GCHQ and Cheltenham Science Festival

Last Updated: 19 Apr 2016
GCHQ has supported Cheltenham Science Festival since 2004, and over the years our display has grown both in content and appearance.

Our Science Festival team comprises current and former industry students and apprentices who in recent years have taken on the challenge of designing the GCHQ display around the theme of the Festival. Their involvement has helped them gain valuable skills, such as learning a new computer language, or gaining a deeper understanding of the procurement process, project management, or health and safety.

"I had to learn a completely new programming language for the development of my activity, improve electronic engineering skills and how to manage a project well enough to be delivered on time, and to meet all the standards that were expected."

The youngsters design most of the interactive games themselves, such as Net Attack, a fast-paced reaction game. Such is the popularity of the stand, that we have been asked to take it to other science festivals and events around the UK.

A particular highlight at some of our event has been a live code-breaking link-up with Bletchley Park; visitors compose messages on an  Enigma machine and  tweeted them to Bletchley Park, where the volunteer code-breakers broke out the messages and tweeted them back over a Skype link. "This was by far the coolest thing at the whole fair!", exclaimed one young visitor. On one occasion messages were sent from the GCHQ stand at the Edinburgh International Science Festival to Cheltenham where they were decrypted using volunteers using the Cryptoy app - an interesting mix of old and new technologies which fascinated visitors.

GCHQ is a cutting-edge technology organisation, and Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) subjects are an important part of our business. Taking part in events like Cheltenham Science Festival gives us the opportunity to play our part in helping inspire the next generation to develop these skills in order to become the workforce of the future.