The return of the Festival of the Mind to Sheffield brought with it another round of exciting exhibitions, incredible artwork, interactive activities and engaging films and podcasts.

This year, the festival was centred around the themes of sustainability, extinction, hope, artificial intelligence, climate change and health. Visiting the live Futurecade exhibition, held at the Millennium Art Gallery, these themes were clearly conveyed through an array of artwork, stalls, and exhibitions. The interactive Project 2050, presented by students of the Sheffield Engineering and Leadership Academy (SELA), casts you as an engineer tasked with solving some of the world’s most pressing challenges. From attempting to build earthquake-proof structures out of plasticine and straws, to designing model antibiotics in the face of an array of limitations, I learned a great deal about what the University’s research is doing to secure our future.

One of the interactive exhibits on display in the Futurecade.

Speaking to Professor Vanessa Toulmin, Director of City and Culture for the University of Sheffield and founder of the festival, she said: “It was my idea to bring all the University’s brilliant research together but to present it creatively for more impact end engagement, so the festival is a collaboration between the academic community and the creative community of Sheffield.”

This element of collaboration between the University and Sheffield’s rich and diverse creative community is also what makes the festival of the mind so unique. “It’s an opportunity for students and staff to engage with the city and to show the city the importance of the work that goes on at the University, all while producing really fascinating exhibits which are free to visit” Vanessa adds.

Another exhibition, titled Uncertain Awareness, features stunning artworks by artist Arantza Pardo who collaborated with researcher Gareth Phoenix. When viewed through a tablet or phone, a secret image is revealed, unveiling the drastic impacts of climate change on Arctic ecosystems. This exhibition is beautifully demonstrative of how the festival combines research with the arts, to communicate and engage the public in a whole new and creative way.

While much of the festival has had to be moved online in order to adapt to COVID-19 restrictions, its message and aims are still clear: to engage the public with research and bring this research to a wider and more diverse audience across Sheffield. Despite current circumstances, the Festival of the Mind continues to succeed in bringing the pioneering work of university researchers to life through the talents of Sheffield’s artists, writers, filmmakers, and poets.

To find out more about the festival, or take a virtual look at the live exhibitions themselves, head on over to the festival’s website at https://festivalofthemind.sheffield.ac.uk/2020/

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