Family Science Fair at Ness Gardens, 11th March 2017

Iain Young and Laurence Anderson were talking to visitors to the Family Science Fair about Aquaponics today.

Laurence’s PhD springs from our partnership with Farm Urban www.farmurban.co.uk: an SME founded by two University of Liverpool PhD Graduates: Paul Myers and Jens Thomas. Paul Myers (winner of the 2016 Duke of York Young Entrepreneur prize) said: “Farm Urban take science fresh from the lab and implements it in aquaponics systems in the heart of Liverpool”. “The partnership between Farm Urban and the University of Liverpool helps us to develop and test the most efficient ways to grow food in urban environments”.

Aquaponics provides a focus for inspiration and a narrative for healthy eating and environmentally sensitive food production, which we have used to engage schools, residents’ associations, hospitals and other universities and to develop education and research around sustainable urban living.

Laurence Anderson brings aquaculture and plant growth trial experience from the recent BiFFiO (testing the potential of aquaculture and agriculture waste streams for biogas production and fertilizer: www.BiFFiO.com) and RAZONE (using ozone to improve aquaculture water quality: www.Razone.no) projects.

iain young ness gardens march 2017

Thoughts on #LiveTweeting

As a part of the Centre for Cell Imaging and a member of the Microscopy and BioImage Analysis community, I occasionally get away to conferences like the recent NEUBIAS training school and symposium in Portugal.

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Since having joined Twitter last year (@dn_mason), this is the second conference that I’ve been to, and as a result, was the second time I tried (with reasonable success) to Live Tweet at the conference.

Live What Now?

Going right back to basics, Twitter is a platform for broadcasting small messages (of ~140 characters). Some describe it as micro-blogging. To many, the brevity of each tweet is both it’s greatest strength and also one of the most frustrating features.

Live tweeting, is basically the act of providing a running commentary of a seminar, event or even a whole conference. All of the tweets associated with such an event can be tied together using a text-tag called a #hashtag (which starts with a hash like that last one).

You can always go back through the twitter website (or app) and see all of the tweets associated with a hashtag. For example, check out all the #NEUBIAS tweets.

OK, I get it, but why bother?

I find myself being asked this question quite a bit. So here are my three main reasons for live tweeting (in no particular order):

  1. OPEN NOTEBOOKS: Like most people these days, I have way too much paperwork. Between manuscripts, notes and admin, the last thing I need is more paper on my desk. By live tweeting, I can keep track of who presented what, and when (and, what I or the audience thought of that in the question periods/breaks). Once you get the hang of it, you can check and record links to papers and websites on the fly so you know that you’ve not made a mistake in writing down the the URL (especially important if your handwriting is less than clear). Everything is time-stamped and fully searchable so it’s easy to find that note you took six months ago (can you say the same about your regular notebooks?).
  2. ACCESSIBILITY: Plain and simple, live tweeting, gives people who aren’t at the event access to some of the ideas, thoughts and opinions that are expressed there (see endnote #1). Perhaps you’re off at another conference but want to stay abreast of the latest research, or maybe your budget doesn’t stretch to a trans-atlantic flight. Furthermore, this taps into the idea of open science. By sharing your ‘notes’ via Twitter, everyone gets interactive access to them and the community can start a conversation around them.
  3. NETWORKING: This might be a slightly broader point, but a lot of scientists use Twitter. By becoming part of the twitter ecosystem surrounding an event, you will probably find it easier to get yourself and your work known. You’re also becoming a bigger part of the community and getting involved with discussions to which you would otherwise be oblivious.

Tips for Tweeters

I am by no means a twitter expert (a twexpert?) least of all regarding live tweeting, but below are a few tips that might help you to get started:

1) Ditch the default website

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At least 3% of your screen here is taken up by beard.

The twitter homepage (above) may look nice but it’s really inefficient on space. Once you move to Tweetdeck, you will never look back. Tweetdeck is a very customisable app built into twitter. Compare the image above with the one below. Left to right, I have my home feed (tweets from people I follow), my notifications (people talking directly to me or interacting with my tweets) and the #NEUBIAS hashtag, all on one page.

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You can add as many columns as you want, so you can follow individual people, hashtags or direct messages, tailoring exactly what you see in each column (likes, retweets, follows &c)

2) Tabbed browsing

It’s fairly obvious that Twitter is a web application (see endnote #2). So you probably already have a web browser open. Learn how to use and manage tabbed browsing, so you can quickly search for websites (IE the speaker’s homepage), papers (PubMed or your equivalent repository), or relevant links that you might want to come back to later. Learn shortcuts to quickly switch between and close tabs.

3) Links and Hashtag

Does the speaker use twitter? If it’s not on their title slide, a quick search is a good way to find out:

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Assuming you don’t have a ridiculously common name…

If they do, include it in your tweet. It lets them know that people are discussing their work and opens up another avenue for discussion (once they’re off the stage).

This also helps with the visibility and networking mentioned above. Same idea goes for hashtags. If the event has a tag, use it in every tweet. Also, try to hashtag topics that will expose your tweet to others who might find the content interesting. #Don’t #over #do #it #though.

4) Harness the power of images

A tweet with an attached image is more visible and easier for you and others to find later when scrolling down a timeline. I try to add images at least once per logical break, even if they’re screen grabs from a website or company logos.

2017-02-18-tweets1Get to know how to screengrab, crop, save and upload an image quickly on your platform. Most browsers can open PDFs directly so you don’t need to download and open in an external application to screen grab an interesting figure or notable schematic from a paper. Make sure you include a link (a DOI or URL) so people can put the image in context.

5) Get to know the tweeps!

As I said before, a lot of scientists use Twitter. Try to figure out who are the people tweeting at a conference and make sure to follow them to see what they’re talking about. You may find extra insight or perhaps an interesting discussion point in which you can get involved (on or off-line).

The last word…

Live tweeting is not for everyone, but hopefully I’ve given you some reasons why you might at least want to follow a conference hashtag, even if you don’t contribute. Like any community however, the more people that get involved, the more everyone benefits.

 

ENDNOTES

#1: There is a really interesting discussion around this point, which extends to recording and/or streaming a conference. The argument goes that if people can “be at a conference” from their computer why would they ever pay the flight/hotel/conference fee to go to a conference in person? To me, this argument is patently ridiculous. Attending (most) conferences is about being part of a community, and this is a 2-way interaction. Some of the most interesting discussions happen over drinks or at meals, not necessarily during the talks and question periods. I’m fully for recording and streaming talks at conferences, and I seriously doubt that this would impact attendance.

#2: Many people use Twitter on their smart phones. The one and only time I do this is if I want to take a photo and tweet it directly. Otherwise, it’s just too slow and lacking in the editing / lookup tools (eg. good tabbed browsing) and screen real-estate to make the most of tweetdeck. If you can, always use a laptop or maybe (if you’re really good with it) a tablet.

Research in the Rainforest at Wolbachia 2016

Research in the Rainforest at Wolbachia 2016

Guest post by Georgia Drew (@GC_Drew), PhD student in the Institute of Integrative Biology, University of Liverpool 

Research in the Rainforest at Wolbachia 2016
28th June – 3rd July, 2016, Queensland, Australia

This year the beautiful Lamington National Park was home to the 9th International Wolbachia conference, a biennial meeting focusing on the reproductive parasite, Wolbachia, and other notable endosymbionts of arthropods and nematodes. Nestled in the sub-tropical rainforest, over 80 delegates from across the globe assembled to present work on the evolution, ecology, genomics and cell biology of symbioses.3-2

Mornings began with the bustle of bush turkeys and bower birds at breakfast, before full days of talks and posters set amongst the canopied hills of the park. Here I had the opportunity to present, at my first international conference, on the intriguing role of a symbiont, known as Arsenophonus, in honey bee colonies. Arsenophonus, just like Wolbachia, is a genus of bacteria that infects many Arthropod species. It is capable of a diverse range of interactions with different host species, from reproductive parasitism right through to nutrient provisioning.  My talk touched on the prevalence, transmission and phylogeny of Arsenophonus in UK bees and generated some interesting questions on the potential roles of Varroa mite and bacteriophage.

The reputation of Wolbachia as an adept manipulator of host biology attracts many to its associated phenotypes of feminisation, parthenogenesis and male killing – to name just a few. This year was no exception, with exciting reports of the discovery of new Wolbachia induced phenotypes, alongside the resolution of old ones. The genetic basis for cytoplasmic incompatibility (CI) appears to be finally unravelling with the identification of two Wolbachia prophage genes that induce CI like defects in Drosophila, while in Eurema butterflies there is increasing evidence Wolbachia can cause meiotic drive. Updates were also heard from the ‘Eliminate Dengue’ program, which uses Wolbachia infected mosquitoes to reduce vector competence for dengue virus. A bio control strategy that may also be deployable against Zika virus, and highlights the ability of symbiont research to resonate on a humanitarian level.

The conference was an exceptional opportunity to meet members of this relatively small field, and engage in discussion on many of the unresolved aspects of symbiont biology. Inspiration aside, the week was also incredibly useful for improving my understanding of an array of approaches and techniques that were showcased by speakers, some of which I look forward to transferring to my own work. As the conference came to a close, the more musically gifted among us performed a Beatles inspired tribute to Wolbachia – “we all live in a filarial nematode”, and I headed off to the east coast in search of kangaroos and humpback whales. I am very grateful to the Michael Pugh Thomas Fund and the Genetics Society, whose grants enabled my attendance at the conference.

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Beyond the Cell – Centre for Proteome Research Science Club @VictoriaGallery

fake blood, mucus and saliva

Guest post by Victoria Harman, Centre for Proteome Research

Five members of the Centre for Proteome Research ran the first of six science club sessions hosted at the Victoria Gallery & Museum.  The session was entitled “Beyond the Cell” and was attended by 13 students aged between seven and 10. We started out the afternoon by introducing the students to the concept of our DNA being stored in the nucleus of our cells – to accompany this idea the students extracted DNA from strawberries and made DNA models from sweeties. We then talked about DNA being the code for proteins and how there are different types of proteins in our bodies. The studentsimg_4462 matched descriptions of proteins to the types of “sample” were that protein might be found. We also used jelly beans to demonstrate how different amounts of proteins, or the presence of a new protein, could help us to diagnose a disease. To round off the afternoon the students tried out three different analysis techniques – testing the pH of household solutions using red cabbage indicator, running dyes and inks on paper chromatography, and measuring the travel time of differently weighted marbles on a model mass spectrometer. We really wanted to encourage the students to ask as many questions as possible and try to think like scientists, any they absolutely loved the hands-on activities, especially those involving sweets!

 

 

Amyloid adventures in Uppsala!

Guest post by Hannah Davies

Together with fellow IIB colleagues Jill Madine and Kieran Hand, I recently attended the XVth International society of amyloidosis conference in Uppsala. After a brief stop in Stockholm to visit the Nobel Prize museum for inspiration we headed north to discuss all things amyloid! This 5 day biennial conference sees clinicians and scientists come together to discuss recent advances in basic understanding, clinical trial results and new developments. I was given the privilege of presenting our recent findings in an oral presentation – although terrifying, this was a great experience and gave rise to lots of interesting discussion over coffee! The conference also gave us the opportunity to meet up with existing collaborators from around the world and to develop new exciting collaborations. Following a packed 5 days we left Uppsala tired, enthused and delighted that we had tried authentic Swedish meatballs!

Big Bang NorthWest 2016

The Big Bang North West is a science fair with a variety of companies, stalls and events to excite students from primary school up to sixth form about science, technology, engineering and maths. The Big Bang North West, organised by MerseySTEM, took place last week, Tuesday 5th July, with 5000 students descending upon the fabulous new venue, the Exhibition Centre, Liverpool. This new venue meant all the exhibits were located in one hall with a central stage where various shows would take place, including someone who was screening his bronchoscopy exam! Students from various schools also had the opportunity to present their own scientific projects as part of a National Science and Engineering competition, with quite a varied selection on display.

The School of Life Sciences and the Institute of Integrative Biology were well represented at the event with members taking part in exhibits, judging and moderating.

If you were also exhibiting at the event, please add a comment at the bottom and we will update the page. Thanks!

Institute of Integrative Biology Exhibit

Beth Levick, Gabriel Pedra, Vinnie Keenan

Beth, Gabi and Vinnie ran a game based on a simple SIR (susceptible, infected, recovered) model in the fashion of a Microbe Premier League. Teams battled it out to try and infect the entire population based on random dice rolls in a set time limit. Students loved the game with some returning multiple times to try and beat their friends.

Amy Eacock

Amy took some peppered moths to the exhibit in moth and caterpillar form to discuss her phd work examining how these twig-mimicing caterpillars are able to detect colour and adapt their bodies. Students were really interested in holding the caterpillars although there were screams from some! Amy also had a match the caterpillar to its moth game which went down well with both adults and students.

Lewis White

Lewis brought a selection of animal skulls for students to examine before they tackled his challenging game of placing a number of animals in the correct order on a phylogenetic tree. These included, whales, dolphins, sharks, cats and pandas but it was the primary school children who fared the best!

Rebecca Jones

Becky’s activity involved students and teachers sticking parasites on to the animals they thought those parasites lived in/on. There were some pesky parasites that kept them all guessing though!

Judging and Moderating the NSEC regional heats

Becky and Beth were selected as a judge and moderator for the school projects for the NSEC regional heats.

Victoria Harman

Victoria Harman, STEM Ambassador and member of the Centre for Proteome Research has completed another year as judge in the North West heat of the Big Bang Competition Victoria has been a judge for four years, and has been acting as a head science judge for the last two.

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What’s involved? Judges are allocated a judging partner and about five projects to asses in the morning being given about 20min to speak to each group/individual. The score is based on criteria such as planning, method design, analysis of results, whether the project is the students own idea, and how well it is presented.

There’s quite a lot of pressure on judges – the students have worked so hard over the last academic year on their projects and assessment in just 20 minutes is a big responsibility!

Students dedicate their spare time to produce a project – sometimes individuals, mostly teams. There are juniors, intermediates and seniors categories so there is quite an age span.  As with all competitions there is a range in the standard of projects but every single student or group puts in a lot of hard work. Victoria comments “It’s wonderful to see how proud they are of their work. Some students can be nervous to begin with but in the end they’re all so eager to tell you all about what they have achieved”.

After the morning judging session, the head judges review the scores for the science projects from the morning, and select projects for the shortlist for the nationals. A smaller team of head judges and moderators then meets the students again to review the shortlisted projects before selecting those that will be put forward for the national final. A project is nominated for the Endeavour prize which recognises exceptional hard work, determination and enthusiasm from a student or team.

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Victoria says “The Endeavour prize is actually my favorite bit. Considering that science isn’t always about getting the perfect results it’s brilliant to be able to recognize a student or students who have really put their heart and soul into a project”.

If you’d be interested in engaging with the Big Bang Competition, feel free to get in touch with Victoria (vharman@liverpool.ac.uk). She’ll direct you to the right people.

 

Rebecca Jones

I judged the senior category which had some interesting projects ranging from ‘Can mealworms eat plastic?’ to information leaflets on the BRCA gene which could be used in the NHS and online. I also learnt about how environmental issues associated with the Great Barrier Reef can be highlighted to primary school children through an educational toolkit. I also had the privilege of judging and shortlisting for regionals the eventual winners of the Young Scientist of the Year Award from Sandbach High School. Natural Skin Remedies, championed by two girls, had produced and tested a number of different creams to treat eczema. They had carried out a lot of experimental research and presented their work brilliantly. I wish them all the best in the finals next year. Go girls!!

Beth Levick

 I acted as a moderator for the judging, helping to decide which of the teams shortlisted by the main judges would go ahead to the final in March! I met some excellent teams and individuals, with projects ranging from how the length of skis affect your speed, to creating exciting videos of scientific topics using sweets. I was delighted to meet the winner of the “Endeavour” award and discuss her ideas for a greenhouse powered by burning waste. Of the 5 teams that went on to the final I and my partner moderator (also from IIB!) put forward two very clean projects: one on the efficacy of surface cleaners in removing bacteria, and one on commercial bleach products compared to home remedies. The hard work that had gone in to producing some really quality projects was truly inspiring, and all the teams that competed should be proud of the work they put in.

Aquaponics

Jens Thomas

Life Sciences Outreach Society

Juhi Gupta

The University of Liverpool’s Life Sciences Outreach team were back at Big Bang this year. Following last year’s successful workshops, Life Sciences undergraduate students got involved with making sweet DNA models and Breaking Berries in our strawberry DNA extraction workshop! We had a great response from kids and school teachers. And our volunteers had lots of fun too! Thank you to all of the students who helped at the event 🙂

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Meet the Scientists, How Plants See the World

Meet the Scientists, How Plants See the World

This month, a group of research students and postdocs developed an interactive workshop exploring the world of plants. This workshop was taken to two events: one with a local Brownie troop and then to a Meet the Scientists event at the World Museum in Liverpool. We came up with the activities by first identifying interesting facts about plants that we wanted to communicate, and built the activities up from there. The three key things that we highlighted were circadian rhythms, leaf adaptations, and the importance of soil pH.

Circadian rhythms are an internal mechanism that acts like a body clock, which plants use to survive. To introduce this complex concept to a young audience, we created a card pinwheel that showed the times at which different flowers open. This idea was based on the concept garden designed by Carolus Linnaeus in 1751. The pinwheel contained outlined drawings of flowers that could be coloured in by visitors whilst the demonstrator chatted to them about circadian rhythms. Our card Linnaeus clock is available to download here.

Linnaeus

To demonstrate that plants can recognise the pH of the soil that they are in, we brought some pH indicator that had been made using red cabbages. Red cabbage indicator is purple at a neutral pH, but can change to bright yellows and pinks on the addition of household substances such at lemon juice or washing powder. Visitors were encouraged to test the pH of a selection of different items, as well as testing soil samples. Photographs of hydrangeas were on display to show how drastic an effect soil pH can have on plants.

pH

To demonstrate leaf adaptations, we took a two pronged approach. For older children and adults, a microscope was available to look at details such as veins and stomata on leaves from a variety of plants including local deciduous trees, an ornamental conifer, and a Christmas cactus. While some of the visitors enjoyed looking at the leaf structures, it became clear that some aphid eggs found on a sycamore leaf was more interesting! For the younger visitors, materials for making leaf rubbings were provided. By making leaf rubbings, we were able to encourage the younger children to look at the leaves more closely and to examine their different shapes. We then cut their leaf rubbings out and attached them to headbands, something which helped draw more people to our table.

Headband