HP Labs at the 2013 Cheltenham Science Festival (UK)


Encouraging interest in science




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Contributed by Simon Firth, freelance technology journalist

Once again this year, HP Labs was a major presence at Europe’s largest festival of science and technology. The Cheltenham Science Festival runs for a week in June, bringing over 30,000 people to the historic English spa town of Cheltenham to view exhibits, hear talks on the latest in science research, and take part in workshops aimed at furthering public engagement in the field. 

This was HP Labs’ 3rd year as the festival’s leading technology sponsor, notes HP Labs Bristol communications manager Lucy Feilen.

“It was a fantastic success,” Feilen reports of last week’s event. “This year we had over 30 HP Labs employees involved in different activities. It was a great chance to share some of the work we are doing at Labs, and also to help enhance the public understanding of science and technology in the UK.”

One event new to the Festival saw more than a dozen HP Labs engineers helping introduce school children to basic computer programming. Using the ultra-cheap Raspberry Pi processor and the Python programming language, students were offered a basic introduction to the concepts underpinning the technologies that already figure prominently in their lives. “We had over 120 eleven year-olds come through in one day,” recalls Feilen. “And, by the end, the majority of them were learning to come to grips with Python. It was pretty impressive.”

The Festival also featured a one-day Cyber Security Conference that gathered 150 security experts from around the UK to talk about how organizations can better protect themselves, their employees, and customers from the growing threat of cyber-crime and business interruption.

Martin Sadler, director of HP’s Security and Cloud Lab, was a featured speaker, discussing how to protect a company’s infrastructure from the outside, especially as organizations are storing ever more of their proprietary data in cloud-based systems.

HP Labs cloud security researcher Miranda Mowbray, meanwhile, was asked to introduce internet pioneer Dame Wendy Hall’s keynote talk, Is the web changing society? Hall was one of the first computer scientists to undertake serious research into multimedia and hypermedia and was a Guest Director of this year’s festival.

The lecture was packed, says Mowbray. “It was a great talk,” she recalls, “and I was especially struck by the part where Professor Hall said it was up to us – all of us – to look after the Web, keeping it free to access for the benefit of humanity.”

Among the other festival highlights, Mowbray especially enjoyed the interactive exhibits offered at the Science in the Square area. “My favorite stall at the festival,” she says, “was the one run by the EU Octopus project, which featured a high-dexterity soft-bodied robot inspired by octopuses.”

The festival’s educational outreach will continue through the rest of the year, an effort that’s also supported by HP Labs.