‘I’m a Scientist, get me out of here’

board picture

Rebecca Jones recently competed in the ‘I’m a Scientist, get me out of here’ competition and here’s what she had to say on the experience:

Having heard great things from fellow colleagues about the ‘I’m a Scientist, get me out of here’ competition I decided to submit myself for questioning by the students around the country on all kinds of science. With my research summed up in one sentence I waited for the response from ‘I’m a scientist’ with anticipation. I got the email back and I was in! Now for the tough part…

‘I’m a Scientist, get me out of here’ is a nationwide public outreach event sponsored by the Wellcome Trust where school children get to interact with scientists in a diverse range of topics. They do this through profiles that scientists create (mine’s here) as well as through questions and live chats. Kids then vote for their favourite scientist and these get knocked out over the course of the second week of the competition, with the winner gaining £500 to put towards outreach.

I was allocated a general zone, rather than a themed zone such as the colour or electromagnetic zone, called the Ytterbium zone. This meant I was not with scientists in my own field but was pitted against a linguist, physicist, microbiologist and radioactive waste disposer!

The first week of the competition was full of questions and live chats and they were definitely interesting! Each live chat with a school class is open to all the scientists to take part, which is great as the questions come in thick and fast. I had some great chats with students and some really insightful and probing questions such as asking about the virulence of different parasites and different transmission methods. A few students asked interesting questions about potential science careers and the teachers even got involved in the chats too! Although the occasional chat was affected by some spamming students the majority proved to be a hugely enjoyable experience for myself and the students.

Outside of the live chats students are able to ask questions and this fed the scientists with a steady stream of questions to constantly keep us occupied. Some questions I was asked personally (What’s your favourite horse breed?) but the majority were asked to all the scientists (Do you like rock?!). I could answer questions anytime and students could write back asking further questions or challenging what you’d put. Once the first week was over it was then time for the knock out rounds!

Thankfully we didn’t have a live chat whilst the first set of evictions was announced on the Tuesday of week 2 so we nervously awaited the results online. I wasn’t the first out so I lived to fight another day, answering questions and joining in on more live chats. The week then ended with the microbiologist crowned as the winner of my zone but I thoroughly enjoyed my 2 weeks of I’m a scientist. The questions were great, the ‘I’m a scientist’ staff were excellent during the chats and I’d recommend the experience to anyone!

The next event is running in November so if you’re interested in outreach and communicating any aspect of science I’d definitely recommend you apply!

and the winners are…

Thank you to all who submitted pictures!

The winners of our photo competition are… In the “buildings” category, Louisa Dever for her picture of greenhouse agaves at sunset

In the “instruments” category, Rob Beynon for his picture of an insect which ended up in the wrong place at the wrong time

In the “people” category, Lukasz Lukomski for his picture of Steve Paterson in action in the field



Tissue ‘scaffold’ technology could help rebuild large organs

University press release today:

Scientists at the Universities of Liverpool and Bristol have developed a new tissue ‘scaffold’ technology that could one day enable the engineering of large organs.

Researchers have shown that it is possible to combine cells with a special scaffold to produce living tissue in the laboratory. It is hoped this can then be implanted into patients as a way of replacing diseased parts of the body.

Read more here

Listen to Anthony Hollander on BBC One at 6.30 tonight.

You can also read the original article (open access): ‘Artificial membrane-binding proteins stimulate oxygenation of stem cells during engineering of large cartilage tissue’, published in Nature Communications.

TEDxGhent: Genes regulating ageing and the quest for immortality

This is a guest post by João Pedro de Magalhães

TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) is a global set of conferences under the slogan “Ideas Worth Spreading”. In addition to the main TED event in North America, TEDx are independent TED-like events, which can be organized by anyone who agrees to follow the TED principles. TED and TEDx events address a wide range of topics within the research and practice of science and culture, often through storytelling. The speakers are given a maximum of 12-18 minutes to present their ideas in the most innovative and engaging ways they can. TEDxGhent in Ghent, Belgium, has now been organized for five years running. It aims “To bring great ideas from all over the world to Ghent and to present local ideas to a larger audience.”

So I was excited about giving a TEDx talk, knowing it would be very different from a normal scientific talk. I was assigned a mentor, to help me prepare my talk. This was very useful because he advised against some of our hardwired scientific instincts, like resist the urge to explain and be cautious about conclusions, have more pictures than text in the slides, give the talk a more personal angle and include many anecdotes and metaphors.

The event itself last weekend was really interesting, with music, poetry, science, art and comedy. Its 700 tickets were sold out. My talk was entitled “Genes regulating ageing and the quest for immortality”, and I tried to give an overview of what we know about genes regulating aging and longevity, from genetic manipulations in worms, genetic determinants of human lifespan and genetics of long-lived species like naked mole rats and whales. Feedback after the talk was really good. Even though I have given many talks for general audiences, including in schools, I definitely learned a lot about giving talks to the general public.

The video  of my talk will be available on YouTube in due course [update Aug 2015: now available]. In the meantime, here is a beautiful sketchnote summarizing my talk.

Bringing science historical objects, research and imagination together

This is a guest post by Lu Vieira de Mello and Meriel Jones 

The Victoria Gallery and Museum (VGM) started in 2008 as the University’s contribution to Liverpool’s European Capital of Culture celebrations. As well as paintings, sculpture and ceramics it displays objects of historic, cultural or aesthetic value from the University’s science and engineering departments. It receives around 4000 visitors per month.
A few years ago, my search for insects for a school visit led me to the Heritage Curator, Leonie Sedman. I visited  the VGM stores with her and saw shelves of objects once used in the University’s zoology teaching and research.
From this chance meeting came a plan to bring some of them back to public display through collaboration between the VGM and B. Sc. Life Sciences degree students. Four students have worked on their final year projects using this material with Leonie, Lu Vieira de Mello and myself.
The team:  Luciane V Mello,  X, Y, Leonie Sedman, Meriel  G jones

The team: Luciane V Mello, Nicole Coombs, Sophie Banks, Leonie Sedman, Meriel G jones

The result is thought-provoking exhibits at the VGM about egg collecting, critically endangered pangolins and rhinos – and a witchitty grub embedded in resin for visitors to handle.

From the first two student projects with VGM; Witchetty grubs in acrylic. The students were Lewis Wade and Harriet Passey, both graduated B Sc Biological Sciences in summer 2014.

From the first two student projects with VGM; Witchetty grubs in acrylic. The students were Lewis Wade and Harriet Passey, both graduated B Sc Biological Sciences in summer 2014.

The museum materials are at the centre, but other objects like a 3D print of a rhino horn (thanks to the School of Architecture/Creative Workshop), molecular image of keratin and video of live pangolins put them into a twenty-first century context.
What do the students get from this? Project results that communicate science to visitors, an insider’s introduction to museum curation and the challenge of bringing objects, research and imagination together.