The Abu Dhabi Science Festival 2013 – A brief review

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The Abu Dhabi Science Festival 2013 – what an incredible and eventful two weeks. Lasting 10 days long, more than 150,000 locals experienced some science, whether at the main tent in Du Forum on Yas Island, the regional tour around UAE, or at the Corniche beach front. But what exactly goes into running a festival of this scale?

I went across as a Science Communicator Team Leader under the banner of the Edinburgh Science Festival, and it was my job as well as 90 odd others to train local university students in about 30 events. Before that though was set up, this is obviously the most fun part…

All the equipment, materials, consumables etc. were packed up in crate and shipped off to Abu Dhabi a full two months before the festival began, and were waiting for us to unpack and assemble into some sort of working order that would last the full two weeks. Then we had one or two training days to turn our local university students into science communicators. Now, you never know what types of student you are going to get. Being in a society that is new to science communication, it always takes a wee while for the students to get more confident. Male or female, arrogant or petrified, quiet or really quiet, 3 mobile phones or 4 mobile phones – you never know who you’re going to get. In my case I was given 8 girls to train. Now this is a society where there is a lot of segregation between male and females due to their religious beliefs, so the shell shocked look on their faces when a 6”2 male white foreigner with a broad Scottish accent starts chatting to them is something I will never forget. We got through it though and by the end of the festival were quite comfortable around each other, and able to have a bit of banter between us.

The workshop I was teaching them was a Kaleidoscope workshop, in which the public could spend 10 minutes creating their very own. It was simple in practice, but the effect of seeing the images through the kaleidoscope would always result in a reaction of ‘wow’ or ‘cool’. Admittedly I did the very same the first time I made one. Over the course of the festival we made about 5700 kaleidoscopes, which was an incredible number, with 1100 alone being made on the last day!

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Kaleidoscope workshop in action
Kaleidoscope workshop in action

Now the festival was split into too main venues – the Du Forum tent, and Corniche Beach. At Du Forum the day was split into two parts. In the mornings and early afternoon, school buses from all over the country would arrive and pupils would be lead around two or three specific workshops each. Then in the afternoon, the tent would be open to the public, who could book any workshop or even see some of the science shows. You could unwrap a mummy, dig up a dinosaur, witness a chain reaction of epic proportions,  perform surgery in ER, solve the case in CSI, become a code breaker, develop your Tin Box photographs, perfect your own Wind Turbine, and programme Lego Robots. In the centre of the tent there was also a massive balloon structure created, based on the sun’s corona. (Something that we had a brilliant time destroying at the end by the way)

Du Forum Venue
Du Forum Venue
Rumour went round that this was the T in the Park Slam tent......
Rumour went round that this was the T in the Park Slam tent……

The Corniche was a slightly different affair, as it was outdoors, in the evening and more importantly free to drop in. That meant everyone, no matter what nationality, age or gender could come and experience the science festival. There were live shows on the beach stage, you could launch a rocket into space, you could search for archaeological artefacts, compete in robot wars, create music, blow giant bubbles in the air, make and fly kites, and of course make an awesome kaleidoscope.

The Corniche
The Corniche

Due to the sheer scale of the festival, it is inevitable that something should go wrong. Only this time it was something that we could not have expected before we left Britain.

It rained. No seriously, it rained in Abu Dhabi! This is a country with blazing sunshine and 30 degree heat minimum, and a load of Scottish people came across and brought the rain with them. Now Abu Dhabi is not a city that is prepared for rain, but for heat, hence why there were huge ventilation holes in the top of the Du Forum tent. With 3 days left of the festival, the main venue of the festival was cancelled due to flooding. You couldn’t make it up. The cornice was surprisingly ok, until it was revealed that there is a law that if it rains enough that the people of Abu Dhabi do not have to work, since it is apparently dangerous, so all the science communicators were sent home. Fortunately though we now had 30 team leaders at Du Forum with nothing to do, so they were bussed over to the Corniche and team Edinburgh Science Festival ran an entire day of the Abu Dhabi Science Festival. A unique turn of events to say the least!


The new swimming pool of Du Forum
The new swimming pool of Du Forum


It was my second time at the Abu Dhabi Science Festival, and if I am lucky it hopefully will not be the last, because ultimately it was a superb experience. Here is to next year!

I'm not bad at the old handstand.....
I’m not bad at the old handstand…..

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