Curious and Curiouser: A Night of Wonder at the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh

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Everything was a little topsy turvy at the Botanic Late, a curious night of scientific discovery and abandon. Walking into the airy foyer of the Gateway, I was greeted by warm staff, and a decidely bohemian spectacle of folk wandering around me adorned wth glow-in-the-dark jewelry ad silver painted faces glistening like metallic masks. The hall was punctuated by the sound of ceilidh dancers stomping their feet to the strains of Science Ceildh. The band offer a mash of continental balfolk, quebecois and nordic traditions with a dash of techno and geek culture. Beyond, a pack of grinning headphone-clad dancers shuffled their feet to the world rhythms of Samedia Shebeen, who provided cutting edge electronic from across the globe in the form of a silent disco.

This sense of freedom, with a dash of abandon, set the night in good stead. The attendees ranged from uberhip students to bubbly-toffing yuppies, all finding their niche at the diverse array of activities on offer. There were robotics stands and microgreen stations, genetics microscopes, and beer tastings – all spread throughout the spacious halls of The Gateway, and staffed with friendly, highly intelligent scientists to explain the wonders on show. Most extraordinary was the robotics stand, where visitors wth presented a “desktop” 3D Printer. The device was immersed in the task of constructing a Pythagorean glass -a device which can only be half-filled with liquid (a drop more sends the glass toppling to the ground). Beyond, visitors were invited to behold robots dancing across the floor. The inventions were extraordinary and it was a privilege to encounter technology which plays a part in so many scientific enterprises, from robots on Mars to Star Wars toys, to medicine.

On the other side of the room, beyond the slightly overpriced bar, a team of kindly PhD students explained the resesarch they were conducting into genetics. Visitors were invited to peer down telescopes at vial containing mutant fruit flies – apparently bugs provide scientists with insight into genetic mutation and manipulation – a delightfully disgusting introduction to genetics. Nearby, CRUK even made an appearance, providing games to explain the ways that doctors are able to detect cancer. The representatives, drawn from the University Cancer Research department were energetic and friendly, all PhD students offering a true enthusiasm to discuss their research. If the brimming halls of The Gateway grew too busy, guests were able to take a stroll down the fragrant paths of the gardens, or lounge on cosy sofas on the outdoor decking. The evening was clear and bright, and the aroma of sizzling hot street food filled the air. The curiouser of guests were treated to virtual reality tours of the V&A, bridge-building activities, micro-green growing, jewelry upcyling, and a host of other activities designed to pique the futuristic and creative minded.

All in all it was a terrific evening. The design was thoughtful, and the attendance was just right – busy enough to feel bustling and energetic, yet spacious enough to keep queues at a minimum and seats available. If you haven’t checked out a Late, get yourself to the next one. It’s a very important date.

Reviewer Charlotte Morgan

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