Category Archives: IOPWinner

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 imascientist.org.uk/scientist-apply


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 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:

White-Light-Solar-Filter

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:

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 imascientist.org.uk/scientist-apply

Posted on November 14, 2016 modantony in IOPWinner, 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!

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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.

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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 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.

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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.

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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.

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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