Festival of the Mind: Sounds of the Cosmos

As part of the 2014 Festival of the Mind, I co-organised a public event at the Octagon Centre on 18 September 2014 with Stewart Campbell (Department of Music) that involved a live performance of Gustav Holst's Planets Suite by the Sheffield Rep. Orchestra (conductor George Morton), interspersed with short astronomy talks, plus original visuals by local design agency Human.

A post-performance survey was completed by 175 respondents (760 attended), 98% rated the event positively – either very good (19%) or excellent (79%), and 97% learnt a bit (39%) or a lot (58%).

Individual comments included:

  • It was wonderful to combine the live performance by the orchestra with the statistics and visuals and to remind us of the scale and diversity of the stars and planets. The kids loved it too!

  • The depth and breadth of astronomical knowledge presented by Paul Crowther.

  • My eight-year-old son was fascinated by the University buildings and started a big discussion on what made people want to study, how you choose what to study, where you live and 'is university like school?' Great experience in the concert but also fab for opening up my sons mind to future possibilities.

  • The nature of presenting research information through art and music. Also the sheer scale of the cosmos.

  • The way that astrophysics – something that hasn't been a particular interest before – was so interesting and evolving all the time. Also, the way that two parts of the University (physics and music) could collaborate to provide such a wonderful evening!

  • The combination of music and astronomy – together they combined to make an event that was so much more than either of them alone. The event attracted the very young, and held their attention, as well as the more mature – observing people leaving afterwards there was a more thoughtful atmosphere than usual after a concert.

  • The event was amazing, something really unique.

  • The visuals were amazing and matched the information given extremely well. A good way of helping to retain information.

  • The talks between movements were very interesting (especially the final thought!) and the visuals helped greatly. I also much enjoyed the orchestra's playing.

The images below are courtesy of Human Studio, Gary Hewitt and Nick Bax.

Orchestra stage-level view
Orchestra and audience
Orchestra drums on stage
Speaker with a star cluster on a big screen
George conducting
Paul Crowther speaking
Orchestra and Paul on stage
Orchestra and Paul on stage
Orchestra with harps

In addition, a dedicated schools matinee performance was held, plus astronomy-themed activities for local schools and the STFC Seeing the Universe in all its light roadshow. Sixty-five percent of respondents to a questionnaire from the University WP Research and Evaluation team stated that the event increased their interest in physics.

Feedback from respondents' questionnaires:

  • I was really fascinated in the end and I would like to say well done for this amazing day.

  • I love Sheffield University and I'd like to go there when I'm older.

  • I want to go again!

The Solar System film is available at the top of the page, with other films available via iTunes U.

Children at an exhibition stand
Children learning about a telescope
ALMA model
Children interacting with a thermal camera
Children at a 'comet' stand
Festival poster on a bus
Festival poster