Pint of Science – The evolution of feet, the brain and masturbation

Dr Rebecca Jones board picturefrom the School of Life Sciences recently hosted the Pint of Science event on evolution recently at the Shipping Forecast. Here’s what she had to say:

When I was asked to host a night for the recent Pint of Science event in Liverpool I jumped at the chance. I’d been to a couple already, Manchester and Exeter, and thoroughly enjoyed them. Pint of Science aims to bring science to local pubs where the public can listen to researchers describing their work. There’s normally a theme for each city, with Liverpool covering Our Body, Beautiful Mind and Atoms to Galaxies. As a lecturer in the School of Life Sciences I was hosting the ‘Evolution of feet, the brain and masturbation’ at the Shipping Forecast on the 15th May.

Alongside a team of volunteers (Georgia Drew, Amy Eacock, Chloe Heys and Jo Griffin) and a willing photographer for the evening (Lukasz Lukomski), we had our evening planned. As the public entered the venue, the basement of the Shipping Forecast, they had a chance to fill in the three quizzes set by our three fantastic speakers in the hope of winning some Pint of Science prizes. These included matching the footprint to the nationality, guessing which brain belonged to which animal and pairing animal’s with their penises.

 

After the welcome and thanking of the sponsors, eLife, we started with our first talk by Dr Kris D’Aout on the evolution of the foot.

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Kris discussed his work examining locomotion and the use of shoes in various countries, particularly India. Although it seems Kris struggles with volunteers here in the UK!

 

He even showed a video of a robot having to meander around some walking humans! Kris was met with a barrage of questions from the audience, including some asking advice on wearing slippers around the house!

 

Next up we had Dr Tom Butts who spoke on the evolution of the brain and he even managed to rope in some keen volunteers to demonstrate the formation of the spinal cord.

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Tom then received some rather tough and philosophical questions about brain development and dinosaurs which got everyone thinking!

 

We then had a break in which people replenished their drinks but also got to listen to three excellent 2 minute talks from researchers. Jennifer Mitchell, Elinor Chapman and Angela Hackett (L to R) all described their research without the use of props or slides to an enthralled audience who eventually voted Elinor the winner!

 

Our final talk, and headline act, was Dr Tom Price who spoke about the evolution of masturbation across animal groups.

 

Tom mostly spoke about sex and masturbation in birds although had some interesting theories on whether masturbation occurred in dinosaurs!! Tom said, “People seemed to enjoy my speculations on solo sexual behaviour in ducks and dinosaurs.” However, he was more surprised that “Some members of the public were surprisingly good at identifying weird animal genitals.”

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Following some entertaining questions and prize giving, the conversations moved upstairs where people were keen to find out more about feet, the brain and most importantly, masturbation.

I’d like to say thank you to the speakers and all the volunteers that helped on the night! There was a lot of organising but it made for a memorable event!

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Brainiology Event

Brainiology Event

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.

Article impact: the peppered moth evolution in the news for young and old

 

* 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):

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Chemical Defence SciBar talk

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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.