Guest Post : Tom Butts, University of Liverpool
The School of Life Sciences held a ‘making the brain’ workshop in the Liverpool World Museum on Saturday 21st January as part of the ‘Meet the Scientists: Brainiacs’ day. Members of the public (and more to the point, their kids) came along and had a go at a number of activities all designed to get people thinking about the brain, how it works, and how it has evolved.
The first activity was to ‘build a brain’, where people had to assemble a 3D life-size anatomical model of the human brain. The second was ‘evolving the brain’ and involved arranging a number of animal photographs on a large phylogeny (of vertebrates). The final part was to try and match up the pictures of the animals’ brains to the correct animal on the phylogeny as a way to think about how brains have evolved. I had some cracking volunteers, including postdocs, PhD students, Masters’ students, and undergrad students from across the biological diaspora in Liverpool, and it was a cracking day had by all. Though knackering. I now have even vaster levels of respect for primary school teachers.
* Blog editor note: this is the first of what I hope to be a regular feature of this blog where we will be looking at the public impact of articles a few months post-publication”
On the second of June 2016, Arjen E. van’t Hof et al published “The industrial melanism mutation in British peppered moths is a transposable element” (download link here). This article drew a lot of attention in the social and traditional media as this Altmetric report shows, including, e.g. a BBC interview of Ilik Saccheri explaining how his team discovered the specific mutation that turned moths black during the Industrial Revolution.
Maybe one of the best coverage of the article though came not from the BBC, but from a scientific magazine for young children, WhizzPopBang. We are reproducing it here with their kind authorisation (pdf):
Kevin Arbuckle is a fourth year PhD student in the Department of Evolution, Ecology and Behaviour. Find him on Twitter @phylophile
I recently (3/3/15) gave a science communication talk at the Liverpool SciBar series, held in the upstairs room at the Ship and Mitre pub on the first Tuesday of every month. SciBar hosts a range of talks that provide an opportunity to engage the public in your field of research. The audience is varied but consists mostly of interested laypersons who have little background knowledge of your subject, forcing you to think carefully how to explain what might be technical aspects of your work. The challenge then is to give an enjoyable, understandable, but also accurate overview of your pet subject.
In my case, I spoke on the diversity of ways that animals use chemicals (such as venoms, poisons, and glues) to catch prey, avoid being eaten, or on members of their own species. My talk began with an easy-going introduction to the sheer variety of animals, types of chemical warfare, and uses of these chemicals illustrated with as many pretty pictures as possible. In the second half, I tried to introduce some slightly more ‘advanced’ concepts such as coevolution and how chemical arsenals influence the ecology, evolution, and conservation of animals. The event finishes with a wonderful opportunity to answer questions and chat with the audience about the subject of your talk.
The event seemed to go well, based on feedback received on the night and afterwards, and the audience appeared to be generally interested in my talk. Furthermore, I can honestly say that I personally found it a really rewarding experience and great fun to speak about all manner of venomous creatures in such a laid-back setting as a pub. The talk also led directly to additional opportunities for science communication and outreach as I have been invited to give it again to another branch of SciBar (in Widnes), and to give a similar talk at Reaseheath College. Finally, I would say that for researchers working on more basic (cf. applied) science, outreach activities are one way of increasing your impact and giving something back to society. They can also be a lot of fun, so I’d wholeheartedly advocate that people should do as much of this as they sensibly have time for, you won’t regret it.