A memorable sojourn in Manchester
By Veena Patwardhan
I was recently in the vibrant ‘second city of the UK’ to attend one of the most reputed science conferences in Europe – ESOF 2016 (EuroScience Open Forum 2016) held from 23 – 27 July 2016.
ESOF is a biennial event, held by EuroScience in a different European city every two years. It attracts researchers, academics, students, science journalists, industry professionals, and scientific personnel from across the globe who are keen on keeping abreast of the latest trends in global scientific research. This year it was held in Manchester, a city known for its world class scientific institutions, and one I had been hoping to visit since long.
The world’s first industrial city
Think Manchester and right away images of cotton mills with soaring chimneys belching grey clouds of smoke could flash across your mind. After all, once upon a time, this English city with its fascinating history of scientific achievements was associated with monikers like Cottonopolis because of its reputation as a textile powerhouse.
Manchester was famous as the world’s first industrial city and it was here that the effects of the industrial revolution were most evident, specially in the many mechanized cotton mills set up here for spinning yarn and weaving cloth from cotton grown in the US and faraway British colonies like India.
Today, the link with India is manifest in a different way. In the faces of Indians working here in diverse professions. On each of the five days of ESOF 2016, en-route to the conference centre from my hotel, I had passed by groups of students and office goers conversing in Hindi or other Indian languages as they walked briskly alongside locals and people of different nationalities in the direction of the Deansgate train station just a few metres ahead of my destination.
The science conference too featured a few distinguished Indians. Dr. Sheila Jasanoff from Harvard University was one of the speakers at the Opening Ceremony and a session on the bioethics of gene editing. Nobel Laureate and President of the Royal Society, Professor Sir Venkatraman Ramakrishnan was one of the keynote speakers.
From cotton mills to the wonder material graphene
The Manchester of today is far different from the days when it was the centre of the global textile industry. The streets of the city flaunt a charming mix of neo-Gothic, centuries-old buildings (the most striking one being the Manchester Town Hall) and newer ones with contemporary architecture, not to mention English pubs with intriguing names like The Old Monkey and a sprinkling of Indian restaurants.
Manchester’s splendid parks, restaurants, art galleries, museums, historic landmarks, and educational and research institutions of world repute, as also its proximity to London (a short two-hour train ride away) make it a popular tourist destination.
The University of Manchester is famous for the great scientific discoveries made here and the Nobel Laureates it has produced. For their discovery of graphene at this University, in 2010 Sir Andre Geim and Sir Kostya Novoselov were awarded the Nobel Prize. Several sessions of ESOF 2016 featured presentations on the wonder 2D material graphene that’s 200 times stronger than steel, the best known conductor of electricity, and as flexible as rubber!
Castlefield: This inner city conservation area comprising a number of canals and railway viaducts was the first Urban Heritage Park to be set up in Britain. It’s the site of the Roman-era Mancunium fort (built around 79 AD, but now reconstructed) from which the city got its name. Other attractions in Castlefield include the Salford Quays – Manchester’s popular redeveloped waterfront, the Beetham or Hilton Tower – Manchester’s iconic skyscraper, and the Museum of Science and Industry built at the site of the oldest surviving passenger railway station in the world.
Museum of Science and Industry (MOSI): There is no entry fee to visit this museum that showcases Manchester’s industrial and scientific history and has interesting exhibits for people of all ages.
It has displays on the scientific work of John Dalton – pioneer of the modern atomic theory, a huge collection of stationary steam engines once used in the textile mills of Manchester, early locomotives, vintage cars made in the city such as a 1904 Rolls Royce, fighter planes formerly used in Britain, interactive exhibits for children, a working replica of the world’s first commercially available computer (that had been developed in Manchester), and much more.
In July, coinciding with ESOF 2016, the museum had an exhibition on graphene. MOSI was also the venue of the ESOF 2016 media party.
Heaton Park: A great place for families to spend the day, this 600-acre park is one of the largest municipal parks in Europe. Events like outdoor concerts and plays are held here all year round. Attractions here include a lake for boating, tennis courts, an 18-hole golf course, ornamental gardens, an adventure playground, a tramway, and an animal farm.
China Town: Manchester is home to the second largest Chinese community in the UK. The quaint China Town here is worth a visit.
World famous football clubs: Manchester’s well-known football clubs – Manchester United (Old Trafford) and Manchester City (Etihad Stadium, Sportcity) – provide daily stadium tours. Unfortunately, tickets for matches are sold in advance and not available on the same day.
Best time to visit: June to August