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!

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.

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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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‘I’m a Scientist, get me out of here’

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Rebecca Jones recently competed in the ‘I’m a Scientist, get me out of here’ competition and here’s what she had to say on the experience:

Having heard great things from fellow colleagues about the ‘I’m a Scientist, get me out of here’ competition I decided to submit myself for questioning by the students around the country on all kinds of science. With my research summed up in one sentence I waited for the response from ‘I’m a scientist’ with anticipation. I got the email back and I was in! Now for the tough part…

‘I’m a Scientist, get me out of here’ is a nationwide public outreach event sponsored by the Wellcome Trust where school children get to interact with scientists in a diverse range of topics. They do this through profiles that scientists create (mine’s here) as well as through questions and live chats. Kids then vote for their favourite scientist and these get knocked out over the course of the second week of the competition, with the winner gaining £500 to put towards outreach.

I was allocated a general zone, rather than a themed zone such as the colour or electromagnetic zone, called the Ytterbium zone. This meant I was not with scientists in my own field but was pitted against a linguist, physicist, microbiologist and radioactive waste disposer!

The first week of the competition was full of questions and live chats and they were definitely interesting! Each live chat with a school class is open to all the scientists to take part, which is great as the questions come in thick and fast. I had some great chats with students and some really insightful and probing questions such as asking about the virulence of different parasites and different transmission methods. A few students asked interesting questions about potential science careers and the teachers even got involved in the chats too! Although the occasional chat was affected by some spamming students the majority proved to be a hugely enjoyable experience for myself and the students.

Outside of the live chats students are able to ask questions and this fed the scientists with a steady stream of questions to constantly keep us occupied. Some questions I was asked personally (What’s your favourite horse breed?) but the majority were asked to all the scientists (Do you like rock?!). I could answer questions anytime and students could write back asking further questions or challenging what you’d put. Once the first week was over it was then time for the knock out rounds!

Thankfully we didn’t have a live chat whilst the first set of evictions was announced on the Tuesday of week 2 so we nervously awaited the results online. I wasn’t the first out so I lived to fight another day, answering questions and joining in on more live chats. The week then ended with the microbiologist crowned as the winner of my zone but I thoroughly enjoyed my 2 weeks of I’m a scientist. The questions were great, the ‘I’m a scientist’ staff were excellent during the chats and I’d recommend the experience to anyone!

The next event is running in November so if you’re interested in outreach and communicating any aspect of science I’d definitely recommend you apply!

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.