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.

Visit to Cannon Sharples Primary School

On Tuesday 16th of May, Marie Phelan of the Technology Directorate (NMR Metabolomics) and two interns from the Ngee Ann Polytechnic in Singapore visited Cannon Sharples Year 6 pupils. The primary school in Wigan was holding a careers week, so as part of their #raising aspirations initiative Marie was invited to talk about higher education and scientific careers. In addition, interns Shina Teo and Xin Hui Er on their 4-month placement with the University of Liverpool spoke to the pupils about college life in Singapore and their experiences at the University. The 38 pupils in attendance gathered into groups to figure out what specialist skills various careers required and to play the celebrity education quiz.

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Marie talking about her career to year 6 pupils at Cannon Sharples Primary School in Wigan.

Interns Shina Teo and Xin Hui Er     Pupils pick skills for specific careers

Science week in Mosspits Lane primary school, 6-7 March 2017

As part of her honours project Mary Roughley visited Mosspits Lane Primary School in Wavertree, Liverpool, during Science week. She has spent an afternoon with each year 6 class and engaged with the pupils on topics such as scales in the universe, the concept and calculation of magnification and the power of using microscopy in biology. As part of her honours project, Mary has planned the session and developed the supporting worksheets and instruction protocols. After a short presentation, the whole class went out onto the playground to collect their own live samples to view under the microscope, the class were then split into three groups to rotate between the three exercises that were organised. The most popular activity was collecting and viewing their samples. The pupils were given magnifying glasses and also had access to the Zeiss stemi labscope to enable them to examine their specimens. They collected insects, worms, leafs, bread crumb, aphids, hairs…They really enjoyed this activity and were fascinated and very excited by what they could see with a microscope: worms digestive tubes, tiny unsuspected hairs on insect legs and “a starry night sky” (salt imaged with transmitted light)!

The pupils also made their own magnifier using water in petri dishes. They learnt how to calculate magnification and used this knowledge to calculate and compare the magnification of a magnifying glass and the magnifier that they made. They realised that their magnifier made with a drop of water was as good as a commercial magnifying glass.

For the third activity, the pupils used the schools computers and an online programme to learn more about scales. The software showed objects of different sizes ranging from galaxies to a proton nucleus. This activity reinforced the idea that microscopes are essentials to biologists, as many things are much too small to be seen with the naked eye. This is what Mary says about her experience: “I received excellent feedback from the pupils. They thoroughly enjoyed the session and some mentioned that they would like to become biologists. They particularly enjoyed using the microscope and collecting their samples and a number of pupils said that the only bad part of the session was packing away! As a proof of the success of the half-day, the teachers had to fight for the children to go out at playtime. They preferred observing their samples under the microscope. I have personally really enjoyed delivering the sessions, I found the experience very rewarding especially when the pupils said they wanted to be biologists! The experience has also made me consider teaching as a career.” This is what the children wrote about the session: “‘I wish the session was longer!!; I liked seeing the intestines in the worm, it was gross but cool!; The bacteria in the pond water was really cool.” It was a very enjoyable experience at all levels: for the children, the teachers, the undergraduate student involved and me, the academic supervisor. Thank you to Mosspits Lane to have worked with us on this project.

Violaine Sée, IIB

BES Roadies: Who’s poo?

by Jo Griffin

We busk a little differently to most people. Having assembled from various locations around the UK, warming up with hot drinks in a pokey central London Starbucks, we play our favourite game. When you check out the next BES Annual Meeting (you know you want to), be sure to keep your eyes peeled for it. It will change your life.

As a BES Roadie, I’ve received public engagement training, helped develop busking activities and had the opportunity to attend music festivals and science festivals across the country. The end goal being to better my science communication skills and inform people outside the world of science on diverse matters such as ecology, and the research I conduct for my PhD.

BES roadies

These activities are great for engaging people and spreading the word of ecology, however, there are communities that we are still struggling to reach. As stated in the BES ‘Making Ecology for All’ report from 2013, members of BAME (Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic) community are significantly less likely to be in a STEM profession when compared to White counterparts. In 2010/11, BAME individuals made up 16.7% of all biological science students. This is an underrepresentation when compared to both the total for all STEM subjects, 20.1%, and for all subjects, 18.4%. There are no excuses for this gap; in the 21st century I am appalled that recent figures published by the Higher Education Statistics Agency reveal that no British University is employing a Black academic in a senior management role. This must change.

Now back to our London ‘Poo Game’ trip. The Windsor Fellowship has collaborated with the Royal Society to provide a mentoring scheme for Year 13 Black students living or studying in Greater London, who are studying STEM subjects. This is where we, the BES Roadies, come into the picture. We were given a one hour slot during a day long workshop, to communicate ecology to the students. Jessica opened the session with a brief introduction to the BES and the importance of science communication. We then split the cohort into four groups and took one group each to demonstrate our busking activities. Karen got to play ‘Pollinator Top Trumps’, Arron had ‘Who’s Poo?’ Jessica was on the ‘Mushroom Game’ and I demonstrated the use of taxonomic keys using the ‘Festival Animals’ busk that we took to Wychwood festival back in June. The students rotated around the different activities before reconvening in the seminar room where I then gave a short talk on my research.

I am used to communicating my work to academics back in my University department and at the odd conference. Entertaining a room of A-level students however, was a pretty terrifying prospect. When I asked if anyone had heard of the term ‘symbiosis’ some students nodded their head with a vague look of recollection whilst others shook their heads. Using examples such as corals, the bobtail squid, nitrogen-fixing bacteria in plant roots and deep sea tube worms, I got the students on board with the concept. Explaining the use of fruit flies and their symbiont to study host-shifts was a little trickier, I was nervous that this was where I might lose them. To my surprise, I was bombarded with questions. From the development and maintenance of symbioses and coevolution to the nitty gritty techniques I used to achieve my work and collect data, these students were the most inquisitive and enthusiastic audience I have ever had. It was an enormous pleasure to spend time with them. If I haven’t persuaded them that parasites and mutualists are just about the coolest things to study, then at least they will have left the session with a broader understanding of the term ecology. I hope that we will continue to engage with a diverse range of communities in the BES and look forward to reuniting with the Roadies for more science communication.

If you would like to become involved with the BES Roadies, please see upcoming public engagement and training events on the BES website: http://www.britishecologicalsociety.org/learning-and-resources/public-engagement/

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):

ilikwpb

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.

VictoriaH

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.

prize

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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