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Beautiful Science

From 26 Feb to 20 May 2014 the British Library hosted the exhibition Beautiful Science. From classic diagrams from the Library’s collections to contemporary digital displays, Beautiful Science explored how the visualisation of scientific data is crucial for making new discoveries and for communicating those discoveries effectively. Further information on the exhibition is available here and you can view the exhibition Pinterest page here.

The Beautiful Science events season comprised a series of events and activities aimed at both public and professional audiences - from serious debate and workshops, to comedy shows, competitions, and family activities.

View the Beautiful Science highlights video here and see below for summaries, podcasts, videos, and programmes from individual events. 

 For one year only, Beautiful Science replaced our annual Inspiring Science season of events. Highlights of Inspiring Science 2013 can be found here. Stay tuned to our blog and follow us on Facebook or Twitter to find out about our upcoming science events and activities.

Beautiful Science on tour at Cheltenham Science Festival

After a hugely successful three month run at the British Library’s St Pancras site, the Beautiful Science exhibition relocated to Cheltenham Science Festival. From 3 - 8 June 2014, large-format prints of the physical objects and digital interactives from the exhibition were on display in the Beautiful Science tent in the centre of Cheltenham. Exhibition curators and members of the BL’s science team manned the tent over the week and spoke with a wide range of audiences about the themes of the exhibition and the stories behind the visualisations on display.

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Data Visualisation: Is Ugly the New Smart?

While the art of conveying information beautifully is thriving in the arts and the corporate sector, academic research publications seem to favour decidedly drab data.

This panel debate asked the question ‘Is it wrong to make data look pretty?’ and examined contrasting opinions on the role of aesthetics and design in conveying information.

Listen to the event podcast here.

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Sciencetastic! Family Discovery Day

Around 1000 visitors enjoyed a day of free and fabulous science activities - from photo booths and poster painting to the Science Museum’s bubble show and animal skulls from the Grant Museum. The event was run in conjunction with the Frank Barnes School for Deaf Children and Camden Family Learning and most of the activities were British Sign Language interpreted.

Budding young scientists were also able to explore some of the stories behind the Beautiful Science exhibition including the opportunity to determine the source of a cholera outbreak in Victorian London.

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TalkScience: Patently Obvious?

The 24th instalment of the British Library’s TalkScience series welcomed a panel of scientists, policy makers and patent experts to debate whether biomedical patents are a help or hindrance to scientific progress and examine their costs and benefits to society.

The discussion was chaired by Professor Jackie Hunter (Chief Executive of the BBSRC) joined by Professor Alan Ashworth (Chief Executive of The Institute of Cancer Research), Dr Nick Bourne (Head of Commercial Development at Cardiff University) and Dr Berwyn Clarke (Biomedical entrepreneur).

You can listen to the podcast of this lively debate here.

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Beyond Nature vs Nurture

This event brought together scientists and social scientists to discuss how the field of epigenetics has revolutionised the age old nature vs. nurture debate and contributed to our understanding of how environmental factors can change the way in which genes are expressed and cells behave.

The event was chaired by Professor Jane Elliot (Institute of Education) and the speakers were Professor George Davey Smith (University of Bristol) and Professor Nikolas Rose (King's College London).

You can listen to the podcast of the event here and view the event video here.

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Festival of the Spoken Nerd: I Chart the British Library

Festival of the Spoken Nerd: stand-up mathematician Matt Parker, geek songstress Helen Arney, and experiments maestro Steve Mould hosted an evening event exploring the laughs, graphs and gaffs of science. An outstanding set of guest geeks including citizen science gurus Erinma Ochu, Jonathan Swinton, and the BL’s own data visualisation experts gave the audience an opportunity to get down and dirty with data in live experiments, and hear the back story to the Beautiful Science exhibition.

Check out the event programme and the highlights video.

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Counting Sheep: The Science of Sleep

Hosted in partnership with UCL Neuroscience, Professor Vince Walsh compered an interactive evening of science, music and art exploring the stuff that dreams are made of. Talks by Professor Russell Foster (University of Oxford) on the crucial role of our eyes in influencing sleep cycles, and from Vince on the benefits of sleep, were beautifully interspersed by a dream-inspired opera from Impropera. Audience members also explored how sleep is represented in art, took part in a myth-busting quiz about sleep, and listened to relaxing sleep sounds from the British Library’s audio collections. Those in need of a nightcap sampled delicious sleep-themed cocktails provided by Alchemist Dreams.

If you missed the event take a look at the event programme and the highlights video.

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Knowledge is Beautiful

Data visualisation guru David McCandless, author of Information is Beautiful, gave an illustrated talk exploring how visual design can help us see information differently and shared with the audience examples of his work for his forthcoming book Knowledge is Beautiful. David finished the evening by challenging the audience to his data-viz quiz.

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Access to Understanding Awards Ceremony

Now in its second year, ‘Access to Understanding’ is a science writing competition delivered by the British Library in partnership with Europe PMC. The competition challenges early career researchers to summarize a recent biomedical research article for a public audience.

Winning entrants were recognised at a prestigious awards ceremony, which included speeches by Sharmila Nebhrajani (Association of Medical Research Charities) and the Government Chief Scientific Advisor Sir Mark Walport on the importance of communicating science in an understandable way.

First place went to Elizabeth Kirkham for her entry which explained research investigating the role of the brain in musical beat prediction and was published by eLife.

This year saw the launch of the People’s Choice award, which invited members of public to vote for their favourite shortlisted entry. You can read the winning entries in the competition booklet and see more from the night in the podcast and video.

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Seeing is Believing: Picturing the Nation’s Health

The finale of the Beautiful Science events season saw journalist and author Michael Blastland chairing a conversation between Dame Sally Davies (UK Chief Medical Officer) and Sir David Spiegelhalter (Winton Professor of Public Understanding of Risk, University of Cambridge). The event explored the role of data visualisation in communicating health risks to the public and demonstrated how information representation can influence public perceptions and attitudes towards risk.

Take a look at the event video here.

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Photos © The British Library Board