Meet the Scientists On Tour

Meet the Scientists On Tour

by Rebecca Jones

Meet the Scientists on Tour 

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 Meet the Scientists on Tour is an initiative that aims to bring science to the public in places they don’t expect it. Activities centre around magnetic whiteboards where the public can spot caterpillars or match parasite to their hosts. The founders, Klara Wanelik, Rebecca Jones, Gabriel Pedra and Beth Levick have been visiting a number of locations in Liverpool and a folk music festival in Newcastleton where events ran 11am to 3pm. Here’s what they had to say about the events:

 

St John’s Shopping Centre

The first event was held at St John’s Shopping Centre on the first Bank Holiday Monday (May 1st) and was a success. We engaged with about 40 people although it was so busy we had to work hard to get people to come over to play our activities. It also didn’t help that people thought we were trying to sell them something! We had some great interactions with people though, with comments from participants including: “I really enjoyed the session”, “Caterpillar game – Thank you!” There were also college students asking about studying biology at the University!

 

Central Station

Our second event was run on Saturday 6th May at Liverpool Central Station and was very well received. The public passing through the station got stuck in: spotting caterpillars, spreading infection and matching parasites to their animal hosts!

We engaged more people than our last even at St John’s Shopping Centre (approx. 50) and were pleasantly surprised by how positive people were about engaging with our science in such a busy place! The majority of our visitors were young children aged 2-10 years. However, parents seemed equally as interested and we also had a few questions about studying at the University.   Comments (from some of our younger participants) included: “I really liked the visit. I hope you come again”, “Really fun and interesting,” and “I liked the games because I learnt things”.

 

New Mersey Retail Park

Our final event in Liverpool was at the New Mersey Retail Park in Speke on the 29th May. The weather wasn’t great so we were very grateful for our gazebo! Due to the weather we engaged with slightly fewer people (approx. 25) but we had people actively coming over to the gazebo upon recognizing either the University of Liverpool or Meet the Scientists logo. We even had a small girl run into the gazebo exclaiming that she wanted play games in the science tent!

Overall we had a brilliant time across our three locations in Liverpool and are keen to go back and take along some new activities. However, we found that we were mostly engaging with families or the elderly and missed out on the middle age bracket.

 

Newcastleton Traditional Music Festival

Our most recent location was up in Newcastleton on the Scottish border, close to Kielder Water and Forest Park. We chose this location as Klara is part of a project sampling field voles in Kielder forest and so she was keen to inform the public about what the team was doing. Additionally, we were interested in taking our activities to a music festival as it was a completely new environment for us to do outreach.

We didn’t know what to expect at the festival but it turned out that we were the only stall there and so were able to monopolize the green in the village. On the Saturday (1st July) there were folk music competitions underway but we were able to engage with a large number of local villagers and visitors from further afield. Over both days (4 hours on the Saturday and 1.5 hours on the Sunday) we engaged with a total of 52 members of the public.

We had some great interactions with people, many of whom approached us out of curiosity about why the University of Liverpool was present in Kielder. We were also able to interact with people from a broader age range – particularly with people in their 20’s and 30’s. We had a few local farmers come over who were particularly interested in our ‘Where does the parasite live’ activity. Our competitive game where people spread infections in populations proved very popular again at this event. Furthermore, lots of people were interested in the work with the voles that Klara was describing. Overall, we thoroughly enjoyed carrying out our outreach at the folk music festival which was a very different challenge to the locations in Liverpool. Although, after ceilidh dancing into the morning and being attacked by midges in our tent, we were happy to return to Liverpool for some well-deserved rest!

 

Finally, we would like to say thank you to everyone who helped make ‘Meet the Scientists on Tour’ possible. We’d like to thank the Wellcome Trust for funding us and Laura Winters for her support. We’d also like to thank Vincent Keenan for assisting at the event at Central Station and Steve Paterson for his additional financial (and moral) support. Most importantly, we’d like to thank everyone at the various locations who made it possible (and so enjoyable!) for us to carry out our outreach.

We’re keen to extend our outreach beyond ecology-based activities and so on the 5th July we ran an activity design workshop with attendees from the Victoria Gallery and Museum, Engineering Department and Institute of Translational Medicine. This was a half-day workshop where people had a go at our activities before settling down to design their own. Attendees then had a chance to present their boards, with much discussion in the group. We look forward to welcoming some more activities soon. Watch this space!

 

If you’re interested in designing an activity or want some more information, contact us on twitter at @MTS_OnTour, or by emailing kwanelik@liv.ac.uk.

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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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The Big Bang North West

The Big Bang Near Me is a programme of events that get young people excited about science, technology, engineering and maths.  The Big Bang North West, organised by MerseySTEM, took place yesterday, Wednesday 8th of July, with nearly 6000 thousands children coming to Aintree Racecourse to visit a number of exhibitions from a variety of parners, and to present their own scientific projects as part of the national science+engineering competition.

The School of Life Sciences and the Institute of Integrative Biology staff and students were present and supporting the event in a variety of ways. So many in fact that this post will remain for a few days “in construction”: I hope that colleagues will give more details of their involvement in the comments section and I will update the post as needed!

Institute of Integrative Biology Exhibit

Daria Pastock, Chris Corbin, Amy Eacok

In the comments section, please add details of the activities that were on the stand and the people involved, thanks!

Project Patient 0

Beth Levick, Cassandra Raby, and Amanda Minter.

Beth and her team ran an amazing project on infection spread. In the end, they had 120 individual participants recorded over 40 different groups. They are planning to do further analysis of the data so watch this space!

Beth, let me know in the comments everyone who was involved, the number of people infected, etc (feel free also to write a separate post just about this project if you wish!).

Judge of the NSEC regional heat competition

Raphaël Lévy 

I had been invited by former student Zoe Chapman, communication officer for MerseySTEM to judge projects. It was good fun. I learnt about black holes, hydrophobic coatings, the hydrodynamics of cycle helmets, throrium as the future (?)of energy production, and a few essential science tricks to survive in case of an (infectious) apocalypse.

The judging team:

Aquaponics Jens Thomas, Paul Myers and Dan Groom

Jens, Paul and Dan  from Farm Urban had a beautiful stand next to the main stage showing off their new @VydroFarm growing system and demonstrating their “Build Your Own” aquaponics systems for schools. Although the VydroFarm can grow 140 lettuces every 28 days and glows a psychedelic pink with its full spectrum Valoya grow lights, it had trouble competing with fishy and fishy; the two goldfish in our aquaponics system named by Paul’s two-year old daughter. It was a great day and we had a tremendous amount of interest in our systems and workshops. During our spare time we learnt how to milk a cow, extract DNA from strawberry’s and discussed the potential mechanisms through which caterpillars may change colour.

‘Meet the Future You’

Kate Hammond

Kate Hammond took part in the ‘Meet the Future You’ event organised by Tomorrows Engineers. Students got the chance to quiz a group of STEM professionals about our careers, including Kate (a lecturer in Genetics and Molecular Biology), an engineer from Landrover and Sarah who designs nuclear reactors for submarines (very cool!). The students asked us everything from what we do each day, to what inspired us to take up our career to, most crucially, how much we get paid.

Kate Hammond at the

Kate Hammond at the “Meet the Future You” event #BigBangNW

Life Sciences Outreach Society

Juhi Gupta, Hannah Sharp, Lauren Evans, Sapphire Rogers, Ant Smith, Amal Abdulkadhir, Hannah Smallwood and Amy Gillespie. Dr Hammond helped with the set up of the workshops.

Children at the Life Sciences stall at the Big Bang North West

Children at the Life Sciences stall at the Big Bang North West

Juhi says:

Us students from the Life Sciences Outreach Society joined in with the fun and excitement at this year’s fantastic Big Bang Fair! Returning for a second year, with the DNA Sweet Models and Strawberry DNA extraction workshops, we inspired yet more merseyside pupils. We got lots of great feedback from both the staff and pupils intrigued by our science – we certainly had lots of fun too!

Ness Science Fair

On March 14tOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAh a group of DEEB students (Rebecca Jones, Amy Eacock, Bethany Levick, Sarah Trinder, Amanda Minter, Chris Corbin and Daria Pastok) attended Ness Science Fair as part of British Science Association Science Week at Ness Gardens on the Wirral.

The event was a whole day event aimed towards family groups with children ranging from 4-12 years and we had a wide range of events covering a number of disciplines. Sarah set up a microscope station to examine stomata on leaves which consisted of children painting nail varnish of different leaves.

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Our modellers Beth and Amanda set up a station examining population densities and carrying capacities. This consisted of children pinning aphids (with their resources) to different shaped leaves to examine how many aphids the leaves could support.

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Rebecca and Amy explored the world of camouflage whereby kids had to hunt for caterpillars on a background or camouflage different animals to their backgrounds.

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Chris ran a crafting event where children could create specimen jars and fill it with an animal of their choosing, some drew a T-Rex! Daria helped with all the events and was our resident photographer.
We all had a great day at the event and were asked a lot of interesting questions by both children and adults. Over 300 people attended and we had great feedback on all the activities saying they were aimed well towards the children.