Queues of people outside the entrance to The Royal Society’s headquarters in London. The entrance is flanked by two large red banners which each say ‘Summer Science Exhibition.’
The Summer Science Exhibition is the Royal Society’s flagship public engagement event, which has taken place for over 200 years. Image credit: The Royal Society.

Oxford University research showcased at the 2024 Royal Society Summer Science Exhibition

University of Oxford research will be on display at the Royal Society’s flagship public engagement event, the Summer Science Exhibition, which launches this year on Tuesday 2 July in central London. This historic annual event, which has been running for more than 200 years, expects to attract more than 10,000 visitors seeking the latest cutting-edge science.

This year, the free festival of discovery features 14 interactive exhibits, besides a packed programme of talks and hands-on activities. University of Oxford researchers have contributed to three of the main exhibits, selected by the Royal Society through a highly competitive process where only around one in four applications are chosen. The Exhibition takes place from 2 – 7 July, with the full programme available on the event website.

Portrait shot of a woman with brown hair, Professor Jocelyn Monroe.Professor Jocelyn Monroe.
A quantum view of the invisible universe

Dark matter makes up 85% of our universe, but scientists do not know what it is made of since we can only observe it indirectly using gravity. Alongside colleagues at Lancaster University and Royal Holloway University of London, University of Oxford researchers will be explaining how building dark matter detectors at ultra-cold temperatures could bring us one step closer to solving one of the greatest mysteries of science.

Professor Jocelyn Monroe (Department of Physics, University of Oxford), said: ‘Our research uses the most advanced quantum technologies (originally developed for quantum computing) at ultra-cold temperatures to build the most sensitive dark matter detectors to date. This will literally enable us to “see the unseeable” and observe this mysterious matter directly in the laboratory.’

Visitors to the Royal Society Exhibition will be able to learn more about these methods through hands-on activities that include demonstrations of how we infer dark matter from observing galaxies; a light up dilution refrigerator which explains how the research team achieve the ultra-low temperatures needed for dark matter detection; and the chance to search for dark matter using a model axion detector.                       

Professor Monroe added: ‘I am delighted to be participating in this Exhibition because it offers the opportunity to reach so many people with the inspiring science we do. I am very much looking forward to taking my small daughters to visit this exhibition, where they can see the wide range of exciting ways to be a scientist.’

Professor Morgan Wascko, a middle-aged white man wearing a grey suit and black glasses. Professor Morgan Wascko. Image credit: Nicholas-Posner.
Capturing nature’s ghosts

Ghost-like particles called neutrinos are everywhere, but we rarely see them. University of Oxford researchers are contributing to a massive cross-continental particle beam experiment to detect and study these mysterious particles and learn more about the nature of our universe. With colleagues from the University of Sussex and DUNE UK Partnership, they will be offering visitors the chance to count the number of neutrinos passing through their hand each second and learn how rarely these abundant neutrinos interact with our bodies in a lifetime.

Professor Morgan Wascko, from Oxford's Department of Physics, said: ‘Neutrinos play a key role in the origin and development of our universe. Studying them carefully requires incredible efforts from thousands of scientists, engineers, and technicians across the globe. This exhibit offers a chance to see some of the equipment we use in neutrino physics, and even better to meet some of the people working on this amazing scientific project.’

Me, Human

Dr Georgina Donati, from the University of Oxford’s Department of Psychiatry, has worked with colleagues at the University of Sussex to develop an activity which demonstrates where we sit within our primate family tree and how we evolved from great apes to walking, talking humans. Visitors will be able to try their hand at puzzle-solving in “The Great Ape Challenge” and see how their problem-solving skills compare to our primate cousins. Meanwhile, the “Baby Boogie” dance game will show how the way we wriggle as infants helps prepare our brains and bodies to navigate a complex physical and social world.

Portrait shot of a Dr Georgina Donati, a young woman with long brown hair.Dr Georgina Donati.
Dr Donati said: ‘Our exhibits at the royal society explore early development with a focus on what we can learn from very early motor behaviour about the trajectories of later cognitive skills. Our two fun, interactive activities explore the evolution and development of language, and demonstrate how studying the movements of young infants can help us to understand early brain activity. At Oxford I have also been looking at early development from a global perspective, looking at cross cultural drivers of good development to support the sustainable development goals.’

Cosmologist Carlos Frenk, Fellow of the Royal Society and Chair of the Public Engagement Committee, said: ‘The range of top science on offer at the 2024 edition of the Royal Society’s Summer Science Exhibition is truly astounding... Science is so important in everything we do in our everyday lives, and that has never been truer than in recent years, with the pandemic and the challenges of climate change. I would urge visitors to come and see some of the truly amazing work being done by scientists across the UK for the benefit of us all. They will not be disappointed.’

For full details of all the activities and events at the Summer Science Exhibition click here.