Science festival announces stratospheric climate change solutions and survey of British sexual behaviour

By Ben Miller | 05 February 2015

Sex and the stratosphere on cards as science festival releases thousands of tickets

Click on the picture to launch a gallery from the festival

Of all the potential ways to reduce CO2 emissions, shooting particles 20 kilometres into the atmosphere in a recreation of a volcanic eruption seems a fairly explosive one.

Dr Hugh Hunt’s suggestion, in which a set of pipes would pump the particles while being carried by balloons, is based on geoengineering. His method of solar radiation management, he says, could combat the sea level rises, desertification, ocean acidification and habitat losses which climate change bears as its consequences.

“There are several viable technologies for controlling the climate,” he explains.

“If particles can be delivered into the stratosphere at an altitude of 20km, emulating the effects of a large volcanic eruption, then global cooling of about two degrees Celsius could be achieved.

A photo of surgeons in medical uniforms carrying out a procedure on a table
Cambridge University Hospitals are involved in the programme© Sir Cam
“One way to deliver particles to 20km is to pump them through a number of high-pressure pipes suspended by balloons.

“This presents many novel engineering challenges – especially the design of the pipe and pumping systems to withstand pressures up to 4,000 bar.

“That’s 2,000 times more pressure than a car tyre and the weight of 350 cars and tensions up to 500 tonnes.”

Another innovation, known as Spice (Stratospheric Particle Injection for Climate Engineering), injects reflective aerosols into the atmosphere.

All this improvisation will be laid out in next month's University of Cambridge Science Festival. 18,000 tickets are about to be released for a fortnight of 275 events, including the implausible-sounding How does work make you Healthier and Sex by Numbers, in which the latest survey on British sexual behaviour will be compared to old parish registers dating as far back as 1580.

“It’s tricky getting good statistics about what goes on behind closed doors,” admits Professor David Spiegelhalter, who adds that recent surveys are “fairly reliable”.

“Around one in three young people have sex before they are 16, but they are becoming more careful than previous generations.

A photo of people looking upwards at a large structure within a scientific observatory
The Institute of Astronomy© Sam Fabian
“And even official statistics on the number and gender of births reveal some extraordinary facts, such as relatively more boys being born at the end of wars.

“Why is this? I will argue that it’s because of the intensity of sexual activity at those times, and conversely that the paucity of boys around 1900 suggests this was a historical minimum for sex.”

Diets, deficiencies, stem cell research, experiments into drug addiction, the importance of play and personal experiences of OCD figure elsewhere in the festival programme, as well as journeys to Mars, custard fireballs and solar-powered cars.

Perhaps the headliners is Professor Frank Wilcazek, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology expert who is considered one of today’s leading theoretical physicists and won the Nobel Prize in 2004 for work based around the hadron. His talk, about the Large Hadron Collider, should be an authoritative one on the much-discussed invention.

The programme will take place across the city, including an adults-only evening of activities at the Corn Exchange.

  • The University of Cambridge Science Festival runs from March 9-22 2015. Visit for the full programme and follow the festival on Twitter @camscience.

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