Category Archives: General

Our new theme!

In the last year I’m a Scientist has developed more than at any other time since we launched in 2010. We’ve hired new people, moved offices, moved servers, launched and relaunched multiple international projects (VietnamSpain, and Kenya), started projects like I’m a Medic and I’m a Researcher, developed a new Live Chat system (see Tim Peake using it for the I’m an Astronaut event), we even celebrated our company 15th anniversary… And to meet the needs of all these developments we’ve created a sleek new theme for the site.Tim Peake on I'm an Astronaut

The ‘theme’ is like the skin of the website. It doesn’t really change the functionality, just the style and way it looks. This new theme is a huge improvement over the previous one:

It’s fully mobile responsive – making it more accessible for scientists and students on whichever device they might be using.

It’s flexible and easy to implement – meaning we can roll out events more efficiently and at a lower cost than before (take a look at the I’m a Medic site).

It’s adaptable to other languages and alphabets – so we can keep expanding the event to new countries whilst maintaining identity and voice.

It’s easier to navigate and, we think, much better looking – it also matches the style of the new, astronaut-approved, live chat engine.

The theme has taken an incredible amount of work. The key factors in its design were accessibility, performance efficiency, and using modern systems and methods in creating a user-friendly experience for anyone who visits the site, on any device.

A huge thanks go to our wonderful team of Mike (dev), Lesley (chat dev), Andy (front end dev) and now Luke (front end dev) who have done a spectacular job adapting the functionality to meet more current, accessible standards, and testing everything into oblivion. They’ve succeeded in taking a very old theme and creating a new theme which allows old content to work in its structure, and where new content looks modern and is more accessible.

In the parlance of these times, here is a before (old site) and after (new site) gif:
Old them to new theme

See the new site up and running live on I’m a Scientist.

We’re also always on the look out for bugs, glitches or anything we may have missed during the testing phase, so if you spot anything that doesn’t work or look right, please email

What’s next

We’re aiming to roll out the new theme across the rest of the projects over the summer, including I’m an Engineer, I’m a Researcher, and international events (it’s already on Ireland). We’ll also be redesigning specific parts of the site, such as the profiles. Thanks to the new theme, it’s now easier to improve the experience of online engagement in response to feedback. We hope you enjoy it.

Posted on June 13, 2017 modemily in General, News, Project News | Comments Off on Our new theme!

Increasing demand and charges for independent schools

Demand for our activities has been slowly increasing. We regularly have more classes requested than we are able to accommodate and we have to limit the number of classes we offer teachers. In November 2015, for the first time we had to start turning down teachers, unable to limit classes to a point where every teacher who applied could be given a place.

This increasing demand for classes has lead us to prioritise schools where we believe our activities can add the most value, where online STEM engagement can make the most difference.

Most of our funders are prioritising underserved audiences. For us that means schools that traditionally don’t send many students on to Higher Education or are located disadvantageously for STEM engagement activities. Sadly this means that some schools who have been able to take up places in the past will not be able to take part without additional funding.

Beginning with the June 2016 events, fee paying schools can choose to pay £100, for every class of students, in order to guarantee participation in the event. This money will go towards providing additional zones.

We’re aware that some of the teachers who have participated the most in the past will be affected by this change. We truly hope that you will be able to take part. In order to guarantee your spaces please email


Posted on April 11, 2016 Moderator - Josh in Capacity, General, News, Project News, School, Science Education, Teachers | Comments Off on Increasing demand and charges for independent schools

International schools still wanted

Over the years we’ve had great support from schools across the world taking part in I’m a Scientist. There is one teacher who has been involved from almost the beginning, taking classes from 3 different school across different time zones, onto the site. I can imagine the event helps english-speaking students at schools across the world keep in touch with the UK through science.

Having science questions from students in Budapest or Singapore makes our events more engaging too. Some of the keenest students have been based abroad.


Our funding from the Wellcome Trust is for only 50% of our costs and is only for schools in the UK. That means we need to give priority to UK schools and this March we are full.

There is a way for overseas schools to take part. If we charge to cover some of the cost for you to take part then we can create extra space.  Costs start at £100 per class but go down if you book more. There is more information on our international schools page.

Posted on February 1, 2013 ModShane in General, Project News | Comments Off on International schools still wanted

Thanks for Applying

We now have our new mods for this year’s first I’m a Scientist event, and the first ever I’m an Engineer! While we welcome our six new team members, here is some short feedback for those who applied but didn’t get to interview.

There were loads of excellent applicants this year and we were especially impressed by all the amazing science communication work you had all been doing. From writing to volunteering at festivals, it’s great to see people who are passionate about communicating science, especially to young people. In this job, being able to handle groups of excited teens is definitely a plus.

We interviewed people who stood out because of their proven passion for the subject, but also based on their cover letters. This is the best way to try and get to a feel for what a candidate is like. So we like letters that get your personality across. We’re all about trying to engage young people, so being able to engage us with your writing is an excellent start. We are also looking for people who will be fun to work with, so dry and boring letters that could have been copy and pasted from any application just don’t stand out.

The best cover letters I looked at were lively, showed enthusiasm for the job, covered all relevant experience (rather than hiding it in the CV) and gave actual concrete examples to back up statements such as ‘I’m very organised’ or ‘I’ve worked with young people’.

That said, it is possible to be overly casual in a cover letter. Writing “Give me this job!!! xxx” although enthusiastic, doesn’t really give the best impression!

If you didn’t get through this time round we hope you will keep an eye out for future I’m a Scientist and I’m an Engineer events. We look forward to hearing about all the science communication you’ve been doing in the mean time.

Posted on March 8, 2012 in General, IAS Event, News | Comments Off on Thanks for Applying

Once upon a time in the land of I’m a Scientist

We’ve started using a new toy here at I’m a Scientist. It’s called Storify and is “a way to tell stories using social media”.

Storify allows you to build up a story by gathering media such as tweets, blog posts and photos in one place. You can re-order the content how you like, and add descriptions and commentary to explain what’s going on.

Creating a story of the event will be helpful in a few ways:

Firstly, it will provide commentary during the event, all in one place. Anyone interested in the event, from teachers to scientists and sponsors, can easily get a feel for what I’m a Scientist is about.

Secondly, we’ll have a record of the event to look back on. Whilst we follow what’s being said about I’m a Scientist on sites such as twitter at the time, it’s easy for updates to get lost and forgotten after the event. By creating a record on Storify we can remember the event, keep a note of great questions and answers, and different people’s reactions and opinions.

We’ve embedded our Storify feed on the I’m a Scientist site, so have a read!

Posted on March 21, 2011 modemily in General, Project News | Comments Off on Once upon a time in the land of I’m a Scientist

Exciting changes here at I’m a Scientist

On Monday we’re faced with the daunting task of selecting 30 scientists out of over 200, to take part in the March 2011 event. Whilst looking through the list of scientists this morning I was struck by how many volcanologists have registered, given my background in Geography and Natural Hazards. I also realised that I’ve been working here at I’m a Scientist for a whole month now and, despite regular reminders from Shane, I still haven’t introduced myself.

So, here goes! I’m Rosie and I’ve joined the team as ‘Project Executive’ so I’m dealing with the day-to-day running and admin of I’m a Scientist. Sophia is still producing I’m a Scientist but she’s now working part-time, giving her time to get involved with other exciting projects. I’ll be taking over as the main point of contact for the event, so you’ll be hearing a lot more from me! Sophia and I will both be keeping you updated through the I’m a Scientist twitter account, and to distinguish who’s who I’ll be ending all my tweets with RS. Sophia will continue tweeting as normal from @imascientist, with the luxury of not losing any precious characters through signing her initials at the end!

Santiaguito volcano erupting

I’m fresh out of university, having studied the Science of Natural Hazards at Bristol following a BSc in Geography at Durham. As part of my degree I went on a fieldtrip to Guatemala to see how local residents adapt to the volcanoes, earthquakes and landslides that disrupt their everyday lives. This time last year I watched Santiaguito volcano erupt at sunrise from Santa Maria volcano above,  toasted marshmallows on lava flows off Pacaya volcano, and visited the sobering site of the Panabaj mudslide that killed hundreds of villagers in 2005.

Bristol 'Doors Open' 2010

Back in Bristol I was really excited by science communication and public engagement so started volunteering at events such as Bristol ‘Discover’ Science and Bristol Festival of Nature. To give you some idea of what gets me excited, think back to mid-August 2010. Instead of being (sensibly) sat at my desk frantically writing up my dissertation I was standing in the middle of Ashton Court Estate making boats out of tin foil with kids. This was the Bristol International Balloon Fiesta and I was science busking with @Bristol Science Centre. Despite our modest stall being beside a giant purple Milka truck (complete with inflatable Milka cow and free chocolate!), children would repeatedly return to the @Bristol stand to experiment and compete to see whose ‘stomp rocket’ would travel the furthest. Being more popular than chocolate has never seemed cooler.

Since joining I’m a Scientist I’ve embarked on a steep learning curve. I’ve selected teachers for the March event, discussed evaluating the event, updated the Teacher Pack and our website and made many cups of tea. I can’t wait for March so I can experience the excitement of I’m a Scientist that I’ve heard so much about. See you there!

Posted on February 4, 2011 in General, IAS Event | Comments Off on Exciting changes here at I’m a Scientist

6 Easy Steps to Win I’m a Scientist!

Destined to win IAS?

Thinking about taking part in I’m a Scientist, but wondering how to increase your chances of winning? Wonder no more, we’ve done some analysis of last year’s winners and here are our top tips on how to win I’m a Scientist…

1. Change your first name to Jo (or Joe). It seems that if you are named Jo in any way you are more likely to win! Five of our winners from 2010’s events were called Jo or Joe. Out of the 125 scientists who took part in the events only 6 were named Jo or Joe.

2. Change your surname to one beginning with C, M or S. 32% of our winners from both the March and June events had surnames starting with C or M. This is closely followed by those with who begin with S who won 12% of the zones. Out of everyone that took part (n=125) 11 had surnames starting with C, 13 with M and 13 with S.

3. Go arty. Only two people used a black and white photo – however both won their zones!

4. Have something interesting in the shot. An interesting background seemed to have an effect on your odds of winning.  68% of this year’s winners had one, the pictures included aquariums, mountains and the sea. A brightly coloured wall also seemed to work.

5. Get speedy with your question answering. The more questions you answer the longer you seem to survive. Some scientists from last year’s event who survived the early evictions answered over 400 questions!

6. Head vs Long Shots. Last year the majority of people gave us head shots (115 people), only seven gave us long shots and three people used either no picture or a non-photographic image. Out of this only two people with long shots won their zone and those who gave no photo did not win at all. This looks like a reasonable showing for long shots, but actually those five non-winners were more likely to be evicted first or second – and no-one wants that, do they?

So as you can see, in order to win you need to change you name to Jo McCormick and then take your picture in black and white in front of the Taj Mahal. Once you’ve done all of that you’d better get practicisng your speed typing! Easy right…

Oh, it isn’t???

OK, so correlation doesn’t mean causation and we don’t really recommend changing your name. BUT do give some thought to your photo. A friendly-looking photo does seem to make a difference (we mentioned this in our top tips last year). A close-up picture where people can see your face seems to make a difference. – i.e. showing just your head, or head and shoulders. Other than that, just be yourselves, and relate to the young people as people – don’t expect to lecture them!

If this has whetted your appetite, and you’re interested in taking part in ‘the world’s most stunningly innovative teen science education programme‘, then you can find out more, and sign up, here. Good luck!

Posted on December 10, 2010 in General, IAS Event | Comments Off on 6 Easy Steps to Win I’m a Scientist!

Read about our session at Science Online conference

We’d never been to the Science Online conference. And we’d never given a presentation about I’m a Scientist, Get me out of Here! But when the organisers asked if we’d like to do a session on the event we jumped at the chance.

We then closed the office for the whole of August, so we had to write and organise our highly interactive, possibly risky session in 2 days when we got back last Wednesday. At the same time as do all our catching up from the holidays.

Last week was an interesting week…

So here is a summary of our session (last Fri, 3rd Sept) and what we, and others, said.

Our presentation

Photo of Sophia speaking, in front of prezi presentation and a twitterfall about the session

Sophia presenting at Science Online coference London

At Gallomanor we like to walk the walk, as well as talk the talk. So we wanted to make the session as interactive and audience-led as possible. After a short (2 min) intro, we showed the audience the 12 topics we’d prepared and asked which 6 they wanted to here about.

Here’s the prezi presentation, with a slide on each topic. I’ll summarize below what we were going to say on each – including the ones we didn’t cover on the day.

IAS Solo on Prezi

1. Film – we showed our ‘Intro for the classroom’ film.

2. Our Philosophy

The audience didn’t vote to hear about this, which was a shame as I think it’s really important in explaining why we do what we do, and how. Fools, fools!;-) Maybe we should have called it something more exciting sounding…

Anyway, key points would have been:-

  • We reverse normal power structures (kids in our event are given some decision-making power and the chance to ask what THEY want to ask). This engages pupils who are normally turned off. See more on my thinking here in this piece on the Secrets of Engaging Teens.
  • Making it fun and game-like is not a gimmick and doesn’t make something not educational. It makes people pay attention and be interested! (e.g. this research)
  • It’s not just about getting kids to study science. Not all teenagers will grow up to be scientists, but they will all grow up to be people, and need to have a relationship with science. More on this point in this article for Wellcome Trust blog.
  • Scientists have a lot to gain from engagement too – they aren’t just doing everyone a favour. They can be energised, challenged and made to think by the huge variety, and inventiveness, of students’ questions.

“a 4.00am Eureka! moment solved a problem that’s been bugging me for the best part of a year. It came from a seed of an idea planted in my head by a simple question from a 13/14 year old, absolutely bloody marvellous! Next day I was skipping into work like a refugee Munchkin from the Wizard of Oz, bleary eyed but elated.”

3. History of event

Shane thought of the idea for our sister event I’m a Councillor, Get me out of Here! while drinking Guinness. It’s been running since 2002, helping councils and local councillors to engage with young people in their area.

We came up with the idea of doing a science version in 2007 and ran the first, pilot event in 2008.

4. Funding

The pilot was funded with a People Award from the Wellcome Trust. We then successfully applied for a follow up grant from Wellcome’s Society Award scheme.

We love Wellcome and they are fab. We approached lots of people – people like BIS and Dept of Education who you’d think would be the right people to approach, and we got nowhere. All roads led back to Wellcome.

If you’d like to apply for science engagement money from Wellcome, our advice would be:

  • Make sure you understand what they value and what they are looking for, and that your project fits in with that.
  • Contact them early and talk to them.
  • Make sure you have really thought it through and explained your plans (not just vaguely). They will fund imaginative, even risky stuff, but they want to know you aren’t going to piss the money up the wall.
  • Realise the importance of formative (and summative) evaluation.

5. Site detail

Shane was just going to run through what’s on the site and how it works. You can prob just have a look for yourself.

6. Site build

It was in WordPress, cos we like and support open source, etc. And also cos WordPress is great. Apparently the site is doing things with WordPress that no one has done before. This is of course very exciting.

Developed by total legend Mike Little. Here’s Mike’s presentation about the project at Wordcamp 2010.

7. Scientist Recruitment

We pursued as many routes as possible to recruit scientists, including contacting learned societies, universities, research institutes and companies. Personally, I also bore people to death at parties and force my card on them if they are scientists or know any.

Because we’d done formative evaluation (i.e. talking to possible end users) as part of the development, we were able to focus communication and explain what the benefits would be to the scientists.

Once we’d run the pilot, word of mouth was one of our most powerful tools, as the scientists who took part really loved it. We also had evaluation evidence to back up our claims of the benefits.

To select the scientists (as we are now oversubscribed) we involved our end users. For the last event we took each scientist’s one-sentence description of their work and put it up blind (i.e. just their words, no information on age, gender, ethnicity, organisational affiliation) on a website where students and teachers rated each description. We, and a representative of the Wellcome Trust, also rated each scientist and we combined the scores.

We still want to find new ways of recruiting scientists, and particularly reaching the scientists we aren’t reaching at the moment. If you can help, let us know! And if you want to get involved, sign up here.

8. Teacher recruitment

Timeline for debate kit sign ups, kit 1

Again, used many routes. As you can see from this graph of sign ups for debate kits, some of the most powerful methods are direct mail, the Planet Science e-newsletter, and posting on the TES message board.

Also, for the big event in June, we got a significant number of sign ups from the STEMNET newsletter and a few from many other sources. We think it’s worth casting the net widely.

Again, word of mouth incredibly powerful. Especially because we recruited a ‘teacher panel’ of teachers to help us develop the project, before the pilot, and they became very invested in the project and really helped us a lot. This emphasis on consultation with teachers also meant we really were providing something they wanted, in a way that was useful to them.

Cross-marketing from our debate kits project was also incredibly useful. It enabled teachers to get a sense of where we are coming from, and the quality of what we provide, before making the commitment of signing up to a two week event.

We are oversubscribed with teachers too, and here part of our selection procedure is to deliberately pick as varied schools as possible (geographically, type of school). This has included Special Schools, Pupil Referral Units and Bristol Hospital Education Service. And also schools in Shetland, Northern Ireland and Oman.

We also try to get a representative sample results-wise. By which I mean, high-performing grammar schools are overly represented in the schools who apply, we try to even things out by picking more of the less academically achieving schools. We think it makes a bigger difference to those kids.

As with scientist recruitment, this is still a work in progress. If you can help us get the word out to teachers (taking part is FREE to schools), please do! Or if you are a teacher who would like to get involved, sign up here!

9. Evaluation strategy

Formative evaluation has been absolutely key. We started talking to scientists and science teachers before we did anything else. Asking them about what they wanted, what would work for them, what motivates them.

For teachers, we recruited a teacher panel of people interested in the project, who could give us instant feedback via email on everything from lesson plan ideas to terminology on the site. This also meant that they were invested in the project, when the pilot came around, and understood it and what they could do with it.

We also included young people, for example testing possible designs on them. And we made several school visits to observe science lessons.

We had a limited budget for the pilot, so much evaluation had to be done in house. But we set aside money to appoint an external evaluation consultant, Yvonne Harris, to spend a few days on the project. She advised us throughout, and also conducted some independent interviews with participants at the end, and audited our report. This was absolutely invaluable as she could check things like questionnaires and methodology as we went along, and suggest solutions we would never have thought of, and bring an independent perspective to the whole thing.

It also helped that we had grown the project organically, as we had developed over the years questionnaires that worked, and found (and corrected) many useability issues as we went along.

You can read our evaluation report on the pilot here.

We now have a much bigger budget for the roll out of the project, and we have devoted far more of that to external evaluation. Kate Pontin is now our external evaluator, and she has been invaluable in helping us think with clarity about what we need to find out and how we can do it. She has also been able to do far more schools observation than we can, as we are busy running the event while it’s on! This has been extremely useful.

Kate’s interim report will be unveiled at a special event at the Wellcome Trust on 20th October. This will be part of a special ‘Beyond Blogging’ event, curated by us. Tickets will be very limited, but do get in touch if you’re interested in attending.

10 Evaluation findings

Shane outlined some topline figures so far from the 2010 events.

TopLine Web stats for IAS June 2010

  • 4,667 students
  • 100 scientists
  • 171 teachers
  • 6,580 questions
  • 4,744 votes

More in-depth evaluation results will be published on 20th October, as above.

In the meantime, you can read our full evaluation report on the pilot here.

A summary of the pilot evaluation report here.

Or our short evaluation report on the 2009 event here.

11. Summary of the strengths and weaknesses of this format


  • Power reversal truly engages and empowers.
  • Online gives access to scientists (for schools) and students (for scientists), without having to go anywhere.
  • Doing it online also creates intimacy (makes it easier to ask real questions and break down barriers), compared to a scientist in person giving a talk.
  • It also ‘levels the playing field’ – quieter and less confident students participate more.
  • You’re reaching all the students in the class – not just the very keen, as you find in science clubs, etc.
  • A conversation develops over time – over two weeks, students can read about the scientists, go away and find out more, ask questions, think about the answers, ask more questions…
  • For teachers, the preparation work is done for them and they can concentrate on facilitating learning.
  • For scientists, it saves time – no travelling to a school, they log in from their desk. Every moment spent participating is spent in engagement.
  • Scientists also find the range and energy of the questions rejuvenating, thought-provoking and inspiring.
  • And scientists get into the competitive aspect and have fun.


  • Some scientists (and some teachers) don’t like the informality of the project, although we think it has real value in making connections and breaking down barriers.
  • We’ve disguised the learning and made it fun, so some teachers/scientists/students don’t see that it’s there and think it ‘won’t help them pass exams’. (God help us if that is the only thing some people think education is about).
  • Schools IT (sigh!). Often school firewalls are over-enthusiastic and we do have some problems with schools blocking the site.
  • It can be hard work for the scientists. Some had ~700 questions to answer!
  • It’s expensive to run (although not compared to many other projects).

12. The Question Game

Our question comedy improv game! OK, so not very comedy, and not actually improv, but kind of a game, inspired by Whose Line is it Anyway? Audience members shout out a word, any word, and we search the site to see if there are questions (or answers) containing that word. Intended to give an insight into the enormous range of questions.

Here’s some results

Search dinosaur

Search space

Search evidence

If you want to play the question game for yourself (be warned, browsing the site can be addictive!), just go to the main page and type in the search box near the top.

Live chat

After the presentation, we wanted to give the audience a feel for what live chats are like, and why they are so popular with scientists, students and teachers. So we had a live online chat, with the audience taking the place of students. We gave out log in details and everyone in the audience who had a laptop (quite a few, it being Science Online) could log in and take part. We also showed the chat on the projector.

Some of the key benefits of live chats:-

  • Access to people who couldn’t be there otherwise: We had a scientist in Michigan, one in Sydney, a teacher in Shetland, and a student who was in school. All of them had taken part in the event and answered questions from the audience about what it was like.
  • Immediate and friendly
  • Fun
  • Newer comments appear at the top, so you need to read upwards.
  • Discussion isn’t threaded – we’ve found that breaks up the chat too much and stops it being a communal experience.
  • Chats can be difficult to follow at first, but you get used to it quickly. Students are often quite familiar with chatrooms and don’t find it’s a problem.
  • There are two chatrooms side by side, one for students, one for the scientists. (In this chat that means one for audience and one for our participants). This makes it more difficult to understand an archived chat, however, we’ve found from experience that if the scientists and students are all in the same box, the scientists’ replies get lost in an avalanche of comments from students, so this works better.

Archive of tweets relating just to our session, hashtag #iassolo.

Posted on September 7, 2010 in Evaluation, General, IAS Event | 1 Comment

Happy New Year and let's get cracking on 2010!

Image by Przemyslaw Idzkiewicz.

Image by Przemyslaw Idzkiewicz.

And I hope all my fellow science geeks in the Northern hemisphere had a pleasant Winter Solstice. (Summer solstice wishes, of course, to our Antipodean readers). I am certainly relieved now the sun is coming back… And I hope you all had a great Christmas, Yalda, Saturnalia, Karachun, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Yule, or other midwinter festival of your choice.

2010 so far…

As you all know, this is going to be a big year for us, now that we have the funding to roll out I’m a Scientist on a much bigger scale. We’ve started the year with a lot of excitement, as we are recruiting a new member of staff to help us cope. I’ve been shortlisting all week (please, teachers, tell your students to never, ever, send someone a file called ‘My CV’. When you get dozens of them the renaming gets very tedious). It’s been really difficult choosing from some very strong candidates but I think everyone on our shortlist would do a great job for us and we are looking forward to interviewing them.

I would like to record here (for Shane-the-boss’s benefit), that I am the event producer who never sleeps! I spent New Year in a big cottage in Scarborough with a group of old friends and, with the help of some New Year’s Eve tequila, have persuaded a public health consultant from Norwich PCT, and a medical physicist from UCLH that they would LOVE to take part in I’m a Scientist.

If you don’t want to be strong-armed into any involvement with youth engagement events, I strongly advise you never to talk to me.

Immediate plans

This week I shall be at the ASE conference on Friday and on Saturday.


Have you seen this woman?

I look like this picture, only less haggard:-/ If you see me, say hello! I’ll hopefully be talking to lots of people about I’m a Scientist and getting lots more people signed up for the event, or the debate kits, or both!

Next week, back in the office, where one of my priorities will be  coming up with a plan to keep the blog updated more often. I was horrified to notice today how long ago my last post was… Another priority will be keeping warm in the poorly-insulated office of balticness. Happily my Mum bought me thermal undies for Christmas. Bless her.

Longer term plans

Our plans for the year are to run two I’m a Scientist events, one smallish scale one in March, to test out the new website (which is being built as we speak!) and then a bigger scale one in June.

March event | 15th-26th | 5 zones | 25 scientists | 100 classes

June event | 14th – 25th | 20 zone | 100 scientists | 400 classes

If you are a scientist or a teacher who wants to get involved in either (or even both!) then get in touch.

And finally…

As a cheering little story, here’s a link that made me laugh yesterday. “Locations of Ancient Woolworths Stores follow Precise Geometrical Pattern”. Matt Parker, a mathematician at Queen Mary, University of London has done a great job here of pointing out the flaws in a ridiculous Daily Mail ‘Stone Age satnav’ story by applying the same methodology to a different set of data. Which might be a great way for you to get a class thinking critically about data analysis. Have fun:-)

Posted on January 6, 2010 in General | Comments Off on Happy New Year and let's get cracking on 2010!

Government Science Minister engages debate on twitter

Some people love twitter, some think it’s a load of pointless old nonsense. I confess, I’ve got into it and think it’s very handy (my feed is @imascientist, if you’re interested). But this afternoon I’ve seen about the best thing I’ve ever seen on it.

Various sciencey type people had been expressing their worries about the new cabinet arrangements, specifically that Lord Drayson was now joint Minister for Science and Minister for Defence Procurement.

Some people felt that science wasn’t being taken seriously enough, with only ‘half a minister’. Some people were concerned by the ‘synergy’ of science and defence technology. Pretty straightforward gossip about the situation, which in other circumstances might have been around the watercooler and gone no further…

But then something amazing happened. Lord Drayson sent the following message in his twitter feed:-

“Please explain specifically what it is you are worried about. I’m listening…”

PD_Smith, in particular, took up the baton, and Lord Drayson actually engaged in a conversation about it! I’ve editted together most of the conversation below, so those who weren’t watching it can see it. I’ve not included everything, and I’ve not put things in strictly chronological order, where it would be confusing (sometimes it seemed obvious that delays meant that remarks which should go together were separated). Apologies to people I’ve missed out and if I’ve changed the sense of what anyone meant.

lorddrayson: @joergheber Please explain specifically what it is you are worried about. I’m listening… @rowanNS @skyponderer @PD_Smith
PD_Smith: @lorddrayson 1. why does Science not deserve its own minister? 2. Are there not ethical issues re unifying sci + military under 1 minister?
skyponderer: @lorddrayson Justify why we need a shared role Don’t we have enough talent to go round that we need to spread it thinly @ science’s expense?
lorddrayson: @PD_Smith In my view the more the sci minister is connected to wider roles in govt the more influence science has to the whole agenda
2020science: @skyponderer One up to @lorddrayson I think 🙂 Round two…
PD_Smith: @lorddrayson The logic of that is that you’ll soon be taking on more portfolios? Sounds to me like a reduction in the import of sci.
lorddrayson: @PD_Smith Science deserves a minister at the cabinet table. Thats key. Tick. Sci desrves a cabinet committee. Thats key too. Tick.
lorddrayson: @PD_Smith But, many ministers have dual roles.. it really helps departments work together better. Silos in whitehall are not helpful.
lorddrayson: @PD_Smith Many science issues are cross-departmental. Take GMES as an example. MOD / DECC / BERR / DIUS all had a view on earth observation
2020science: @lorddrayson Dedication to strategic value of science & technology encouraging. But also need to translate intentions into action.
PD_Smith: @lorddrayson And what about combining sci + defence procurement? Does it send out the right message in an age of nuclear proliferation?
lorddrayson: @PD_Smith Re ethical issues. You have a point. I have to be absolutely clear on the separation between the 2 roles. Civil service r key.
lorddrayson: @PD_Smith However, many science breakthroughs originated in defence research: ultrasound, radar to mention 2
joergheber: @lorddrayson worried abt role of science and thinking behind reorg. Why talk of ring fence? Are these threats to budget? Sounds defensive?
imascientist: @lorddrayson @PD_Smith But is there a risk sci gets ‘pulled’ in a military direction? Potential crossovers w othr depts instead, e.g. health
PD_Smith: .@lorddrayson That’s undeniable. But science should, and can be, about so much more than military hardware.
PD_Smith: @lorddrayson I’m v glad to hear you accept there has to be separation. But I still say it sends out a mixed message to the rest of the world
alicebell: @lorddrayson. Er, isn’t that the point? People aren’t sure that science and defence are the departments they want working together
skyponderer: @lorddrayson Does science not have enough value on its own to be at heart of govt, why does it have to piggy-back in on defence’s shoulders?
lorddrayson: @skyponderer Its not at science’s expense- v. imp to be integrated into heart of govt- gives mores influence & impact 2 sci agenda
lorddrayson: @PD_Smith I agree. Defence is but a small part of the whole. “Science so what; So everything”….will continue from BIS… @sciencesowhat
dr_david_w: @lorddrayson @PD_Smith @skyponderer Gordon Brown wanted a debate on the role of science in service of humanity. His actions speak volumes.
lorddrayson: @imascientist the spinoffs in health are key – which is why I head the Office for Life Sciences too.
imascientist: @lorddrayson But as @alicebell suggests, it seems to send an odd message – as if defence apps are the *main point* of science.
lorddrayson: @imascientist @alicebell Not the main point. Just one of many, many , applications of sci. MoD R&D budget is one of the largest tho…
PD_Smith: Intrigued to hear that @lorddrayson heads the Office for Life Sciences & Defence Procurement. That seems almost oxymoronic…
joergheber: @lorddrayson yet Andy Grove’s quote works both ways as we can see 🙂 Deeds speak louder than words so look forward to the former. Good luck!
lorddrayson: I really believe science agenda is stronger now in govt than ever. Its up to me to prove it though in the future. @tim_harper @joergheber
joergheber: @tim_harper @lorddrayson that’s exactly my concern- science seems a fragile commodity in the scheme of gov. Shouldn’t be on the defensive!
lorddrayson: @joergheber Pure research is safe.. read my speech at FST
2020science: @lorddrayson Internal multiple roles for ministers seems pragmatic. But it does lead to mixed/confusing messages to those outside govt.
skyponderer: @lorddrayson Hats off for the chance for dialogue. Very impressed we can all chat to the Minister for Science about such key issues
imascientist: @lorddrayson I don’t want to sound like we’re all ganging up on you. Kudos for discussing it!
imascientist: @lorddrayson Maybe I’m an old hippy, but I try to engage kids in science, hoping they’ll cure cancer or save planet. Weapons, not so much…
PD_Smith: @lorddrayson @imascientist @alicebell Indeed – what would Michael Foot think of that? Great pity…
timeshighered: @lorddrayson – Your new role seems to be getting a few queries…would you like to write an opinion article for us defending your new brief?
lorddrayson: @timeshighered Delighted… thanks for the offer. Lets do it.
PD_Smith: I have to say, chatting w/ the Minister for Sci & Defence Procurement is one of the most intriguing Twitter experiences I have had to date.

I don’t think that Lord Drayson has completely answered his critics, but I think it’s extremely admirable that he entered the conversation and was so game about it. And I’m truly impressed at such government openness. Is this the first time that a serving government minister has debated his role and the organisation of government, with random interested parties, on twitter?

It ends with a cheeky request for Lord Drayson to write an article for the Times Higher Education supplement, which he agrees to. So you can read all about it there soon!

Posted on June 9, 2009 in General, Scientists | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Two scientists out, three to go!

We’re almost halfway through! Two scientists – Christine Cooper and Scott Grandison – are already gone, and the others are shaking in their boots. Who will the students evict next?

Continue reading

Posted on March 11, 2009 in General, IAS Event | Tagged , , , , | Comments Off on Two scientists out, three to go!

Open the Floodgates!*

Our next I’m a Scientist event is about to start on Monday and we’re all very excited/tired. The site is up and running,  and next week the scientists and the students start talking (and the students start voting).

Teachers have been introducing their classes to the event this week, and doing some of the preparatory lessons to get the students thinking. The IVF debate (teachers can download lesson materials from here for free) is still a big favourite, ‘my 6th form did the IVF debate today … their response….. can we do another …. just as successful as least year! I love it … it is so simple to use and the kids love the role play.’

The scientists taking part this month are:-

Gillian Hamilton
University of Edinburgh
I am looking at the genetic differences between people and whether these can result in a person developing Alzheimer’s disease.

Mark Roberts
University of Oxford, Lincoln College
I work on the bacterial sense of smell.

Christine Cooper
University of Bath
Research into catalysts to force molecules to take a highly specific 3D structure.

Nizar Drou
John Innes Centre
I am a Bioinformatician working on the B.rapa genome sequencing project , which is an international genome sequencing effort.

Scott Grandison
University of East Anglia
I am interested in thinking about living organisms as if they were mechanical devices and studying the changes that they go through as they grow and develop.

Caroline Grainger
University of Bristol
I’m an organic chemist. We work out the recipes to make new medicines.

Check out the site over the next couple of weeks to see how the conversations develop and which scientists impress the students with why they should get the money. We hope you find it entertaining, and even, sometimes, thought-provoking.

(You can get full access to the site by clicking on the ‘GUEST ACCESS’ button, you just can’t post messages, as that power is only for young people.)

*Actually, we don’t make jokes about floodgates here in Bradford on Avon. The town rumour has it that we always flood because the people in Bath close their floodgates to protect all their posh buildings. We last flooded a couple of weeks ago and the sandwich shop is still closed. Damn those pesky Bathonians!

Posted on February 27, 2009 in General, IAS Event, Scientists | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

New I'm a Scientist event starts next week

Student access codes and teacher lesson packs for this year’s event are in the post. Teachers, watch your mailboxes!

We’re running another instalment of “I’m a Scientist, Get me out of Here!” to support National Science and Engineering Week. Our event runs 2nd-13th March, and we’re working hard to repeat last year’s success. The IAS event site will be live very soon, and our first eviction will be on 6th March. It looks like we’ll have another great event. I’m particularly excited about our new team of scientists, so look forward to hearing from them right here on the blog.

Thanks again, everyone, for your hard work. Hope you enjoy the next event!

Posted on February 19, 2009 in General, IAS Event | Comments Off on New I'm a Scientist event starts next week

"I'm a Scientist" wins Sciencewise People's Choice Award

Richard Wilson presents the award to Sophia and Shane

Richard Wilson presents the award to Sophia and Shane

“I’m a Scientist, Get me out of Here!” is the “overwhelming” winner of the People’s Choice Award for Science Engagement, given to us by Sciencewise and Involve! We got all dressed up to collect the award at their London prizegiving yesterday. It looks very proud in our office, and when the sun comes out, it might even shine!

Sophia took the microphone and after giving thanks to the Wellcome Trust, explained how it was the passion and dedication of the people who took part in the event, that made it a success and who voted for us to win the award.  The event would have been nothing without you teachers and scientists.  Thank you.

Huge thanks also to Sciencewise and Involve for their recognition of our project. We hope the boost to the profile of the event will help it become an established science dialogue event in the near future.

Posted on February 19, 2009 in General, IAS Event | Tagged , , , , | Comments Off on "I'm a Scientist" wins Sciencewise People's Choice Award

Thank you National Science Learning Centre!

Sorry, the posts are coming thick and fast at the moment – it’s all go here! (And Bradford on Avon’s been flooded, meaning the sandwich shop is shut, so we are coping without proper sustenance:-))

Anyway, I’m pleased as punch about our latest news, so I’m inflicting it on you, dear readers, my apologies to your inboxes. The National Science Learning Centre (in the form of Miranda Stephenson, who’s been really helpful)  has given us their official backing, in the form of a lovely letter praising our project and urging people to support it financially (click here to download and read the letter!). For those of you who don’t know, the NSLC are like the headquarters for science teaching being as good as possible:-

“The aim of the national network of Science Learning Centres is to promote excellent science teaching by reconnecting teachers with the frontiers of their subject and the latest techniques for teaching it. The National Science Learning Centre is the co-ordinating centre for this activity and is rapidly becoming the focus for all science education activity in the UK.”

What better could we hope for in terms of people who really know what they are talking about about science teaching and learning? They have said about I’m a Scientist:-

“We believe the pilot programme is an innovative and effective teaching tool which inspires and enthuses young people about science, develops their scientific literacy and ability to debate and discuss science issues.”

“Our expert staff who have examined it consider it to be an additional aid to science teaching, expanding teachers’ repertoire of pedagogical tools and pupils’ learning experiences. The event combines excitement and fun, with rigorous educational content and effective techniques for promoting learning and developing students’ higher thinking skills.”

“This event is an innovative means to help teachers to inspire the scientists of tomorrow and promote young people’s engagement with science and thus could be an effective use of public engagement and outreach money.”

I love them!

Posted on February 11, 2009 in General, Science Education | Tagged , , | Comments Off on Thank you National Science Learning Centre!

Scientific hotties

I was at a book launch at the Science Museum on Monday night. An old lecturer of mine, Graham Farmelo, has written a fascinating biography of Paul Dirac, a somewhat forgotten hero of quantum physics.

I’ve never been to a book launch before (before you all start thinking I’m attending a constant round of glamorous parties) so it was all very exciting. Apparently what I should have worn to fit in was a black suit and a beard, but hey, I’ll know next time. The canapés on sticks were good.

Anyway, I ended up getting chatting to a guy called Tim, who was very funny, and his similarly scurrilous friend (whose name I typically failed to transfer to long term storage). I discovered afterwards that Tim was Prof Tim Molloy, Head of Creative Direction for the Science Museum. Not quite sure what that means, but it sounds very sweeping. I guess I’d have been less cheeky if I’d known that at the time.

Tim was bemoaning the lack of glamour in science. Apparently he had this idea to produce a Science Museum calendar, but none of the curators could suggest a single good-looking scientist (any sexy scientists reading this should take it up with the curators, I’m just the messenger here guys). You’d think just by the law of averages some scientists would have to be cute, wouldn’t you? Unless science somehow drives the babes away, which can’t be right. We’re all here, aren’t we?

Anyway, I have taken up Tim’s challenge to find 12 ravishing scientists (of either gender), because, dammit, geeks can be sexy too!

So far I have suggested many candidates, but only 9 has Tim judged to be ‘Hot as hell’:-

Brian Cox (suggested by everyone, including his lovely wife Gia)

Kevin Fong (who apparently has a sexy voice too)

Adam Rutherford (who I’m told is also funny. But I thought good-looking people didn’t need to bother having a nice personality?)

Alice Roberts (‘of course!’, I was told)

Laura Grant (‘the Nigella of science‘, sorry Laura!)

And, from EPSRC‘s NOISEmakers programme:-

Sima Adhya

Daniel Espino

Tim Gabriel

Laurie Winkless

Now I do feel that Tim has passed over some worthy contenders, but again, don’t blame me for your non-inclusion. I guess if I was fussier on the aesthetic front, I might be SM’s Head of Creative Direction too.

I’d also suggested Charlotte Uhlenbroek (worthy of inclusion for that photo alone, I thought) but apparently they can’t be zoologists (I guess they’d have to go on the NHM calendar).

If anyone can think of any other scorchingly sexy scientists, then let me know. We’ve only October, November and December to go. Which gorgeous geeks can cheers us during those winter months?

Posted on January 28, 2009 in General, Scientists | Tagged , | 19 Comments

The next phase begins – working towards running the event again, bigger, next year

The event evaluation report is now nearly finished. Sorry for a bit of a hiatus while we were running I’m a Councillor (just because we’ve got our new IAS baby, doesn’t mean we can neglect our first born:-)).

We hope to get the evaluation report online some time next week (plus a summary – the whole thing is over 100 pages long. Even I don’t think anyone will want to read all of it, beautifully crafted prose though it is). The extremely short version is that everyone loved it and every single teacher and scientist who responded said they would recommend the event to a colleague. Even the teachers who got it dumped on them at the last minute loved it.            Continue reading

Posted on November 24, 2008 in General | Tagged , , , , , | Comments Off on The next phase begins – working towards running the event again, bigger, next year

Mugs gone out to teachers

Just to let you all know that now that schools are back, we’ve posted out I’m a Scientist mugs to all the teachers who took part in the pilot event. They are just a little thank you for your support and the effort you put in to make the event a success. We really couldn’t have done it without you. Hope you like them!

Feel free to liven up the blog by sending us photos of yourselves with your mugs:-)

Here in the office we’re busy getting ready for ‘I’m a Councillor, Get me out of Here!’, which will be in October, for Local Democracy Week. I’m a Councillor is the event I’m a Scientist is based on, and we’ve been running it for five years now. If any of you know Citizenship or Politics teachers who might be interested in the event, then point them in the direction of the information for teachers on our website. The council needs to sign up (to volunteer some councillors), but we have a list of which councils are doing it, and who would be organising it at each council.

Posted on September 1, 2008 in General | Tagged , , , | Comments Off on Mugs gone out to teachers