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A conversation between two of the most inspiring contemporary science writers. Davis’ The Beautiful Cure: Harnessing Your Body’s Natural Defences describes the scientific quest to understand how the immune system works – and how it is affected by stress, sleep, age and our state of mind. Blakemore’s Inventing Ourselves: The Secret Life of the Teenage Brain won the 2018 Royal Society Insight Investment Science Book Prize. They talk to Hannah Critchlow.
We profile two more extraordinary books shortlisted for the Royal Society Insight Investment Science Book Prize: Lucy Cooke’s The Unexpected Truth about Animals: Stoned Sloths, Lovelorn Hippos, and Other Tales from the Wild Side of Wildlife and Mark Miodownik’s Liquid: The Delightful and Dangerous Substances That Flow Through Our Lives. In conversation with Roger Highfield of the Science Museum.
The Nobel Prize-winning chemist in conversation with the presenter of BBC Radio 4’s Inside Science and author of The Book of Humans.
Everyone knows about DNA. It is the essence of our being, influencing who we are and what we pass on to our children. But the information in DNA can’t be used without a machine to decode it. The ribosome is that machine. Older than DNA itself, it is the mother of all molecules. Virtually every molecule made in every cell was either made by the ribosome or by proteins that were themselves made by the ribosome.
A fascinating insider account, Gene Machine charts Ramakrishnan’s unlikely journey from his first fumbling experiments in a biology lab to being at the centre of a fierce competition at the cutting edge of modern science.
The sequencing of the human genome has revolutionised how scientists search for the genetic causes of human diseases. Human geneticist Professor Soranzo of the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute will describe how the field has evolved in the last fifteen years, discussing how new genetic evidence is used to better understand the interplay between our DNA (‘nature’) and the environment (‘nurture’).
Moller traces the journey taken by the ideas of three of the greatest scientists of antiquity through seven cities and over a thousand years. From Muslim Córdoba to Catholic Toledo, from Salerno’s medieval medical school to Palermo, capital of Sicily’s vibrant mix of cultures and, finally, to Venice, where that great merchant city’s printing presses would enable Euclid’s geometry, Ptolemy’s system of the stars and Galen’s vast body of writings on medicine to spread even more widely. Moller reveals the web of connections between the Islamic world and Christendom, connections that would both preserve and transform astronomy, mathematics and medicine from the early Middle Ages to the Renaissance. Chaired by Oliver Balch.
Humans are the slightest of twigs on a single family tree that encompasses four billion years, a lot of twists and turns and a billion species. All of those organisms are rooted in a single origin with a common code that underwrites our existence. Rutherford explores how many of the things once considered to be exclusively human are not: we are not the only species that communicates, makes tools, utilises fire or has sex for reasons other than to make new versions of ourselves. Evolution has, however, allowed us to develop our culture to a level of complexity that outstrips any other observed in nature. Rutherford presents Inside Science on BBC Radio 4. His previous books are Creation and A Brief History of Everyone Who Ever Lived.
A conversation between two writers renowned for their explorations of nature and landscape. Robert Macfarlane's Underland, perhaps the most eagerly anticipated non-fiction book of 2019, takes us on a journey into the worlds beneath our feet. From the ice-blue depths of Greenland's glaciers to the underground networks by which trees communicate, from Bronze Age burial chambers to the rock art of remote Arctic sea-caves, this is a deep-time voyage into the planet's past and future, and into darkness and its meanings. Global in its geography, gripping in its voice and haunting in its implications, it is both an ancient and an urgent work.
Macfarlane, a winner of the Hay Festival Prose Medal, is the author of Mountains of the Mind, The Wild Places, The Old Ways, Landmarks and (with Jackie Morris) The Lost Words. Horatio Clare’s latest books are The Light in the Dark and Something of his Art: Walking to Lübeck with JS Bach – Hay Festival’s Book of the Month for December 2018.
See also event  on 29 May – Spell Songs, a musical performance of The Lost Words – Macfarlane's multi-award-winning collaboration with the artist Jackie Morris.
Our biology is set up to work in partnership with the sun. From our sleep cycles to our immune systems and our mental health, access to sunlight is crucial for living a happy and fulfilling life. New research suggests that our sun exposure over a lifetime – even before we were born – may shape our risk of developing a range of different illnesses, from depression to diabetes. Geddes explores the extraordinary significance of sunlight, from ancient solstice celebrations to modern sleep labs, and from the unexpected health benefits of sun exposure to what the Amish know about sleep that the rest of us don’t.
So many of us believe that we are free to shape our own destiny. But what if free will doesn’t exist? What if our lives are largely predetermined, hardwired in our brains, and our choices over what we eat, who we fall in love with, even what we believe are not real choices at all? Neuroscience is challenging everything we think we know about ourselves, revealing how we make decisions and form our own reality, unaware of the role of our unconscious minds.
Chaired by Bettany Hughes.
Nicholls left England to raise her five children in Botswana. Living on a shoestring in a lion conservation camp, she home-schools her family while they also learn at first-hand about the individual lives of wild lions. The setting is exotic but it is also precarious. When Nicholls is subjected to a brutal attack by three men, it threatens to destroy her and her family: post-traumatic stress turns a good mother into a woman who is fragmented and out of control. This powerfully written, raw and often warmly funny memoir is an inspiring account of family love, and a powerful beacon of hope for life after trauma.
Reading maps or reading emotions? Barbie or Lego? We live in a gendered world where we are bombarded with messages about sex and gender. On a daily basis we face deeply ingrained beliefs that your sex determines your skills and preferences, from toys and colours to career choice and salaries. The neuroscientist interrogates what this constant gendering means for our thoughts, decisions and behaviour. And what does it mean for our brains? Chaired by Bronwen Maddox.
Come rain or shine, flowers feature perennially in the landscape of human history. Their beauty has inspired some of the greatest works of art and literature, captivating creative minds from Wordsworth to Van Gogh, Botticelli to Beatrix Potter. Flowers have also played a key part in forming the past, and may even shape our future. Some have served as symbols of monarchs, dynasties and nations – from the Wars of the Roses to the Order of the Thistle. And while the poppy is often associated with WWI, it was the elderflower that treated its wounded soldiers, joining a long line of healing flowers that have developed modern medicine, including lavender and foxgloves. The right rose, according to the Victorian language of flowers, might mend a broken heart, while sunflowers may just save our planet. Stafford is Professor of English at the University of Oxford.
The pre-eminent primatologist offers a whirlwind tour of new ideas and findings about animal emotions, based on his renowned studies of the social and emotional lives of chimpanzees and bonobos. De Waal discusses facial expressions, animal sentience and consciousness, the emotional side of human politics, and the illusion of free will. He distinguishes between emotions and feelings, all the while emphasising the continuity between our species and other species. And he makes the radical proposal that emotions are like organs: we haven’t a single organ that other animals don’t have, and the same is true for our emotions. Chaired by Rosie Boycott.
On a walk in the some of the most spectacular mountainscape, the geopark expert for Brecon Beacons National Park will share some of the geological wonders of the National Park and the stories behind the landscape of the Black Mountains between Hay and the Usk Valley. The walk will be abouut 3.7 miles long, with a 250 metre ascent.
Please wear appropriate footwear. Numbers are limited. There will be a bus journey to and from the walk location; return to Festival site by 12.30pm.
The challenges and opportunities facing our woods and forests are many and varied, from climate change to rewilding, from greenbelt development to urban woods. We have to focus on increasing tree plantings but cannot ignore the threats facing our ancient woodland. “Ten thousand oaks of 100 years old are not a substitute for one 500-year-old oak” – Oliver Rackham. Tree experts George Peterken and Archie Miles discuss the state of the woodland with Natalie Buttriss, Director of Woodland Trust Wales, and Woodland Trust Ambassador Sandi Toksvig.
For the first time in recorded history viruses, bacteria and other infectious diseases are not the leading cause of death or disability in any region of the world. People are living longer, and fewer mothers are giving birth to many children in the hope that some might survive. And yet, the news is not all good. Recent reductions in infectious disease have not been accompanied by the same improvements in income, job opportunities and governance that occurred with these changes in wealthier countries decades ago. There have also been unintended consequences. Whether the peril or promise of that progress prevails, Bollyky explains, depends on what we do next. Bollyky is the Director of the Global Health Program at the Council on Foreign Relations. Chaired by Isaac Florence.
The relationship between literature and landscape has long fascinated writers, storytellers and readers. This is particularly evident in Wales, where the physical, fabled, industrial and social landscapes continue to influence the fiction that defines the country and its culture. Drawing on the Literary Atlas project, experts from Cardiff University and the University of Wales explore the relations between literature and landscape.
Visit the pure-bred Aberdeen Angus herd and flock of Texel/Lleyn sheep at Cabalva. Learn about sustainable grassland management and the production of prime 28-day aged beef solely from grass. The farm has also diversified into agro-forestry and holiday lets. There will be the opportunity to sample some farm produce during the visit. The bus will bring you back to the festival site for 12.30pm.
With thanks to Corisande Albert and Angus Grahame. www.cabalva.co.uk
The artist and illustrator of The Lost Words, written by Robert Macfarlane, The Ice Bear, Tell Me a Dragon and Song of the Golden Hare leads an art workshop in the landscape, for adults. Please bring sketchbooks, pencils, ink and brushes. The workshop will be by the River Wye, learning to listen as well as to look, capturing movement and river wildlife.
Please wear appropriate footwear. Numbers are limited. Return to Festival site by 12pm.
A conversation with two outstanding nature writers. Although common, moles are mysterious: their habits are inscrutable, they are anatomically bizarre and they live completely alone. Marc Hamer has come closer to them than most, through both his long working life out in the Welsh countryside and his experiences of rural homelessness as a boy, sleeping in hedgerows. In How to Catch a Mole: And Find Yourself in Nature, Hamer tells his story and explores what moles, and a life in nature, can tell us about our own humanity and our search for contentment. Barrie’s Incredible Journeys shines a light on the astounding navigational skills of animals of every stripe. Dung beetles steer by the light of the Milky Way. Ants and bees navigate using patterns of light invisible to humans. Sea turtles, spiny lobsters and moths find their way using the Earth’s magnetic field. Salmon return to their birthplace by following their noses and birds can locate their nests on a tiny island after crisscrossing an entire ocean. Corrigan is a journalist and travel writer.