Category Archives: Winner Reports

What Paul O’Mahoney did with his prize money…

Paul won the Medical Physics Zone in March 2016. Here he reports back on what he’s done with his £500 prize money over this past year.

If you’re a scientist who’d like the funding to develop your own outreach activities apply for I’m a Scientist at

So after winning the Medical Physics Zone, I decided to get right on the task of designing an exhibition for the Dundee Science Festival. My plan was to have a UV camera that would allow people to see the effect that sunscreen has on their skin – on a UV camera sunscreen would show up matte or shiny black due to UV light being absorbed or reflected away.

Ready-made UV cameras can cost anything upwards of £1000. Due to not having over £1000 and needing some of the money for other parts of the exhibition, I decided to go much more low budget. The Raspberry Pi has a camera module called the Pi NoIR which has the IR filter removed so you can use it for infrared motion sensing and such, but it turns out removing this filter also makes the camera sensitive to UV light – all I had to do was put a visible light filter over the camera and I had myself a super cheap UV camera! Well, I needed a Raspberry Pi to control the camera… and to learn how to program a Raspberry Pi… and a computer monitor to display the live video… and a UV light source for using the camera indoors… but that’s all, and it came well within budget!

The images were a bit dark, but the sunscreen is clearly visible!

The images were a bit dark, but the sunscreen is clearly visible!

So I set up at the Dundee Science Festival with the UV camera in a somewhat dark looking corner (this was necessary to get a good contrast on the camera)

The UV camera all set up at the Dundee Science Festival

The UV camera all set up at the Dundee Science Festival

The exhibition went really well and a lot of people were interested in the camera. As it was a live video, visitors were able to draw on their arms and faces and see the effect real time. Overall I am very happy with the camera, and grateful that I got the opportunity to show the exhibit.

Moving forwards, I hope to have this as a more regular outreach feature for our department, whether at open days or taking round schools. Another thing I want to try out is to hook the camera up to a portable screen so that we can take it outside and try it in the sun! So thanks to I’m A Scientist and all the participants in the Medical Physics Zone for making this possible!

Posted on February 8, 2017 modantony in IOPWinner, IPEMWinner, Winner Reports | 1 Comment

What Scott Lawrie did with his prize money…

Scott was voted the winner of Iridium Zone in March 2016. He got straight to work using his £500 prize money and here he reports back on what he’s been able to do this past year.

If you’re a scientist who’d like the funding to develop your own outreach activities apply for I’m a Scientist at

Scott Lawrie Sparkophone public engagement outreach 1

The test piece I made as proof of concept. It worked perfectly, as can be seen by the bright spark in the middle.

When I entered the ‘I’m A Scientist’ competition and had to think of something to spend the prize money on, I had recently been doing lots of demos with a Van de Graaff generator. I was on the lookout for something else to demonstrate high voltage when I stumbled upon a sparking xylophone – also known as a sparkophone! In my job I design and develop particle accelerator equipment which uses high voltage and resonant cavities; exactly how the sparkophone works. It’s loud, flashy, exciting and demonstrates several different physics concepts: perfect to show off to the public.

When I won the competition and before the prize money came in, I was so excited that I got to work immediately building a prototype using some parts already available in my lab. Happy with the concept, I bought the components for the real thing and spent a few days constructing the sparkophone. It consists of plastic tubes cut to length to produce ten musical notes starting from A-minor. Applying 30,000 volts across two bolts inside each tube, they spark randomly, playing a loud and somewhat tuneless song.


Scott Lawrie Sparkophone public engagement outreach 2

Me proudly testing the completed sparkophone in my lab. Somewhat dangerous with exposed high voltages, I had to box it all in before taking it on the road!

As thanks to the students who voted for me to win, I visited a few schools who took part in ‘I’m A Scientist’. I spent some more money from our PR group to box the sparkophone in to make it safe even without somebody guarding it. Then I travelled round the country to a few schools – waking up at 5am in one case to make it on time!

There, I gave hour long talks, interspersed with various practical demonstrations. As well as the sparkophone, I showed off a Van de Graaff generator, a salad-bowl particle accelerator and how standing waves work in acoustics. Then I tied it all together to explain basically how a real particle accelerator works. There were lots of opportunities for the students to join in the demos and answer questions. My visits were (and continue to be) a very fulfilling part of my outreach programme. There was definitely a buzz around the schools as everyone heard about my visit, so I think the students got a lot out of it, too.

Scott Lawrie Sparkophone public engagement outreach 3

Me and the fabulous students of Hawley Place school.


Scott Lawrie Sparkophone public engagement outreach 4

Demonstrating standing waves with a skipping rope at St. John Payne school.

Every time I use the sparkophone, the first question people ask is whether it can play a real tune. In principle yes it can, but the electronic circuitry needed to do so is somewhat more complicated and beyond the time I had available to implement. Maybe if I’ve inspired someone enough, they can work with me to extend it as a Summer project one day…? Thanks so much to the ‘I’m A Scientist’ team for the funding; it’s been so much fun building the kit and interacting with all kinds of students. I’m looking forward to more visits soon.

Posted on February 1, 2017 modantony in News, STFCWinner, Winner Reports | Leave a comment

What Jennifer Gupta did with her prize money…

jenguptaJen won the Cobalt Zone back in June 2011. Here she tells us what she’s been able to with the £500 prize money.

If you’re a scientist who’d like the funding to develop your own outreach activities apply for I’m a Scientist at

It’s been a while since I participated in I’m a Scientist and won my zone. I’ve got to admit that it took me longer than I was expecting to spend my money! This was for a couple of reasons. First of all by the time I received the money I was well into the final throes of my PhD in astrophysics, spending all my time finishing off my research and writing up my thesis. The second reason is that I went straight from the PhD into my current job as Outreach Officer for the Institute of Cosmology and Gravitation at the University of Portsmouth, supported by the South East Physics Network and The Ogden Trust. I’m now lucky enough to be paid to do science communication, and better still our department has a budget to spend on our outreach activities!

Listen to the Seldom Sirius podcast. It's out of this world, obvs.

Listen to the Seldom Sirius podcast here. It’s out of this world, obvs.

One of the first things I did with my winnings was to buy an audio recorder. I was heavily involved with The Jodcast (Jodrell Bank’s astronomy podcast) while I was doing my PhD and wanted to be able to continue podcasting when I left.

My podcasting plans were put on the back-burner for a while but in 2016 I finally got round to starting a new podcast – Seldom Sirius. Seldom Sirius is a seldom serious podcast about astronomy where a group of us get together via Skype on a semi-regular basis and have a chat about space-related topics. It’s a bit like if we recorded the conversations we have in the pub, except it takes place via the internet and there’s no drinking involved! You can check us out and subscribe at

I also spent some of my money on travel to take part in events such as Winchester Science Festival and the rest of the money I donated to two organisations. One is Astronomers without Borders, which I mentioned in my original profile. Astronomers without Borders work across the globe to being people together through astronomy through projects such as Telescopes to Tanzania.

The second organisation is Science Grrl. This is an organisation I have been involved with from the start, when female scientists and science enthusiasts got together to produce a calendar showing real people in science (I was in December 2013 alongside fellow I’m a Scientist alumni Sheila Kanani). As they say on their website, “Science Grrl is a broad-based, grassroots organisation celebrating and supporting women in science; a network of people who are passionate about passing on our love of science on to the next generation”.

Posted on January 25, 2017 Moderator - Josh in News, Winner Reports | Leave a comment

What Jesus Calvo-Castro did with his prize money

Jesus took part in Spectroscopy Zone in November 2015 and was voted the winner. Below he tells us what he’s been doing with his £500 prize money.

If you’re a scientist who’d like the funding to develop your own outreach activities apply for I’m a Scientist at

One of the toughest questions I was asked when participating in I’m a Scientist (Spectroscopy Zone) back in November 2015 was what would I do with the prize money if resulted winner of the competition. After giving it a bit of thought and motivated by the questions in the live chats I came up with the idea of making a video where students could see how is a day in one of the spectroscopy labs where I work, from making up samples to using different instruments.

I thought that, whilst more advanced students would probably find entertaining/interesting a more in-depth explanation of what we do, it would be better suited to ‘just’ show general lab practice so that it would appeal to a wider student audience.

Setting up the Gopro in the labs, hidden camera style

Setting up the GoPro in the labs, hidden camera style

I started by buying an action camera (GoPro) and a number of accessories that would allow me to place the camera in different positions in the labs and once purchased…film, literally, hours and hours of videos of three of the students (thank you!!) within my research group at the University of Hertfordshire while performing their daily tasks in the research laboratories.

Some of these filmed videos were then edited and you can see the first result here! I’m hoping to make more videos like this for the university to show what working here is like  so please feel free to pass on your feedback!

Finally, I would to thank everyone that makes I’m a Scientist possible and particularly to all the students that took their time to participate in the live chats and voted for me! It was a great experience that I highly recommend to everyone!

Posted on January 18, 2017 modantony in RSCWinner, Winner Reports | Leave a comment

What Mark Hill did with his prize money

Mark was the winner in the Forensic Zone in March 2011. He donated his £500 prize winnings to a local school, St Lawrence CofE Primary School in Sussex. He visited the school to present the cheque in assembly, and it was spent on science equipment for the students.

Mark now works for Transport Research Laboratory where he specialises in the human factors associated with road collision. He continues to take part in engagement and outreach activities through lecturing at universities and forensics departments.

If you’re a scientist who’d like the funding to kickstart your own outreach activities apply for I’m a Scientist at

Posted on January 11, 2017 modantony in WellcomeWinner, Winner Reports | Leave a comment

What Ditte Hedegaard did with her prize money

Ditte won the Genomics Zone in June 2014. She donated £200 to The African Science Truck Experience (TASTE), to help promote science in schools in Africa. The remaining prize money was used to develop a stem cell workshop at the Thinktank Science Museum, Birmingham. Ditte tells us more about it here.

If you’re a scientist who’d like the funding to develop your own outreach activities, apply to take part in I’m a Scientist at

When I won the competition, I was working on a virus genomics project. I have since then changed research field to stem cell therapy in liver diseases, so wanted to develop an activity which would explain where stem cells are found and why they potentially will be a good form of therapy for patients with poor livers.

The liver is the largest internal organ in the human body and plays a vital role in digestion, production of proteins and cleaning the blood. It is very important that we look after our liver, since we can’t survive without it. There are however over 100 different liver diseases, which together effect more than 2 million people in the UK. Many of these diseases have no treatment and it is therefore important that we develop new treatments, such as stem cell therapy.

It was very important to me that the children and adults understood that unlike donating a heart or liver, a stem cell donation is relatively simple and more or less pain free. We have so many stem cells to spare that it is important that we donate our cells when someone else desperately needs them.

The reason why stem cells have become such a popular therapy, is because they are able to change their function when they are moved from one place to another in the human body. If you put them into a broken bone then they will start acting like a bone cell and start healing the bone and the same is possible with the central nerve system and muscles.

Ditte Hedegaard develops stem cell outreach workshop for engagement

The materials for my workshop. The stem cells had to be removed from the model bone using real surgical instruments.

The reason why they can do this is because they are thought of as “young cells”, which have not yet decided what they want to be. We all have millions of stem cells, which in theory can be taken out and transferred to somewhere else in our body, which needs some assistance in recovering, or to another person who is poorly. It is almost like we walk around with our own personal medicine cabinet inside us.

Stem cells can be found in many different places in the human body, but the best known ones are found inside our large bones. It can be very tricky to isolate them and to tell them apart from all the other types of cells, which are also found in the bone. For my workshop I had therefore made a large “bone” out of jelly, which contained many different “cells” (small beads), some were stem cells, with magical powers of changing themselves when they were put into a new place (in this experiment it was the “liver”) and others were normal cells which wouldn’t change.

The workshop participants had to remove the “cells” with surgical equipment, without breaking the bone and then transferring them to a container representing the poorly liver. If the transferred cell changed colour and tried to look like the other “liver cells”, then the participant had found a stem cell and won a small price.

All in all the event was highly successful and I really enjoyed watching future surgeons and scientists enthusiastically identifying “bone stem cells”. All of the items bought can be reused, so I’m looking forward to performing the activity again in the near future.

Posted on January 4, 2017 modantony in WellcomeWinner, Winner Reports | Leave a comment

What Zach Dixon did with his prize money…

Zach was voted the winner of Xenon Zone in 2014. Here he reports back on what he was able to do using his prize money.

If you’re a scientist who’d like the funding to develop your own outreach activities, apply for to take part in I’m a Scientist at

My project had a bit of a rocky start, but with a bit of perseverance and help from some lovely people, the money got to the right place and helped with the communication of science! I had originally planned to construct and distribute experiment kits to schools. The idea was that they could carry out fun experiments which would explain some important principles of health and disease. I eventually realised that these kits would be difficult to make (with safety concerns about some of the reagents), and that they might not be easy to organise and supervise for teachers!

Zach Dixon school science public engagement 2

Using beads to help explain DNA base pairs

After speaking to a number of people at ‘I’m a Scientist, Get me out of here’ and at the Northern Institute for Cancer Research, I was put in touch with Louise who works with the North Tyneside Learning Trust. This fantastic organisation carries out excellent genetics workshops for schools, amongst many other scientific engagement activities.

The money was donated to the North Tyneside Learning Trust and spent on running half day genetics workshops in primary schools in the North East. These workshops involve fun experiments and activities which help to explain the concepts of DNA and genes and how they impact on health and disease.  I was able to join in with one of the workshops at a local primary school. My job was to answer questions on what it is like to work as a scientist, and I got some great questions ranging from ‘What was your favourite experiment’ to ‘How do you blow things up?’. The workshop was very well received by all involved and I thoroughly enjoyed the experience!”

The children get to create their own bead DNA strands.

The children get to create their own bead DNA strands.


From Louise at North Tyneside Learning Trust…..

“The money has been used to buy the equipment and materials for these workshops; including a lot of kiwi fruit!  Feedback from pupils and teachers has been fantastic.  The participation of Zach and other scientists at the workshops has been a huge success; children have been fascinated and asked lots of questions such as ‘whether they get to blow things up on a daily basis’.  One Year 6 child enthusiastically told his teacher ‘We’ve had a real scientist in all morning, it’s been the best day ever!’”

Posted on December 14, 2016 modantony in WellcomeWinner, Winner Reports | Leave a comment

What Ollie Brown did with his prize money…

 won the Particle Physics Zone in March 2015. Here he fills us in on how he’s been using his £500 prize money.

If you’re a scientist who’d like the funding to develop your own outreach activities apply for I’m a Scientist at

I was lucky enough to be selected for the I’m A Scientist, Get Me Out of Here Particle Physics zone, and emerge victorious! It was a really great two weeks, and I had a lot of fun engaging with both the students, and my fellow scientists Yelong, Vicky, Michele, and Jackie who provided stiff competition! So what have I been up to since then..?

The LEGO Watt Balance

I decided to use the prize money to buy the components for a LEGO Watt Balance. It took a little while (mostly because I had to learn how to order stuff to the University) but all the parts are now here, and we hope to enter the final build/testing phase very soon!

Ollie Brown outreach project 1

Look how much joy this is already bringing to immature PhD students!

Alright you say, but what is it, and what are you going to do with it? Well, dear reader, a Watt balance is a device that pits gravity and electromagnetism against each other. It allows the user to either very precisely weigh an object (if they know the value of Planck’s constant), or to determine Planck’s constant (if they know the weight of an object).

Planck’s constant is a very special number that determines the scale at which quantum physics (the kind I research) happens, so it’s super exciting that such a (relatively) simple device can be used to calculate it! Once we’ve finished putting it together, the plan is to take it round science festivals and schools here in Scotland, get people to calculate Planck’s constant for themselves, and use it as a fun way to introduce quantum physics!

Only Scotland? 🙁

Well I’m originally from near London, so I’m down that way occasionally, but it’s a bit tricky to get the watt balance on the train… That said, if it’s the sort of thing that interests you could always think about building your own! In particular if you’re a science teacher at a school, this is exactly the sort of project you can apply to the Institute of Physics to fund ( and the design, parts list, and software to run the experiment are freely available here: …jus’ sayin’.

"You can build me too!"

“You can build me too!”

I’d like to say a great big thank you once again to the IAS team, as well as all the students who voted for me last March. I had a lot of fun, and I’ve even learnt some new things about particle physics and building experiments myself!

Posted on November 23, 2016 modantony in STFCWinner, Winner Reports | Leave a comment

What Katie Pickering did with her prize money…

Katie won the Body Zone in November 2014. Here she reports back on how she’s used her £500 prize money.

If you’re a scientist who’d like the funding to develop your own outreach activities apply for I’m a Scientist at

Katie pickering outreach prize money project 3

Me helping the film director understand what it’s like to have your performance tested.

I have used the money to supplement talks I have given to school students in Yorkshire on how to become a Sports Scientist and what the role entails. I came from a small town in one of Yorkshire’s areas of deprivation and I hope to have inspired children in similar circumstance to myself to take an interest in science beyond the classroom, and link it to what they love and enjoy. For me that was sport, hence becoming a Sports Scientist/Exercise Physiologist.

Katie pickering outreach prize money project 2

Students can make their own physiological measurements using new technology

I purchased a reconditioned iPad and bought apps for it to allow the students to interact with the human body and address how sport science and physiology are linked. The iPad also allows me to show smaller groups of students videos of physiological testing procedures with athletes.

As much of my work is centered around technology in sport I am also able to highlight how technology such as iPads is revolutionising this type of work in the field. We are now able to wirelessy synch heart rate monitors to capture real time data and make adjustments to training practices. My main aim with this is to highlight to students that there is a distinct cross over between technology and science now that did not exist a few years ago.


Katie pickering outreach prize money project 5

Filming session for Sports Nutrition section of the #WomenInSportsScience film has begun!


My final element is still a work in progress as there is a small amount of money left in the pot. A friend of mine is a film director and offered to help make a YouTube video. It is still being filmed and edited but will focus on stories of female sports scientists, what their roles entail and how they got into it.

Keep an eye out on Twitter for #WomenInSportsScience as the homemade I’m a Scientist T-shirt is currently on tour round the UK! Once the film has aired in the New Year there will also be a Twitter hashtag competition where the best science related t-shirt hashtag will win the travelling shirt!

Posted on November 17, 2016 modantony in PhySocWinner, Winner Reports | Leave a comment

What Matthew Malek did with his prize money…

Matthew was voted the winner of Light Zone in 2014. we asked him to report back on how he used his £500 prize money and here is what he said.

When I started competing in the Light Zone, I envisioned that I would make an online interactive video about the history of the universe with my prize money. Online videos covering this content already exist, of course, but I wanted to add another dimension — making a ‘choose your own adventure’ style production where viewers could click on various sections to increase the level of detail described.

Well, you know what they said about the ‘best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men…

After winning the competition, I went about contacting folks with the technical know-how and production equipment to turn this dream into reality. I am fortunate enough to have friends who do this sort of thing professionally, so I could call in a few favours and get help for a ridiculously low price. Sounds good, right?

Turns out, I had dreamed too big… at least for now. When I had laid out my grand scheme, I was commended on the depth of vision… and informed that there was no way it could be done for five hundred, or even a thousand pounds. Ah well.

When life hands you lemons, it’s time to make lemonade. Back to the drawing board, I decided to design a use for the prize money that would be able to keep giving through the years. Given the focus on secondary school students in I’m a Scientist, I also wanted to do an outreach project that could be aimed at secondary schools. After much rumination, I settled on this idea: If I purchased a telescope, I could go to secondary schools to talk about astronomy… and then make it experiential, engaging the students by taking them outside and letting them see the stars for themselves! This would even keep with the theme of the Light Zone, since telescopes are all about light!

Brilliant… with only one flaw. Schools are open during the daytime. An ordinary telescope isn’t much good then.  Hmmmm…

In that case, how about an extraordinary telescope? A solar telescope can be used during the day. It is only good for looking at one star… but it can provide amazing views of that star! One can buy an inexpensive neutral density filter rather easily, giving some basic views of the sun in white light. They deliver images that look something like this:


The sun, as seen in white light only. Not terribly interesting.

That’s okay, but I wanted to do something better. I decided to look into a hydrogen-alpha telescope, which blocks all light except for that within a narrow wavelength band around 656.23 nm. This light is emitted when an electron in the sun’s hydrogen drops from the third energy level to the second. That sounds dry; I will explain why it is exciting — this is the wavelength of the light emitted by many features in the sun’s atmosphere, including solar flares and coronal mass ejections.

I started shopping for solar telescopes and found that perhaps I had leapt from one overly expensive idea to another. It turns out that these ‘scopes can easily cost upwards of two thousand pounds for instruments with 60 – 100 mm apertures and a bandpass of 0.5 Angstroms! Whoops! Luckily, I came across the Coronado Personal Solar Telescope, or PST. This is an ‘entry level’ solar telescope; the aperture is only 40 mm, and the bandpass is 1.0 Angstroms (or 0.1 nm)… but it is quite fit for my outreach purposes. Here is what the sun looks like through a Coronado PST:


At 656.23 nm, the sun can be seen for the dynamic orb that it truly is.

I’m sure you will agree that this is much more interesting! And, by the way, those flares on the right side of the picture are all much bigger than the Earth!

I priced a PST for £600 — only slightly more than the prize money. I happily topped up the rest as a personal donation and placed the order. Whilst waiting for it to arrive, I crafted a presentation on ‘The Life & Death of Stars’. This talk covers star formation, the different types of stars on the main sequence, and the possible fate of stars when their fuel is exhausted — like white dwarves, or core-collapse supernovae.

When the telescope arrived, I was ready to start visiting schools. I made contact with local schools, like the Eckington School in Derbyshire. My typical school presentation starts with time in the classroom, going over my slides on the life cycle of a star. After the presentation is finished, I take groups of six students at a time outside to observe the sun through hydrogen-alpha light. Early on, I brought the whole class at once. I soon learned that small groups are best; otherwise the queue can get a little rowdy!

Students often come back to observe a second time during the visit; this is excellent, because the sun is not static — it changes in real time, and will look different the second time they catch a look.

In the end, my original vision didn’t come anywhere near reality. In its place, though, it a completely different project that incorporates the mission of I’m a Scientist and the theme of the Light Zone into a learning tool that will continue to fascinate students for years to come!

If you’re a scientist who’d like the funding to develop your own outreach activities apply for I’m a Scientist at

Posted on November 14, 2016 modantony in IOPWinner, Winner Reports | Leave a comment

What Jen Todd Jones did with her prize money…

Jenna Todd Jones won the Brain Zone in March 2013. Here she updates us on what she was able to use the £500 prize for, and her outreach activities since taking part.

If you’re a scientist who’d like the funding to develop your own outreach activities, apply for I’m a Scientist at

I decided to use the funds to reach as many people as possible, having it contribute to my work across many projects, as I wanted to get as many people as possible excited about the brain and psychology.

I used some of the funds to purchase large, hardy posters that will last a long time and can be seen by many people. The posters showed cognitive illusions and fun psychological experiments like the Stroop test, the Ebbinghaus illusion, and lots of others. These were great to use with individual people and with groups. I also used it to help others learn how to talk about the brain and psychology so that many others could use them in their outreach activities too!

Me receiving the STEM Network Award for my outreach efforts

Me on the left receiving the STEM Network Award for my outreach efforts

I also used the funds to get a mobile EEG headset (that stands for ElectroEncephaloGraphy) that shows your brain waves in real time! I used this in classrooms and in big events so that people could practice concentrating hard and watch how their brain waves changed. It also shows when you’re feeling sleepy and not paying attention which was really useful!

With the prize money I was able to reach at least 400 children and adults and will continue to reach many more. I have used the resources I produced with the funds in all of the projects I have participated in since winning I’m a Scientist – get me out of here!

While at Bristol I continued to be involved in the Brain Box Challenge visiting primary schools in and around Bristol. I also continued to participate in Brain Awareness Week each year in Bristol, as well as the University of Bristol Festival of Science and the Future Brunels schools project.

I’ve participated in Soapbox Science, an annual event aimed at increasing the involvement of girls in STEM subjects. I even wrote an article about this for the Guardian Online.

I also took part in the Midwich Cuckoos project in collaboration with the British Film Institute and CineLive, taking a bespoke outreach program to schools in hard-to-reach areas around the UK – including my home town in South Wales!

Posted on October 26, 2016 modantony in WellcomeWinner, Winner Reports | Leave a comment

What Murray Collins did with his prize money…

Murray Collins won the Chlorine Zone in 2011. Here he reports back on how the £500 prize money has helped his outreach activities since then.

If you’re a scientist who’d like the funding to develop your own outreach activities apply for I’m a Scientist at

With the prize money I bought a go-pro camera which I intended to use to make films to show to school children what it was actually like living and working in the rainforest. I thought that this would be an engaging way to approach science communication, and move from dry facts in a book to a living experience.


Murray Collins 8

Screenshot from my films created with the Go Pro Camera. Here I was walking through intact forest.

This approach was scuppered somewhat when the camera itself was stolen whilst I was working out in Berbak national park. However, I did manage to get some useful footage, and have made the best of this by using it in my science communication work.

Murray Collins 3

Showing videos, photographs, satellite maps and wood samples to the public at the Science Night at the Zoo

As such I think that the prize money from IAS has supported my science communication development over the past five years. In particular I would highlight the work I have been doing as the Environmental Scientist in Residence at Royal Zoological Society of Scotland since 2015.

Murray Collins 1workshop at rzss

Science communication workshops at RZSS

This is largely a science communication position. In this post, I use my experience at clips from Berbak national park to engage the public and students with forest research. Specifically, I have:

  • Held workshops for school pupils on forest science (240 children attending my workshops over two days, see photographs below)
  • Run an event called Science Night at the Zoo, running a stall with three PhD students on deforestation and forest science (photographs below)
  • Am doing a talk in November on rainforest science at RZSS Edinburgh Zoo
  • planned to take University of Edinburgh PhD students and staff in February 2017 to Dynamic Earth Edinburgh to present forest science work to school children visiting on school break. This will include video and photographs taken in Berbak national park, Sumatra, using the equipment I bought with the prize money.

During these talks and science events, I use the video clips in order to show people what it is like in the forest, and try to engage them with the issues of deforestation, carbon storage and biodiversity.

Murray Collins 5

Sunset over Berbak National Park.

In particular it is really useful to be able to show people the muddy pools in Berbak national park which support an incredible array of ichthyological diversity, specifically the stenotopic acidophyllic icthyofauna (highly specialised fish which are adapted to live in the acidic water of peat swamp forest). I have included some photographs of these fish below, as I do in my science communication work.

Murray Collins 7 Murray Collins 6

I would like to express my sincere thanks to the Wellcome Trust and IAS for supporting my work in science communication and will keep you updated about how my work develops over time.

You can see Murray talk about his research in the video above at Edinburgh Zoo on 9th November: From muddy boots to adventures in space: monitoring the world’s forests.

If you’re a scientist who’d like the funding to develop your own outreach activities apply for I’m a Scientist at

Posted on October 19, 2016 modantony in WellcomeWinner, Winner Reports | Leave a comment

What Stefan Lines did with his prize money…

Stefan was voted the winner of Big Data Zone in 2014. Here he reports back on how he got on using the £500 prize money…

My plan with the money was to build a weather station powered by a small computer called a Raspberry Pi. I was excited to buy the components I needed – an AirPi printed circuit board, sensors, powers supplies, storage, monitor, keyboards… and of course the Pi!

It turned out buying the parts was the simplest stage, however, as I was soon faced with the unexpected task of having to solder all the sensors the circuit board. Depressingly, I managed to melt most of the circuit board in what was my first (and last I can assure you) experience with a soldering iron.



No jokes about ‘soldering on’, please. Breadboards for life!

I spent hours trying to connect up the device but no, it was gone. Hands on Science 1 Me 0.

Slightly deterred but ever optimistic I managed to salvage the sensors. But how to connect them up? A few solderless breadboards, wires, resistors, and many, many hours later I had devised a circuit, connected it up and life was recorded on the Pi! Data was being fed into the Pi and I had to then decode it using some modules programmed in Python. Soon I was able to retrieve the temperature, humidity and atmospheric pressure of my bedroom.

I stuck the Pi and circuits down onto a wooden slab and travelled to my hometown of Plymouth to hand it over to the lovely people at my old secondary school. I was able to show them how the Python code crunches the data and outputs to a file, and then how to plot this data using scientific software. I mentioned the plethora of topics that could extend this project such as broadcasting their meteorological data to Twitter, for example. After all, who in the world wouldn’t want to know how damp it is in science lab B?


The students taking climate measurements of their own science lab.

While I was there I was also able to give a lengthy talk on my work in Exoplanet science, with a focus on what universities were suitable for studying different areas of this fascinating topics. I was able to relate my own work back to the simple data processing done on the Pi too, completing the circle of science! The students were looking forward to receiving new sensors I am sending them which will allow for them to monitor air quality and the temperature of chemical reactions. They will be able to communicate their own knowledge on to younger students in the school, hopefully encouraging interest in basic programming.

Many thanks to the Gallomanor and the I’m a Scientist team who run this exciting scheme for students and scientists alike, I wish I could come back and do it all over again 🙂

If you’re a scientist with an idea for an outreach project, sign up for the next I’m a Scientist event at and you could win £500 to make it a reality. Just maybe watch out for the soldering.

Posted on August 31, 2016 modantony in STFCWinner, Winner Reports | Leave a comment

What Glafkos Havariyoun did with his prize money…

Glafkos was voted the winner of the Medical Physics Zone in March 2015. We asked him to report back on how he used his £500 prize money and here is what he said…

Last year I was humbled by being selected the winner of the Medical Physics Zone and it was an amazing, exhilarating and breath holding experience! I have never typed so fast in my life, so many questions!

I work in a hospital as a Medical Physicist. So my initial plan for the prize money was to create replicas of our scanners using Legos and Raspberry Pis so that children visiting the hospital could see how our scanners work. I thought this would be helpful for children who are scared of having a scan done as well!


The children got to write their own code for the robotic arm controlled by the Raspberry Pi

When I won the zone, and along with it the £500 prize money, I had second thoughts. I thought- why should I have all the fun playing with Legos and Raspberry Pis and not the children themselves? So then I thought why don’t I show children what Raspberry Pis  and coding can do? This would tie in very well with the recent push for teaching coding to children across the country.

At first I contacted a number of schools to see whether they would be interested in the project but had no luck. I then found out that our own hospital, King’s College Hospital in South East London has it own School Room for children who are staying at the hospital and so it all began: I bought two Raspberry Pi kits , a robotic arm (yes, a robot) and a Pi camera and, with the help of the teachers, organised coding teaching sessions for children at the hospital.


Fully certified Bumblebee programmers!

Wait, but what are Raspberry Pis? Raspberry Pis are a series of motherboards the size of a credit card.  They perform the same operations as a home computer, and have USB ports to plug in a mouse or keyboard. They are aimed at teaching coding to children. To make it cooler and even more exciting for the children I bought the robotic arm as well which I named “Bumblebee” for obvious reasons.

I did a number of sessions with the children for about an hour a day. I taught them what a Raspberry Pi is, and what coding is. How coding drives everything electrical and automated around us and why it is important in our modern world. Then they started coding with the robotic arm and moving things around, which was really good. Some of the children became so good at it they wrote codes on the Raspberry Pi that made the robotic arm pick up pens from pen holders and trapped Lego men in pots. Check out the video below to see how great the children were at working out their code!

The sessions in my opinion had two outcomes: First, the children were able to learn the basics and foundations of coding while playing with the robotic arm and coding with the Raspberry Pi. They also got an idea how science and computing can be applied in healthcare- in this case robotics! The other, and most important outcome, was that they were able to escape the normal hospital routine and environment whilst doing this. It gave them, I believe, the opportunity for at least a small period of time to forget about their conditions and focus on controlling Bumblebee.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who contributed in the creation and running of the I’m A Scientist Get Me Out of Here competition and Medical Physics Zone- the I’m a Scientist Team, the Institute of Physics and Engineering in Medicine and the Institute of Physics. I’m planning to continue the Raspberry sessions during the new academic year at the hospital as the school teachers are really keen and want to support the project all the way!

Want the chance to win £500 for your own outreach project? Apply now for the next I’m a Scientist event!

Posted on August 25, 2016 modantony in IOPWinner, IPEMWinner, Winner Reports | Leave a comment

What Hayley Moulding did with her prize money…

Hayley was voted the winner of Gold Zone in March 2016. Here she reports back on how she got straight to work making the most of her prize money…

After being fortunate enough to be crowned the winner of the Gold Zone in March, I was adamant that I would fulfil my proposal of working with school pupils in my community in Cardiff. The schools I particularly wanted to work with were located in areas that were nearly gentrifying and had future prospects of expansion, socially, economically as a community and financially. I wanted to at least impact upon these children’s education in a way that was memorable and hopefully inspiring!

Children at Grangetown Primary making dreamcatchers!

Children at Grangetown Primary making dreamcatchers!

To be able to portray what I do day-to-day to the pupils in a fun, imaginative and engaging manner was difficult and needed a lot of exploration before we could go into the schools. Fortunately, at Cardiff University we have a well established and innovative scheme called ‘Community Gateway’. This scheme particularly works with families in Grangetown, aiming to develop long-term, equal and mutually beneficial partnerships between the residents and the services which surround them. Cardiff University aims to develop world-class research and development opportunities meeting the needs of the community.

My project was devised alongside Community Gateway to go into schools and promote sleep as a science of great importance, need, focus and current opportunity! The significance of sleep in our daily routines is under-represented and misinterpreted as an excuse to laze around. The fundamental need and dependence of sleep is something I believe wholeheartedly needs to be reinforced in the minds and lives of children internationally. The essential health benefits, academic, social and occupational benefits associated with sleep cannot be disregarded. To be able to convey this perception, I needed to devise a strategy: Why not make sleep fun!

HmouldingpostcardWe started by devising postcards that were delivered to schools to enable the pupils to ask me a question regarding sleep. I also wanted to know what they dream about to plant the proverbial seed in their minds (maybe it should be sheep in their minds, relating to sleep!). This ensured that I had an open path into discussing sleep. Making dreamcatchers, designing pillow cases and class dream-bed sheets sounded like a pretty reasonable route into discussing sleep with 9-10 year olds after that!

Having the option of hands-on crafts (painting and colouring) alongside brain hat-making and cuddly toys around to ‘talk’ about their sleep made for a child friendly and engaging activity. The school were amazingly accommodating, with heavy teacher involvement and interaction with both myself, my colleague Katie and the pupils too. Katie is an undergraduate at the University of Bristol (where I did my undergraduate degree in Biochemistry.) I was fortunate enough to have her facilitate the session. These are some of her thoughts on the session:

‘As an undergraduate at the University of Bristol, we are constantly encouraged to get involved with science communication. Despite this, I have never actually done so. This experience opened my eyes to how important it is to get children talking about science – specifically sleep. Many of the children we spoke to were surprised to learn how important sleep is, and how aspects of their lives can impact their quality of sleep (like watching a scary film then having nightmares about it). Many of the children particularly enjoyed colouring in different parts of the brain which was made into a hat, and they learnt which parts of the brain are responsible for different actions. There were also very excited to learn about how different animals sleep by means of using cuddly toys!

I am now aware of the competition ‘I’m a Scientist Get Me out of Here’, and think it’s a really useful platform to get young people interested in science. It has inspired me to get more involved in public engagement and education about science. Particularly with children as they can often be put off the subject at a very young age, which they then carry through life.’

Children at Grangetown Primary designing their dream bed-sheets!

Children at Grangetown Primary designing their dream bed-sheets!

Not only did the sessions create an open forum for discussion with the teachers, the pupils and Katie and myself regarding sleep and particularly dreaming, it has opened the possibility of expanding the project and taking this into more schools and events. I thoroughly enjoyed the experience even with the challenges of talking to 30 9-10 year olds about a topic so rarely touched upon. I already plan to run more activities in Sleep Awareness Week in March next year.

Being granted a rare opportunity like this by I’m a Scientist Get Me Out of Here has inspired me to deliver my project in more contexts, to focus on public engagement as an inherent part of my work and PhD, and to never stop being excited by and interested in the minds of children! From wanting to know how giraffe’s sleep to whether I could read their dreams – the future of science is in their hands. I have an obligation to aid their journeys along this path, and if I can do that with dream-catchers, pillow cases, brains and cuddly dolphins, then sign me up – I will be along for the ride!

If you’d like the chance to win £500 for your own public engagement activities, apply now to take part in the next I’m a Scientist event at

Posted on August 3, 2016 modantony in WellcomeWinner, Winner Reports | Leave a comment

What Elizabeth Cooper did with her prize money…

Elizabeth is a Research and Development Chemist at Shepherd Widnes Ltd and won the Materials Zone in March 2015. Here she tells us what she was able to do with her £500 prize money…

I was fortunate enough to win I’m a Scientist in March 2015 in the Materials zone as I faced stiff competition from the other scientists, Rob, Martin, James and Martin! As I won I had the opportunity to spend the prize money on my own activity to engage people with science.

My main passion within science is chemistry. I have always loved chemistry since I was a child and because of this I decided to run a science club involving chemistry laboratory experiments.

Me on the left at my first Science Club

I contacted the Catalyst Science Discovery Centre in Widnes and was put in touch with a lovely woman called Clare Hampson who is the Education Manager there. The Catalyst Centre run free science clubs to children between the ages of 11-14 every second Saturday of the month. I explained to Clare about winning I’m a Scientist and how I was interested in running a science club one weekend.

On the day I was very nervous as I have never spoke in front a group of 11-14 year olds however all the children were lovely and I was soon at ease! For the first part of the science club I introduced myself and talked about what my job entailed. The children and I discussed pH, density and acid base titrations. For each of these topics the children completed mini experiments whilst completing a worksheet.

Elizabeth chemistry day 2

Completing acid base titrations with burettes

The children got to use different analytical techniques such as weighing material using a balance, testing the pH of solutions, measuring solutions using measuring cylinders, calculating the density of solutions and using burettes to complete acid base titrations to determine endpoints using indicator. My prize money was used to provide all the materials and equipment we used on the day. At the end of the science club all children received a free science book for listening, asking questions and actively taking part.

I would love to do these activities again in the future and I would like to thank I’m a Scientist and the Catalyst Science Discovery Centre for giving me the opportunity to pass my passion of chemistry on to potential scientists of the future!

Want to win funding for your own public engagement activities? Apply for the next I’m a Scientist event at

Find out what’s coming up next at the Science Club on the Catalyst Centre website

Posted on July 20, 2016 modantony in RSCWinner, Winner Reports | Leave a comment

What Andy Scott did with his prize money…

Andy was voted the winner of Health Zone in 2015. Here he reports back on how he’s used his £500 prize money over the last year to set up Project_D with a local school…

Last June, I’m a Scientist… took over my life for 2 weeks. I was hooked. I answered questions at breakfast, at work, lunchtime and late into the evening. During the live chats I achieved typing speeds I never imagined that I could. And while winning isn’t everything, it did feel like a great achievement. In fact, one of my colleagues, Matthew Round was inspired (by the answers I wrote that he didn’t agree with) to enter I’m an Engineer… this March and win it!

The project_D team from Chelsea Academy with Dr Zohya Khalique and Dr Andrew Scott from the Royal Brompton Hospital.

The project_D team from Chelsea Academy with Dr Zohya Khalique and Dr Andrew Scott from the Royal Brompton Hospital.

With the prize money and enthusiasm from the win I worked with our research public involvement coordinator, Julia Coffey, and Chelsea Academy school to develop a program we called project_D (‘D’ for the diffusion of water we measure with an MRI scanner in my research).

I went to Chelsea Academy to give a talk to year 10 about my research and the plans for project_D.

I went to Chelsea Academy to give a talk to year 10 about my research and the plans for project_D.

The idea was that 12 Year 10 students would take part in all the steps involved in a research project. I visited the school to present my research to the year group and introduced the project. Students who were interested applied to take part, just as we would apply for a job or for a grant to fund some research.


Dr Karen McCarthy (left) from the Cardiac Morphology department at the Royal Brompton Hospital discussing the anatomy of the heart with students during a hands on session with pig hearts at Imperial College.

We decided to run six workshops for the 12 successful students. We started with the basic science, so the students initially looked at the structure of the heart with a colleague from pathology and some real animal hearts and thought about how water might diffuse through muscle tissue.


The project_D students scanned a healthy volunteer in our MRI scanner.

We then ran workshops at the Royal Brompton Hospital with one of our heart research doctors. The students learnt about and used the MRI scanner to scan everyday objects and a healthy volunteer – translating the ideas from the basic science session.


3D representation of the diffusion of water molecules within a section of the heart muscle of a healthy volunteer. Scanned and processed by the year 10 project_D team.

Back at the school, the students processed their MRI data and planned a pirate themed stand, based on how water helps us look at the heart, to communicate the science they’d worked on to younger students. They have run their stand within the school, at the Imperial Festival School’s Day and will finish up with a stand at the Royal Brompton Hospital research open day in July.


One of the project_D students, Titus Adarkwa and Dr Zohya Khalique (right) from the Royal Brompton Hospital explaining the diffusion of water within the heart muscle tissue to primary school children at the Imperial Festival Schools Day.

It was fantastic to see the students develop their understanding over the course of the project and then communicate the science to their peers, just as we might do at a conference. The school are keen to run a similar project next year and we are investigating the possibility of getting other research groups within the hospital involved too.


Want to get hooked on engaging with schools and a chance to win £500 for your own project? Apply now for the next I’m a Scientist event at

Posted on June 29, 2016 modantony in WellcomeWinner, Winner Reports | Leave a comment

What Cristina Villa Del Campo did with her prize money…

Cristina was voted the winner by students in the Heart Zone of the November 2015 event. She got straight to work using her £500 prize money to fund her own outreach activities and here she reports back on what she did…

Hi! I am Cristina, the winner of the Heart Zone in November 2015. I loved participating in I’m a Scientist, Get me out of here! and despite the tough competition, I ended up winning! I knew I wanted to use the money to give back to the students so the first thing I did with the prize was visit some schools in person and get to know the students. They still had so many questions!!

The pupils and Cristina give the lab visit two thumbs up!

After talking a lot about different experiments with the students, I knew that they would love to see science in “real life” so I planned a visit for a group of primary school pupils to my own lab, the British Heart Foundation’s (BHF) Centre of Regenerative Medicine at Oxford University. I arranged for them to come and prepared experiments for them so they could feel like real scientists for a day.

Armed with lab coats, name tags, goggles and gloves, together we saw zebra fish embryos with green hearts, used microscopes to look at heart cells beating in a plate and we even tested what was growing around our lab by collecting bacteria from different places.


Cristina talks about how the equipment in the lab helps her research into heart cells.

I enjoyed every second of the day, and it was amazing to share some of my daily life with the students and hopefully get them interested in science. Thank you to I’m a Scientist for giving us all the opportunity to share and learn from this day in the lab. It was such a great experience that now that I am in contact with this school. I have planned to repeat the visit every year!

On top of these projects this year I have also become a STEM ambassador so hopefully I can contribute to that as well and I have become a member of BIG, the community for STEM communication to the public. I have also set up a new Twitter account (@Cris_Villa_dC) to have the kids communicating with me, asking questions and requesting images and videos from my work in the lab.

Posted on June 9, 2016 modantony in WellcomeWinner, Winner Reports | Leave a comment

What Barbara Shih did with her prize money…

Barbara won the Genes Zone in March 2015. Over the last year she’s been hard at work making the most of her £500 prize money and we asked her to tell us all about it…

I was fortunate to come out to be the winner for the Gene Zone for I’m a Scientist in March 2015, and I did the following two things with my prize money.

Barbara Shih 1

These aliens have a delightful range of mutations, but who inherited what from whom?

Firstly, I visited Whitdale Primary School. During one of the chat sessions in I’m a Scientist, they asked if I would come and visit them, and they were so excited about it I simply could not refuse! I used some of the prize money to make a couple of self-made genetic-related activities to bring with me that explain basic building blocks, mutation, and dominant and recessive inheritance. To make the activities more hands on, I used beads with different shapes, Lego, coin flips and paper cut-outs to make a variety of aliens.

The whole day flew past with an overwhelming amount of energy in the classroom with 52 Primary students, 2 teachers and 26 aliens. It was great fun; the students were not only super enthusiastic and welcoming, but also very good at picking up all the concepts, which was satisfying.

The remaining part of my prize money was spent on an ongoing project, which is making a comic-based science blog, The Runaway Lab Book, together with Dr Jonathan Higham. We wanted to blend science into web-comic to make it a bit of fun, although the attempt to be make a joke at the same time as explaining science can be proven to be a little tough. The money has gone into funding the sites hosting and kit to create the comics.

Another concept we are currently exploring is the idea that science is all around us; carrying out day-to-day experiments including testing the pH of household items, measuring the speed tea cools with and without milk, how coffee affects heart rate and blood pressure, and more.

In addition to the activities mentioned above, I have also helped out on the public engagement activities held by the Roslin Institute on the Doors Open Days and at the Royal Highland Show.

Like the the Runaway Lab Book comic on Facebook to to receive new updates and follow Barbara on Twitter @runawaylabbook.

Posted on May 11, 2016 modantony in WellcomeWinner, Winner Reports | Leave a comment

What Helen Johnson did with her prize money…

Helen won the Space Zone in November 2014.  We asked her to update us on what she’s been able to do with her £500 prize money and here is what she said…

I had an absolute blast taking part in I’m a Scientist! It was such a thrill to connect with students from all over the country and be able to share my research. I was amazed by their curiosity, their insightful questions, and it was brilliant to see such enthusiasm for astronomy and space exploration.

Those two weeks were like a wonderful scicomm bootcamp – I learnt so much and it was one of the most rewarding outreach experiences I’ve ever had. I’ve since been using my IAS mug with pride and telling anyone who will listen that they have to give it a go themselves. Although up against some tough competition (Hugh, Julian, Jane and Heather) I was lucky enough to win in my zone, picking up the £500 prize money.


The super cool thumbs up suggests these may not be real aliens.

Within the Physics department at Durham we have a brilliant outreach team and there are always plenty of fantastic opportunities. At the time I had already been involved with a number of different projects (science festivals, planetarium shows, events to encourage girls into Physics) and so figuring out how best to spend my winnings was a tough decision. After much deliberation I decided to invite 50 local students to the department for a full-day of Space themed demos, talks and hands-on activities.

Little did I know what I was getting myself in for! I’d never organised such a huge event before. Thankfully I had my outreach partner-in-crime Steph Bartle and many enthusiastic PhD students/postdocs/staff on hand to help “Space Day 2016” become a reality. There were months of planning, endless emails, weird shopping lists, moments of insanity and so many risk assessment forms that we risked paper cuts, but we finally did it.


The invisible meteorite demonstration is always a big hit.

The day was packed full of space themed activities, introducing the students to many different aspects of astronomy and space exploration. In our “Exploring the Solar System” session the groups took inspiration from Matt Damon, designing their own Martian base and figuring out how they would adapt to survive on the Red Planet. This was followed by a Mars landers competition, where the mission was to protect their cargo (um, egg) from a 3 storey test impact!

In our “Extragalactic” session teams journeyed through the electromagnetic spectrum, learning how astronomers observe galaxies at different wavelengths. They then took part in the citizen science project Galaxy Zoo, using real data to classify morphological types. The session concluded using an Occulus Rift virtual reality headset to take a spin through the cosmos, exploring results of the cosmological simulation EAGLE. Lunch was also busy, with an opportunity to learn about gravitational lensing and study meteorite samples.

Image 17 lo res

Designing a Mars base inspired by The Martian. ‘Remember, Matt Damon will need somewhere to grow apples so that he can ask college students if they like them or not’

One of the highlights of our day was chatting to Juno project scientist Steve Levin live from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Mission Juno is currently en-route to Jupiter and will arrive this July, exploring our solar system’s largest planet in unprecedented detail. Students were able to put their questions to Steve via Skype, and he gave us fantastic insight into the mission and what his team hope to discover. After a quick break we rounded off the day with shows in our inflatable planetarium and a visit to the department’s rooftop telescopes.

Although one school couldn’t make it due to poor weather conditions, the rest of the day ran smoothly and was amazing fun. The feedback we received was overwhelmingly positive, with ~ 95% of students rating the statements “I enjoyed today’s event” and “I am keen to attend future events like this” with a 4 or 5 out of 5. One student even said they would prefer fewer break times! I am very grateful to I’m a Scientist for helping to make this all happen, and I hope we can use equipment bought with the prize money to engage with many more students in the future.

See what the Durham Physics outreach team are up to

Investigate the EAGLE computer model of the universe

If you’re up for the I’m a Scientist challenge, apply now the next event by Monday 2nd of May

Posted on April 27, 2016 modantony in IOPWinner, Winner Reports | Leave a comment