The following post is designed by Alison Ryder and Megan Stalker to sum up Cohort 2016's three-day team building residential at Magdalen Farm where they experienced a diverse landscape, connected with nature and learnt from sustainable living.
One of the longest running and anticipated events over the holidays is the Royal Institution Christmas Lectures. Last Christmas, it was the turn of University of Bath’s very own Professor Saiful Islam to step up and broadcast his scientific know-how on the topic of energy. The Royal Institution Christmas Lectures have been running since 1825 and were first introduced by the influential scientist, Michael Faraday. So you can imagine our delight when Professor Islam and the Royal Institution invited the CSCT to come down to the Faraday Museum in London and take part in a family fun day!
Michael Faraday (left) and Saiful Islam (right), speakers at Royal Institution Christmas lectures - a lot has changed over the years!
So one bright and early Saturday morning we set off down to London prepared for a day packed full of science fun! We split into teams and set our sights on the busy streets of London. One group headed off to catch the train while the others chauffeured our activities in the car. As part of "team train” and as a newcomer to London, I’m not sure I could have navigated the London underground without the help of Ria Atri (cohort, 2016). Without her help, I may have found myself stuck on the Underground circle line for hours. Thankfully, we made it in plenty of time and met up with "team car” at the venue to set up our stand for the day.
With an energy theme in mind, we brought three of our themed activities. Our Energy Ballot, where participants tried to aim at their favourite form of energy on our handy dartboard. The fun and competitive Cathode Causeway solar cell game - where players aimed to get there “electron” from one side of the board to the other before their opponent! (very popular with rival siblings for some reason…). Finally we brought our Fruitbox; where we treated our audiences to a game of Pacman, but the only controls they could use were pieces of fruit. Using these demonstrations we gauged public opinion on different energy sources, demonstrated how we are improving solar cells and explained how we can replace finite materials with renewable alternatives in electrical appliances.
Excited visitors waiting patiently for doors to open while we’re busy finish setting up.
We were swept off our feet with the enthusiasm of our visitors, who were all super keen to get involved in our activities and learn more about our goals at the CSCT. We had loads of fun running our busy stand and engaging with families over the course of day.
With little time to spare, it was a busy day at the Faraday Museum for the young researchers
With things going so well, it felt like no time at all before we had to begin packing up and making our way home. It was a pleasure to take part in the exhibition. On behalf of the CSCT, I’d like to thank both Professor Saiful Islam for inviting us and the Royal Institute for hosting us on the day.
Dan is currently working on his PhD project: 'Bridging the Gap in Sustainable Continuous Chemicals Manufacture: Integrating Upstream Synthesis and Downstream Crystallisation' with Professor Chick Wilson, Dr Elias Martinez Hernandez and Professor Matthew Davidson. (more…)
Public Engagement is a vital part of the CSCT, and every year our first years go to one of the UKs leading Science festivals, Cheltenham Science Festival. This year, Cohort ’15 went with the theme of “The Energy Factory”, which included activities such as Bottle Rockets, Fruit vs Mud Batteries and making a Cloud in a Bottle. These activities aimed to engage the general public, as well as showcase some of the research we do at the CSCT.
The festival is particularly popular with families and science fans, so armed with a microphone we set out to get some ideas and thoughts from them. So what did the next generation of scientists think we should research next? Sustainability? Science in general?
What is sustainability?
"To my mind sustainability is making sure that we have energy sources for years to come, rather than rely on fossil fuels which have a finite period of time. We can only mine them whilst we have them. So, something like solar power and hydrogen is something that will pretty much always be there so I’m assuming that it will be there in perpetuity." Matthew, age 47
What do you know about energy?
"About energy? Well I was gonna go for... it can’t be created or destroyed it can only change form but, unless you count matter – depends what you count as matter I suppose." Colin, age 51
What device do you think we should come up with as scientists?
"A sewing machine. Erm…it would make clothes for people ehm…hm probably with a needle that is super powered, so you need no electricity. And ironing, you should try to do that less, for only formal occasions, so you use less power." Violet, age 10
What do you think about our activities?
"They were very interesting and I did learn quite a bit about their research from talking to them. It was very, very nice, I enjoyed it, thank you." Sarah, age 36
What do you think scientists look like? Do you think they come in all shapes and sizes?
"Yes, yes, I think they do. Unless they were mad scientists, then they have long hair and wear goggles. I would want to become a regular scientist, not a mad scientist." Freddy, aged 8
What did you enjoy the most?
"Being told I was too short for the bikes and proving them wrong!?" Kate, age 7
What is sustainability?
"It’s about not using resources that we only have a finite amount like hydrocarbons and preserving those for the future, and we don’t want to pollute the environment. Energy that comes from the sun mainly and doesn’t pollute the planet." Daim, age 13
What have you been to see today? What did you think?
"Nice." Ellie, age 4
Have you got any ideas about experiments that we should do in our labs?
"Just blowing anything up." Vicky, age 23
What do you see when you think of science and scientists?
"Different things you can experiment and different things you can make. People trying to help the world in a better way." Anni, age 9
If you saw us at Cheltenham, let us know what you thought in the comments below!
Final year student Jon Wagner was one of the five shortlisted finalists for The Ede and Ravenscroft Prize.
The Ede and Ravenscroft Prize is an annual award for the best postgraduate research student awarded for the first time in 1991 and is generously funded by Ede and Ravenscroft, appointed robemakers to HM The Queen.
Jon is working on his PhD on "Novel materials for catalytic conversion of bio-oils" with Dr Valeska Ting, Professor Mark Weller and Dr Chris Chuck.
Public engagement is an essential part of the CSCT, with the first-years having a stand at the Cheltenham Science Festival in June. To test the hands-on activities our cohort jumped in at the deep end, by trying them out at the annual Bath Taps science fair. So how did we survive teaching science/ the children teaching us?!
1. Enthusiasm is key! (we were running off a potent mix of excitement and fear)
2. Prepare for sub-zero temperatures! Luckily we had the bike so we could jump on and warm up.
3. Prepare for complete chaos, crowd control is key, maybe we need bouncers? (There are 18 PhD students in there somewhere).
4. Snack constantly. As we learnt from one experiment, fruit are a great source of energy… otherwise hot cross buns will just have to do.
5. Prepare for experiments to not work and sometimes you have no idea why (kinda like real research kids).
6. Not everyone will like your activity! The ethanol rocket was very unpopular with the dog community, luckily the team were on hand to offer diplomatic duties.
7. Brush up on your geography ("You're right that is where plastic bottles are made, which is.....ermmmm....it should be….. oh…. THERE IT IS!!")
8. How many PhD students does it take to set up a tent?.... 18 (9 to put it together, 2 to direct, 3 to discuss the directing, 3 to wander off and 1 to eat hot cross buns).
9. Be prepared to answer the most unexpected curve ball questions (maybe we should add children to viva committees?) as well as have kids teach you some science (we had one very big algae fan #AlgaeIsGreat).
10. Kids have limitless energy (spoiler alert: Yes more than fruit). Also, make sure your activities don’t initiate families rivalries, many arguments insured over which sibling could light the bulb up longer.
We had a great time, and the hard work was all worth it for smiling faces, bright eyes and some very lovely comments!
We were especially pleased that our activities prepared someone for the learning curves of life.
Now the countdown to Cheltenham begins: 26 days.
This post was contributed by James Coombs OBrien.
“Explain it to me like I’m a clever 12-year-old” was blurted at me as I tried to explain my PhD, and potential business, to a straight faced venture capitalist. “Quite frankly I couldn’t give a monkeys about the technology, sell me the benefits!” he exclaimed during my second attempt. Selling benefits over features was the first of many things I learnt during the Engineering YES 2016 Bristol Heats.
Engineering YES is a competitive three-day course directed at researchers. It aims to help bridge the gap between academic research and a viable business, a journey often christened “the valley of death”.
Our company, Calcaneus (named after the strongest bone in the body…..probably), aimed to solve the worlds persistent microbead issues with the use of biodegradable cellulose beads made via a unique technology.
For us, and probably most other researchers from the CSCT, it is easy to sell an idea to someone on sustainability grounds, “this process is more sustainable therefore give us money”. However, we quickly learnt that at best this is the third thing a potential investor is looking for after “how much money will I make and how quickly” and “who are the people I’m investing in”.
The event was composed of a mixture of seminars, professional networking sessions and one to one mentoring on every aspect business from financial planning to marketing and, crucially for us, intellectual property (IP). The mentoring session were by far the greatest help to our business leading to its development from a manufacturing company to one which, through clever use of IP, licensed out its technology to larger companies. This development required a lot of hard work and many a late night.
However, it all paid off! I’m happy to report that we, Calcaneus, won both the judges and peer review prizes (voted for by the other contestants). It’s a shame that no one told Tristan (see below).
The whole experience was eye opening. You quickly get used to the way business minded people think and talk, which is very different from a scientist. For me, a chemist by background, working at the interface of chemistry and chemical engineering who has had no exposure to how a business works, this was an intense and thought provoking experience.
That leaves me to thank all the organisers and mentors that help during the Engineering YES 2016 Bristol heat, in particular Kate Beresford, John Boyes and David Scott. I’d also like to thank the CSCT for funding myself and my team mates to attend this fantastic course. Anyway, back to some more spread sheets for the final in Birmingham, watch this space.
Last year I signed up to take part in I’m a Scientist, Get me out of here! (IAS), a free online science communication competition that pits scientists against each other in themed zones. School classes ask questions to the five chosen scientists in their respective zone, as well as taking part in live chats over the two-week competition. In the second week they vote for their favourite scientist, with one being evicted each day until there are two remaining to fight it out in the final. The victor takes home a £500 prize to use for future science outreach. It’s a bit like X Factor for scientists, where the students are the judges.
I was chosen to take part in the Climate Change zone of the March IAS event. I filled my profile with pictures of my lab and things I thought kids would find cool (literally: liquid nitrogen…) I thought I had it in the bag and it would be dead easy. It wasn't. Here’s some of the things I learned when I took part last month.
1. Kids love emojis
In the words of my friend: “You DIDN’T know that?!” I found myself downloading a browser add-on so I could use them, but I couldn't compete with fellow scientist Cat who had an emoji of a cat IN HER NAME. Not fair.
At least now I can do this => ?⚡️???☕️??☀️?⚗☂?????
Useful. There’s definitely a lack of scientific emojis though...
2. You can make “plastic” out of milk and vinegar
Some students asked me if I had ever done this because they’d done it at school as an experiment. I’d never tried it before so I went home and tried it at home – thanks for the idea, students! It’s actually a protein, casein, you get out of this experiment. It’s a good one to try out at home.
3. There is no way of working out how kids’ minds work
This question was prompted because I said my favourite experiment ever was making liquid nitrogen ice cream. Quite often there’s 2+2=5 going on.
4. I really love what I do
I’m in the second year of my PhD, and have definitely fallen foul of the infamous second year blues (have any second years not?!). Talking about my research – especially in the context of climate change – really reminded me why I chose to join the CSCT. Taking part in IAS has given me that bit of a boost I needed.
I was in a climate change zone, but also a primary school zone, so I found I had to explain quite often why my work related to climate change. It seemed obvious to me but I think it’s quite a tricky concept to grasp. There were lots of questions like what sorts of experiments do you do in your lab which are related to climate changes?
5. I really wanted to win
I didn’t win. I came runner up to Cat, who was very much a worthy winner. Looking forward to hearing how she gets on spending her £500 winnings! Between the two of us we accounted for over two thirds of all live chat interactions and answers – that’s dedication!
I realised at the start of the second week that I really wanted to win. I didn’t expect that. One time, I found myself sprinting across Bath to get to an impromptu live chat. On another occasion, I was rushing back inside the building to return to a live chat when a fire alarm had sounded mid-way through (once it was safe of course!).
Who knew how much the approval of small children meant to me?
6. The live chats are intense!
Being in a chat on my own with a class of 30 year 5s was one of the most frantic half hours of my life.
7. IAS is a really effective way of communicating with schools
During the two weeks in my zone there were 309 questions asked, 449 responses and a whopping 6,409 lines of live chat written. 443 students logged in during the event, and 90% of them were active in chats, asking questions or voting.
8. I got to chat to some other really interesting scientists
Every now and then there would be a no-show chat which ended up being a great opportunity to chat to the other scientists and find out what they do too. I hope we keep in touch. Cat, our winner, also works with terpenes so we formed #teamterpene for the final!
9. You can definitely use too many exclamation marks
Guilty!!! Enthusiastic or too keen?
10. Questions will always end up being about space and dinosaurs
They’re just cool. Unfortunately I don’t know anything about them.
11. It’s OK to say you don’t know!
No one knows the answer to everything – better to say you don’t know than try and muddle your way through. IAS is a real test of your knowledge (and Googling skills). Better to admit you’re not sure. Especially if they’re asking you how gravity works…
12. It’s important to answer the non-science questions too
These are the keywords from the zone live chats. There were loads of great questions, some general ones, lots on my research and the odd one on space. You may spot football in there too – we got asked things like which team we support and what sports we like quite a lot. I think it’s important to answer those questions too so you show you’re just a normal person too!
13. It’s really nice to read things like this:
15. It took over my life...
It took a while to get used to the influx of emails telling me “New questions to answer!”. There were definitely days when I got carried away answering them and stayed up till 1 am. I could definitely have spent less time doing it but I decided it was worth losing my social life for a fortnight over!
16. ...but it’s totally worth if for the mug
Yes, that is caffeine on there ☕️☕️☕️
So I get to add my name to the CSCT IAS hall of fame. I had a great time taking part and hopefully was able to inspire some future scientists. It was a brilliant experience which gave me a lot more back then I thought it would, and really tested my public engagement abilities. I would thoroughly recommend applying to take part. Speaking of which – the event runs three times a year. So apply for I’m a Scientist or I’m an Engineer. Do it.
If you’re interested in reading the stats in more detail you can see the Climate Change zone report. There's some good pie charts in there!
Helena is in her third year in the CSCT working towards her PhD on “Terpene derived monomers for new polymers” with Dr Matthew Jones, Dr Davide Mattia and Professor Matthew Davidson.
A big congratulations to our MRes graduates and PhD students (Rebecca Bamford, Anyela Ramirez Canon and Duygu Celebi). Following the Graduation Ceremony at the Bath Assembly Rooms on 9 December 2015, our newest cohort 2015 threw a celebratory party for all. I'll let the photos tell the story:
This post is contributed by Emma Sackville.
Our most recent public engagement experience took us to Green Man music festival to run a stall as part of Einstein’s Garden. Being more of a One Direction fan who loves a cosy BnB, I was slightly apprehensive about my first ever music festival. But armed with my multi-functional headband (I went to a camping shop to buy legit equipment and came out with a headband... best purchase I made) we set off to Wales for a week of Science, music and mud.
Here are some of the things I learnt from our Green Man experience:
1. It rains a lot in Wales
As a wise Welsh person said to us ‘If you can’t see the mountains it’s raining. And if you can it’s about to start’.
2. Going early means you can get really cool pictures
3. And do things like this…
4. Baroque-pop and alternative-folk are all legitimate music genres and are, to be fair, quite good. Still looking for the gypsy folk electro swing though.
Eat your heart out 1D
5. But Green Man isn't just about the music...
We were part of Einstein’s Garden, a whole area dedicated to Science. As well as a range of stalls there was a stage powered by solar panels where Science Celidh did their thing and a tent powered by a fuel cell with science shows (including the Science of Star Wars).
6. Teal is a great colour
OK... we already knew that but that was a poor segue to show what we brought with us.
Our stall was called Renewable Revolution so we had three activities to show areas where we can use renewables. The Bubble Bike was to show renewable energy storage, with the FruitBox you could play Pacman using fruit as a control (e.g. touch the pineapple to turn left) to show renewable materials and the Fuel Ballot was a voting system for people to chose the renewable energy source they thought had the most potential.
7. Bath Spa students are great at designing stuff!
We developed two out of the three activities with Graphic Communication students from Bath Spa. The demos they developed looked really professional, especially compared to our slightly rough initial layout!
8. Charging laptops by pedalling a bike is tricky
As we couldn’t have any central power sockets we had to charge the laptop batteries on the bike, which was harder than we imagined when we were planning.
9. You can spend hours making an exhibit and all the kids want to do is honk the bike horn
"Can I blow the horn again please?" happened a lot.
10. People don’t always get puns - IT’S A CHEMISTREEEE, like chemistry but with a tree! Get it?
For our evaluation we used a real tree for people to hang comments on. Apparently the ChemisTREE thing wasn’t as obvious as we thought.
11. Don't ask little children insightful questions
We thought we could guide their comments by leaving some helpful questions. I’m not even sure who Joe Sugg is…
12. Although as well as the stupid comments we did get some lovely ones
(Look at the real handwriting – we didn’t just make them up!)
13. There will be times when you're really busy...
14. And times when you have nothing to do…
15. Small children love to chant transesterification
Jon’s indomitable enthusiasm had him explaining transesterification to a bunch of 10-year olds. Obviously he got them to chant it.
16. Don’t make t-shirts with a # on when no one has internet
With hindsight this was maybe a bit optimistic?
17. Camping/music festivals are actually pretty fun.
Just kidding! Anyone for Glastonbury?!
We’d like to thank the RSC Outreach fund again for their support in taking the Renewable Revolution stall to Einstein's Garden.
Emma is working towards her PhD on "Molecularly defined electro-catalysts for energy conversion and biomass valorisation" with Dr Uli Hintermair and Professor Frank Marken.
Second year CSCT student, Jon Chouler, attended a conference on a topic very close to him: Science Communication. He shares his highlights from the event:
On Wednesday 22 and Thursday 23 July, I had the pleasure of attending the BIG event 2015: a conglomeration of the nation’s best STEM engagement people, where attendees have the opportunity to share skills and experiences, develop professional links and keep up to date with the STEM engagement field.
The event this year was held in Norwich at the John Innes Centre, a centre that hosts cutting edge research on plant genetics. The proceedings begun on Wednesday in the Merton Auditorium with an introduction to the event from the very excitable Rachel Mason. This was closely followed by the “BIG Event Mingle”- a speed dating style chance to try out, and teach a whole range of 3 minute long public engagement ideas- which included Non-Newtonian fluids in ballerina shoes, and building a mega-structure to knock a duck off a platform (not a real duck of course!).
In the afternoon I attended two very good sessions. One was a workshop on performer evaluation, which gave me some really good insights into evaluation methods, what is needed from an evaluation, and also the fact that when giving feedback you need to consider that the performer is a person with feelings! I also went to a performance called “Save the World in 45 mins” by Ken Farquhar, where he presented some key messages about climate change and waste in an incredibly entertaining way- lots of audience interaction, and you could tell he used to be a street performer!
Day 2 of the conference, and we start fresh and early at 9am with a fascinating talk from the Science Team at the BBC’s One Show. They gave us a behind the scenes look at how they select, develop and present new science pieces for the show: namely that it is all about delivering a good story for the audience to engage with. What was interesting is how they said most scientific ideas can be clearly explained in 4.5 minutes… even the top level “clever” stuff!
The day progressed with two great workshops. One was on using arts and crafts for interacting with adult audiences. This was particularly good for we got the chance to make STI cupcakes. I made Chlamydia. Jokes aside, I found that these kind of activities were really good for an adult to engage with a scientific concept and discuss it as heavily or as lightly as they choose.
The final workshop of the day was a cracker. Lewis Hou introduced us all the word of the Science Ceilidh… using traditional folk music and dance to communicate science. It was incredibly fun and we even got to make our own dances up and try them out on each other. I can see a very good idea for a University of Bath public engagement activity coming!
The day ended with the Best Demo competition, with 12 performers going head to head to deliver their best demo in 3 minutes. There was colour changing wine, galvanising coins in base, super long tape measures, and tricksy little matchboxes. All really good demos and they gave me a lot of ideas on how to improve my performing style for public events.
So all in all, the BIG event 2015 was an absolute blast. I learnt a lot on how to develop myself as a science communicator, picked up some very useful links for developing projects here in Bath, and picked up some great ideas for new events.
To attend this conference, Jon was kindly funded by the Public Engagement team at the University of Bath. Jon has also recently won this year’s Vice-Chancellor’s Postgraduate Prize for Public Engagement with Research for his outstanding activities and his talk on using microbial fuel cells to detect toxic compounds in water for developing countries.