Category Archives: Case Study

Enquiry Zone: Students as scientists

Some say there are no new ideas, just new interpretations of old ideas: primary school students designed the Blackawton Bees paper with the help of a parent scientist; citizen science runs online at scale with Galaxy Zoo; the BBC, with Terrific Scientific, help primary schools conduct their experiments.

There is an idea missing in this panoply: School students helping to design and run a new experiment at scale.

In March 2017 we ran the Wellcome funded Enquiry Zone, a zone created with one fundamental question: Could we use an I’m a Scientist zone to give hundreds of school students the chance to help design an experiment, which they could then carry out themselves?

Yes, we could. And what’s more, it’s clear there is value in giving students input at all stages of the project. It gives students ownership over research, and they gain real insight into how science works.

What happened

1. Students questioned five scientists, and chose the project they wanted to carry forward

Ideas for projects covered research on lung capacity, health apps for smart phones, animal behaviour, and nutrition. Students asked questions about the projects, and discussed their own advice and suggestions with the scientists. After all, the students were the experts on what would work in their schools.

In both CHAT and ASK, the scientists research project ideas were of keen interest, with “project” being a common topic for discussion in live chats, and in ASK, there were many more questions about “research ideas” than on any other topic.

Word cloud showing popular topics in live chats in the Enquiry Zone. Read the full zone report here, or click the image [PDF]

The winning project was that of UCL researcher, Sallie Baxendale: Does what you know about someone influence how attractive you think they are?

The class had done a lot of work in March, discussing the different proposed plans, and they were happy when Sallie won because the nature and biology ideas were similar to things they had already done.

— Jenn, Teacher at Doonfoot Primary School, Ayrshire

2. Students helped design the final experiment

Students and teachers reviewed the draft experiment plans and fed back ideas. One teacher reported that their school is “big on school values of fairness, respect, equality.”  The students discussed the ethics of getting a fellow pupil to judge someone on their appearance. To address this they suggested holding an assembly to explain the project to their classmates and research subjects, after working out the results for their school. This suggestion was then incorporated into the final lesson plans for all schools.

They liked the interaction with the other classes and the responsibility, they liked coming up with stories, they loved the creative bit, it wasn’t just them being told this is how you do it, they had independence.

— Sue Grubic, Teacher at St Mary’s Catholic Primary School, Lincolnshire

In the experiment, the student scientists came up with some brilliant stories; nice things such as the person they were judging was a very thoughtful friend, someone who always eats lunch with new students and and makes sure they are not lonely, or someone who used her pocket money to pay the vets bills for an abandoned puppy. Suggestions of ‘not nice’ traits included kicking over a chair and swearing at the teacher, bullying, and picking her nose and eating it.

Interestingly all of the bad stories had examples of [the subject] losing her temper and being violent or destructive. This is clearly something that all of the children recognised as something that is unattractive in someone.

— Sallie

3. Three schools took part in the research stage

Often, more complex citizen science projects such as Enquiry Zone take place within one school. Here, the online factor allowed feedback and results to be collated from multiple schools across the UK — Doonfoot Primary School in Ayrshire, Irchester Community Primary School in Northamptonshire, and St Mary’s Catholic Primary School in Lincolnshire all sent in their results.

We would have liked to see more schools take part after the first Zone in March; more registered interest but ultimately did not take part in the experiment. In future we will look for ways to increase this uptake.

4. 138 students conducted the experiment, interviewing 236 of their classmates

One school reported that the project gave them lots of opportunities to discuss the ethics of research, as well as discussions around whether people should do things because an adult in authority told them to. The senior management team at the school have seen the experiment and results and they planned to use it this year with the whole school as a topic to discuss making judgments on people.

The children were really enthusiastic about it, they felt it was a special experience … It felt real to them, It was something we would never normally do.

— Jenn, Teacher at Doonfoot Primary School, Ayrshire

One student said:

Its inspired me to know that I could be a scientist and do this.

Tweet by Tracy Tyrrell, teacher at Irchester Community Primary School, Northamptonshire

5. The results were significant and in part surprising — The research will be submitted for publication

Sallie and the students discovered that when you hear something nice about someone else it doesn’t really change how you think they look. However, hearing about negative traits does influence the judgement of the person’s looks. Interestingly, they showed that the stories with the most negative impact were those with a “yuk factor”.

Ratings of attractiveness after no information, after hearing good things, and after hearing bad things. Full results

The results were written up and send back to the teachers and students. See the results here.

Sallie is now finalising the manuscript of her report and plans to have it submitted to a journal in the next few weeks.

If you have an idea for a project you would like to run with us — citizen science or otherwise — get in touch! Leave a comment below, or email Shane at

Posted on November 23, 2017 modjosh in Case Study, News | Comments Off on Enquiry Zone: Students as scientists

I’m a Scientist and STFC

STFCThe Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) first funded I’m a Scientist zones in November 2011 when it supported both the Subatomic Zone and the Zinc Zone. In March 2012 it funded the Electromagnetic Zone, and it supported three more I’m a Scientist zones and one I’m an Engineer zone in our June 2013 event.

Why STFC funds us

Chris Woolford, STFC Science in Society Office Manager, talks about why STFC continues to fund I’m a Scientist, and in particular what they will gain from their most recently announced funding:

The IAS and IEng programmes reach out to a wide audience, some of whom may be a new audience to science, engage them with cutting edge STFC science & technology and could inspire the next generation of scientists and engineers.

With this continued funding from STFC (via our Public Engagement Large Awards Scheme), I’m a Scientist and I’m and Engineer Get me out of here will create 27 STFC zones with 135 STFC facility users and will engage with 9,000 secondary school pupils across the UK. These pupils will be able to interact with scientists working on world leading facilities such as the Central Laser Facility, which carries out its work using the world’s most powerful, most intense and fastest lasers, the Diamond Light Source where beams of light are used to study solids, liquids and gasses to gain information on their atomic & molecular composition and ISIS, which uses neutron and muon particles to reveal the link between the invisible world of atoms and the world of everyday life.”

Cutting edge research topics

STFC-funded zone scientists have included those working with lasers, image is an AVLIS laser by LeastCommonAncestor for Wikimedia

STFC-funded zone scientists have included those working with lasers, image is an AVLIS laser by LeastCommonAncestor for Wikimedia

Since 2011, 35 STFC-funded zone scientists, from accelerator physicists to software scientists, have given nearly 4,000 answers to over 1,500 student questions. The range of questions asked is huge, from could we sleep without eyelids? to what shape are raindrops? Nanobites, gravity and evolution have all been covered, alongside can we cryogenically freeze someone then bring them back to life again? and questions on the Earth’s oxygen supply and whether you can survive with only half a brain.

There’s been talk of inventions, discoveries and challenging stereotypes, alongside lots of zone-specific science questions, including: How fast can lava get when spurting from a volcano? Are crystals living organisms? and What’s the strongest material? 

STFC has recently committed to supporting both I’m a Scientist and I’m an Engineer zones until March 2016, enabling even more students to learn about cutting edge topics from top scientists.

STFC-funded zones to date

November 2011 – Subatomic Zone and Zinc Zone

March 2012 – Electromagnetic Zone (evaluation)

June 2013 – Crystallography Zone (evaluation), Extreme Speed Zone (evaluation), New Materials Zone (evaluation) and Detection Zone (evaluation)

Future funding

We’re looking forward to continuing to work with STFC so students can learn from scientists working at their world-leading facilities. If you think your organisation would benefit from connecting scientists directly with students all over the country too, please get in contact with us: email or phone 01225 326892.

Posted on August 9, 2013 in Case Study | Comments Off on I’m a Scientist and STFC

I’m a Scientist and RCUK

logoResearch Councils UK (RCUK) first funded an I’m a Scientist zone in June 2011 when its Lifelong Health and Wellbeing programme supported the Healthy Ageing Zone. In March 2012 the RCUK Energy programme funded the Energy Zone, and in March 2013 the RCUK Digital Economy programme supported the Digital Zone.

Why RCUK funds us

Ruth Williams, Senior Policy Manager for Public Engagement with Research at RCUK, explains why RCUK chooses to continue funding zones in I’m a Scientist:

RCUK has provided funding for I’m a Scientist in order to provide RCUK researchers with a platform to engage young people in their research and develop transferrable skills such as communication. A key aim for RCUK is to encourage engagement between young people and researchers to inspire, enthuse and motivate the next generation of researchers and enable more young people to act as informed citizens. I’m a Scientist gives young people a flavour of life as a researcher and engages them with some of the cutting-edge research funded by RCUK in areas such as healthy ageing, energy, digital economy, space and food science.”

Inspiring the next generation

From DNA damage in the Healthy Ageing Zone to computer games in the Digital Zone, image by Fæ for Wikimedia

Gaming questions were popular in the Digital Zone, while DNA damage was a hot topic in the Healthy Ageing Zone, image by Fæ for Wikimedia

A zone a year since 2011 means that RCUK funding has so far brought 15 scientists together with well over 600 students. The scientists, including a statistical geneticist, professor of organic chemistry, digital research engineer and senior lecturer in computer science, to name but a few, have given in excess of 1,400 answers to over 1,000 student questions.

Specific topics covered include the effects of video games on social skills, the generation of energy using nuclear fusion, and the science of ageing diseases such as Alzheimer’s. Personal questions to the scientists and a whole range of broader science questions on everything from animals to space have allowed students to discover just what it means to be a scientist. 

RCUK-funded zones to date

June 2011 – Healthy Ageing Zone

March 2012 – Energy Zone (evaluation)

March 2013 – Digital Zone (evaluation)

Future funding

We hope to continue working with RCUK to inspire the next generation of scientists and to inform future citizens. If bringing students and scientists together is something that could benefit your organisation, please get in contact with us: email or phone 01225 326892.

Posted on May 8, 2013 in Case Study | Comments Off on I’m a Scientist and RCUK

I’m a Scientist and IOP

IOPThe Institute of Physics (IOP) has been funding zones in I’m a Scientist events since March 2011. Within two years it has funded three Space Zones, two Quantum Zones and a Laser Zone, Earth Zone and Medical Physics Zone.

Why IOP funds us

Taj Bhutta, IOP Careers and Student Officer, explains why IOP continues to support I’m a Scientist:

It’s a new way of reaching students who are making that all important decision about what to study at A-level or university. Although traditional careers fairs and outreach activities work well at local level, I’m a Scientist has things going for it that make it an attractive proposition; it works across the UK, we have a reasonable guarantee that the scientists involved will be good communicators and we can target specific groups of students in order to widen participation.

This year we are giving priority to students from the 400+ partner schools of the Stimulating Physics Network (SPN). The SPN is a project funded by the Department for Education and managed by the IOP to increase the uptake of A-level physics, and each SPN Partner School has committed to this objective, working with a dedicated Teaching and Learning Coach to develop pupils’ experience of physics. Another advantage of online engagement is that the data, in terms of number of students engaged, is readily available and so we can have a real measure of impact.”

Broad range of scientists and topics

From Earth to space, particles to planets and technology to healthcare, IOP-funded zones have covered it all! Image by Werieth for Wikimedia

From Earth to space, particles to planets and technology to healthcare, IOP-funded zones have covered it all! Image by Werieth for Wikimedia

To date, 40 IOP-funded zone scientists have given over 5,500 answers in response to over 3,500 questions asked by nearly 3,000 students, covering everything from the future of space travel to a career in medical physics. Thanks to the IOP’s funding we’ve been able to run over 100 live chats, giving students the opportunity to chat to scientists from a whole range of different backgrounds.

We’ve had a nuclear physicist, palaeoclimatologist, computer scientist, analytical geochemist, astronomer, seismologist, radiotherapy physicist, astrophysicist and many other types of scientist taking part. Questions have ranged from the scientific and career-minded to the personal and philosophical, including what do you think the biggest mystery about space is?, what precautions do you use while experimenting with radioactive substances? and is it possible to have an anti-photon?

IOP-funded zones to date

March 2011 – Space Zone

June 2011 – Quantum Zone

March 2012 – Space Zone (evaluation) and Quantum Zone (evaluation)

June 2012 – Laser Zone (evaluation) and Earth Zone (evaluation)

March 2013 – Space Zone (evaluation) and Medical Physics Zone (evaluation)

Future funding

We hope to continue working with IOP to engage more students with physics and science generally. We’re always looking for new funding partners to extend the range of science topics covered by our zones, so if you think your organisation would benefit from connecting scientists directly with students all over the country, please do get in touch: email or phone 01225 326892.

Posted on April 10, 2013 in Case Study | Comments Off on I’m a Scientist and IOP