Universities and Science Minister David Willetts met members of a Grantham family related to Sir Isaac Newton on Wednesday at the London launch of this year’s Gravity Fields Festival.
A high profile event at the Royal Society drew festival patrons, partners and speakers to hear programme details of September’s five-day event, inspired by Newton.
They heard how proton therapy treatment, advances in the understanding of dark matter and the future for CERN’s Large Hadron Collider will feature – plus a search for more relatives of the world’s greatest scientist.
And Grantham will also see giant science laboratories created on the streets, while a dance company are working on routines for the event.
Mark and David Newton, 13th and 14th generations descended from the scientist’s great great uncle, William Newton, travelled from Grantham to the Royal Society, where Newton himself was president of the prestigious scientific fellowship between 1703 and 1727, the year of his death.
Gravity Fields Festival (September 24-28) will be hosting seminars for others keen to trace their Newton ancestry plus staging a Newton family gathering and ‘Walking with Newton’ routes re-tracing his family’s footsteps in the locality.
Isaac Newton himself had no children, but a social media genealogy project from an associated Heritage Lottery-funded Lincolnshire’s Age of Scientific Discovery (LASD) project has already prompted interest from around the world.
Wednesday’s launch was introduced by Grantham MP Nick Boles. It was attended by festival patrons Professor Valerie Gibson, CERN Hadron Collider, television presenter Dallas Campbell and newest patron Professor Rob Iliffe, a Newton authority and co-director of The Newton Project – an online edition of all of Sir Isaac Newton’s writings.
The festival’s five-day programme builds on the success of the inaugural 2012 festival, this time under the banner of ‘Giants of Science’ and drawing leading lights from the worlds of science, arts and heritage.
Stand out speakers will include Professor Gibson, Dr Chris Lintott, BBC Sky at Night and Zooniverse, Professor Suzy Lishman, Vice President of the Royal College of Pathologists, and Professor Mark Miodownik, BBC Science Club presenter.
Few places are more appropriate to launch a Newton-related festival. The Royal Society is the oldest scientific academy in continuous existence and lists Sir Isaac Newton as its President from 1704–1727.
The Gravity Fields Festival, core funded by South Kesteven District Council, takes place in and around Grantham, close to Newton’s birthplace at Woolsthorpe Manor and his education at the town’s King’s School, and includes new art commissions and exhibitions of research findings of the scientific heritage of the 17th Century.
Mark Newton confirmed how prolific the Newton family appeared to be. He said: “The Newton name is spreading round the world. Let’s encourage everyone who is part of this amazing family tree to come to Lincolnshire and see where it all started.”
Mr Willetts added: “The Gravity Fields Festival is very special because of its links to Sir Isaac Newton whose name reverberates around the world. I am happy to give my whole-hearted support and hope that the festival will go from strength to strength.”
New patron, and one of the world’s leading experts on Isaac Newton, Professor Iliffe, went further when he said that Gravity had already put Grantham on the map and the festival would grow to be one of the major science events in the country.
He said: “Newton is at the top of the polls when it comes to people who have scientists’ respect. This was a man who almost single-handedly was the architect of physical science – only Einstein even comes close.”
And fellow patron and TV science presenter Mr Campbell added: “What I like about this festival is that it brings arts and science together. Both require creativity and discipline in similar measure and it is good to see them on the same bill.”
Professor Gibson, a former pupil of Kesteven and Grantham Girls’ School, described herself as “a local girl who had done good” and thanked the sponsors and organisers for their gift to the people of Grantham.
She said: “This is a wonderful festival and I am sure that this year’s event will be the best ever.”
* If you would like to be involved in Gravity Fields, contact firstname.lastname@example.org or call Grantham 406080 and select extension 6232.