He donated his £500 winnings to the Liverpool World Museum to facilitate setting-up the Magical World of Science, a one-off science-based workshop for the general public.
Category Archives: Winner Reports
Phil was voted the winner of Digital Zone in March 2013. Here he reports back on how his £500 was used.
If you’d like the chance to win funding to develop your science outreach work, apply for I’m a Scientist at imascientist.org.uk/scientist-apply
Hello! I am Phil, I participated in the Digital Zone back in March 2013. On I’m A Scientist I was frequently asked what my typical day was. Well my typical day during the event was something like this. Wake up. Grab coffee. Open I’m A Scientist, look through dozen or so newly asked questions. Stress over inability to answer them all. Answer questions: “When will the sun explode?” & “How many KFC Bargain Buckets will it take to get to the moon?”. More questions are asked. Open chat. Enter 30 excitable students. Intensely focus and furiously type. Have the validity of my research questioned and sense of humour challenged. Students leave to a chorus of well-wishing ad promises of votes. Be called a ‘lad’. Exit chat. Check new questions. Repeat throughout day.
Now, my days involve working with students in school to help them make their own digital games in a Game Makers club. These game are different as they are designed with a specific social issue in mind. They tap into the growing trend for developing Games for Social Change – games that raise awareness of and tack problems in society. This work is being support by the Isle of Portland Aldridge Community Academy. The money that I was awarded though the I’m A Scientist competition has been used in support of this club, including the purchasing of equipment and software licenses.
Regarding specific software, I purchased a license for Game Maker at £80 and an Oculus Rift Developers Kit 2 at £350 to show off the possibilities of VR! The rest has been sunk into ongoing travel expenses – not particularly exciting of course!
James won the Wellcome Trust-funded Palladium Zone in March 2013. He used his prize money to fund visits to local primary schools to engage the students with science through hands on experiments, showing them how interesting and fun physics can be.
James’ experiments included Magic Sand and NeverWet Spray to demonstrate hydrophobic behaviour and Pyrex submerged in cooking oil to demonstrate the effect of a refractive index on the behaviour of light. As well as playing with the experiments, Westfield Primary School held an afternoon question and answer session for James to talk to the students about being a scientist.
James also took part in the Diamond Light Source open day, bringing his experiments to the general public.
Ashley was voted the winner of Molybdenum Zone in 2012. in 2015, Ashley spent his prize winnings commissioning artists to develop artwork which interpret scientific research being done at Sheffield University.
The pieces were shown at the Krebs Festival in Sheffield. Ashley is continuing the project and is still in talks with artists for future collaborations and projects, working out ways of getting the artwork more visible to the general public.
If you’d like the chance to win funding to for your own science outreach activities, apply to take part in I’m a Scientist at imascientist.org.uk/scientist-apply
After winning I’m a Scientist I became a STEM Ambassador and started the Sciphun.com website to promote science subjects to young people with differnet resources. Some key tools that I have used in teaching are free science apps that appeal to kids of all ages as they are a fun way to learn. There is a wide range of apps to help understand biology, chemistry, physics, environment, space and there are even apps for pre-schoolers.
On the site. there are also science experiments that can be set up at home and these have been tested by some of our work experience students.
Scientists’ work is very diverse and there are lots of different careers students can go into. The Scientist Profiles on the website give an in depth look at some of these. Even in the area of Agriculture there are varied careers that students can go into if they want to help feed the world!
The prize money went towards creating and hosting the Sciphun website. I also spent money on flyers and T Shirts with Sciphun printed on them to give away as prizes for competitions on the site.
Since winning I’m A Scientist I have also been invited to speak at schools and Career Conventions to promote science subjects. Every year I give tours to over a hundred students and visitors that visit my lab and greenhouse. Young people are fascinated by science once they are exposed to it close up, and we need to keep that spark alive.
If you’d like the chance to win funding to develop your science outreach work, apply for I’m a Scientist at imascientist.org.uk/scientist-apply
Since the I’m a Scientist competition is all about interacting with students, I was sure I wanted to visit schools and show these students first-hand what it’s like to be a scientist. I decided to go for what I knew best and show off some chemical reactions in front of a live audience.
My first opportunity to do this was at Nottingham’s Festival of Science and Curiosity – a week-long celebration of all kinds of science in February, where I put on two chemistry shows for families that attended.
The show started with chemical traffic lights – a reaction of a sugar solution that slowly changes colour from green to red to yellow but can then be shaken up to turn green again. Volunteers were then called for (lots of hands went up!) and with their help, we made a bright blue glowstick from mixing chemicals as they flowed down a clear plastic tube into a beaker.
I then poured the contents of this beaker into a new tube and the light changed colour from blue to neon yellow. “It’s magic!” was called from the audience (my favourite comment of the day) so I saw a chance to explain some of the chemistry responsible (it’s not magic, it’s science). The show also contained some smells, pops and bangs, finishing with an explosion from a dry ice powered cannon.
I really enjoyed doing the show at the fair: seeing and hearing the audience’s reactions and knowing it meant people were excited about science felt like a great achievement! Afterwards, one of the parents in the audience asked if I would be interested in doing the show again at a local school, to which I hastily agreed.
A couple of months later I travelled to Awsworth Primary School for a repeat performance that happened to coincide with the March for Science day. This time the audience was much bigger, with the whole school turning up to watch one of two shows. It was fantastic being able to deliver a ‘potions’ lesson to a sea of pupils and explain to them what being a scientist is like. After hearing about the first show I did earlier in the year, one of my co-workers from the lab was keen to help with this performance, so I’ve been able to get even more real scientists involved in communication and outreach through I’m a Scientist. We were also featured on their school blog.
I’ve had a lot fun doing these shows and think they’ve been really effective at spreading the message that science is worthwhile, interesting and something that everyone can enjoy. Thank you to everyone in the I’m a Scientist team as well as to the funders for making it all happen. I’m sure I’ll be doing even more of these demos in the future!
If you’d like the chance to win funding to develop your public engagement work, apply for I’m a Scientist at imascientist.org.uk/scientist-apply
Since winning my zone in this program, I have upped my commitment as a STEM Ambassador. To this end I have spent time in developing my visual aids which I have used not only in my STEM work but also internally when teaching as well as external outreach event.
I have spent many hours taking images of tissues with many different stains demonstrating their diagnostic utility as well as explaining my profession to people. The prize money has helped me to go from the rudimentary print outs to A3 foam boards with high quality images on them to make my explanations easier to many different groups and levels.
I have also been to a number of schools careers events that would have otherwise been difficult for me to attend. This has also used the foam boards as well as other visual aids and anatomical models I have bought with the prize money.
More recently I held workshops at the Cheltenham Science Festival fringe event held by the NHS trust I work for in Cheltenham. I delivered the same workshops 4 times on two consecutive days, with a number of colleagues helping. The workshops were entitled ‘who are you calling normal’ where we went through a number of physiological measurements to demonstrate that normal is a range, when we understand the normal range we can spot the abnormal.
I have now moved to a new hospital where in addition to clinical practice I am also an associate lecturer at the University of Bangor. I still use one set of the foam boards in my outreach here and the other set remains with my old department who continue to use them in public engagement events and STEM talks.
I continue to use my experience taking part in the’ I’m a Scientist…’ program in my daily life and encourage more of my colleagues to participate in the program.
Emily was voted the winner of Copper Zone in 2011. She used her prize money to support Bright Club Manchester , a comedy night where researchers, from all fields and backgrounds, take to the stage to perform short stand-up comedy routines about their work.
Bright Club attracts an adult audience that might not be interested in a lecture but will find that there is something they can take away from the diverse body of knowledge they are exposed to over the course of an evening. The Bright Club (www.brightclub.org/) concept started at UCL in London, with Manchester being the first off-shoot, but it has since turned up in many cities across the UK and even made it to Australia.
After plucking up the courage to do a comedy set about her own PhD research, Emily enjoyed the experience so much she joined the organising team. In her spare time she helped to organise Bright Club Manchester events and supports researchers, who may have no experience of doing stand-up comedy, by providing training and advice.
Emily says “*performing was a great experience! As an organiser I
relished the opportunity to help others share their research with a wider
If you’d like the chance to win funding to develop your public engagement work, apply for I’m a Scientist at imascientist.org.uk/scientist-apply
If you’d like the chance to win funding to develop your public engagement project, apply for I’m a Scientist at imascientist.org.uk/scientist-apply
I never expected to win the Dysprosium Zone in March 2015, as that I’m a Scientist event began my hope was to make it past the first eviction, such was the competition within the zone. As for the event itself, the quality and variety of the questions asked was incredible and my typing speed very much increased over the course of two weeks of live chats!
One memory that stands out for me was that our final day coincided with the solar eclipse over the UK. It was a fittingly cloudy day over Cambridge, but one of the schools in the zone had still got outside and measured the changes in light at their school, before sharing it with myself and others in the final open chat. This, and the answers from the other scientists in the zone helped my education to expand further as well, and that was the real joy of I’m a Scientist.
I had decided to create an artificial (or “fake”) ice core to take to schools. As an Antarctic climate scientist, with an interest in past climates, ice cores are a vital part of that work, but are impractical to take anywhere, especially schools.
My initial plan was a solid bespoke plastic core, however this was unfeasible to source and potentially too heavy to use safely within schools. With help from the I’m a Scientist alumni network mailing list, a suggested new, more “Blue Peter”, design based around drain pipes, bubble wrap and, of course, some sticky back plastic was produced. After a trial using a soft drinks bottle and cling film, I decided to take on the new design. I’m not the most delicate of DIY types, more into demolition than considered construction, but a pretty smart looking core was produced.
Drilling an ice core can be pretty well shown in video resources that have been produced by the British Antarctic Survey. But actually describing how we can use those cores to reproduce past climates is a far trickier concept. Through my artificial ice core, I have a prop that gives an idea of the size of a working piece of core.
Using the core, it is easier to visualise what is meant by “gas bubbles in the ice” and explaining some of the trickier concepts within this branch of palaeoclimate science. The current version of the core, I still see as a prototype and I hope to refine my design as I use it more to ensure it is as useful a resource as possible.
Since I’m a Scientist, I have started to diversify my outreach, and while getting into schools remains the “core” of my outreach activities, I have also started to get involved in more events communicating my science within the local community such as through panel events in the Cambridge Science Festival. I am also getting involved in a national outreach campaign with my funding body the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) through this year that rolls out in 2018 across the UK.
Finally, there are three thank yous I would like to make. Firstly, I want to extend my thanks to all the IAS team. It is a great experience and one I will always champion whether my colleagues are completely new to outreach or a veteran of the school visit. Secondly, a huge thank you to Anna, Leonie, Olivia and Joe, the other four scientists in the zone, who made the competition fierce yet immensely fun. Finally, to the kids in all the zones, I’m a Scientist is nothing without you, your energy, interest and intrigue is the reason it’s such a success, so a huge thanks to you all.
If you’d like the chance to win £500 for more science outreach, apply for I’m a Scientist at imascientist.org.uk/scientist-apply
After taking part in the I’m a Scientist event, as I wanted to use it to bring particle physics to schools that aren’t currently able to work with scientists from universities. However, the original plan of doing this through particle physics masterclasses wasn’t able to happen and so, after a fortunate discussion with colleagues at CERN, I was able to stick to the original idea, but support a project designing and building cosmic ray detectors that can be built by schools cheaply!
The prize money has been put towards the CosmiPi project which aims to build the world’s largest open source cosmic ray detector. The original team for the project met thanks to the first hackathon by The Port at CERN in 2014, where people with a mutual interest in building a cosmic ray detector were able to come together and shared skills and enthusiasm. I joined as part of a discussion on how to make the data from the detectors public so that this huge data set could be analysed by anyone around the world.
Specifically, the prize money was put towards developing the next prototype and on materials to spread the message to schools that this is something that they might be interested in. The reach of the project could be huge. Since both the hardware and software are open source, and the aim is to use materials which are as affordable as possible, such as the Raspberry Pi, it means schools around the world can take the design, start building their own and begin measuring cosmic rays coming from the sky and beyond!
It has been recently announced that runners up in the CERN Beam Lines for Schools Competition will receive a CosmiPi to perform physics experiments in their schools.
I think the biggest change for me since I took part in IAS was that this was first time I had done serious science communication online. I had just moved to France (and my French wasn’t very strong at that time), so I couldn’t do my usual outreach method of visiting schools at working at a science festival. After the success of IAS, and seeing how much you can do online, I was motivated to find more ways I could use the internet to communicate the research at CERN. Now I even manage all of the social media for my experiment, ATLAS.
The next step for me would be to expand my outreach work online and also to get more involved with summer schools, especially in place that don’t have a strong connection already to particle physics and hopefully inspire the next generation of physicists.
From taking part in I’m a Scientist, I learnt that it was possible to do good science communication online and I was able to develop my ability to describe complicated scientific concepts in a clear and understandable way.
If you’d like the funding to develop your own outreach activities, apply for I’m a Scientist at imascientist.org.uk/scientist-apply.
I had a great two weeks taking part in I’m a Scientist, and was thoroughly honoured to be voted first place by the students involved. The Holmium zone group were some of the most funny, intelligent and enthusiastic scientists I’ve ever had the pleasure of working with.
Our research group contains a mixture of experimental and theoretical chemists, physicists and computer scientists, so what better way to celebrate this mixture of disciplines than a programmable physics experiment that measures a fundamental chemical constant? And it’s also made out of Lego…
Since receiving the prize money, we organised a summer project for two undergraduate students to design and build a Lego Watt balance, based on the diagrams found in a journal paper published by NIST. The money went into purchasing the electronic equipment and Lego bricks, which we sourced from a variety of online companies. As a consequence, our Watt balance has a very colourful appearance.
The guys did a great job to get the project up and running, and even made us our very Lego construction manual for future reference, since they only had photos to work out how to build the model! Once complete, they also tested the programming and circuitry and made some further suggestions to improve our version for use in schools. We are currently finishing off these amendments and hope to use the Watt balance as part of our student-run university Outreach project towards the end of the academic 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!
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 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!
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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!
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 seldomsirius.net.
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”.
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.
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!
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 imascientist.org.uk/scientist-apply
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 imascientist.org.uk/scientist-apply
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.
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.
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 imascientist.org.uk/scientist-apply
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!
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!”
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!’”
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!
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 (http://www.iop.org/about/grants/school/page_38824.html) and the design, parts list, and software to run the experiment are freely available here: http://arxiv.org/abs/1412.1699 …jus’ sayin’.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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!
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:
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:
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
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!
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 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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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 imascientist.org.uk/scientist-apply and you could win £500 to make it a reality. Just maybe watch out for the soldering.
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!
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.
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!
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!
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!
We 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.’
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 imascientist.org.uk/scientist-apply.
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.
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.
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 imascientist.org.uk/scientists
Find out what’s coming up next at the Science Club on the Catalyst Centre website
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!
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 imascientist.org.uk/scientist-apply.
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!!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
If you’re up for the I’m a Scientist challenge, apply now the next event by Monday 2nd of May
Answering questions from the students in I’m a Scientist was not only great fun – but it also got me to think about what I do in a different light. Despite stiff competition from the other scientists, I was delighted to find out I’d survived until the end and now had the opportunity to do something new with the prize money. So here’s what I did…
I’m passionate about sharing my enthusiasm for science with others and especially keen to pass this on to the younger generations. I wanted to start something that would reach as many young people as possible and get them to think about science in a new light. With this in mind, I set up a new outreach scheme called ‘Leaders in Science’. The idea behind this was to have a scheme whereby A-Level and BTEC students design and deliver their own science workshops in local primary schools.
I teamed up with the Da Vinci School in Stevenage and we advertised the scheme to A-Level and BTEC students, eventually ending up with a group of 8 students to pilot the scheme with. I led a series of workshops on science topics outside of their curriculum (‘How to Invent a Medicine’ and ‘Everyday Chemistry’, for example), as well as sessions on leadership, communication and presentation skills. Working in groups of 4, the students then set about designing their own workshops for 10-11 year olds based on this material.
After much discussion, planning and practicing, it was time for the first primary school visit. Both teams decided to do workshops on the pH scale, looking at pH properties of everyday household items. I’m delighted to say both teams smashed it – the primary school students loved it and learnt something new, and the Leaders in Science students did brilliantly to make it fun and engaging.
After the success of this pilot year, everyone is keen for Leaders in Science to continue. As I move into the next stage of my career next year, I’m passing the scheme over to six young GSK scientists and PhD students. Together, we are we are hoping to expand into more secondary schools and get the scheme accredited by the Royal Society of Chemistry.
The prize money from I’m a Scientist has certainly made all of this possible, funding a website to advertise and share resources of the scheme and all the resources needed for workshops for the next few years. Thank you!
Visit the Leaders in Science website for free resources and to contact the team about getting involved in the scheme.
I did I’m a Scientist in June in 2014 in the Animal Behaviour zone. Between Shaylon, Anthony, Catherine and Natalie and me, we had a great couple weeks and answered loads of great questions. I was lucky enough to win, despite stiff competition from the other scientists and here’s what I did with my money.
I’m a marine ecologist, which means I spend my time studying where animals live in the oceans and why, particularly in the deep-sea. With that in mind, I decided to buy a remotely operated submersible (called OpenROV http://www.openrov.com). This is basically a camera, attached to some propellers and a long cable (called a tether), which you can drive around underwater using your laptop and an XBOX controller. It’s a great, very portable tool for studying the oceans, especially because there are so many areas of the sea we know very little about. OpenROV is a really fascinating, community-led project that encourages anyone, expert or not, to get involved in marine science and/ or robotics.
It took a few days to build and I had to brush up on a lot of skills like soldering (hadn’t done that in years and years but you never know when these skills can come in handy).
So far it’s had a few test runs, in a swimming pool, a lake near where I live but also in a Norwegian fjord. In the future I’m hoping to get out with some local SCUBA diving clubs in the summer to film the biodiversity on some local wrecks. There’s more investigations planned for the summer hopefully so watch this space.
For updates on his ROVing exploits, follow James on Twitter, @James_chesso.
Jess was voted the winner of Colour Zone in June 2015. Here she tells us how she immediately got to work using the prize money for her own outreach event: a day bringing girls into her department at Imperial College London…
Last year, I got involved with Greenlight for girls’ mission to inspire girls of all ages and backgrounds to pursue STEM subjects after helping out with their events in Brussels. We then started dreaming about their first UK adventure, and with help from the I’m a Scientist prize money, pretty quickly that became a reality.
On Saturday 26th September, Imperial’s Department of Physics went ‘swipe-free’ 09:00 – 10:00, and welcomed 200 girls into the Blackett Laboratory for the first g4g London. This was an epic organisational triumph: a cross-campus multi-department effort to encourage and inspire 12 – 16 year old girls to study science, technology, engineering and maths.
The day itself came after a week of sleepless nights and endless to-do lists. I printed so many lists of contact details and registers and conformation e-mails and room reservations I got myself logged out of my college print service because of unusual usage. I sent so many ‘BCC’ e-mails gmail thought I was spam. I changed my Tesco order so many times even they must have thought I was mad: madly adding croissants, gluten-free muffins, vegan breakfast bars and wipe-able tablecloths until close to the 23:45 cut off on the Friday before.
On the day, the girls arrived at 09:00 on the dot. They’d come from over 30 different schools and most of them didn’t know each other. The girls streamed into LT1 and, for a few hours at least, men were in the minority in the Physics Department. I gave a little talk and bigged up the place and people that made me: South Hampstead and my mom, who was sitting in the seat I sat in for my whole undergraduate education, up at the back, in an aisle.
In the build up to g4g day London a lot of names were thrown around to do the opening talk: the go-to guide for impressive female speakers. Dr. Emily Mayhew popped up on almost every list, and she did not disappoint: wowing the girls with her knowledge of medical fractures, female discoveries and difficult spellings, before their first workshops of the day.
The rest of the day seems a bit of a blur, rushing around campus collecting swipe cards (I was cautious of the £20 penalty on failure to return), diligently collecting kit, melting cheese in microwaves, raiding the cleanroom stores for absorbent towel, popping balloons, chatting to girls I’ve spent weeks talking to in cyber space. After final workshops the girls regrouped in LT1 to hear from Lucinda, the ICU president. Lucinda is GREAT- she’s a passionate public speaker with a brilliant plan to represent science in politics.
The day came to a close with the Blackett Laboratory’s first public Bake Off, with entries from girls, workshop leaders, Imperial staff and senior academics. It was truly a masterclass in molecular gastronomy- with cakes representing volcanoes, hydrocarbons and brain surgery.
And we had done it. Two hundred girls had made friends, made discoveries and changed their plans for the future. Every single girl I handed a goodie bag too said she wanted to apply to Imperial. The youngest wanted to know what they’d have to get in their GCSEs to come here. The oldest students were already imagining their first days in halls, where they’d eat lunch and which union clubs they’d join. I cannot believe how much of a success it was- or how much all the volunteers and workshop leaders seemed to get out of it. The tweeting was immense, the spontaneous feedback has made me teary-eyed and the enthusiasm empowering.
These are girls who want to become civil engineers, design their own apps and run their own research groups. These are girls who will. Every single organisation represented at the event want the skills these girls had- the passion, the charm, the capacity to collaborate, the drive. These young women need to be celebrated, supported and encouraged. These young women will change the world.
What have I learnt from the whole thing? I think I learnt what most people mean by ‘collaboration’ and how hard it is to get people to do things for free on a weekend- absolutely no budget and no staff privileges meant I had a one month self-taught crash course in event planning/conference organising/crowd control/schools liaison, all the time struggling to keep out of the watchful gaze of my supervisor.
I also learnt that it’s important to be nice to people- especially when you’re asking for things for free! The ‘more girls in science’ pitch sales pitch is pretty compelling and usually when you explain what your plans are people are more than willing to donate their time, resources and efforts to such a worthwhile cause: but not if you aren’t polite or clear.
Arranging an event on campus is a BIG deal. You need to get departmental approval, security approval, faculty approval. You have to consult the college brand to see how you’re supposed to use the Imperial College logo, then break every rule in the book and change the colour. You have to have a pretty big name on the booking form to avoid paying thousands of pounds to rent lecture theatres on the weekend. Lots of people just don’t e-mail back, and lots of places still prefer phone calls (especially learned institutions and academies). Ultimately, everyone at the end of the electronic postal system is a human, and each one of those humans wants to know what you want them to do, or send, or design.
To run g4g day @ Imperial College London, I had to sweet talk an awful lot of people into doing an awful lot of things for free. But there are somethings that even that can’t cover! In the end, my I’m a Scientist prize money ended up covering the 250 custom designed beautiful bright blue books for the girls to detail their findings in over the course of the day and a very popular science Photo Booth. Actually, these parts of the day alone are most commonly brought up ‘post-event’, with Imperial’s Outreach Department and the Institute of Physics trying to arrange similar things for their events… so it was money well spent! I also really enjoyed speaking to the teachers that attended about how fun it was to take part in I’m a Scientist (and filling their bags with flyers). Rarely a day goes by when I don’t sing I’m a Scientist’s praises in some form!
Read Jess’ full account of organising the g4g day on her blog Making Physics Fun, which is full of useful tips on setting up outreach events at university.
See the full list of the workshops held on the day here.
Find out more about Greenlight for girls and their g4g Days at www.greenlightforgirls.org
Anaïs came second in the Molecules Zone of March 2015 and was awarded the £500 after Peter Maskell found alternative funding for his project. Anaïs got straight to work making the most of this opportunity and here she fills us in on what she was able to do with the money….
I really enjoyed I’m a Scientist and, although I came second, I was fortunate to be kindly awarded the prize money by the winner, Peter.
I wanted to use the money to set up an outreach activity for to inspire young children to look around them and think about science. Initially I contacted people in charge of outreach activities at Antikor, where I work, but unfortunately they didn’t have an event planned in the near future. As people couldn’t come to me I decided to look for a place where I could go to them!
One day I received an email from Science Grrl, in which I learnt that Fun Palaces were looking for scientists to do workshops. Fun Palaces take place in libraries around London every year in October. They mix art and science and are open to everyone. Libraries don’t have much funding available, so when I contacted Brixton Library they were delighted about my interest in doing a workshop with them.
I decided to base my workshop around light. I felt it was perfect for children and adults, mixed chemistry and physics, and was a way to relate science to art. I used the prize money to buy items needed to run the activity, including some chemicals. In the workshop I started by first explaining how the colours in light can become visible, answering questions such as “why the sky is blue?”. I then explained and showed the effect of UV light on quinine. We finished by encouraging the children to mix some chemicals, causing luminol to react with a flash of light. The children were really happy, and were especially impressed by the experiment with luminol!
I also prepared posters and a display about the activity to attract people to come see us. On the day I asked a friend to help out with the event. We ran it all day with an audience of children aged between 6 and 13 years old, with and without their parents.
We also had a visit from a journalist from South London Press which covered the event and published an article about our experiments. It was a really great day and thanks to I’m a Scientist, Get me out of here I can run this workshop again soon.
I wanted to find a way to put the prize money towards a project that provided school children with exposure to real scientific research in a fun and simple way. My original plan was to produce a series of posters that shared cutting-edge scientific ideas in astronomy with school children through simple but attractive imagery. In the end I did spend a portion of the money on this project, but I also wanted to do something more proactive that would have a longer-term impact on school children across the country.
The British Science Association runs an excellent scheme called CREST Awards, whereby 11-19 year old school students complete projects that help build their scientific skills. The work for these is typically done in school STEM clubs, which also provide an extra opportunity for students to engage with science.
Suitable scientific projects for CREST Awards are not easy to prepare, particularly astronomy projects and this was evidenced from the lack of such projects currently available for schools from the CREST website. I wanted to remedy this by designing a number of astronomy-related CREST projects that used real astronomy data, yet were easy for school teachers to use, and were also really fun for students.
Most astronomy data is actually free and readily available for anyone to use, including high-quality images that can be used to answer exciting and cutting-edge questions in science. It is my hope that by helping school children access this data and providing projects that allow them to study and use this data in a real scientific experiment we could enthuse the children to pursue scientific subjects in school and possibly take up a career in science. So I started designing a few projects that used real and freely available data.
As it happened at that time a local school in Hertfordshire made a request to our local STEMNET coordinator for someone to help them set up a new STEM club. I thought this would be a perfect opportunity not only to test my CREST projects, but also to work with a school going through the process of setting up a STEM club, and in doing so, see the process through the teacher’s eyes.
Working with the school and the teachers I was able to refine and fashion the projects, making them easy to use for the teachers, while also being new and exciting for the school children. I used the prize money to visit the school regularly, give talks to the students, and advise the teachers on how to run the CREST Award projects I had designed. By being directly involved in the STEM club itself I was also able to see how the students reacted to the projects, what worked for them and what they enjoyed the most. It was a really enjoyable experience and taught me a lot about how teachers interact with students and what scientists can most helpfully provide teachers with to help them.
These projects will soon be available through the CREST website, with information for how they can be run, where the data can be obtained, and how the results can be interpreted by students and teachers. This is all thanks to I’m a Scientist, Get me out of here, so thank you to all involved!
You can download and print Nick’s posters for yourself using the links below:
Nick also has a limited amount of prints of the posters available to post out. Contact him through his blog to get hold of one: www.aclusterofthoughts.blogspot.co.uk
To read more about CREST awards and get involved, head to the British Science Association website: www.britishscienceassociation.org/crest-awards.
Thanks to the I’m a Scientist prize money, I’ve gotten to step out of my research laboratory at the London School for Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and talk with students and members of the public about science and science careers. During the competition, I had a blast meeting the many students online that participated in the I’m a Scientist chats, and they asked fantastic questions about infectious diseases, bacteria and vaccines.
I participate in outreach to students as a STEM ambassador because not only do I want to spread the good word about bacteria and vaccines, I really want students to see research scientists as real people, rather than people always in lab coats and safety goggles. I want them to know they don’t have to have the most perfect grades in every subject, that they can have hobbies like languages and music as well as work hard to cure cancer or make a vaccine! I am trying to inspire students to take science A-levels, and ultimately consider going into careers in science that they might not have ever heard about or knew to exist.
When I won the Immune System Zone I said I would use the £500 prize money to visit schools and help with events that would encourage science and science careers in young people and that is just what I have done. I have used the prize money for various train journeys to transport myself and co-workers to schools. I have also bought squishy cute Giant Microbes to help me explain different diseases and bacterial attributes, such as flagella, cell morphology, and sporulation. We have bug-shaped sweeties to hand out as rewards for asking good science questions, and pencils too! We’ve even gotten fancy bright blue lab coats for students and us to wear during a science outreach activity.
One of these activities uses a Glowgerm solution which we get students to rub into their hands either before or after hand-washing with soap; it goes on clear and then we ask all the children to wash their hands. Then using a black light the bacteria will light up so they can see how well or badly they washed their hands. It’s a fun experiment to do with all school age kids and brings home the message about washing your hands and preventing spread of bacteria really well.
In my travels so far I have been to a ‘Women in Science’ day at Tolworth Girls School where I talked with Year 11 students about careers in science along with 11 other women from different science backgrounds. The students said that they found the day ‘inspiring’ and many said they would want to take science A Levels.
I’ve also just been a ‘Living Book’ as part of an event at the London Bloomsbury Festival. I was ‘borrowed’ by members of the public for fifteen minutes at a time so I could talk with them about the topic of ‘Bugs as Bioweapons’. I used the prize money to print off materials on microbes, antibiotic resistance, and the history of vaccines, and information on foam boards. Between myself and two co-workers we probably talked to almost 100 people at the event. I found this a really fun experience and we had some lovely feedback, one visitor said it was the’ best thing’ at the festival!
I’ve also participated with four of my favourite co-workers at a ‘career speed-dating’ event in Surbiton where I got to speak with over 150 year 6 students to convince them to take science A-levels, and I even have a work experience student now visiting me at my lab.
Aside from visits, I’m aiming to use some of the money to generate some simple, fun and re-usable ‘outreach packs’ to be used at festivals and school visits and help me and other scientists explain vaccines and infectious diseases in a simple and clear way.
The I’m a Scientist prize money is helping make all of this possible, and teachers are thrilled when I get in contact and offer to come visit. Coming up in November I’m off to a primary school in Taunton, Somerset to spread the good word about vaccines and careers in science as part of the schools ‘Science Week’, where apparently I’ll get to sing songs about science, give out prizes at an assembly, and then meet with Years 3-6 individually to do some activities. I’m also looking forward to planning more school visits, including a ‘science masterclass’ for 6th formers from Camden in the New Year.
I wanted to put the prize money towards buying a 3D printer for a local school, and setting up a 3D printing club for the children. This is a great opportunity to spread awareness and experience of 3D printing to school children – something which I hope will encourage them to take up science careers.
A call went out to all schools who take part in STEMnet projects in Sussex for them to tell me why they deserved the 3D printer. I also got in contact with the super generous team at Ultimaker who loved the idea and offered to help part-fund the project. In fact, they were so keen to help they even offered a free one month loan printer as a second place prize for another school! Ultimaker run a fantastic education programme based around 3D printing, and I’m very happy to be partnering with them to help provide a school with a brilliant 3D printing educational package.
On top of this, the talented 3D modeller and designer Brian Richardson heard about the competition and offered the winning school one of his gorgeous models for free, to get the kids inspired!
Six schools responded to the STEMSussex call for entries, with each school submitting a short statement as to why they deserved a free 3D printer. I read and re-read them, and took the bank holiday weekend to decide… All schools were of course worthy and put across a great statement, but in the end there can only be one winner!
The winner was Longhill High School. Head of Technology, Mr Matthews wrote a wonderful statement detailing his own experience with 3D modelling and printing, and his plans to get the kids creating a start-up business designing and selling models such as iPhone cases and jewellery, with profits being reinvested to purchase the raw materials needed to create more prints.
Longhill High School has a large proportion of students from underprivileged backgrounds who don’t often choose STEM careers so it is an absolute pleasure to be working with them and donating a free 3D printer. I recently visited the school as a STEM ambassador and helped to set-up the printer and the 3D printing club. Who knows – we might find the next 3D printing genius!
A valiant effort by Cardinal Newman Catholic School earned them the second prize of a 3D printer on loan for one month. They’ll get to try out what the printer can do, as well as benefit from all the educational support from UltimakerCREATE that’s on offer. Mrs Stone, their Head of Technology, wrote of the sheer excitement the pupils had of watching Youtube videos about 3D printers, so I can only imagine what the kids reaction will be once they get their hands on one in the classroom!
My thanks also go out to Daniel Hawkins at STEMSussex who helped organise this competition and visits.
Fiona was the winner of the general science Promethium Zone in 2014. Over the last year she’s been hard at work on her project, funded by the £500 prize. We asked her to tell us how she’s been getting on…
In June 2014 (after a lot of fast typing!) I was delighted to be told I was the winner of the Promethium Zone! I had a lot of fun engaging with so many people across the UK that I wanted to be able to do the same with whatever I spent the prize money on. So I decided to take up the challenge of making videos that anybody could watch anywhere.
Making a video was quite daunting because it was something I had never done before. However, I eventually just went for it and spent the money on a high quality video set up. I then rounded up some of my friends and colleagues and had a chat with them about being a scientist whilst filming it.
Next came the hard bit! Editing. Who knew editing software could be so awkward?! After hours and hours of editing and working out how to add music in and altering audio levels and all the rest of it, I finally finished my first video!
It’s called “What is it like to be a scientist?” and it’s a great feeling to see the finished version after so much hard work has gone into it. I am really happy at how it turned out and I think it gives an insight into what being a scientist is actually all about. Watch it here:
My next video project is the video I originally wanted to make first but I felt I needed more experience in film making before I embarked on it. My research looks into trying to understand why and how people develop dementia. I am hugely passionate about not only the science behind dementia but also about raising awareness and helping people understand more about it. Therefore my next video will be trying to do this.
The best thing about spending the prize money on video equipment is that I can keep making more and more videos. I have so many ideas and can’t wait to start them! So thank you to I’m A Scientist, Get Me Out Of Here! for the opportunity and a MASSIVE thank you to all the students who voted for me!
Follow Fiona on Twitter @FHMcLean and subscribe to her Youtube channel for updates on her next videos.
Queen Mary University London, where I work, is home to the Centre of the Cell educational charity, “the first science education centre in the world to be located within working biomedical research laboratories”. After winning the March 2014 I’m a Scientist Get me out of here: Organs Zone I donated my prize money to support the great work Centre of the Cell do for scientific communication and outreach.
Centre of the Cell is located in Whitechapel, Tower Hamlets, East London. The Centre aims to inspire the next generation of scientists and healthcare professionals, get people talking about biomedical research. and widen participation with further and higher education, especially in our local community.
Educational sessions are run in the Centre of the Cell’s state-of-the-art ‘Pod’ and supported by workshops, mentoring and revision programmes, online resources and internships. The ‘Pod’ shows are interactive exhibits for visitors aged 8-18 which combine games, objects and website content to teach principles of cells and biomedical science.
The Centre of the Cell also takes eight different science workshops to schools including shows such as ‘Snot, Sick and Scabs’ and ‘Teethtastic’, and there is a Youth Mentoring Scheme for young people aged 14-19 which helps arrange work experience, allows students to meet with researchers and provides careers advice.
The prize money from I’m a Scientist Get me out of here has been used to support all these important science outreach activities.
If you’d like to arrange a visit you can find more information at the Centre of the Cell website.
My I’m a Scientist memories are of a crazy few weeks where I typed as fast as I could trying to answer myriad questions. I don’t think my keyboarding skills are any better as a result, but it was great to see so much interest in my field!
I began with a vague idea of spending my winnings on a camera, and using it to take timelapse videos of the sky and what happens at some of the world’s great observatories, which I visit now and then. At some point I realised that lots of people already do this, (such as Christopher Malin), and they do a way better job than I ever could.
I love photography however, so I went ahead and bought a Gopro, with the new goal of using it to make some short films that aim to give an idea of what my job as a scientist is actually like. To show the cool stuff where I get to travel the world and hang out with other scientists, but also the less exciting everyday stuff where I sit at my desk and scratch my head.
Progress on this has been harder than I thought. It turns out there’s a knack to making time lapses look interesting, but not nauseating. I stuck the GoPro to my helmet for my bike ride to school (yes, I call it school because I go there to learn!), but the resulting film is rather disorientating. I also sat it on my desk while I drank my tea one morning, that works better, and you can see a short clip of it above. I’m slowly building up a bunch of these that make up a “typical” day, and when I’ve got enough I’ll put them together with a narrative to explain what my day to day life as a scientist is really like.
I’ve also taken the camera on a few trips over the last year, to Santiago in Chile and to Paris. I made a really long timelapse of me giving a talk at a conference, and you can see a wee cut out of me explaining something by waving my arms around a lot. I’ll be taking the GoPro to some more places this year to build up a video of what a less typical day, where I get to go somewhere interesting, is like.
My hope is that when I’m done I can convince someone in a totally different field of science to take the camera and make their own videos, with the same goal of giving an idea of what a day or two in the life of a scientist is really like.
In May 2015 I was able to do outreach at the Drimnagh Castle Primary and Secondary Schools in Dublin, Ireland which I attended myself as a student. There I did 40 min workshop sessions with three groups of 6th class students (11-12 yrs) and four groups of 5th year biology/chemistry students (16-17 yrs). I used the prize money to buy reagents/small piece of single use items for the workshops (e.g. chemicals for making the tissues transparent, glucometer strips for showing blood sugars, etc).
I have to say I loved it and got some great feedback and engagement with the kids. I got permission from my supervisor and brought back some research equipment for recording blood pressure to do some demos and had got some reagents and samples to make some mouse organs transparent to bring back and show the kids too (of course they liked the gory stuff too). I got to discuss with them why blood pressure is important, how my research helps us understand the problem and some of the tools we use to study this (i.e. making mouse kidneys/hearts transparent to image – which also allowed me to address the ethical use of animals in biomedical research which helped to change a few minds).
The students even wrote about my visit in their class blog, A Very “Hearty” Discussion, where they say that “it takes guts to be scientist!”.
I had very early on been working on a model to try demonstrate how the kidneys concentrate urine in conjunction with The Physiology Society to try help explain the complicated process for A-level students. The model would demonstrate filtration, re-absorption and osmoregulation. However, after spending just under half the money on this, it turned out that the model wasn’t going to work as planned and would be difficult to replicate in schools in its current state. To further refine the model would have taken up too much of my time in the lab and The Physiology Society are now continuing that part of the project.
My idea for the prize money was “Plasmas in your Pocket”– to design and print a set of beautiful, intriguing and educational coasters that can be used in cafes, bars and other recreational areas to introduce the public to laser-plasmas and their applications. To draw a person in the coasters rely only on the stunning snapshots of glowing plasmas that we’ve captured during high power laser experiments at the Central Laser Facility outside Oxford. Once they’ve admired the aesthetic beauty of the image, a second layer of wonder is offered if a person reads and learns what it is that they’re looking at and the societal benefit of the research.
To make this happen I partnered with Chris Hatherill, from pop science initiative Super-Collider, to design the coasters and realise the brief within the budget of £500.
We managed to come up with 3 designs and printed 1000 copies of each design with the given budget. So far I’ve been trialling them out at bars, cafes, public talks and events throughout 2015. I’ve taken them with me for school and public talks across the UK and have sent them to friends to distribute in Sydney, Australia and Washington, US. They were popular at my favourite rum bar, Milk, in Reading, which is my perfect target audience as they’re mostly 20-30 somethings with maybe a tech and sci interest but no background.
I still have just under half of the original 3000 left, so there’s still a chance for people to get their hands on them! If they prove to be popular then I will look to seek further funding for more coasters from STFC or the Institute of Physics through their public engagement schemes.
Sam was the runner up in the Astronomy Zone of June 2014. The zone winner, Roberto, decided to support Sam’s project with the £500, as he had secured funding for his own project from the Science and Technology Facilities Council through his STFC Public Engagement Fellowship.
We asked Sam to tell us how he had made use of the prize money over the last year, and here is what he said……
I took part in the Astronomy Zone in June 2014 and it was an incredibly busy zone. With 425 students involved who asked over six hundred questions, and almost eight thousand lines of live chat over 18 different chats, we were all kept extremely busy talking about space for the whole fortnight.
A huge number of brilliant questions were asked, about whether aliens existed and where they might be, how black holes and worm holes work, what dark matter is, and many other things. We were very lucky to have such an interested group of students to talk to.
The outreach project I decided to spend the prize money on was to go into schools with the University of Southampton Astronomy Physics and Astronomy department’s ‘Astrodome‘, which is an inflatable, portable planetarium! The planetarium is used to project the stars all around our audience, so that we can explain the things people can see with their own eyes in the night sky. We can then zoom in on different objects in space like planets, galaxies and nebulae, as if we were using a telescope, so that we can explain the science behind the objects that we study as astronomers, and talk about the many questions we still need to answer.
I went to ten different schools with the planetarium using the prize money, with the aim of getting school students interested and excited about astronomy and science in general. The money was used to pay for rental and fuel for the van used to transport the Astrodome to the schools.
One of the schools I chose to go to was the secondary school I went to myself before becoming a scientist, Bulmershe School in Reading. The experience I had learning science at school and the great physics teachers I had were extremely important in my decision to study physics at university and eventually become an astronomer. For this reason, I wanted to try to pass some of the enthusiasm for science I have gained back to the school and its current pupils, and attempt to inspire a new generation of scientists there, as well as in the other schools I visited.
University of Southampton Astrodome Planetarium shows are free for local schools! Head to their website, astrodome.soton.ac.uk, for more information on show content and to book them for your school.
You can read about Roberto Trotta’s Hands-on Universe project here: robertotrotta.com/the-hands-on-universe/
I had heard that I’m a Scientist was a fast and furious experience and boy was it! In the live chats, the questions came so fast, I thought my fingers were going to catch fire. But what a great experience too. It really felt like we were engaging with kids who hadn’t considered science interesting before. The format is great: being able to answer questions in detail in the evenings, and answering live questions (about ALL sorts of stuff!) during the lessons.
With the prize money I promised I would be buying some Lego to try and help teach computer vision (what you can do with a computer and a camera). But what to build? We then came across a great website which shows you how to build a Rubik’s Cube solving robot out of Lego. It uses a colour sensor to scan a cube, and then solves it using robotic components made of Lego. This struck me as an excellent way to introduce people to several parts of computer science at once – how we can sense the world around us (such as colours), how we can approach ways of solving problems (such as the Rubik’s Cube), and a bit of robotics and Lego thrown in for fun.
The prize money paid for enough Lego to build the system, and a couple of Rubik’s Cubes. The final result was excellent. We have so far taken it to computer science days at local schools, where it has gone down extremely well. Especially when students can race the robot to solve the puzzle! It really engages children into thinking about robots and problem solving, and how you can approach problems like understanding what we see around us.
If you’d like to build your own smarty pants Rubik’s Cube solving Lego robot, all the instructions and video evidence is at mindcuber.com/mindcub3r/mindcub3r.html
Well, it has been an incredibly busy year and a half since I’m a Scientist! My research has taken up almost all of my time but I have managed to get out and about to schools to deliver a few talks on chemistry, meteorites, solar system formation, the Rosetta mission, formation of comets (making a comet from dry ice is cool – literally!) and the origins of life (the organic building blocks and where they form in space).
With the money I won I have bought lots of items that I can use to model and explain what I am talking about. I have bought a piece of a Campo del Cielo iron meteorite, a tektite (a blob of terrestrial rock made molten by an impact) and several samples of metallic elements including iron, nickel, iridium and gallium which are found in meteorites. I also purchased an old Crookes radiometer to show how the sun’s light can deflect objects in space and change their orbits depending on how light or dark they are.
In preparation for the bigger chemistry demonstrations, the ‘Flash – Bang – Wallop’ stuff (which hasn’t yet gone out on the road, as it were), I’ve bought a range of samples of elements, including sulphur, bismuth, lead, tin, vanadium, titanium, niobium and tantalum, so that pupils can see and touch elements that they may only ever have heard of. I also used some of the money to subsidise an iPad with fantastic apps called ‘Elements’ and ‘Elements in Action’, both of which are an invaluable tool when teaching the chemistry of the elements. Finally, I purchased two small hand held spectroscopes for when I produce coloured flames making it possible to see how the spectra change depending on the elements being heated.
Happily for me, my work is very interdisciplinary, so I’m able to mix and match the samples and equipment to suit what I’m talking about. I can combine meteoritics and solar system formation with elements and spectra. For example, meteorites contain a higher amount of iridium in them (use the meteorite) so when they heat up in the earth’s atmosphere they produce an iridium flare (use the iridium sample and an iridium compound) which is a flash of light green in colour (use the spectrometer).
I’m a Scientist, Get me out of here was a brilliant experience; being able to connect with, educate and enthuse school pupils was really a privilege. I think this collection of bits and bobs will keep their interest value for years to come and I hope to use them to grab the interest of pupils all over the country for the rest of my career!
Being part of I’m a Scientist was both scary and a huge adventure! It seems like yesterday that questions were being fired up at the speed of light and my fingers could barely keep up with the tired keyboard and the flashing lines of the chat-room screen! I got everything from the most mind-boggling question to “do you like sloths?”, and really cracked my brain to get around the “how would you solve world hunger?”. But winning was just the beginning and the rush has continued when it came to putting the prize money to good use.
The first idea was to use some of the money to visits a few schools and organize a “Marine Science Exploration Day!” to celebrate it all! This soon proved a challenge to organize within a short time frame! After much debate, date re-arranging and multiple requests, I have decided to keep it as an ongoing project outside the I’m a Scientist scope, but keeping its science sharing philosophy, and I have now planned visit to schools both in Portugal and the UK!
One of the things the prize money recently came in hand for (and this took me quite a long time to decide) was to assemble a “Marine Science Discovery Kit” that I can use for these visits, so that the I’m a Scientist legacy will live on. I decided get a range of educational materials to showcase Marine Science from one end to the other (e.g. animal models, underwater microscope, identification guides for field days), covering the basics from the understanding of our marine microscopic world to the identification of species on the beach, while showcasing a variety of groups, from seaweed, to crustaceans, cetaceans and much more! After this, all I had left to do was to get creative!
In the meantime, I took part in the “Meet the Scientist!” event, in a chance for scientists to showcase their science to the wider public (and on what I thought was a great idea to start piloting my ideas for marine science days!). It was a blast (take a look at the pictures)! I used another part of the prize money to do a stand called “It’s a barnacle world!” where, besides the massive A0 posters on everything you always wanted to know about barnacles, I had microscopes mounted with baby barnacles and micro seaweed and loads of hands-on activities!
You could get in the blind box (if you were brave enough!) to discover the fake barnacle and make your own barnacles (with as many cool adaptations as you could think of!) and take them home with you! We had a few hundred people coming by and it was a challenge to keep up!
But this was just the beginning and in the following months I have managed to participate in the Green Fest, SplashDown! Summer School, Marine Science Career Fair, help out in the Young Researchers scheme and am about to become a STEM Ambassador! Also, some of the school visits are coming up and I cannot wait to put my Marine Science kit to good use again!
My latest project using the prize money is the creation of a website with all the nitty-gritty bits of being a marine scientist and some teaching resources and do-at-home activities to divulge the fascinating facts about our oceans! You will be able to contact me directly, about everything related to marine-science and being a biologist, and we can keep the scientist-public door open (so look for updates to this post soon!).
This has been quite a journey since the epic weeks of I’m a Scientist and, thanks to its funding that helped to “plant all the little seeds” for the new projects, it has been an ongoing quest for science. I am quite excited about what the future holds and wish all of you prospective scientists the best of luck. May science be with you and remember to enjoy the journey!
Last June I had the pleasure of talking to students in the Neodymium Zone over 2 weeks, answering many intuitive questions and enjoying great discussions with classes during the live chats. I was completely surprised when I was voted as the winner, and very happy! Winning £500 to spend on science communication opened up so many ways in which I could carry on engaging students in the world of microbiology. I had a few ideas of ways that I could do this, but it didn’t take me long to settle on the idea of a microbiology eBook.
‘Meet the Microbes’ started off as a fun Twitter conversation with colleagues a couple of years before and was actually made a possibility with the prize money. Inspired to carry on engaging students and the public in science after taking part in I’m a Scientist, Get me out of here, I started volunteering for the Thames Valley Branch of the British Science Association. It was through this volunteering that I met a bioartist Immy Smith, who was able to make my microbe ideas come to life, which was perfect timing! Over the past year I’ve been writing the book, and it’s now complete and ready to download.
‘Meet the Microbes’ is a book where young readers, or anyone wanting to learn about microbes, can delve into the weird and wonderful world of microbiology and become a scientist by tracking a flu outbreak, growing microbes and even using them to make your own food. Aside from learning about the good, the bad and the ugly microbes, readers can also carry out experiments at home.
Apart from using the prize money for fantastic illustrations, I’ve also set up a website (www.meetthemicrobes.co.uk) and you can download the eBook now as a PDF (and soon on Amazon Kindle, Apple iBooks and Google Play). I’m hoping teachers will also find this site helpful in future, as I plan on adding resources such as microbiology lesson plans and experiments that can be used in the classroom. I really hope students will enjoy reading about Mike O’Bacterium, Sue Domonas and the many other menacing and marvellous microbes in the book!
Without the I’m a Scientist team, The Wellcome Trust and all the students and teachers involved in the event, ‘Meet the Microbes’ would not have been made possible so a HUGE thank you to all!
I used half of my prize money to fund my own outreach work. The majority of the £250 was used to create and design an earthquake hazard model. This model was then used to teach several 6th form classes about structural stability of buildings during earthquakes. The feedback from theses sessions was resoundingly positive, so much so that I’ve been booked up to repeat these sessions with the same schools in future years.
I have also demonstrated the earthquake model at the Science Uncovered night at the Natural History museum. This is a fantastic outreach evening where the museum opens up during the night and scientists are encouraged to present and talk about their science to all members of the public covering age groups from pre-school to the retired.
I will be leaving my earthquake hazard exercises and models with new PhD students at the University of Leeds who have agreed to continue using them to inspire and inform young people on the importance of geoscientific knowledge in hazard management.
As pledged on my I’m a Scientist manifesto, I donated the rest of the prize money to the Geology for Global Development (GfGD) organisation. This is a fantastic young organisation formed by a group of students and undergraduates with the aim to increase the impact of geoscientists in international development.
Earth scientists have an intimate knowledge of how the planet works and can play a pivotal role in all aspects covering climate change, natural disasters, finding water, increasing crop yields and oceanography. The £250 at GfGD will be used to teach young earth scientists how best science can be used in international development.
Taking part in I’m A Scientist, Get Me Out of Here! showed me just how inspirational working with young people can be. It also showed me the power of the internet to connect people across continents, as I chatted to UK students whilst I was working in Cape Town, South Africa.
During my time living in Cape Town, I was involved in a number of university level projects to help build a new generation of scientists to solve the range of problems facing South Africa and the rest of the world. Winning I’m a Scientist encouraged me to take a step back and look at how I could help get those young scientists in to university in the first place.
Using the prize money, I partnered with the Applied Centre for Climate and Earth System Science (ACCESS) and some fellow scientists from the Cape Town area to set up a bio-science club at a local school and run a week long version of the ACCESS “Habitable Planet” workshop which would help the students to explore why the planet Earth is habitable for us as humans.
We met with the students a few times before the workshop, so that we could all get to know one another and to figure out what the students wanted from their club and the workshop. These meetings included discussing what scientists do, why South Africa is a special place to study science and even taking a hike to explore Cape Towns iconic Table Mountain.
For the workshop we spent a week learning the story of the Earth and how it has changed over time to become the place where we live today. We started our story with the Earth as a bare rock in space, learning as the week progressed that you need an atmosphere, oceans, geology, water and life to explain why the Earth is the way it is. As the week went by the students built their own collage model of the Earth, adding things to it each day to show what they had learnt.
We took lots of field trips during the week to bring the story of the Earth to life with local examples. To understand the role of our oceans, the students visited the Two Oceans aquarium and went to have a look at the ship that oceanographers like me use to study the oceans around South Africa.
Later in the week, the students also visited Kirstenbosch botanical gardens, the University of the Western Cape and the University of Cape Town, to learn all about the different types of scientific research that is conducted there. They got to use high tech equipment such as interactive 3D maps, used microscopes to investigate how we can use plants to understand climate, and even dissected a shark!
Throughout the workshop we encouraged the students to ask lots of questions. And just like the students involved in I’m A Scientist, they did not disappoint! Prizes were awarded for the best questions of the week and the questions asked covered everything from the big bang, to food production, to how to become an engineer!
The prize money from I’m A Scientist, together with funding from ACCESS, supported the bio-science club activities and workshop in various ways. In particular this included covering the costs of transport for myself and other scientists who were involved, entrance for myself and a botany specialist to Kirstenbosch botanical gardens, stationary and craft supplies for the collage and other activities undertaken, lunches for the students for the Table Mountain hike, snacks for the students for after school meetings, plants for experiments conducted at UCT, and finally some fantastic books as prizes for the students who showed the greatest interest during the workshop through the questions they asked.
We finished off the week with two events. First, a big debate, where students showed how much they had learnt about to the Earth by debating current environmental topics including climate change, geo-engineering and what sort of food is most sustainable. I was really impressed with how the students had learnt to think critically, even when they didn’t initially agree with a statement. On the last day, a group of scientists from around Cape Town joined us for a careers morning where the students could get advice on all their career related questions.
The bio-science club is continuing this year and even though I have now moved on to a new job back in the UK, the lessons learnt from I’m A Scientist have encouraged the students and I to keep in touch via skype!