Monday, 27 December 2010

Merry Christmas everyone!

Merry Christmas everyone! I hope you all had a good one. It was a quiet affair for us this year remembering 2 people we've lost. As its my favourite season I made the best of it. As there was still a substantial amount of snow and the ground and it was everywhere I consider this a successful white xmas.  Back home now and looking forward to the new year and New Year's Eve when we will be seeing Queen WWRY musical. I can hardly wait for that. I just want to wish you all a happy healthy and prosperous 2011.  Thank you for reading. I hope you have some great plans for the day/evening and some great resolutions too. As 2011 is the International year of Chemistry I'm hoping it is going to be a good one for me professionally. Keeping me busy and hopefully presenting me with lots of great opportunities. Lots of love from Sarah xxx 

Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Day 9

31st October. Sadly this means it is the last day of the science festival for this year. It has been a full and fun week, enjoyed by one and all. I was Maths busking in the air and space hall for most of the morning. My chosen busk for today was the tying a knot in the scarf trick. I seemed to spend most of yesterday handcuffed to Katie but today I was with Duncan. He did the mind reading birthday trick. Around mid morning was a steam engine demo and we stopped to watch that. A very amusing guy who asked questions of the kids in the audience. The demo included 2 coke cans filled with hot water to show the power of steam. They were crushed. I was impressed by this and think it will be something I remember from this festival. At 2.30pm I helped Duncan assisted an event he had helped on earlier. A workshop given by a lady from Imperial College London. This was called ‘Through the looking glass’. Different shapes were built from plastic models and viewed at various angles through homemade kaleidoscopes. Then it ws time to go home, its all over L I went to collect my things and most other people had gone home. Carolyn presented me with a gift bag containing a bottle of red wine. A sweet note on it thanked me for all I’d done from the MOSI team. I was very touched and hadn’t expected this. Thanks very much! xxx Duncan and I chatted with the mathematicians who were keen to recruit more buskers and invited us for a drink. So we joined them in a nearby pub for coffee. I met Bubblz the maths clown at last aka Caroline and a familiar face started speaking to me. I realised it was a guy I’d seen in costume dressed up as mathematician John Dee. His real name is Costel and he lives near me so we exchanged email addresses as you do. These maths people never switch off. They had to travel back to London and be at work the next day, some had written prep to do for this and he they were surrounded by luggage talking about maths and looking rather comfortable. It was truly wonderful to meet and work with all of thse lovely and skilled people during the course of these 9 days. I shall miss it and thus hope to do it again next year. I looked forward to the xmas do which of course has now passed. I hope everyone is well and wish them luck in all they do if I don’t see them again. XXX   

Day 8

Saturday 30th October. This morning saw the beginning of a largely maths themed weekend and I sent most of it at maths busking. This took place in the air and space hall of MOSI. We were briefed by 2 experienced maths buskers Rufus and Katie who had come all the way from Oxford University. Maths is my weakest subject, so I was abit apprehensive though I needn’t have worried. One of the busks we did was the rope/handcuffs one so at least there was one ‘trick’ I could do.  We also challenged people to put a knot in their scarves without letting go of it with their hands. There was also the turning your waistcoast inside out whilst handcuffed. That’s a neat trick and I needed  bit of practice. Like most things, its easy when you know how. We made emergency pentagons from strips of paper and read people’s mind telling them their birthdays. I still have that card with all the numbered boxes on. I can do it, but didn’t memorise any of the number sequences like my fellow buskers did! You can find out all about maths busking from this link
I was back science busking in MOSI in the afternoon. One of the STEM managers made we laugh by asking how I was so alert and full of energy after all this time. Funny because I felt like a zombie and thought I must’ve looked like one too. Bless her! The penultimate day and so I’m feeling a little sad anyhow. Before we went home today we were treated to the 4D theatre which was fantastic, I had fun there too. Two 20 minute animated films are showing, we saw one called pirates in the museum. Of course we had to wear special glasses to feel the effects and feel them we certainly did. Our chairs moved around at angles to the movement of the characters onscreen. We had a couple of blasts of air. One squirt of water on our faces. Crabs or whatever nibbling at our angles and finally bubbles coming out of the screen. It was difficult to tell wether these were real or onscreen and I was sat at the back. Like everyone else I put my hand out to feel them and oped one. So real then. Alas no photo’s from today.  

Day 7

Friday 29th October. Today I was at MOSI, all day busking. Firstly upstairs in the lobby and it did get quite busy. After lunch they wanted us to busk downstairs to try and get people in. Somehow that didn’t happen, we were happy doing it upstairs were it was warmer and we saw enough people. It was quite overwhelming sometimes! During lunch we met Seth, a maths busker, who showed us a few tricks. All in all a fairly quiet day. It seems that way as the festival will soon be over :(

This evening it was time for us to revisit The Briton’s Protection and revisit a talk I really enjoyed last year and found rather quirky. You’ll see why after this description lol. It was called ‘Drinking up Time’ and takes us an a time travelling adventure to explore the scientific understandings of alcohol, since 1600. Dr James Sumner of Manchester University meets Newton, Davy and others to do this aided by his time machine which is of course a wine box! There were a few changes this year and the time machine now has flashing lights. A lighthearted hilarious talk I’d encourage everyone to see if they get the chance. Enjoy these pix. I did try to capture the wine machine.

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Day 6 Manchester Science Festival 2010

Thursday 28th October. I was at the Manchester Museum, Oxford Road again today, the whole day this time. My contact is the same lady I met last year and I remember her because of her funny name. She, however, didn’t seem to remember me. This years theme at the museum is Chinese Technology. I enjoyed working with 2 other Ambassadors this time, the very quiet, young asian named Ashwin and Becky who likes to get stuck into things. We were told there would be a talk about the history of the museum at 12,30pm and one of us would need to evaluate that. I volunteered though felt a bit mean because I think one of the others should have done it as I had that experience already on Tuesday. However I got picked to do this, probably because I know what to do. Anyway we helped to set up our event which was about silk worms and given a crash course. So we were silk worm experts for the day. There were arts and crafts for the kids to do. They could either make a silk moth or a silk gown. We helped cut out the shapes using a template so that there were plenty of each. Didn’t want to disappoint any of the kids. Two of us, one who was always me lol sat at a small desk near the entrance. We had pictures of the life cycle of the silk moth to talk to the kids about as well as a small glass case containing all the stages of a silk moth from eggs to moth. I learned a few things myself, and the kids seemed genuinely impressed. It was very interesting. The worms can only grow to a maximum of 3mm and their entire diet consists of just one leaf! Their cocoon is composed of the silk and once they have emerged as a moth the cocoon is submerged into water and drawn out as a thread. It is awesome. We have samples of different silk threads to show people too, light fabrics and heavy ones. So at 12.30pm I was lead upstairs to the lecture theatre and introduced to the speaker. To my surprise she was accompanied by a quirky guy I remembered from last year. His very entertaining talk in my favourite pub last year was one of the high spots of the festival for me. I told him this, he thanked my and asked if I wouldn’t mind giving out flyers because he was doing it again tomorrow night. I knew this and had every intention of seeing the talk again. This lunchtime talk was very informative and lasted an hour. It had the odd title of ‘Arguments and umbrella stands: Victorian Manchester’s natural history collections’. It was an interesting history lesson elucidating the origins of today’s collections within this museum. At the end of the talk a mysterious object which had been referred to as ‘the artefact’ was brought into for us all to see. I forget its exact name but it was something like ‘stratological scale’. It was discussed and judging by the questions which were asked, some audience members knew what they were taking about.
Totally a new area for me though this was.

 I was sat at the back for the talk itself as I had an evaluation for to fill in for the festival. Chatting to the speaker, and James afterwards I told them I would seem them tomorrow night at his talk. Apparently the talk I’m going to this evening is by a friend of theirs so I shall see them tonight. Back to being a silk moth expert for s while. I had a late lunch and went for a wander. I sauntered along the area behind the Manchester Museum and really enjoyed it as, I’d never been here before, despite living in Manchester for 11 years! The museum is always super busy during the festival but I had a great day. During the afternoon session, I had my name written in Chinese! 

This evening’s talk at The Briton’s Protection was by Manchester University’s Dr Carsten Timmerman. He is a historian of medicine and his talk was entitled: ‘Cigarettes and smoking bans-The science and the history’. For 3 years now smoking has been banned from all enclosed public places in England. This talk deals with 6 decades of concern over the dangers associated with cigarette smoke. He talked about the politics and the epidemiology of it. Dr Richard Doll discovered the link between smoking and cancer. It was many many years before people believed that there actually is such a link.We were invited for a few drinks by todays museum speaker and James. Glynn had to work the following day so we said we would gladly have a drink with them tomorrow night. Another great day at the festival as far as I am concerned. Went home happy

Sunday, 19 December 2010

Manchester Science Festival day 5

Day 5, Wednesday 27th October. I was at MOSI all day mostly participating in busking in the upstairs lobby.Late afternoon I evaluated an event called 'seeing is believing' and I went and had a go myself before they cleared everything away. It was weird but amazing! Organised by the British Science Association, this was a combination of art and science allowing us to look at the science behind out of body experiences. I placed by right hand on the table underneath a wooden box where I couldn't see it. On top of this box is a hand made from a rubbery flexible material which simulates my own hand. The lady kept stroking, massaging and rubbing the fake hand. I felt first! After a while my actual hand felt as though it was being stroked and manipulated. So it is possible to trick your mind even though I could clearly see the lady playing with the fake on. Oooooh creepy! A sad note was that this was Zena's last day of the fesival, sniff! I had worked with her a fair bit and she was full of fun and a very lovely person. I was sad to see her go as was one of the STEM managers who happened to be around. We hugged and got emotional. I managed to snap this smiley pic of her before she left and was sorry she couldn't make our xmas meal.

After going home to get changed I came back to MOSI, as a member of the audience.Therw was an awesome event happening this evening which concluded the RSC's 350th anniversary celebrations. Four reknowned speakers were invited along to talk about the latest developments in their fields. See photos ;) These research fellows were Prf Andrew Sharrocks discussing biomedicine (cancer research), Prof. Barbara Maher from Lancaster University discussing climate change and enviromental pollution (magnetite particles). The third speaker was Dr. Alexander Oh discussing particle physics. The fourth speaker was from Manchester University and was this years joint Nobel prize winner for physics! Both nobels work at the materials department here and won it for their discovery of graphene in 2004. Dr Konstantine Novoselov spoke about this and he was very funny. Alas Prof. Andre Gheim couldn't be with us this evening. Each talk was very interesting and at the end they formed a panel at the front and answered questions. A most enjoyable evening. Fellow STEM Ambassador and award winner lol Claire was also there.

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

A geeky meal and awards ceremony.......

Lastnight, tuesday was an amazing night. It was the christmas event for us STEM Ambassadors which is MOSI's way of thanking us for all our hard work at the science festival ;) We all met up at a fantastic indian restaurant which is just near MOSI. It was wonderful to see everyone again, I had hoped for a big turnout. Nice to see happy faces and everybody having fun. The food was fabulous and we had the biggest naan breads I've ever seen! They were served up on a metal rack and placed in the centre of the table where you could just tear a piece off. After the meal were thank you speeches and 3 prizes were given out so it was abit of an awards ceremony really. I was most surprised and thoroughly delighted when the first award winner was me! I hadn't expected it because at the end of the festival itself I was presented with a bottle of red wine for my sterling efforts ;)  Below you can see a photo of the award. Isn't it beautiful? This is for my outstanding dedication during the Manchester Science Festival. I was there for the whole time expect one afternoon. Loved it! This award is now a treasured possession and I am really touched. Thank you MOSI. xxx

Saturday, 11 December 2010

The number that is Lady Gaga

Day 4, i.e. Tuesday 26th October.  Catchy title for a public lecture eh?

Of the evening events I attended this year, this was far and away my favourite. It was mind blowing! It started at 7pm and was mean’t to be a 90 minute talk but overran. As if that wasn’t a long time to be speaking. It included visuals and audio and covered a whole range of topics including, quantum mechanics, relativity, string theory which left you wondering what this has to do with Lady Gaga. However as Professor Gaydecki. said a few times, all would become clear in the end and have relevance, and it did! It was essentially about digital systems and a breakdown of their  various components and how they work and integrate together (reductionism). It makes you question reality! I guess he could have chosen any artist but of course Lady Gaga is known by the youth of today, and so it would appeal to them.  The show ended with a montage and I think it would be nice to see this on YouTube. It was accompanied by a really touching tune which I’ve heard before but don’t recall the name of the artist. ‘Light up’ I think the song is called. The Prof said that scientists may be good at communicating their subject but not so good at expressing how it makes us feel. That is what the video was mean’t to convey. I am glad I was sat at the back because I felt quite emotional. It featured images such as the Apollo 11 astronaut team, newborn babies. Awesome. Thank you Prof, I shan’t forget this lecture and I do hope that I get to see it again some time. That is, if it doesn’t pop up on YouTube first.  I hope these pictures, give a flavour. 

Saturday, 4 December 2010

Days 3 and 4 of the Manchester Science Festival 2010

Day 3, Monday. From 9am until 4.30 pm as usual. I was on the information desk downstairs for the whole morning. This was chilly but fun and I stood up in the end to help customers coming in. We were all given Festival hoodies to wear but alas we weren’t allowed to keep them. After lunch I was sent along to the Super K again. I was thrilled about this of course! I noticed straight away some improvements from the first day. We were better briefed and thus better able to give the public a better experience. It was also explained to them that we were only role playing ;) We all had a go in the boat today. I thoroughly enjoyed it, though still never witnessed the live link to the real thing in Japan. I did take this opportunity to take another awesome photo though. 

Day 4 Saw me spending the morning science busking at MOSI. Again it was cold and we wore the hoodies. We periodically spent the morning doing this just outside the museum too. Shivering fun. Here are the lovely Zena and Becky.

In the afternoon I was drafted on my ownsome to The Manchester Mueseum where I had a fantastic session seeing some live animals during  what was colloquially named ‘The frog talk’!  The talk was 1 hour long and the kids loved it. I sat at the back, evaluating the talk. It was most enjoyable and as you can see I got some rather nice pictures ;) The guy giving the talk was really, really nice. I hope I’m in just as good shape when I’m his age. I hope you enjoy these photos and manage to get a good look at the animals in them. All sorts of amphibia.

tiny little leaf frog
I had taken more pix of these beautiful creatures but unfortunately it doesn't seem as though you can get a good look at em. You can always google and visit The Frog Blog!  This talk was given twice this afternoon so I had double the pleasure ;) Thank you to Dr Andrew Gray of the University of Manchester for a wonderful talk. 

Saturday, 13 November 2010

Days 1 and 2 of the Manchester Science Festival 2010

Finally, it is here! Day one saturday 23rd october. I have so much to say already. Day one was very exciting and great fun for me. I did both the morning shift (9am start) and the afternoon session so basically I was there from 9 until 4.30pm ;) I arrived early and was keen to check out the new look MOSI which has spent many recent months undergoing refurbishment. It looks wonderful and happily still recognisable. This year we are meeting up every morning in the new Lovell suite to be allocated our event. When I got there, plenty of volunteer’s were there already and I got my first glimpse of this years t-shirt. Bright green! One of the event managers whom I haven’t seen since last year remembered me. The ‘Hi Sarah’ was a nice surprise. I saw a few familiar faces, folks I’d met last year. I wondered if I would. Nice to see them again and so many new STEM Ambassadors. So I received my festival bag and t-shirt along with festival info and proceeded to collect some snacks and bottles of water to see me throughout the day. Time for a coffee and a chat before our general briefing. A high profile event which is in fact headlining this years festival is the Super Kamiokande Sonic Boom! (‘Super K’). I hoped I would at least get to see this sometime. I needn’t have worried. I was told I would be going to the Super K event today and be there for the whole day, so I was happy already! This event was only there for the first half of the festival and the venue was at the Manchester Metropolitan University which I had never been to before so I was curious about this too. The real Super K in Japan is designed to detect Neutrino’s. It looks like this
The replica of this at the festival was made using 1000 gold helium balloons to represent the photomultiplier tubes (PMT). Passengers (representing neutrinos!) were rowed along a pool of water in a small rowing boat with a scientist who explained the physics of and the nature of the Super K project. 
The team. Why is my suit undone?

When we first arrived we were of course shown around and briefed by the lady, Nelly, who had designed this replica and then allocated our roles. We were to be the security team which mean’t wearing tyvek suits, wellies and hard hats. Our passengers would be kitted out with this stuff too.

I look more mad scientist than a mean one.

As well as the Super K itself there was a mezzanine floor which was a balcony really so that people could view the installation from above. Also there were a series of short films and a live link to Japan. Alas I never got to see that. There were talks also given by some of the scientists there. We had to do some role playing and were told we had to be unfriendly to the people. I wasn’t entirely comfortable with that and I feel my fellow STEM Ambassadors thought the same thing. I was the oarperson which mean’t sitting at the back of the boat and simulating the rowing motion with my plastic oar. This was great fun and mean’t I heard a lot of science. I couldn’t really row because the water was too shallow and was ultra pure which is apparently dangerous if we touch it anyway. I’m sceptical about that lol. Every 10 minutes the sonic boom went off. This was actually a light simulation of the sonic boom. As the oarperson I was to be the meanest of all. I wasn’t allowed to smile at all or speak to any members of the public. Fortunately only 2 families asked me questions, just after lunch. I felt abit mean but better than being told off by Nelly! 

There was a film crew there the whole time and I was excited about either being on the news this evening or ending up on Youtube. However, it turns out it was for french television so there’s a good chance I’ll never see it. That’s probably for the best lol. I was asked to film a specific scene too. It was of me turning the water pump handle just before getting passengers into the boat. It needed 2 takes as I was too fast the first time. All in all a good start to the festival for me, I enjoyed meeting and working with new people. I felt quite tired surprisingly early but then it was completely dark with no windows. There were some teething problems which you would expect on the first day. I felt our briefing was rushed and it was taking too long to get people through it. Things did sort themselves out though I believe.   I hope I have enough energy for the rest of the week.

Day 2 Sunday 24th October. This was the only time during the whole festival when I wasn’t there for the whole day. I was sent to the MMU again with 2 lovely young scientists Zena and Jordan whom I worked with quite a bit and we had a lot of fun. I enjoyed it at least. I enjoy busking and soon got into it again. I was disappointed that we wouldn’t be doing the lava lamp demo this year. As a chemist it is my favourite. We still had a blast though. It was rather quiet too so they decided not to do any busking there in the afternoon anyway. We did meet a couple of lovely and very funny men who work at the university. One was a Jamaican ex NASA mathematician and the other guy had done a lot of things including acting. Happy memories. There was a robot dog there too who was very cute as you can see from the photo’s. 


They still don’t know everything about it. Does it know its name? (Oh no I’ve forgotten it. There is something to be said for writing a blog entry as soon as possible! lol) Does it even respond to sound? It had some cute moves though. I went home at lunchtime after another happy day ready for the hectic but fun week ahead. I love science festivals. Back soon with news of day 3 xxx

Sunday, 10 October 2010

Manchester Science Festival 2010

It will soon be here! Put these dates in your diaries 23-31 October. I am excited and looking forward to actively participating in my second science festival as a STEM Ambassador. As usual this takes place over the half term holidays giving parents and their kids alike an opportunity to find out how science is really done. So come along and see for yourselves how fun science really is and we also hope to dispel any misconceptions you may have about scientists too ;) Anyone can have a career in it if they want to! We want to inspire you. See here for the full list of events taking place in the Manchester area
and look out for our science buskers all over the area too. They will give you demo’s which show how much fun science is and a taster of what you can expect at the festival. They are identifiable by their matching brightly coloured shirts. I don’t yet know what colour they are this year, though some people might. Last year was my first one and I found it awesome which is why I’m doing it again. Its wonderful to meet like minded enthusiastic people too. You will be able to pick up a programme from the festival and most events do take place at The Museum of Science and Industry (MOSI) in the centre of Manchester. Speaking of programmes, I’ve just received by schedule for it and I will be there for most of it. Hope as well as doing my job I get a glimpse of some of the events. If you see me, Sarah, there, please do come up and say hi ;) Most importantly of all, enjoy and learn :D You will find out about the latest research going on and perhaps see some well known faces. I will be back with more festival news/updates in the near future. Over and out x

Sunday, 26 September 2010

British Science Festival 2010!

This years festival took place at Aston University in Birmingham from 14-19 september and this time last saturday I was enjoying my final day there. You can read all about it by visiting their webpage

I love these festivals, they are so much fun, you get to meet new people and hopefully learn something. Its great to see people being enthusiastic about science and engaging with the public. I was excited as usual but even more so because this is only the second festival I have attended and on this occasion I am also a speaker. So, nervous and excited then and looking forward to my event. There are so many of them going on its impossible to see them all which is a great pity but I’ve no doubt they are all equally interesting, informative and fun. I guess I can only tell you how it was for me then.  Overall most of the events I attended here were lectures, so not many photo opportunites unfortunately.  I took a photo of the campus though and also a view from my room.

 I was staying at the Lakeside Residences which wasn’t too far from the main campus and I was overjoyed to have an internet connection in my room so I could Skype home ;) I arrived at Aston on Monday 13th September (mum’s birthday), checked in, and picked up my weekly pass for the festival. Time to explore and I bumped into @robajackson waiting outside the business school. Rob is a chemistry lecturer and reader at Keele University and a co-organiser of our chemistry event which talks place on Thursday.No sooner had I said hello when the person he was meeting showed up. A friendly seeming man who gave me his business card and invited me out to supper with himself and Rob. He was the associate dean of the university. We enjoyed a lovely french meal accompanied by a band making it almost impossible to hear each other talk. Lorelly came a long too. It seems strange to me that such a restaurant should sell real ale but far be it from me to complain. I was having a really good time already.
Tuesday, the first day of the festival, so many choices to make already! There were 2 highlights which stood out for me. The first event being ’Inspiring women in science, engineering and technology’. Three successful scientists talked about their science careers and their lives. They were Prof. Sunetra Gupta, Dr Liz Watson and Dr Sarah Baillie. We then had a buffet lunch which gave an opportunity for us all to mingle and talk to each other. This event was particularly interesting to me as I am both a woman scientist and a STEM Ambassador. Later that day, 6pm, I went to Lorelly Wilson’s ‘Chemistry with cabbage’ event. This is a one hour demonstration of science experiments you can do safely at home with everyday household items. My personal favourite is the lava lamp. This was supported by the Royal Society of Chemistry. Then it was swiftly on to the Chemistry Section Mixer, held in the common room. This was a chance to meet and chat with other speakers. It was a fun evening with lots of fun talk. I enjoyed meeting everyone there. I hope everyone else did too. Much wine was consumed. Wednesday 15th September, at 10pm I attended an event entitled ‘extending the life of the transplant’. This was supported by the Medical Research Council and Guy’s and St Thomas’ Charity. This was largely about kidney failure and organ donation. Special guest was Sue Townsend, author of ‘The Diary of Adrian Mole 13 ¾’ who suffers from kidney failure, diabetes and is registered blind L It was a long and interesting ethical debate. One or 2 other events I was tempted by but this was my last chance to spend time going over my own talk for tomorrow as I was very nervous and had never done a power point presentation before. This evening was our Chemistry Section dinner which I had been looking forward to. The venue had been changed but I got there. It was a chance to meet and chat with the people I was doing my event with tomorrow. It was so nice to meet people who also care about chemistry and I enjoyed having dinner and conversation with @katherinejhaxton a chemistry lecturer at Keele University and co-organiser of our event, @lorellywilson, and @stuartcantrill, chief editor of Nature magazine. There was plenty of time to mix and talk to others there before the meal. I had another lovely evening. I didn’t sleep to well tonight though, a combination of nerves and excitement. There were several interesting events on Thursday morning and I had a good breakfast and ventured forth. Two I wanted to go to were cancelled so I went back to my room to put the final touches on my talk. Our event was called’The Armchair chemist online’ and was supported by the Royal Society of Chemistry. This took place in the main building from 1pm until 3pm. Our aim was to explore forms of online scientific communication enabling anyone to get involved from the comfort of their armchair. The lecture theatre was relatively small and around 20 people showed up. I didn’t meet @darrenwalsh from the periodic table of video’s until we were in there setting up for our event. Katherine chaired the event and gave a great opening talk followed by an excellent talk by Stuart, then Darren and finally me. I was very nervous having not done public speaking for a while and was also worried about my laptop battery which seemed to be failing! That was alright in the end. The whole event went well and of course we at least were interested in it and were asked some good questions. I was talking about how social media had enabled me to become a STEM Ambassador. I talked about what this is and how anyone interested can get involved too. It was a priviledge to meet and work with you all. I had an exciting and memorable time. Thank you to Rob for inviting me along to do this. You are all brilliant. After our event we went for a coffee and I got a chance to talk to Darren. We all exchanged business cards. At 6.15pm I went to my first x-change which takes place every evening in the student union. Fun talks by the days best speakers. Tonight I saw neuroscientist Prof. Gina Rippon, physicist Jim Al-khalili and some guy juggling. Sorry I forgot his name. Then I got a takeaway baguette which I enjoyed in my room.
Most events on Friday seemed to be occurring at Birmingham university, shuttle buses between the 2 uni’s provided. I didn’t fancy wasting too much time on buses and I was all on my ownsome at this point so decided to see what was happening here. I sent Friday morning after breakfast wondering to the train station. It was nice to get a glimpse of the city. I changed by return journey back to Manchester for sunday morning rather than Monday which would’ve mean’t me rushing around to get to work. Silly. Mean’s I miss last day of the festival though L So at noon I got to see a talk by Dr Sarah Bell, of UCL, an expert in water hygiene. She talked about the needs of the people in developing countries and the projects she was involved with. This is a subject close to my heart.  After a quiet afternoon I ventured into town again looking for the next venue. This was the only off campus event I attended at 6.30pm and was rather excited to be seeing Dr Ben Goldacre talking about bad science. The theatre was full and as anticipated was very entertaining and interesting, his talk intermingled with sarcasm and wit. Thoroughly enjoyed it and went back to my room happy. Curry in tow.
I was to make the most of Saturday as my last day here and looking at the program over breakfast planned out what I was doing. Of course it didn’t turn out as I had planned lol. First up the food factory which was an interactive event was fully booked and they couldn’t squeeze me in. So I went to the student union to see a talk about foetal alcohol syndrome in the UK by Dr Pam Lowe of Aston University. I enjoyed this talk, it was eye opening, I learned a lot and there was a long debate with audience afterwards. A shame more people didn’t turn up, I recommend this. Pam is a nice lady. I was determined to take part in an interactive event so I toddled along to one about evolutionary art. This involved merging images together on computer to create or evolve art whch you like. I could have sat there forever doing this. I got to save images on a free memory stick so I can keep them and bring them home. It was disappointing ti discover at home that I can’t open my files as they are .nod files. Never heard of them. Happy to find my stick has tutorial and demo’s on it too. Wasn’t expecting that. Next to the room we were in was an exhibit by professional evolutionary artists. Far superior to our novice stuff as I thought it would be. Very impressive it is too. Next I had planned to go to the Skeptics Roadshow which I looked forward to expecting it to be like the much heard of but never attended by me Skeptics in a pub. Sadly it was cancelled! This meant I could go to the event ‘Life, the Universe and Everything…’ First talk was by Dr Guy Consolmagno, the Pope’s Astronomer! What an interesting and smart guy he is. The next talk was by Prof Ian Morison of Jodrell Bank ;) Then it was time for a break and I noted that this event seemed to go on along time until 10pm. An announcement was made. Apparently this evening we were to have gone out with a couple of telescopes and gazed at the moon. That would’ve been awesome but its too dull and cloudy and abit drizzly. For the most part the weather in Birmingham has been bright and sunny. At 4pm I went along to a full lecture theatre to see a 90 minute talk by geologist Prof. Iain Stewart about climate change and the human impact on it. Learnt a few things and didn’t know at the time that he is a well known science presenter. The final event for me was mean’t to be ‘The Beagle has landed!’ but this was also cancelled leaving the way free for me to attend the highly enjoyable ‘Tomorrow’s world’. This included amusing black and white video clips which are kept in the archives of Manchester’s very own MOSI! We were asked to submit our own idea’s about the future. Then there was a Q & A   session with a lively panel. This concludes the festival for me. It is impossible to attend all evets as there are so many. So whatever your own festival experience was I’m sure you had an excellent and most educational time. I bought a baguette and some drinks, had them in my room, had an early night as I have an early train home tomorrow. Goodbye Birmingham, thank you for having me, its been fun xxx   Had I been here tomorrow there are several interesting events I would’ve wished to see. Next year the British Science Festival will be held in Bradford. If you can’t wait that long and want to keep your kids entertained over the coming half term holiday why not pop along to the Manchester Science Festival. Please say hi if you see me. I’ll be there for most of the week in my role as a STEM Ambassador ;)  You can find out for information about this exciting event at their website:
Most events take place at the Museum of Science and Industry (MOSI) in Manchester and over the next month leading up to this you may see science buskers out and about promoting it. One of them may be me but come over and say hi and see what we are doing anyway. All questions happily welcomed. See you there!

Thursday, 22 July 2010

I can taste it!

First of all apologies for the lapse in my blogging. I have no excuse really other than, a hopefully passing phase, of lack of inspiration. In truth I mean't to write this particular post some time ago but actually didn't have the time. I do now ;)
A while back at work, I learned something about myself, genetically speaking. Phenylthiocarbamide (PTC) is an organic compound that either tastes very bitter or is virtually tasteless depending on the genetic makeup of the taster.

 A colleague fresh from his biology class came into our lab armed with PTC papers. We were all eager to try it and see who could taste it. I reacted severely as I was quite startled. I guess it can vary from taster to taster but to me it was very bitter and sharp tasting so I definitely have the gene. What this means exactly I don't know. The ability to taste PTC is a dominant trait with around 70% of people having the ability to taste it. This phenomenon was discovered by a chemist of course in 1931 by a man named Arthur Fox who accidently released a cloud of a fine crystalline PTC.Whilst he could taste nothing, a colleague nearby complained about the bitter taste. He then continued to test the taste buds of assorted family and friends, setting the groundwork for future genetic studies. Chemists eh? I guess it really is the 'central science'. I'm quite happy about that.

ps my apologies for not posting a pic of this molecule. I tried and failed.

Thursday, 10 June 2010

Saturday, 1 May 2010

Exciting lecture at Manchester University

On thursday 12th April, I was very excited to have attended a lecture at my university given by the youthful and inspiring Professor Brian Cox. I went straight from work so was a scruffy and nerdy as can be, and met my other half who was obediently waiting for me outside the visitors centre. There was a 30 minute drinks reception beforehand, I guess to allow people chance to arrive and relax. I had a free glass of white wine. During this time I was able to buy a copy of Prof. Cox's Book 'Why E =MC2 and why should we care?' I was thrilled about this and look forward to reading it, even if I don't understand it. The lecture was simply called The Universe, it lasted an hour and was wonderful. As soon as it began I noted that Brian's presenting style and manner is exactly the same as he is on tv. I feel silly writing that but it is true. It also seemed familiar but that is to be expected. It is the same lecture he has given at other venues around the UK and I have seen it on YouTube. This lecture was also filmed so I am hoping that it will also crop up there. In the meantime please enjoy this

The Q&A session afterwards was very interesting and entertaining and as we left the theatre some people were lucky enough to get their picture taken with Brian. I kicked myself as I'd forgotten my digital camera, and I kicked myself even harder after I'djust left, realising I could have had my book signed! As this was so popular and booked up rather quickly, (less than 12 hours) Brian is doing this again here in June if he can. So on the plus side I have a valid excuse to go and see it again ;) Thanks Brian for an interesting and educational evening.

Friday, 9 April 2010

Snottites anyone?

This post is inspired by the final episode of a brilliant new documentary series called Wonders of The Solar System which is presented by Professor Brian Cox of Manchester University. (You can find him on Twitter as @profbriancox). Until watching it I had never even heard of snottites so this is like a new discovery and exciting new learning experience for me. Thank you Prof. Cox for that!

So then, what on earth are snottites? Any chemist, geologist or person who likes to visit caves will undoubtably be familiar with stalagmites and stalactites. Those huge icicle like structures found in limestone caves which grow upwards from the cavernous floors and hang down from their ceilings. They are deposits of calcium carbonate, also known as calcite, which are formed because water rich in calcium carbonate drips through the ceilings of caves and thus onto the floor of the caves as well. As the water evaporates, it leaves behind  these deposits which slowly ‘grow’ giving stalactites that hang from the ceiling and stalagmites which build upwards from the cave floor. They take thousands and thousands of years to grow and are impressive to see and very many beautiful photographs of them have been taken.


This leads me on nicely to talk about snottites, which are also found hanging from the ceilings of caves. Their name is a clue to their characteristic features, namely they are rather more gluey and snot like than our calcium based friends. You could be forgiven for thinking that a giant bat had flown by and sneezed leaving its mucous gobbed all over the cave walls! So what exactly is this intriguing if disgusting looking stuff? Snottites consist of colonies of single celled extremophilic bacteria. Such extremophiles are so called because they can survive in conditions here on earth which would be hazardous if not fatal to human beings. They live in dark damp places beneath the surface of the earth and can live in extremes of temperature, pH etc. In sulfidic caves, these bacteria derive their energy out of the water which enters the caves from below or drips down from above. This water contains hydrogen sulphide which the bacteria metabolise using oxygen to produce energy and sulphuric acid as their main waste product. Thus snottites have a more fluidic consistency and are very acidic with a pH of between 0 and 1.

This photo courtesy of

Researchers are interested in studying the geochemistry of these microbes and understanding their sulphur cycle. There is now one much studied toxic sulphur cave in Mexico called Cueva de Villa Luz (Cave of the lighted house). This is the very same cave which Prof. Cox visited for ‘Wonders’ and is where these photo’s were taken. Snotites have also been found closer to home in some caves in Wales ;) I think a visit may be in order. Whilst I have seen stalactites and stalagmites, I have yet to see snottites. I don’t think I could bring myself to touch one though. As intriguing as they are, I mean yuk, just yuk! Perhaps I may change my mind on that if the times comes, all in the name of science and experience.

(photo credit: Dan S Jones-Penn State)

Interestingly,it is also not known where these microbes actually originate from. These organisms may perhaps be able to tell us more about the early microbes which existed on earth and even more excitingly, about the possibility of organisms which may live or have lived deep beneath the surface of other planets or moons such as Mars and Europa. Lets keep on investigating shall we? I hope you’ve enjoyed this journey. Thanks for staying with me through the gobs xxx

Tuesday, 6 April 2010

Happy new hairdo

Whilst everyone else has gone back to work today after easter I still have time off ;D So I treated myself to a long overdue hairdo. I love it and my new hairdresser. What do you think? I feel like I've been thrown back to the 1970;s ;p

And from the back..........

Fabulous huh? How is it possible to have a haircut and leave the salon feeling like you hair looks longer than it did when you went in? ;D


Saturday, 20 March 2010

Big Bang Science Fair 2010!

Phew, I am late in posting this as this time last weekend it was all over! Many apologies for the delay, it was great fun but very tiring. This fair took place thursday 11th March to saturday 13th March at Manchester Central. I was there for 2 whole days on friday and saturday.

When I first walked through the door and had a walk round I was in total awe of the place and knew it was going to be exciting so much to see! I was here as a WISE woman rather than STEM Ambassador. Its the same thing really only we were encouraging young girls to think about taking up a career in science and they get to see that real female scientists exist. I spent most of my time working with 2 lovely indian girls and we all got to wear a lovely pink t-shirt.

Flattered by the camera as usual! There were live shows going on but obviously I couldn't go to them so missed out on some good stuff and seeing/ meeting some well known shows and scientists. There was Brainiac Live, TED Talks, Bang Goes The Theory and The Royal Institution Christmas Lectures.
When I did get a chance to see some things there were all sorts of unusual and fascinating stuff, such as a coffee powered car! I got to make my own badge and do some welding too. I learn't that you can also weld with chocolate ;D I noticed a DNA model made entirely from pop tins, a great photo opportunity.

Its lovely to see everyone enthuse about science, having fun in what they do. I would do this again in a heartbeat. Nice to meet such lovely folks and to be involved in engaging the public in science! ;D I hope to do more of this.

Saturday, 6 March 2010

Jeff Goldblum on Relativity and beer!

Love this ad from 1991

Apparently the Holsten Brewery is in Hamburg. I didn't know or realise this when I was holidaying there in 2007! All of the JG ads for this product were hilarious IMHO ;D

Sage advice and inspirational talk about achieving happiness

Hope you all enjoyed this talk as much as I did ;) xxx

Friday, 12 February 2010

Origin of The Faeces?

I thought it only fitting to post this around Darwin day ;p

( Thank you to Private Eye Magazine) Happy Darwin day  everybody ;D

Monday, 18 January 2010

My radio debut!

Last friday evening (Jan. 15th, 8.30pm) I was interviewed via phone about my role as a STEM Ambassador. This was the first time I've ever been on the radio and it was very exciting. The interview lasted 40 minutes in total. I should explain that this is an internet radio station who have have a very lovely blog and is ran by 2 amateur astronomers who are doing an amazing job. Their mission is outreach and promoting science education in the US. They are based in Florida. Their radio station is AstronomyFM or AFM .Go and check them out. My interview was first broadcast at 3am GMT/UT (9PM EST), Monday 18th January and is being replayed every 3 hours.
A huge thank you to Tavi and Rob for giving me this experience and opportunity and for the oportunity to talk about STEM, what it is, and how one becomes an ambassador ;)

Tuesday, 12 January 2010

Murray Gell-Mann: Beauty and truth in physics.

First of all Happy new year! Hope 2010 is great for all of us.

I came across and enjoyed this talk by the father of physics. I found it so interesting I wanted to have it here and hope you enjoy it too. Finally he does mention chemistry. He has such humour and is able to talk about his subject so easily for the layperson. I both admire and envy that as I would like to improve how I chat about equation based science such that it doesn't sound too complex or off putting to the non-scientist :)

I am grateful for any feedback and comments. Thanks for reading and don't be a stranger xxx