From September 28th to October 1st, the ExCel convention center in London hosted this year’s New Scientist Live festival. The four-day event featured exhibitors and high-profile speakers discussing everything from colonizing space to tackling mental health.

With mental health awareness at an all-time high, many speakers considered the role science can play in both treating and preventing these conditions. Neuroscientist and psychologist Robin Carhart-Harris discussed the rationale for conducting the first-ever clinical trial of magic mushrooms as a treatment for depression. In the talk, Robin detailed how the drug worked as well as the after-effects of the treatment.

Rosalind Picard, founder and director of the Affective Computing research group at the MIT Media Lab, discussed her ongoing SNAPSHOT study, which considers how daily behaviors and social connectivity can affect sleep, mood, stress, and academic performance. Using data from 170 college participants, the company are developing models to predict, and hopefully prevent, onsets of sadness and stress. “Affective computing is not about making the best machine in the world,” says Picard, “It’s about making people’s lives better.”

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The science of food was another key theme explored at the conference. Heston Blumenthal, British chef and mastermind behind The Fat Duck restaurant, spoke of his psychology-inspired approach to food and argued that food has a unique power to capture memory and emotion. “It’s about feelings,” he says, “We want people to leave The Fat Duck with a sense of playfulness, curiosity, and adventure.”

Dietician and researcher Kevin Whelan, on the other hand, discusses the impact of food on an individual scale. He shares the science behind the microbiome, an ecosystem of microbes in the human body. Intrepid companies are already exploring the microbiome as the new frontier for personalized diet and medicine. Importantly, he discusses how the microbiome is affected by our genetic makeup and our diet and the role it can play in obesity and diabetes.

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The link between science and creativity was evident, with several high-profile speakers discussing the influence of technology, genetics and sound on their creative processes. Geneticist Simon Fisher was joined on stage by beatboxer Hobbit to explain our capacity for complex and extreme language. Rick Edwards and Michael Brooks, creators of podcast Science(ish), considered the science behind Hollywood movies, celebrating its capacity for making complex scientific, moral and ethical conversations accessible for all.

Multi-award winning choreographer Wayne McGregor demonstrated the creative potential of DNA sequencing with his latest project “Autobiography,” a performance based on his own genetic code. McGregor was joined on stage by ten dancers, who demonstrated his complex process inspired by scientific disciplines and cutting-edge technology. Esteemed author Margaret Atwood took to the Main Stage on Sunday to discuss the relevance of science in her written works, particularly themes of genetic engineering, climate change and drug development in creating her dystopian worlds.

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Author Margaret Atwood

Space exploration was another major theme at New Scientist Live, with many speakers discussing the changing industry, which has attracted a range of new companies. Astronauts Tim Peake, Helen Sharman and Al Worden shared their experiences of space on the first day of the event. Paolo Nespoli, in a live video call from the International Space Station, also answered questions about his current experience 400km away from earth. The Italian astronaut describes how the focus has moved from building space stations to finding a way to permanently live in space.

Louisa Preston, an astrobiologist from Birkbeck, University of London, discussed what makes Mars a viable option for travel and human habitation. Physicist Markus Landgraf even went as far as to imagine the potential of a space elevator to the moon. He describes how, for the first time since the idea’s conception in 1895, it could become a reality with modern nanotube technology.

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Astronaut Tim Peake

Summarising this theme, space journalist Sarah Cruddas shared the projects that are set to redefine the space age, discussing everything from Virgin Galactic and Elon Musk-backed SpaceX to astronaut clothing and space mining. The race to commercialize space begs the question—who owns space? Dr Jill Stuart, space policy researcher, shared her research on how to govern and regulate space.

The variety of themes, speakers, and exhibitors at New Scientist Live can offer brands across sectors a rich opportunity to delve into science and get excited about the future. This year was particularly inspiring with high-profile, forward-thinking speakers exploring new innovations and the importance of a scientific approach in every industry.

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