Frank Close, a professor of physics at Oxford University, says there is a lot going on at Oxfordshire Science Festival

It’s festival time in Oxfordshire. Visitors to Oxford during recent weeks will have seen banners advertising the Arts Festival, which began on June 17, and Oxfordshire Science Festival, which started on June 23.

Although these are two independent festivals they have huge cultural overlap, typified by Blackwell’s Bookshop – which hosted several talks by scientists about their books – and the newly refurbished Weston Library – which showed how modern science is identifying hidden treasures in the pigments of ancient manuscripts.

Not only has this been an opportunity to find out everything you wanted to know about science but were afraid to ask, but Marcus du Sautoy gave a fascinating talk about the limits of knowledge in What we Cannot Know. Thus, for example, is the concept of time “before the Big Bang” a question within the scope of science?

Whereas there are questions that science can never answer, there is much that we do not know today but which nonetheless will be in the syllabus 50 years hence.

Science progresses and one of the joys I have experienced in my career is seeing discoveries first reveal new insights, which then enter the syllabus, and become the engines of technology.

I have no idea what the Oxfordshire Science Festival of 2066 will celebrate alongside the millennium of the Norman Conquest, but I am certain that in the interim great discoveries will have been made, and by individuals who are currently in school. Each and every breakthrough is due to someone, and it could be you!

One of the themes of the science festival is to excite and enthuse those potential scientists and engineers of tomorrow. In 1993, I presented the Royal Institution Christmas Lectures on BBC Two, about particle physics. Some of that audience, schoolchildren at that time, are today working at CERN and have been involved at first hand in the discovery of the Higgs boson, the source of the Nobel Prize in 2013.

Today’s youngsters can get a sense of what it is like to be a scientist in an international venture by hearing the inside story. Professor Jon Butterworth, famous for his blogs in The Guardian, will be talking about Smashing Physics, on Sunday, July 3, at 4.30pm in the Amey Hall of Abingdon School.

This is based on his book, which was shortlisted for the Science Book Prize earlier this year, and tells his personal story – of a life in science and his role leading part of the Higgs hunt at CERN’s LHC (Large Hadron Collider). This event will be part of the festival’s climax: ‘ATOM – A Celebration of Science and Technology in Abingdon-on-Thames’, which runs until July 3.

Oxfordshire has a special place in UK and international science, with Abingdon at the epicentre, surrounded by Rutherford Appleton Laboratory and Diamond on the Harwell campus, the JET fusion research centre at Culham, and Oxford itself.

This geographical centre has recently become the nation’s political kernel also, with the elevation of Nicola Blackwood, MP for Oxford West and Abingdon, to the position of chairwoman of the science and technology committee of the House of Commons. In one of the highlights of the ATOM festival, on Sunday at 3pm also in the Amey Hall, Nicola Blackwood will be in conversation with Hannah Devlin, science correspondent of The Guardian. They will discuss the future of science and technology in the UK.

Science and technology are exciting, and those of us who have spent a career in the field recognise our good fortune. There are also huge implications for the economy. Technology generates wealth, and it is from the resulting tax base that blue skies civil research such as at the LHC, flows. The LHC was not built in order to invent the World Wide Web, but it was bright young people at CERN who spun its first strands in the 1990s.

Jon Butterworth’s talk follows at 4.30pm, while earlier that afternoon, at 1.30pm, you can “Hunt the Higgs” and experience something of the “greatest and most exciting discoveries of science”. This is an interactive comedy show in which the audience will be in charge of the LHC. Using smartphone or tablet – themselves examples of modern technology – you will have direct access to LHC data. Interactive games will help solve problems and analyse data. As to being first to discover the Higgs boson this way: it could be you!

You can learn about New Body Parts for Old today at 7.30pm in Abingdon’s Larkmead School, followed by a science quiz – in a pub – Abingdon’s Kings Head and Bell, at 9pm. You can spend all Saturday at the Health Fair in Templars Square.

The most moving presentation of the festival, in my opinion, could well be that by Ian Shipsey, a professor of physics at Oxford University. Profoundly deaf since 1989, he heard the voice of his daughter for the first time in 2002 thanks to a cochlear implant. He will describe the science of these implants, and you will be able to experience how speech and music sound when heard through one.

Prof Shipsey also has worked in the hunt for the Higgs boson. When this quest started he was deaf, but nonetheless managed to do research. By the time the Higgs discovery was announced, he was able to take part fully in the excitement, thanks to his implant.

For a moving personal story that touches on all aspects of science and technology, I can think of nothing more profound than his talk on Saturday at 7pm in Abingdon’s Amey Theatre.

See the full programme and buy tickets at