Category Archives: Scientists

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.”

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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.

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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