 theme – Be The Change

Climate Justice activist Daze Aghaji leads a group of young changemakers from different fields to envision what a new world could look like. They are conservationist and queer activist Dawood Qureshi; disability campaigner and TikTok star Evie Meg; youth in policymaking advocate Samuel Ajakaiye; mental health campaigner Sophia Badhan and cybersecurity expert Sophia McCall. Daze will also talk to veteran campaigner Jonathon Porritt about how environmental campaigning has changed across the generations as the climate crisis accelerates.

Three of the UK’s most exceptional nature writers: Marchelle Farrell, Nina Mingya Powles and Tjawanga Dema share their advocacy for the planet through art. Energy efficiency and policy expert David Glew and materials scientist Mark Miodownik discuss how to make our homes and gardens more eco-friendly and reduce our carbon footprint, while conservation scientist Adam Hart leads a panel about gardening to save the planet and there’s a litter-picking walk around Cheltenham.

‘Be The Change’ runs throughout the programme as the Young Changemakers explore why diversity in science is vital when it comes to tackling some of the biggest issues of our time: including climate justice, conservation, inequality in mental health provision, air pollution, cybersecurity and international diplomacy.

Thanks to funding from the National Lottery Community Fund, three events in the programme will be interpreted in British Sign Language (BSL) and eight will include live captioning, making them accessible to D/deaf people.           

Current Affairs at Cheltenham Science Festival 2022

A senior representative of GCHQ and barrister Jamie Susskind consider how collective rights and freedoms can be protected in light of the digital revolution. Waheed Arian describes how he provides life-saving medical advice to doctors working in areas of conflict and Geoff White tells the story of the Lazarus Heist – a billion-dollar hack perpetrated by a shadowy cabal accused of working on behalf of the North Korean state.

Samuel Ajakaiye looks at the case for globalisation with International Organisation for Migration’s Tauhid Pasha and journalist Onyekachi Wambu. Samuel also finds out why conspiracy theories can be so compelling by talking to Samantha Vanderslott, whose work specialises in attitudes around vaccination, and psychologist Stuart Ritchie.

Being Human, Psychology & Neuroscience at Cheltenham Science Festival 2022

Biological anthropologist Brenna Hassett tells the story of one of humanity’s most striking adaptations - our unreasonably long childhood - which along with boring genitals, monogamy and fat babies, have made us the species we are today.

Claudia Hammond explores the psychology of regret with Bryony Gordon, Teresa McCormack and Fuschia Sirois in a special event to be recorded for BBC Radio 4’s All In The Mind; evolutionary anthropologist Anna Machin explores the science behind why we love and how we love and joins zoologist Jules Howard to talk about the bonds people have with their pets. Neuroscientist Anil Seth puts forward a radical new theory of consciousness and self; zoologist Lucy Cooke talks about her revolutionary guide to sex, evolution and the female animal; and Dallas Campbell and medical historian Mark Jackson investigate the midlife crisis.

Clinical psychologist Sam Akbar shares tips on feeling calmer, less stressed, and more resilient to life’s challenges; psychiatrist James Rucker, psychologist David Luke, and Michael Bourne, a participant in the UK’s first psylocibin trial, discuss the powerful potential of psychedelics to transform psychiatry; and neurologist Guy Leschziner describes what happens to our senses if the wiring in our brains goes awry.

Inequality comes under the spotlight as Director of the Institute for Fiscal Studies Paul Johnson asks why we should care about it; while Sophia Badhan looks at inequality in mental health provision and the particular pressures faced by Gen Z. The shocking statistics around air pollution in deprived communities are highlighted by Destiny Boka Batesa, co-founder of the ChokedUp campaign.

Health, Wellbeing and Lifestyle at Cheltenham Science Festival 2022

Guest Curator Deborah James asks if we can cure cancer in our lifetime and finds out how our approach to the disease might adapt and evolve in the future. She also appears in a special Instagram Live to talk about living with and caring for those with cancer. National Clinical Advisor at NHS England Shera Chok and Rachel Murphy from digital cancer care organisation Careology talk about the technological evolution in healthcare.

Heather Massey and Great Britain ice swimming champion Caroline Saxon talk about the science of cold-water swimming; gut health specialist Tim Spector and psychologist Kimberley Wilson explain how to harness the power of our gut to improve our overall health and wellbeing; Claudia Hammond explains why rest matters and offers a roadmap for a more restful and balanced life; and world-leading expert on circadian neuroscience Russell Foster explains how understanding our body clock can help us to work, eat and sleep better. There’s also a drop-in UV Yoga session and a Mental Health Mates Walk.

Marking the centenary of the discovery of insulin, Tilli Tansey and diabetes researcher Noel Morgan explore the cutting-edge research that is shaping how we understand and treat diabetes today. Biochemist Nick Lane talks about the new research that seeks to understand the chemistry of living cells, and with it the science of life and death; genomics expert James Davies and biological anthropologist Simon Underdown describe their discovery that a strand of DNA tripling the risk of developing severe Covid-19 was passed on from Neanderthals to modern humans.

Diver John Volanthen tells how he coordinated the cave rescue that saved thirteen young soccer players stranded in the flooded Tham Luang cave complex in Thailand.

On the science of food and drink, engineer and Bake Off finalist Andrew Smyth celebrates bread; Barry Smith and Ole Mouritsen reveal the secrets of champagne; and Mark Miodownik shows how to mix the perfect gin and tonic and heads off to a craft brewery to understand the science of the perfect pint.

Cheltenham Science Festival

Design, Technology, Engineering & Invention at Cheltenham Science Festival 2022         

Mark Lythgoe and the pioneering team at the UCL Centre for Advanced Biomedical Imaging show how they are using micromagnets in brain control technology and its potential for treating brain and mood disorders;

Engineers Alan Jones and Stephen Prior join designer Danielle Purkiss to discuss the practicalities behind flying taxis; Helen Czerski speaks to architect Toby Smith and sustainable energy systems researcher Peter Taylor to look at rewiring Britain; civil engineer Dervilla Mitchell and climate politics researcher Duncan McLaren discuss the techniques and commitment required to reach net zero emissions; and Mark Miodownik and engineers Ravinder Dahiya and Grainne El Mountassir discover the limitless possibilities of engineering with nature.

Cybersecurity expert Sophia McCall issues a car-hacking warning; games developers Corey Brotherson and Nikky Armstrong brainstorm a game idea live on stage and Shay Thompson, Derek Ahmedzai and Norts attempt to de-mystify NFTs.

Guest Curator Alom Shaha will be encouraging families to think about engineering by making marvellous machines in the MakerShack while the drop-in GE Pavilion will demonstrate engineering solutions to big technology challenges.

Family Programme at Cheltenham Science Festival 2022

There’s a voyage of spectacular science for all the family from ages 4+ with ticketed events and free events on the Apollo stage.

Adventurer Lindsey Cole tells the true story of the Mermaid and the Cow all about plastic pollution and animal rescue (ages 5+). Author and scientist Jon Chase probes the frontier between movie magic and cutting-edge science in The Science of Star Wars and there’s the chance to learn about the super science behind everyone’s favourite superheroes in The Science of Superheroes (ages 7+). BBC One Show resident scientist Marty Jopson presents his electrifying show One Million Volts while Stefan Gates and his robot cat/dog Clank reveals the weird and wonderful science behind our favourite furry friends in Dogology vs Catology (ages 7+).

In Kitchen Chemistry Jamie Gallagher explores the sights, sounds and smells of everyday chemistry with fun experiments (ages 7+). Palaeontologist Dean Lomax travels through 200 years of fossil discovery to one of the greatest finds in British palaeontological history: the 10-metre long ‘Rutland Sea Dragon’ and introduces a short film about the extraordinary life of fossil-hunter Mary Anning (ages 7+).

Oceanographer Russell Arnott reveals the fascinating world of marine chemistry in an interactive workshop and goes head-to-head with marine biologist Claudia Allen in a fact-battle to decide who’s best in Shark vs Whale (ages 7+).

Netflix’s Baking Impossible judge and Bake-Off finalist Andrew Smyth will use interactive “bakineering” demos to show the engineering principles that keep us safely travelling via road, sea, and sky (ages 9+). Comedy and quantum mechanics combine in The Quantum Qrumpet presented by ANTS Theatre (ages 10+). Mathematician Katie Steckles shares Mathematical Stories of the people who spent their lives developing the maths we use today and explores how their work across centuries are all connected through numbers (ages 10+).

Free events on the Apollo stage for all ages

Festival Guest Curator Alom Shaha shows how to transform and recycle household objects into homemade toys and machines in a hands-on workshop (ages 5+)

Fantastic Forensics with Diatom Dave will help catch the sticky-fingered culprit who has made off with Bob’s buns (ages 4+); Sarah Bearchell invites families to feel, see, hear, smell and taste clouds created from dry ice; and Olaf Falafel, author of BLOBFISH! presents an afternoon packed full of jokes and drawing, whilst also gently introducing children to the issue of plastics in our oceans (ages 5+).

There will be fun demonstrations and explosive experiments with Wonderful Water from Science Made Simple (ages 5+). The Juggling of Science explains particle physics, covalent bonds and hydrogen fuel cells using juggling and circus skills (ages 7+).

Biologists Phil Bell-Young and Hana Ayoob present The Things We Know We Don’t Know about the animals and plants we share our planet with (ages 8+), and autism advocate and award-winning author Camilla Pang shares the science of growing up in Perfectly Weird, Perfectly You.

Entertainment at Cheltenham Science Festival 2022

There is no shortage of entertainment for all ages: including the ever-popular Overambitious Demo Challenge, quizzes, comedy, variety shows, Victorian parlour magic, Lego workshops and experimental gaming in GameLab.

Performances include Cascade - an audio-visual immersive event performed by musician Nabihah Iqbal and visual artist and quantum physicist Libby Heaney; Mathematician Eugenia Cheng presents Maths, Music, and “A Woman’s Life and Love” in a unique combination of lecture and concert; while Voices for Nature sees readings from three of the UK’s most exceptional nature writers.

Bingo meets chemistry in The Periodic Dinner Table Show and there’s more body-part bingo courtesy of the Vagina Museum; a rollercoaster of Elizabethan carnage in Death by Shakespeare; and a celebration of FameLab with the UK Finalists from 2020 and 2021.

For sophisticated silliness that’s shaken not stirred, make a date with Mark Miodownik and Andrea Sella for Cocktail Hour and Just The (Gin &) Tonic and enjoy science-inspired songs and stories in the Open Mic Night and Jonny Berliner’s Mysteries of the Universe. In Friday Night Apollo, poet-in-residence Polly Denny appears in a unique collaboration with AI Curator AIDA.

Nature and Wildlife at Cheltenham Science Festival 2022

Tim Birkhead journeys through mankind’s historic fascination with birds, while specialists from the University of the West of England reveal beguiling facts about bats. The team from The Cotswold Wildlife Park and Gardens talk about their conservation work, and the difficult choices facing conservationists – in marine conservation, between which species to save or between human and predator – are highlighted.

Physics, Astronomy and the Universe at Cheltenham Science Festival 2022

Jim Al-Khalili talks to quantum physicist Vlatko Vedral for an episode of the BBC Radio 4 programme The Life Scientific and explores the field of quantum biology with molecular geneticist Johnjoe McFadden and quantum physicists Alexandra Olaya-Castro and Sapphire Lally. He also discusses his new research programme into the arrow of time with Paul Davies and delves into the philosophy of time with Karim Thébault and Bryan Roberts. Meanwhile physicist Jeff Forshaw leads a panel discussion into the realm of theoretical physics as he asks Is the World a Hologram?

Martin Rees investigates the future of space exploration which might replace astronauts with robots; and Andrew Pontzen discusses mapping our Milky Way and the insights into black holes that have been revealed through the Event Horizon Telescope. Accelerator physicist Suzie Sheehy tells the story of the 12 historical experiments that answered questions about the nature of matter and Johnjoe McFadden follows Occam’s Razor in the hands of the giants of science from Copernicus to Higgs to find its application to probability theory and the nature of the universe itself.

Forensics and Criminology at Cheltenham Science Festival 2022

Forensic scientist Angela Gallop talks about her remarkable career and some of her most intriguing cases; forensic anthropologist Sue Black reconstructs the hidden stories in the bones we leave behind; and psychologist Faye Skelton explores the extraordinary phenomenon of false confessions and what we can do to prevent them.


Need to know: Cheltenham Science Festival 2022

Dates: 7 - 12 June 2022

Location: Imperial Gerdens, Cheltenham

Follow on social media: #cheltscifest @cheltscifest 

Booking dates:  Tickets go on sale to Cheltenham Festivals members from 19 April and to the general public on 26 April from www.cheltenhamfestivals.com/science

View the full programme here: Cheltenham Science Festival brochure

For more unmissable festivals in Cheltenham check out our helpful guide: Cheltenham 2022 - Festivals & Major Events Guide

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