Category Archives: Scientists

Advice to our scientists

We’ve had a lot of emails asking practical questions about taking part in June, and I think the best thing is to put the answers here for everyone to see. I suspect many of you who haven’t written would still like to know the answers!


There will be 20 zones on June. The last event in March only had 5 zones, so this time is a lot bigger! In each zone there are 5 scientists, competing for a prize of £500. There are 20 classes of students per zone, usually this will mean about 400 students. Only those students can ask questions, have live chats and vote in that zone, although everyone can read the questions and answers and so on.

Themed zones

10 of the zones are themed. The themed zones are:-

Are we too clean?
Cancer research
Sports Science
Drugs Development
Use of chemicals in everyday life

One or two of you worried that you aren’t expert enough in the zone topic. Please bear in mind that the students you will be talking to are mainly 13/14 years old. Of course as academic scientists you have exacting standards of what constitutes expertise in an area, but in terms of the students level of knowledge and what’s in their curriculum you really are an expert!

Also, the zones were suggested by teachers and scientists, and then voted for by the teachers taking part (there’s nothing you can teach us about two-way engagement!). They reflect what teachers want to cover in their classes. It wouldn’t always be possible to provide five scientists whose work epitomised the topic, but we’ve tried to make sure they all overlap with the topic in some way and that each scientist brings a different perspective to the topic.

General zones

The other zones are all general zones – meaning they have a diverse collection of scientists from completely different areas and no overall theme. These zones are named after elements. The general zones are:-


What do we need from you right now?

At the moment, just your postal address (apart from scientists outside the UK – we will send you electronic versions of everything instead). And a photo. You can change the photo later if you decide you don’t like it, but we need something this week in order to create your profile pages.

What is involved in taking part?

Before the event starts you need to put up some information about yourself and answer some profile questions. It’s very helpful if you can do this by 1st June so that teachers can start doing background work with students. You can have a look at the profiles of the scientists from March, to see what the questions are.

During the event scientists usually spend 1-2 hours a day participating, for the ten weekdays that the event is on. This will vary according to how busy your zone is and how much detail you go into with your answers. Don’t worry if work is taking you abroad during the event, you can easily take part from there, as long as you have access to the internet and some free time. In fact several of our scientists are permanently based outside the UK.


About half of this time is spent answering questions submitted on the website – you can do this at whatever time is convenient for you. They will include questions about your work, general science questions, questions about you as a person and about what you plan to do with the prize money.

Some of the general science questions will be about topics well outside your area of expertise (for example rainbows, or chameleons…) but please don’t just ignore them! Many of the students have never had the chance to speak to a real scientist before and it is a big deal to them. If we just ignore their question then it’s not very encouraging for them. If you feel you don’t have the expertise to comment, please answer by saying that, and perhaps suggesting where they might find out, or what area of science it is.

Part of the point of the event is that students come to realise that real scientists are not like in the movies – they don’t know about everything! But also that they have conversations with you and feel they are engaging with real scientists – whatever you have to say in response to their question is a valid way to start that conversation!

Live chats

The other half of the time is spent having live chats with students. Everybody loves this part of the event – scientists, teachers and students all give chats the highest rating in feedback. The chats are text only, a bit like MSN or google chat. You don’t need any special software or anything, just your computer and access to the internet.

Chats are are booked by the teacher, to coincide with their science lesson, so the time is fixed, but we don’t expect all the scientists to make each one as we know you all have other commitments. We do explain this to teachers and students.

As long as a couple of scientists attend each chat the students will get a lot out of it. Although, be warned, students are most likely to vote for scientists they have chatted too! Maybe you think it’s the taking part and not the winning that counts, but you might change your mind when the first eviction is looming:-)

We don’t know when the chats will be yet, but as bookings are made you will be sent an email with the details. There will also be an online calendar you can consult telling you of all the chats in your zone.

I hope this answers all your questions for the moment. Do get back to us if you want to know more. We are here to help! But also feel free to use the comments section below to ask questions or make comments, as many people will have the same questions as you.

Posted on May 17, 2010 in IAS Event, Scientists | 1 Comment

Government Science Minister engages debate on twitter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Guest blogger: IAS March 2009 winner Gillian Hamilton

Normally young people don’t get much say in science funding, but in I’m a Scientist they choose which scientist they think should get a prize of £500 to communicate their work. March 2009 winner Gillian Hamilton has very kindly agreed to be our guest blogger this week and tell everyone about what she did with the money.

Winner of I'm a Scientist March 2009

Winner of I'm a Scientist March 2009

I decided to take part in the I’m a Scientist project because I liked the idea of chatting to high school students and telling them more about what a career in science entails, something I didn’t know much about when I was at school. From the feedback it sounds like the majority of students enjoyed the experience which is a great result. Winning was completely unexpected, and I’m still thrilled about it!

I have used the prize money to attend the annual Alzheimer’s Research Trust conference which was held this year at the Royal Institution of Great Britain in London. Conferences are great places for scientists working in the same field to come together and present their work, and this year was no different.

The conference was held over two days and scientists from all levels had a chance to present their work, from PhD students just beginning their careers, to the high up Professors in charge of million pound budgets. The talks were wide ranging also, from molecular work being carried out in fruit flies to discussing the effect of diet on risk of disease and the development of new drug treatments.

Jim Broadbent

Jim Broadbent

However, we try not to forget the reason we’re carrying out our research and there was also an emphasis on the human aspect of Alzheimer’s disease. This year, the actor Jim Broadbent gave a fabulous talk on the first day. Jim’s mother had suffered from Alzheimer’s disease and so he shared some of his experiences with us.

On the second day, we had a very unusual start to the conference. The Opera Group is a small team of singers and musicians who are putting on an opera, based on a patient with Alzheimer’s disease and his experiences, next summer (

The Opera Group

The Opera Group

We were treated to snippets from their, as yet, unfinished opera. It was an amazing and very moving experience. As a lab based scientist I very rarely meet people who are affected by this awful disease but the portrayal in the opera was excellent and I look forward to seeing the final piece when it goes on tour next summer.

Following the conference, I am now back in the lab working away on my projects, with a renewed enthusiasm about my work and some new ideas too! So thanks to I’m a Scientist and all the high school students who were involved!


Posted on May 1, 2009 in How Science Works, Scientists | Tagged , , , , , , | Comments Off on Guest blogger: IAS March 2009 winner Gillian Hamilton

Open the Floodgates!*

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

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

The scientists taking part this month are:-

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Scientific hotties

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kevin Fong (who apparently has a sexy voice too)

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

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

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

And, from EPSRC‘s NOISEmakers programme:-

Sima Adhya

Daniel Espino

Tim Gabriel

Laurie Winkless

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

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

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

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

The students decided. And the scientists spent the money.


Ian at the International Conference on Traffic and Transport Psychology in Washington DC. Note the bags!

During I’m a Scientist students voted and decided which scientist they wanted to give £500 to. It’s very powerful that the event gives young people a real say about something: it makes the whole thing much more real and vivid and makes them feel important. As one student said, “[I liked best] how it was totally up to us and not influenced by adults.”

Continue reading

Posted on December 4, 2008 in IAS Event, Scientists | Tagged , , , | Comments Off on The students decided. And the scientists spent the money.

Trendy IAS mugs are here (photos updated!)


A crateload of very stylish “I’m a Scientist, Get me out of Here” mugs just arrived at Gallomanor HQ. Mugs are on the way, as a small thank you present, to scientists, teachers, and friends of IAS. More info (and pictures) after the cut.

In other news, the final evaluation report is nearly finished and will be available soon.

Continue reading

Posted on August 14, 2008 in Scientists | Tagged , , , , , , | Comments Off on Trendy IAS mugs are here (photos updated!)

Listen to Liv Hibbitt on BBC Radio Oxford

BBC Radio Oxford interviewed Dr. Liv Hibbitt this week. You can listen to the interview, hear all about Liv’s experience of I’m a Scientist, her gene therapy research, who could beat Chuck Norris in a fight, and find out why Marmite is better in New Zealand.

Cheers, Liv!

If you can’t listen to MP3s on your computer, drop me an email ( and I will send you a written transcript of the interview.

Audio courtesy of BBC Oxford 95.2FM. Their website is

Click here to listen

(apologies for last week’s broken link… it works now, honest!)

Posted on July 4, 2008 in IAS Event, Scientists | Tagged , , , , , | Comments Off on Listen to Liv Hibbitt on BBC Radio Oxford

The Unbearable Lightness of Being a Moderator

Moderating I’m a Scientist was like driving through a terrific summer storm. Now the chatrooms have cleared, and emails have slowed to a patter, it’s time to venture out and take stock. Goodbye, question and answer sessions; hello, feedback forms! My favourite feedback response so far: “The scientists SEEM like normal people but I can’t be quite sure…” – thanks to imwithstupid for that comment.

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Posted on July 2, 2008 in IAS Event, Science Education, Scientists | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

We have our winners!

Well, the event is all over now (bar the evaluation…) and the students have spoken. The winners of the first ever I’m a Scientist, Get me out of Here! are:-

GCSE 1 – Jenny Barnes

GCSE 2 – Ian Walker

6th Form – Nick Dickens

Thanks so much to everyone for taking part. The votes were all really close, the scientists all did great jobs, and the students and teachers had such enthusiasm and energy.

We’re off to the pub now to celebrate. And then I, personally, plan to sleep all weekend! Although I do feel a bit sad it’s over.

Posted on June 27, 2008 in IAS Event, Scientists | Tagged , , , | Comments Off on We have our winners!

We've chosen the scientists!

This has been even harder than choosing the schools. We ended up cutting out bits of paper with everyone’s details on and moving them all around the desk, making up fantasy groups and trying to see if each group had got everything covered. I really wanted to include almost everyone, but we had to say no to some really great people.

However, I think the 15 scientists we’ve picked (five for each group of students) will be fantastic – good communicators, enthusiastic, with interesting work to discuss and raising some thought-provoking issues. I would publish the details on here, but I’ve not had confirmation back from everyone yet.

But I can tell you that topics covered range from studying climate change to engineering solutions for rectal incontinence. Which is really quite a range, however you look at it.

Teacher packs

We’re sending the teacher packs out today to participating teachers. All our teaching resources can also be downloaded by any teacher who wants to (below). Each pack contains:-

I would email everyone electronic copies too, but it’s loads of files and would clog up inboxes, so I’ve uploaded them here. Once the actual site is live they will all be available there, but in the meantime, you can download them from here. We believe that information and education should be free, so all the materials are copyright free (under a Creative Commons Attribution license) and any teachers are free to download the materials and make use of them.

Posted on May 23, 2008 in How Science Works, IAS Event, Science Education, Scientists | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

What we've found out from scientists so far

We’ve been asking lots of questions of the sort of people who might get involved in the event, to work out what they want from it, how we should set things up, etc. Apparently this is called formative evaluation*. Continue reading

Posted on February 22, 2008 in Scientists | Tagged , , , | Comments Off on What we've found out from scientists so far