5 July 2021

It has been a frustrating year for all types of festivals, science ones included. With in person events being impossible, or at least not financially viable, and even outdoor ones difficult because of social distancing guidance, the ATOM 2021 steering committee came up with a novel solution for this year’s Festival. This was a Sci Cache Challenge, similar to the popular hobby of geocaching, with a network of QR coded signs distributed around Abingdon and each one linked to an activity contributed by a STEM organisation. Participants were able to take part by downloading an app created by recent OAs and now members of Abingdon School’s Information Systems Team, Freddie Nicholson and Ben Broadbent. STEM contributors ranged from large organisations such as Harwell Campus to local groups like Abingdon Astronomical Society and local companies including GKN Automotive and Immunocore. Local businesses were also engaged through hosting a sign in shops such as Mostly Books and The Missing Bean Cafe and signs were also placed at Abingdon Museum, Abingdon Town Library, The Abbey Cinema and even the fire station as well as in public areas and riverside walks. Another OA contribution came from Matthew Allison, now a geology Ph.D. student at the University of Birmingham, who uses his talent as a cartoonist to communicate his research to the public and whose QR link was at one of the sites https://matthewsallison.wordpress.com/.

The event was a great success, enjoyed by several hundred participants over the hot weekend of June 11 to 13 and extended by popular request into the following week. Many positive comments were received from participants, including ‘Many thanks for providing the SciCache Challenge – we’ve had a great day out in Abingdon today – somewhere we’ve never visited before. I thought the concept was excellent!’

Freddie and Jeremy Thomas, ASP Coordinator and Chair of the ATOM Festival, were invited to give a presentation about the Sci Cache Challenge at the June meeting of the UK Science Festivals Network (UKSFN) where representatives of some of the biggest festivals in the country, such as Cheltenham, Manchester and Norwich Science Festivals were really impressed by what had been achieved in Abingdon at a time when everyone is struggling to provide engagement experiences. Antonio Benitez, Chair of UKSFN and Director of the British Science Festival, later sent the following message of thanks, ‘It was very useful to hear about your reflections and lessons learned from the Festival. It sounds like it was a great success. I would also like to thank Freddie for joining the meeting. Freddie and Ben did an excellent job for the Festival!’

More News