Ahead of Dubai’s first ever science festival on February 26, Benita Adesuyan finds out why director Rohan Roberts is making a song and dance about it.
The words science and festival don’t often go together. Science tends to conjure up images of people in lab coats peering into microscopes, nutty professors and boring lectures, but a new event is aiming to change all of that. SciFest, Dubai’s first ever science festival, running from Wednesday February 26 to Saturday March 1, will be promoting not just classical science but celebrating it through the arts and bringing Dubai’s science-loving community together.
Rohan Roberts, festival director, and his team of organisers think it’s about time the city had an event like this. ‘Dubai has had film festivals, jazz festivals, shopping festivals but hardly anything for science,’ he says. ‘I was born in Dubai and spent most of my life here and I’ve been waiting for someone to start a science festival and no one has. So I got together with some like-minded people and thought heck – if no one else is doing it, we’ll just do it.’
When Rohan Roberts isn’t organising the festival, he’s an English literature teacher at Winchester School in Oud Metha. Again, not typical science fodder, but Roberts’ love for literature and the arts, and how it fuses with the scientific process is part of what makes the festival unique. ‘We’re celebrating science through the arts. We have science-themed poetry, fashion, dance and even a play based on the life of English physicist Isaac Newton.
It’s not just catering to the science geeks and nerds, we’re reaching out to people with multiple intelligences.
It’s a festival in the truest sense.’
The event schedule is varied and full of activities that will stimulate even those who spent most of their school years half-asleep on the lab desk. The weekend of the festival will see the event host forums that are open to the whole community, and visitors can expect astronomy- inspired fashion shows, science- fiction creative writing competitions, performance poetry and even a murder-mystery dinner.
But beyond the events, Roberts feels science should not only have a place in our calendars but in our consciousness. ‘It’s important for us as lay people to be scientifically literate. Technology is growing at an exponential rate – everything around us is a product of science and technology – we cannot afford to have a public that is scientifically illiterate. We need to have a population who can engage with these issues, have an informed debate and direct the course of these technologies and the impact it will have on the future.’
The theme for this inaugural event is ‘Intelligent Optimism’, which sounds great, but what does it mean? Roberts explains: ‘It’s about being optimistic and having evidence to back up your optimism. Newspapers are filled with bad news so intelligent optimism is a way to counter all the negativity. We are now living longer, healthier, safer lives than at any point in human history. Exciting things await us and as we make our way into this new future we have to be scientifically literate and cultivate a scientific temperament to make educated, informed decisions.’
A variety of community groups will come together to make SciFest a success. ‘That is what’s wonderful about this festival – it’s a completely community-generated event, there are people from the Dubai Drama Group, Imaginary Foundation, Dubai Astronomy Group, and Poeticians Dubai – they’re all coming together offering their services free of charge.’
Roberts’ enthusiasm for the festival is infectious, but doesn’t science have a bit of an image problem? ‘The problem is when you mention science, people feel intimidated. They think back to their high-school days when science was taught as a bunch of facts and stats, but science is much more than that – it’s a way of thinking. And when you look at the world through a scientifically literate lens, it is a very different place. It’s full of answers and free of superstition.’
So don’t be put off by science, regardless of educational experience you can still discover and be amazed by this world we all live in.
SciFest runs Wednesday February 26-Saturday March 1. All events on the morning of Thursday February 27 are open to students only, prior registration and pre-booking required. All other events are open to the general public. SciFest Dubai, Meydan Imax Theatre, Nad Al Sheba, www.scifestdubai.com (055 993 1859).
More ways to explore science in the UAE
It’s never too early to spark young imaginations. Mad Science is an after-school programme that teaches children, from kindergarten age to grade 6, about science through fun activities, workshops and camps.
Office 106, Al Khaleej Building, Al Karama, www.uae.madscience.org (04 337 7403).
Sharjah Science Museum
Bringing science to life, this museum has many exhibits and interactive displays designed to stimulate and inspire kids and adults.
Dhs10 for adults, Dhs5 for children (ages 3-17). Sunday-Thursday 8am-6pm, Friday and Saturday 4pm-8pm. Sharjah Science Museum, Cultural Square, Sharjah, www.sharjahmuseums.ae (06 566 8777).
Dubai Natural History Group
A non-profit, all-volunteer group with an interest in learning more about the natural history of the UAE. The group organises lectures and field trips around the region.
Dhs100 for family and Dhs50 for single person annual membership, meetings are held on the first Sunday of the month at Emirates Academy of Hospitality Management, Umm Suqeim 3. Meetings are free and open to the public, field trips are members only. www.dnhg.org (394 8871).