Last Soapbox Science of 2015- Hello Newcastle

Last weekend I attended my second Soapbox Science event of the summer in Newcastle.

The aim of Soapbox Science is to engage people with scientific research and promote the visibility of female scientists. It was interesting to attend this event in the aftermath of Nobel prize winner Tim Hunts misjudged comments about women in science, which sparked the ‘distractingly sexy’ trend on twitter. Many members of the public asked if this event was in response to his comments, though we explained the event had been planned well before the media storm.

We had some fantastic female scientists standing on soapboxes explaining aspects of their research. The range of science portrayed was vast, we had the topic such as the importance of gut bacteria to the composition of meteorites explained and much more.

The speaker I helped was Dr Cathleen Thomas from the Northumberland Wildlife Trust http://www.nwt.org.uk/

She was speaking about species invasion (think grey squirrels out-competing our traditional red squirrel) and why it’s important to preserve native ecosystems. This topic allowed for some fantastic props, there was: a paddling pool with a selection of plastic pond life, a bubble machine, a giant ladybird and some stuffed squirrels. If that doesn’t draw a crowd I’m not sure what would! It was lovely to see how fascinated children were about the natural world and Cathleen successfully managed the challenge of engaging and educating both the children and their parents.

It was interesting to contrast the Newcastle event with my London experience of Soapbox Science. Both events were very busy and successful (19,000 people engaged in Newcastle) and both happened on lovely sunny days. The differences came in the form of each individual speaker, they were all talented scientific communicators but with varying styles. I really enjoyed observing this aspect, for example, some people had engaging scripts and particular points for audience participation and others opted for a more audience led dialogue, which can work well with an engaged group. It gave me an education in how to enhance my science communication skills and got me feeling creative about participating in future outreach events.

I would really encourage scientists of both sexes to get involved and volunteer next year. It’s a great opportunity to learn how to communicate your science effectively and allows you to network with other scientists who are all passionate about raising women’s presence in STEM. It’s a long day of standing but it’s fun and in Newcastle’s case there was free wine and hot dogs at the end of the day!

Soapbox Science 2015 Bringing Science to the People

Last week I volunteered at Soapbox Science London 2015. I really enjoyed the experience and would totally recommend it to other scientists.

This outreach event was held along the Southbank London, we were so lucky with the weather (sunshine really does help enthusiasm). The aim of the event is to attract members of the public to stand and listen to talented female scientists talk about their research.

Though the event is advertised there are a lot of people passing along the Southbank on a sunny Saturday so the idea is to attract in people who were not going out of their way to go to a science event. I like this idea as at the outreach events I have previously done (Mayfest Nottingham University) members of the public make a conscious effort to come onto campus and engage with us, which though good selects for the already engaged members of the public.

From volunteering on the day I can say that not everyone along the Southbank is going to be persuaded to stop and listen. However there is really no way of identifying who will and who wont. Having an interest or curiosity in science definitely isn’t splashed across peoples faces and some people are easier to convince than others. I have to say families were an easy target to get involved, and was encouraged when asking children ‘do you like science?’ I got lots of ‘Yes!’ and one very sweet girl who shouted ‘No I love Maths’ so lots of hope for the future of scientific research I hope.

Later in the day I helped out Dr Jessica Blair who was stood on her soapbox presenting about Superbugs and Antibiotic Resistance. It was great to see such a charismatic speaker. The simple props were very effective, a few cuddly giant microbes, some pictures of the creators of antibiotics and don’t forget some soil! She pulled in a real crowd, with a mixture of ages. Participation was good, bribery with prizes got the audience guessing at the number of bacteria cells in our bodies, numbers that are too big to properly comprehend. I was also interested to see that the public already had some knowledge about the challenge of antibiotic resistance. With complex questions about how to fund new antibiotic drugs and asking about Bacteriophage therapy.

As I said before Soapbox Science is a great outreach experience for scientists and personally I always feel more focused in the lab after these events so would encourage people to sign up and volunteer.

And if that was’t enough to convince you, in two weeks time I will be off to Soapbox Science Newcastle 2015! Looking forward to see what Newcastle’s Scientists have to offer!