Bring out your inner child… and stick some goggles on it.

 It’s no secret that I’m not a huge fan of children. They’re sticky, they’re loud and they’re annoying. That being said, the job descriptions given to us by Roy and Eileen from the Discovery and Great Hancock Museums would tempt even myself into a career working with children. The way that we present science to a modern audience has come so far since children learnt the periodic table in dusty classrooms and it couldn’t be better.

 

Not only are today’s museums aiming to form partnerships1 with local schools, they’re making even the adults feel like children again2. The idea that we remember what we enjoy is certainly a good one and bringing that sense of fun to children and adults alike sounds like the ideal career. Of course, no career comes without it’s challenges, but even then these seem like fun! Planning events and workshops for children, practical learning, holiday-themed events and creating installations. It’s like trying to sneak learning into playtime without anyone noticing, no wonder I always used to beg my mum to take me to the Natural History Museum every time we ventured into London.

 

I mean, Look at this!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ns4Nm4G1l_g

It’s an entire wall of sound!

 

But even better, it’s an entire wall of sound made from live, unedited internet pages, chat forums and podcasts. And it’s music. An art installation in a science museum.

Who said art and science don’t go together?

1-      http://www.twmuseums.org.uk/schools/projects.html  (28/12/13)

2-      http://www.twmuseums.org.uk/schools/great-north-museum/workshops (27/12/13)

3-      http://www.sciencemuseum.org.uk/smap/art_on_display.aspx#1  (27/12/13)

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Don’t words your muddle up

A teacher at school once told me ‘if you can’t explain it to a 10 year old you don’t understand it yourself’. Since then I have applied this piece of knowledge on many occasions; be it from attempting to explain science to my mum (who studied art and English) and even using it as helpful revision tool.

A recent talk from Roy and Eileen, who work as education officers at the Discovery museum and the Great North museum, reminded me about expression. You could see, especially from Roy, how passionate they were about their jobs. They are responsible for the management and arrangement of workshops for children on school trips.

The benefit children can get from learning outside the classroom is immense, it enables children who might not thrive in the classroom maybe prosper in an alternate environment. However, it is essential they make these workshops exiting but also stick closely to the national curriculum.

Roy and Eileen made it clear they have to be able to engage with the children in a particular way to keep them interested; this is what made me think of my phrase. So even though they will be teaching the same topics they have to adapt their language accordingly.

It made me appreciate how fundamental the use of language is when it comes to communication, especially when it involves complex science.

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How does it glow?

As a child, my favourite four words were ‘glow in the dark’. I decided to find the answer to an almost lifelong question; how does it glow?

 Image

Things glow in the dark contain phosphors, which when ‘charged’ by a light source can reflect that light for around ten minutes. They are present in fluorescent lights, in which case ultraviolet light ‘charges’ the phosphors to make it glow brightly.

 

There are many types of phosphors out there, but zinc sulphide and strontium aluminate are mostly used in the production of toys. In plastic toys, the phosphors are mixed in to the plastic before being put in a mould.

 

There are, however, ways to keep the glow in the dark items glowing. Some watches with phosphors in the clocks hands have radioactive elements, keeping the hands glowing without the need to be charged.

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Three parent babies?

 

A recent lecture by Karen Bridwell mentioned an article that left me intrigued. In the lecture she mentioned that the headline was due to governmental bodies stopping the use of a new IVF technique. The controversial title seems aimed to shock people into reading the article.

 

In this new IVF, small amounts of a second woman’s genome replaces damaged genes from the mother, meaning babies would have DNA from three people; two women and one man. An article by the telegraph points out that this DNA does not just affect the first generation, but every generation after.

 

Although the technique developers insist that the DNA that is swapped has no bearing on the child’s physical or physiological development, from a scientific standpoint I see it as having ethical issues. How long until this technique will be used to make ‘designer babies’, or does creating a healthy child in a lab constitute anyway?

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Teach first

Teach first is a UK based charity which believes every child should have access to a great education, regardless of their family background. Studies have shown that a huge proportion of ‘free school meals children’ do not gain any GCSE passes, heavily linking academic success to a higher family income. With an aim to combat this, teach first trains teachers on a two year developmental programme from inside schools, focussing on the STEM subjects.

 

Recently in a lecture about STEM ambassadors, I found how teaching is an excellent example of science communication. It involves aiming science at, not just non-scientists, but to young people.

 

As I am thinking of teaching as a career choice, the STEM subject focus of teach first is an ideal option for anyone interested in science communication as a career.

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Science in Hollywood

A large proportion of people want to absorb a news story as fast as possible; then maybe investigate further after work. BBC news online often allows us to get the best chunks of an article presented to us using videos.

 

A recent talk by Rachel Kerr, a journalist with BBC news online in Newcastle, focused on the cinematic tactics used to present these videos. After looking at a few scientific examples, I found that none were too complex or too simple which, she explained, was to goal.

 

One of the videos I viewed was about breast cancer. In May 2013, actress Angelina Jolie admitted to having plastic surgery that could save her from breast cancer. The world’s media jumped on the story, triggering a surge of accessible scientific knowledge related to breast cancer and BRCA1. The first section of the video informs viewers of the basic knowledge covered in the article and, critically, remains very impartial. The substance of the video is an interview from a Cancer Research UK representative, where the facts are delivered as well as statistics. This is again very impartial. Finally, the last segment of the video briefly discusses the pro’s and cons on surgery, and gives other treatment options available in the UK.

 

Looking at the video with a scientific background, more information on the genes involved could have been included. Overall, however, the impartiality, and lack of criticism, towards Jolie’s choice was a refreshing way of turning a Hollywood story into a beneficial broadcast.

 

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-22520720

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All about the media game

 

In today’s world, people get their news from a huge range of sources. It has never been so easy to access the most recent, interesting information.

 

A recent talk by Karen Bridwell made me consider the benefits that a huge audience would have to breakthrough science, allowing scientists to use forms of media as a tool to spread knowledge. Her talk focused on pro-active media; the use of press releases as a way for experts to present their research to journalists.

 

How would this type of approach benefit both the public and the scientist? It would mean that the researchers would have control over how they want their research to be read. Ideally, the information would have a greater chance of being correct and relevant, with the interesting bits highlighted. This means that journalism could inform the public and even influence the government.

 

However, mistakes can happen, such as the infamous MMR scare. In 1998 a falsified research paper reached headlines to claim that an essential vaccine could cause autism. I think that this world-renowned case of media misinformation is an excellent demonstration of the importance of scientific communication to large audiences. Representative of this, The Guardian recently pointed out that teenagers today are at risk of serious illness due to the scare.

 

In all, I think that science in the media is a success by having few memorable big mistakes in the last 20 years. But can we afford another one?

 

http://briandeer.com/mmr/lancet-paper.htm

http://www.theguardian.com/society/2013/apr/25/mmr-scare-analysis

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