If you’d like the chance to win funding for your own public engagement work, apply for the next I’m a Scientist, Get me out of here: imascientist.org.uk/scientist-apply
I used the money to run a series of 8 x 1hr workshops at Calder High School in West Yorkshire. I was put in touch with one of the science teachers there, Nicola Boulton, by David Wilkinson of WYSTEM: as a first step after doing IAS, I did the STEM Ambassador training and went along to some of their networking events, and I’d suggest that as something that any future winners should do – It not only helps with forming links with schools, but also gives you a free DBS certificate and insurance cover for your activities.
We timed the workshops to coincide with British Science Week and ran them for a total of 150 students in years 9, 10, 11. I did the chilli workshop four times, doing the Scoville test on a range of chilli sauces with names like “Psycho Drops”, “Ultra Death” and “ Mad Dog 357”.
We also did some alcohol and water extractions of commercially available chilli flakes named “Hells Flakes”. We didn’t find the chilli sauces to be quite as hot as the manufacturers claimed, but that could well be because many of the students testing them were confirmed chilli-heads!
In addition to the chilli workshop, we also ran a mock clinical trial to determine if caffeine is a performance enhancing drug, running this workshop four times. I think this was quite a valuable experience for the students because it showed them how a double-blind trial is conducted, and helped them understand the placebo effect.
It was also quite timely because caffeine is currently on the WADA watch-list and Maria Sharapova had just admitted testing positive for meldonium, a substance that had just moved from the watch list to the banned list.
We used heart rate and blood pressure monitors and did reaction time and cognitive tests before and after drinking either a double espresso or a decaffeinated double espresso. We didn’t find any strong evidence for performance enhancement, but we did establish that my coffee was the worst the students had ever tasted! I’d love to try and run these activities again with a different school in the future.