An Interview with Bluedot Festival’s Teresa Anderson

It’s our favourite time of the year – the weather is warmer, the days are longer, and Bluedot festival is now just a few weeks away. Our team set off to the UK’s largest science and music festival last year for the first time and loved seeing the Pixies live and attending talks about space travel, parasites, and the future of the technology. As we prepare for another weekend camping up in Macclesfield, we decided to catch up with Teresa Anderson – British Physicist and Director of the University of Manchester’s Discovery Centre at Jodrell Bank. Teresa has been there since the very beginning of Bluedot and has been part of the team that has grown the festival from small live music events into the four-day intergalactic celebration of music, science, art, and culture.

The Lovell Telescope has spent more than 50 years searching our skies and making discoveries

We’re so excited about Bluedot this year. Could you tell us a bit about the organization of the event and what you do?

I’m the director of the Discovery Centre. That’s sort of the public end of Jodrell Bank. We are the location, the host for Bluedot Festival, and we work together with the observatory and a team of people who put on festival elsewhere.  There is a big gang of us. We start planning the festival in July, then we have August off, and then in September, we start planning the next one. It takes a long time to get everything together. We basically just work towards ‘lift-off’.

It sounds like quite a daunting task to get everything together. 

It is, but I’m so excited about it, and I love doing this, but sometimes there is this moment like “what are we doing?!” But its a brilliant team so we sit together and we work it out. On the actual weekend, I’m just so proud and delighted with what everyone has done.

Bluedot really one of a kind, in such a big event that brings science and music together in a way that you don’t see anywhere else in the UK. 

Yes, definitely. What we are really interested in is this overlap between science and culture. Science is part of our culture and there is this sort of feeling that it isn’t, which is a way of thinking we just don’t think is true. Science is part of everything. We use it all the time. So this is the underlying It’s all part of human endeavour, but also we are all in it together on the pale blue dot on the planet. Which s a very remote, if you look from anywhere, it’s this very tiny thing in space and so far the only place we know life exists so it makes sense that we’re all together and we need to work together to look after everyone. And explore and celebrate the amazing things in science and art and creativity, it’s about creativity across the board.

Today Bluedot festival attracts thousands of people. You have talks from some of the most amazing scientists and thinkers of our time, and this year have The Chemical Brothers and The Flaming Lips headlining. Has the festival always been this big? 

The first thing we ever did were some live music events at Jodrell Bank. The first one was in 2011, and we repeated it over the next few years. Each year we built both the science and music content, but they weren’t camping festivals. Then in 2014, we decided we were going to go for it – we were going to go for making it a camping festival.

Bluedot festival is home to huge campsites under the telescope

And since it became a camping festival, has it continued to grow? 

They’re all getting so much bigger, and there’s more. It’s more of a challenge now. We keep wanting to expand ways of doing this, lots of new things this year, we have a whole science area with talks on science and culture, alongside hands-on things for families, big science experiments and explosions, workshops where you can learn how to solder things, a bit more complex than previous years. This year we have far more people staying in the campsites, which are much bigger, and even more food selections. We are scientists, so we’ll do an experiment and we’ll see if it works. That’s what we did with the camping and it was fantastic, and we were so pleased. Bizarrely you have to do a lot more work when it goes camping because you have to create a little village, but it has a lovely, relaxed vibe. It feels really nice to have loads of like-minded people together who want to get together and have fun and learn things.

Do you think that events like this work as a good way to engage everyone in scientific subjects? 

Totally – if you want to engage with people you have to really think about how to draw those people in and then, come for something cool like a band and then see something they’re interested in while they’re queuing for a drink, and that’s sort of the point of it. People can really engage with things they otherwise wouldn’t have really got interested in because it’s all so relaxed and fun. It’s a place where you can just meet people who also like science – oh, these are people like me, people on our planet.

I’ve been looking at who’ll be speaking this year. Richard Dawkins, Jim Al-Khalili, there are some great people there. Do you have any highlights for this year that you’re particularly looking forward to?

We have quite a few interesting mixes of people on things like the future of humanity, will we have tech implants, will we download our brains, what will this mean ethically. putting the people together and see what happens. It’s going to be great. These amazing hard hitting experts in different areas to create something really original. Dallas [Campbell] is, of course, brilliant, and Tamsin Edwards – she’s great! I love her. Alice Roberts! She is coming and she’s fantastic, she’s just such a hippy at heart. She’s hilarious – you just see her wondering around with paint in her hair and glitter everywhere, she’s really fun. And we’re doing quite a lot of things this year, we’re putting quite a lot of scientists and artists and writers together, we’re getting some real meetings of minds.

Whether you are heading to the main stage for the biggest music performances or the tents for talks and workshops, Bluedot festival has something for everyone

And do you get some time to enjoy some of the talks and music?

Every year I say I’m going to do it and every year I only get to one or two things because I’m running around like an idiot, every year I have a hit list, and I’m going to see Orbital or whoever, and then I’ll just get caught up. I will have to put it all in my schedule this year and try to make it. Because I’m in charge of all of the team who runs all of the science stuff, so we have a lot of people, we had 600+ scientists on site last year, and this year we have even more, so we have to organize that and it gets a bit hectic. But it’s great. It’s just such a fantastic site, right there under the telescope, it is unique. With a really special atmosphere, so friendly and welcoming, and there is adventure and surprise around every corner.

Bluedot Festival is from 19th – 22nd July 2018 and you can pick up your tickets here!

Do you want the chance to win a pair of VIP tickets to Bluedot festival 2018? We’ll be launching our competition soon, so keep an eye out on our social media and website over the next couple of weeks for your chance to enjoy science and music under the Lovell Telescope.