On 10 and 11 June, our first year students took their ‘Island of Sustainability’ exhibition to the Festival of Nature 2017, where they ran activities to answer questions such as: “Can fruit waste make plastic?” and “How do you clean water?” Watch this video, created by Vicky De Groof, showcasing the highlights of the event.
Topic: Public engagement
The Festival of Nature will be hosting the Bristol Free Fun Family Weekend at Bristol Harbourside on the 10 and 11 June. A group of 19 PhD students from the Centre for Sustainable Chemical Technologies, University of Bath have been eagerly preparing activities that answer questions such as: “Can fruit waste make plastic?” and “how do you clean water?”
Venturing from their labs and offices, the PhD students will share their research with festival goers. Making it even more challenging, the main audience is families with young children. How do you explain the importance of water treatment or the concept of the circular economy to a six-year-old? Integrating the research of chemists, engineers, and biologists into one activity is tricky, especially if it has to appeal to both adults and children! The final outcome is a collection of activities centred on The Island of Sustainability. The students have built an island with a focus on wastewater treatment system, energy supply, and circular economy to promote discussion.
The island and its related activities were successfully tested for the first time at the Bath Taps into Science Festival. Collecting feedback from participants allowed them to improve their activities - curious to see what they’ve made? Wondering how chemistry fits into a sustainable society? Come and see The Island of Sustainability at Waterfront Square during the Bristol Free Family Weekend, 10th and 11th of June.
'Bath Taps into Science' is a free, educational outreach event, organised by the University of Bath, in attempt to make science accessible to all. This year, the MRes cohort created a series of fun and hands-on activities showcasing the research being done at the CSCT. The activities gave participants a chance to become sustainable scientists to save our sustainable island.
Our stall had three different activities based on three research themes: Energy, Water and the Circular Economy.
'Fuel your Future' activity used external combustion engines to demonstrate energy conversion and the potential of biofuels. Our highly realistic model of a volcano explored other possible renewable energy sources. The 'Fruit Box' was a great talking point for conductive materials and their scarcity.
The water activity allowed people to clean dirty water using membranes. The 'Membrane Box' demonstrated filtration on a larger scale.
'A-peeling Plastics' explained making bio-plastics from oranges demonstrating some of the potential of closing the loop. The giant 'Puzzled by Plastics' allowed for a hands-on explanation of the circular economy.
Friday, 17 March was cohort 16’s first experience of Public Engagement as a group. Fuelled by coffee after a start at 7am sharp, we began setting up in the University’s Sports Hall.
Before long the hall was filled by 900 excited school kids who were armed with plenty of questions about sustainability. There wasn’t a single quiet moment at our stand.
On Saturday, 18 March we set up base in Victoria Park in the city. The windy weather allowed for a perfect team building opportunity.
Being a family event, Saturday brought the opportunity to talk to new audiences about our research. Oriol being able to explain sustainability in Spanish pleasantly surprised a couple of members of the public.
Overall we found the experience exhausting but rewarding and are excited to apply the feedback we received to planning future Public Engagement events.
If you enjoyed reading about our activities, why not get in touch to find out more about our future events? Get in touch with our super active Public Engagement committee at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks!
CSCT student Marcus Johns was one of the 12 speakers who delivered a six minute presentation, in which he set out his research and why it matters. He also explained his motivations and progress in his research journeys, including advice to others.
Themed around ‘healthy futures’, this year’s Research Rocket celebrated contributions of early career research community at the University of Bath.
CSCT PhD student Marcus Johns works on tissue engineering and developing new components for organs such as the heart. Marcus’ own tricuspid valve in his heart is not properly formed, and by sharing his own story and motivations behind his work, he pointed to the huge, potential applications for this work in improving quality of life for patients.
You can watch his talk again (starting from 14:00).
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…)
Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR) spectrometers (aka. Hidden Force Looking Machines) use very large magnets to help study the structure of chemical molecules.
When molecules are inside a magnetic field, they behave in a similar way to tiny bells which can interact with radio waves. ‘Hitting’ the molecules using a short radio signal causes the molecules to ‘ring’ producing a signal which can be detected by the NMR spectrometer. The signal produced by the molecules looks very similar to the shape made by the sound of a bell - the difference is that the NMR signal is detected as an electrical signal by the spectrometer, whilst the bell produces sound waves.
When you hit a bell, the ringing sound produced is made up of several different frequencies (different musical notes) which combine to give the characteristic sound of a bell. Your ear can identify these different frequencies and give you an idea of what sort of size and shape the bell is, just based on the noise that it makes – for example a small hand bell (click to listen) makes a very different noise to Big Ben (click to listen)!
In the same way as our ears can tell the difference between the sounds of the two different bells, the NMR spectrometer can use the signal produced by the molecules to separate out the different frequencies produced by different bits of the molecule. The Chemist (eg. me!) can then use this information to help work out what the molecule looks like.
Depending on how complicated the molecule is, the signal produced may be made up of just one frequency, or several different frequencies all mixed together. A small, simple molecule like Methanol will tend to have only one or two frequencies, whilst a more complicated molecule like Phenacetin will have lots of different frequencies all mixed together.
Since the signals produced by the molecules are very similar to a sound wave it is actually possible to play the NMR signal back allowing us to listen to what our chemicals look like1 (just for fun!). This basically means that we are using the NMR spectrometer as a very big (and very expensive) radio set. One way to do this would just be to connect a speaker directly to the spectrometer and listen to the electrical signals coming off,2 but since I would probably get in trouble if I start messing around with the expensive equipment I have used this bit of software instead, which does the same job.
Methanol (click to listen)
Phenacetin (click to listen)
Because each different molecule interacts with the radio waves at different frequencies (think different sized bells) this means that each molecule can be made to ‘sing’ a different musical note.
Once we have reached this stage, there really is only one logical conclusion:
With thanks to the Pacific Lutheran University FTNMR FID Archive for supplying NMR data used to create this video.
1Yes, this sentence does make sense if you think about it.
2This used to be a very common way of checking instrument settings, requiring ‘not more than half an hour of soldering and wiring’: https://www.chemie.uni-erlangen.de/bauer/music5.html
Andrew is working towards his PhD on "Biogenic Alcohols and Sugars as Sustainable Reductants: A Combined Spectroscopic and Theoretical Approach to the Development of New Homogeneous Catalysts for Dehydrogenation, Hydrogen Transfer and Reverse Water-Gas-Shift Chemistry" with Dr Ulrich Hintermair, Dr Antoine Buchard and Dr John Lowe.
This post was contributed by Marcus Johns.
A few weeks ago a certain Jon Chouler approached me to say that he thought I would be perfect for his Science Stand Up event. I’ll admit, I was a little apprehensive about this. Yes, I enjoy performing – having been a member of the musical and theatrical societies since I started university – and have been known to put a few ad-libs in last-night performances that the audience found quite funny, but a whole ten minutes of just me and a microphone trying to make people laugh whilst informing them about my research? That seemed quite the challenge. I initially tried to avoid signing up to the event saying that I was interested but that I was rather busy, what with being a third year PhD student and all that. Fortunately Jon persisted and eventually I relented, signing my life (or at least a few hours of it) away in the name of public engagement. However I still had absolutely no idea how to go about writing my routine or even what it would be on.
Happily, Jon had organised an excellent stand-up comedy workshop to help grow our funny bones and get the creative juices flowing. This turned out to be a very insightful event that enabled us to learn about the specific techniques used in stand-up comedy and practice putting them into effect. One such technique, which reminds me of the arrow in the FedEx logo – once you’ve seen it, you can never avoid it – is the rule of three. This technique, that you’ll notice comedians the world over use, involves listing two sensible things followed by the joke item. For example: What do you find in an ordinary handbag? Purse, lipstick and the kitchen sink. Three items allows an air of expectation to build up – the audience are expecting you to be funny after all – but doesn’t allow them to become too bored waiting for the punchline. Of course there are many variations on this basic premise – Monty Python probably pushed it to its extremes with the infamous “Spam” sketch in which the proprietor of a greasy spoon café lists the spam-filled menu finally ending on "Lobster Thermidor aux crevettes with a Mornay sauce, garnished with truffle pâté, brandy and a fried egg on top and Spam”. You’ll notice in my routine, see video below, that I also have my own variation in which I list three places in the body from which we can extract adult stem cells (bone marrow, teeth and fat) but then use the final item as the basis for the next joke.
After the workshop I realised three important things. Firstly, in order to make the routine appeal to a wide audience it had to be relatable to them. It would be easy to create a routine that was full of references that a bunch of people who worked with cells day in, day out would understand but this would only alienate the general public. Of course I included a couple of jokes that not everyone would get – the “expanding business” line for example – but the majority were designed for Joe Bloggs. Secondly, the entire routine didn’t have to be about science. Yes, I may be a scientist but I’m a person first of all. Stand-up allows you to present your personality and experiences at the same time as the actual subject. I enjoy using controversy as a way to make individuals think about the larger view and perhaps not take everything at face value. Hence the Christian Scientist joke that I designed specifically to be controversial – there were definitely a few people in the audience at The Bath Brew House event who weren’t over-impressed with it but that’s the nature of comedy.
Finally, the piece had to have a story that the audience could follow. Admittedly, this is perhaps easier for tissue engineering compared to something like zeolite production* but the concept is the same. In this instance I introduced myself and created a link (two things that I hold in high regard) that enabled me to introduce coronary heart disease. In reality coronary heart disease has very little bearing on my actual research – I personally feel that in this case prevention is definitely better than a potential cure especially from an economic perspective – but it’s definitely easier to explain something that everyone has heard about rather than trying to explain that my research could one day be useful for repairing heart birth defects, which I think would a much more realistic and meaningful output. This creates the thread used to lead the audience to the concept of tissue engineering (we need a biological solution for a biological problem) and, finally, my research. Well, a visual gag based on my research – at this point my time was up!
The actual process of writing the routine was pretty much based on flashes of inspiration and a few glasses of wine (alcohol is scientifically proven to improve creativity, although not productivity…). A few hours spent memorising the script before a quick rehearsal the day before the performance to confirm that I wasn’t going to go massively over the ten minute time limit led to me being ceremoniously dumped on the stage to open the second half. Incidentally, at that point I was shaking like a leaf although – top tip – keeping up the appearance of being confident meant that they didn’t notice this and an early successful joke settled my nerves pretty rapidly. A second piece of advice is to get someone to film you. Yes, it is excruciatingly painful to watch yourself back on film (I still hate the sound of my voice) but it enabled me to determine which jokes didn’t work and where I could cut material if required. I recently performed the same routine at Science Showoff at the Grain Barge in Bristol, which is where the video above was shot, and was able to cut the routine to their required nine minutes relatively easily. I thoroughly enjoyed the whole process and would absolutely recommend performing stand-up to anyone who’s happy to make jokes about all their hard work. My next challenge is to create a routine that involves my actual research – I think an analogy based on Goldilocks and the Three Bears might work!
* This is genuinely one of the reasons why I chose my PhD – I wanted to do something that the general public could easily relate to. That, and that it’s an upcoming area that offers good job prospects.
Marcus is in his final year in the CSCT working towards his PhD on “Biomaterials for the Cardiac Environment” with Dr Ram Sharma, Dr Janet Scott and Dr Sameer Rahatekar.
This post was contributed by Jon Chouler
Did you hear the one about the academic and the comedian? Well, me neither, but have you ever heard of an academic comedian? In fact that's probably not very common either. However, let us not separate the academic and the comedian into entirely separate realms - since you academics out there could potentially learn a lot from a comedian, and it’s not just about how to be 'funny'.
A few weeks ago, 13 - 15 July, myself and fellow academic chum, Ioannis Costas-Batlle, went to the University of Kent - located in quaint little Canterbury, to discuss the usefulness of comedy for us aspiring scientists (hard and soft sorts). Indeed this year, we had the pleasure of attending the Science in Public 2016 conference, a cross-disciplinary forum for sharing all work related to science and its relationship to the public.
So for instance, we saw some great talks about: why solid state physics hasn't received quite the public popularity that its fellow astrophysics brethren has; how citizens have participated in nationwide science experiments and projects (check out this grand opportunity to count some Antarctic penguins); and also we played a cracking game that was about shaping the UK nuclear weapons policy post WW2 - it was very riveting.
Anyway, back to the comedy. Ioannis and I presented all about why we think comedy is really useful for academics - both for hard and soft scientists (here’s a cracking read written by Ioannis himself); namely because comedians are excellent delivers of points that you remember, very apt structurers of talks, and have a sterling speaking style (these skills sound rather useful for academics no?).
We learnt a lot about comedy in science too, from the workshops and panel discussions about the subject. Namely, comedy must be used in science with caution since it can be a rather divisive tool, may not appeal to certain crowds, and it may even detract from the science at times.
Nonetheless, I would still vouch for any scientists out there to at least observe and maybe even discuss with a comedian about how they are such effective communicators - I've had the pleasure of learning some of the tricks of the trade and it has really helped my presentation and communication skills.
So did you hear the one about the academic and the comedian? They had a really good time discussing communication skills and techniques and the academic appreciated the help.
Jon is in cohort '13 of the CSCT and is working towards his PhD with Dr Mirella di Lorenzo, Dr Petra Cameron and Dr Barbara Kasprzyk-Horden. See more info on Jon's work.
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!
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.