Friday Finds #001 // The Newbie edition

My good friend Hana is a blogging queen, and I, alas, am not.

However, I’m in awe of her Friday Finds posts, and am regularly finding odd but interesting nuggets on the internet, so welcome to my Friday mind dump of weird things I’ve found during the week.

  1. Think you know your hurricanes from your hurricane-force winds? The Voice of Young Science’s weather quiz ‘Haven’t the foggiest’ is purely magnificent, and I especially enjoy the punny title…
  2. Is there a building that you walk past everyday and think ‘I wonder what that stone is’ or notice the fossils or beautiful crystals? Well here’s your chance to know more about it with London Pavement Geology
  3. The latest class of NASA astronauts is 50% female!
  4. I spent a lunch break in the new Human Evolution gallery at the Natural History Museum and it’s beautifully done, well worth a visit.
  5. Azteca tequila bar in Chelsea – £4 cocktails in happy hour #winning

6 things I learnt about openness to animal research

Last week, I attended Stempra’s event about openness to animal research at the Academy of Medical Sciences. It was really interesting finding out how institutions have improved their animal research communications, and what they’ve got planned for the future.

Speakers included:

Wendy Jarrett, CEO of Understanding Animal Research
Craig Brierley, Head of Research Communications at the University of Cambridge
Carmel Turner, Chief Press Officer at the Medical Research Council
Natasha Martineau, Head of Research Communications at Imperial College London.

Here’s 6 things I learnt about how institutions can be open about animal research :

  1. Communicate to the breadth of the community in your institution

Talk to researchers, staff, and students! Communicate using different mediums, for example include an article about the use of animals in the student newsletter, and state when animals are used in research to encourage conversation.

Or even better- give them a tour, show them around your facilities!

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  1. Give your staff confidence to talk about animal research

Talk to technicians, researchers, and provide media training to ensure you have a range of spokespeople who are well trained to answer questions from the media should a situation arise.

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  1. Make sure your external communications are up to scratch

Create web pages dedicated to the animal research undertaken in your institution.

State in news articles that the research used animals, tag news articles with ‘animal research’ to find other animal research easily, and include a real photo of the animal if possible.

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  1. Don’t forget to mention it at events

Don’t be shy to include activities about animal research at your institution’s events, for example, at ImpFest at Imperial college London had a whole stall around how the University uses animal in research.

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  1. Get your facts straight

“Every big medical advance has used animal research, but every big dead end has too!” Wise words from Carmel, be careful what you say in the press, avoid hype!

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  1. Read up, sign up!

The Concordat on Openness to Animal Research in the UK was launched in May 2014 and is a voluntary code of practice which sits alongside any legislative requirements, and encourages more transparent communications practices around the use of animals in research. Read more on Understanding Animal Research’s website.

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The hidden maths of childhood – and why it’s worth revealing

I volunteer with maths charity ‘Maths on Toast’ which aims to make maths fun through community events, like the Festival of Triangles, shape parade and Numbers x Fun.

‘Number Rumbler’ is a brain fizzing, fun family game which develops knowledge of times tables, and develops ‘number sense’- the understanding of how numbers relate to each other.

Maths on Toast has launched a crowd-funding campaign to raise £7000 for the first print run of this brain whizzing game.

I’m volunteering as a PR consultant, helping to coordinate the press and social media strategy for the campaign.

This blog was originally published on the British Science Association blog, written by Alexandra Fitzsimmons, Founder and CEO of Maths on Toast, and edited by me.

When I was a child, I played maths. We had Polydron, a toy that lets you clip together different shapes to build 3D forms, a book of pop-up fractals, and lots of origami. We also had a soft toys (each with strong characters), board games, and piles of books, from ‘The Way Things Work’ to school stories and fairy tales.

I went on to combine studies in maths and classics with archaeology and a career in museums. Frustration at a lack of maths within museum projects led me to set up Maths on Toast, a charity that makes maths family and community fun. So Dame Athene Donald’s public statement earlier this month about Barbies vs Meccano, made as incoming President of the British Science Association, caught my attention. Her comment that girls are disadvantaged by having only Barbies as toys and are less likely to take up science or engineering as a consequence is, I’m sure, right – but as far as maths goes, it’s only part of the story.

Why do people see maths differently?

In 2015, the YouGov / National Numeracy survey suggested that only 63% of people in the UK would feel embarrassed to admit to being ‘no good at numbers and maths’- while those who’d feel embarrassed to admit to being no good at ‘reading and writing’ is 76%, considerably higher. One reason for this difference, I have increasingly realized, is that maths is often defined narrowly, memories of long division and fast-paced arithmetic in school overriding any others. Few adults equate toys and games with maths. But Ludo, Scrabble, noughts and crosses, dice and card games all feature number and problem solving skills. Meccano, Lego, and chess are better known for their mathematical links – but not universally hailed.

Even more unhelpfully, maths is seen as something you can be ‘good at’ or ‘bad at’. Those who think they are ‘bad at’ maths probably won’t spot that when they won at Scrabble, say, they used maths skills (getting that Q on a triple word score) as much as literacy. It is this identity problem that needs to be addressed. Unfortunately, it is compounded by another strongly-held belief – that maths ability is born not learned. Again according to National Numeracy, 30% of people in the UK believe that maths ability is inherent and studies show this very belief reduces achievement in the subject.

Parental anxiety over maths can pass down generations. Yet, I more than suspect, anxious parents just don’t spot the maths they are good at and enjoy. Like the strategy in noughts and crosses, the shapes and structures you can make out of Lego, the counting and adding in Ludo.

That’s where Maths on Toast comes in. We run family maths events – activities have included making icosahedrons, a triangle scavenger hunt, pattern colouring and more. Since our first event (when the families who came told us the activities were fun, but weren’t maths) we are explicit about where the maths lies. We train our team to talk about the maths, and (simply but powerfully!) we give out stickers that say ‘I had fun doing maths’.

But a lot more is needed to address this as a national issue. Even as we grow, the problem we are trying to solve gets in our way. When I am pitching our projects, decision-makers need depth of detail on the activities – why are they maths? Can maths really be fun? Setting up Maths on Toast has shown me that family maths, far from being an obvious social benefit, is to many people a radical, unimaginable novelty.

‘Number Rumbler’- a brain-fizzing, fun maths game!

While we started our work in public places, we believe that to be effective we need to work everywhere that families are found – including at home. By working with families, we’ve recently devised a game,Number Rumbler. Designed to be a game first and numeracy-improver second, the maths is apparent all the same.

We are crowdfunding to raise the amount needed for a print run – £7000, small by many scales but not an amount a new, small charity has to spare. If we can raise this, Number Rumbler, with its obvious yet enjoyable maths, has the potential to reach families everywhere!

We are in full agreement with Athene Donald that childhood toys shape identity and futures. And when it comes to maths, gender is one dynamic amongst many at play. There is a big task ahead of those who want to give ownership and enjoyment of maths to a population that, largely, doesn’t even notice when they’re doing i

Surfers, have your bum swabbed for science

Bring a whole new meaning to the term ‘beach bum’ this summer, and swab your bum to investigate the bacteria in seawater.

If, like me, you watched The Island with Bear Grylls last month, then you were probably horrified by the amount of plastic debris that was stranded on beaches in the Pacific.

Marine debris is a huge problem worldwide.

Plastic bottles, bags, toothbrushes and tampons, were strewn across these golden shores. Hardly the image idyllic image you think of when someone says ‘paradise’.

Clinging to the litter is bacteria, which scientists believe is resistant to antibiotics.

Continue reading

Touchdown! Philae lands on Comet

At 16:03 GMT, Earth received a signal confirming that the Philae probe has successfully landed on a moving comet 510 km from Earth.

This extraordinary achievement was preceded by a tense seven hour descent to the surface of Comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko, including confirmation that the thrusters were not active, increasing the risk of the lander bouncing back into outer space.

The Rosetta orbiter relayed the information to Earth and it was picked up by the European Space Agency’s ground station in Malargue, Argentina as well as NASA’s station in Madrid, Spain.

Scientists cheered and embraced each other as the signals were received, then hastily focused once again on their computer screens as news broke that the harpoons to fasten the lander to the comet surface, had not fired. Scientists now think that the probe may have bounced after first coming into contact with the surface.

This spectacular achievement for space technology will give scientists the chance to ride a comet, and study what happens to the comet as it travels closer to the sun.

This is not the first time scientists have sent probes to a comet, but it is the first time a probe has landed.

Matt Taylor, a Rosetta project scientist was so confident the comet land was going to be successful, that he tattooed Philae landing on the comet onto his thigh.

See European Space Agency’s magnificent pictures, listen to the final media briefing or read the Guardian’s article about the landing and what it means for the future of science.

Rosetta space probe attempts to land on a comet

An unmanned Rosetta space probe is attempting to successfully land on comet 67P/ Churyumov-Gerasimenko, after travelling for over ten years.

Today, at 08.35GMT, the European Space Agency attempted to achieve a first for space exploration, by placing a robot on a moving comet, a mere 510 million km from Earth.


The Rosetta satellite released a spacecraft, the Philae lander, towards Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, which is a large mass of ice and dust, with the aim of finding out more information about these mysterious relics from the formation of our Solar System.

Following a rough night of many critical decisions, Rosetta and Philae have been cleared for separation. This follows the late night discovery that the active descent system, with the aim of providing thrust to avoid rebound during touchdown, cannot be activated.

Not only is the mission difficult due to the distance the spacecraft has to travel, but there are several obstacles, including a 4km-wide ice mountain, and the risk that Philae could just bounce back into space.

At touchdown, Philae will deploy landing gear, including foot screws and harpoons to attempt to fasten its position, but this will all be more difficult.

The complex descent to the surface of comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko will take approximately seven hours, and a confirmation of a successful touchdown is expected around 17.02 GMT.

Jean- Pierre Bibring, lead lander scientist said “We’re anxious but excited, it’s not every day that we try to land on a comet.”

Amongst millions of other science nerds, I will be watching the live stream avidly, and I’ll be updating my blog and twitter when more information is released.

In the mean time, follow the excellent tweets from the Rosetta space probe or the Philae lander!


Biology Week 2014 a huge success

For the past two months I have been the Biology Week Intern at the Society of Biology. During Biology Week we held an awards ceremony for the photography competition, science communication awards, book awards and the BioArt Attack competition.

Here is a news article I wrote on 22nd October 2014. It can also be found on the Society of Biology website.

Last week we celebrated the biggest Biology Week yet, with over 100 events and activities all over the UK and beyond. Everyone from children to research scientists got involved in debates, bug hunts, dinosaur digs, and Big Biology Days, in celebration of the life sciences.

In London, we kicked off the week with our annual award ceremony, where we announced the winners of our Photographer of the Year competition, Book Awards, Science Communication Awards, and BioArtAttack competition.


On Wednesday we held a Parliamentary Reception at the House of Commons. Greg Clark MP, the newly appointed Minister for Universities, Science and Cities, urged the audience including policy makers, academics and members of the Society of Biology, to “keep faith with the institutions responsible for success and respect the foundations laid down by predecessors”.

Thursday night saw a lively debate on malaria eradication at the prestigious Royal Institution, attended by over 200 people. Four eminent malaria experts argued the pros and cons of trying to eradicate the disease, chaired by Professor Chris Whitty from the Department for International Development.

We launched our Starling Murmuration Survey on Friday. We’ve teamed up with the University of Gloucestershire to find out why starlings undertake spectacular aerial displays, by encouraging people across the UK to send in information about their sightings.

On Friday, we debated How will biology change the world? to celebrate the launch of the Biology: Changing the World project. Speakers argued that neurotechnology, food security, biofuels and personalised medicine, would be the area of biology to change the world most.

Four of our Big Biology Day science festivals took place nationwide during the week. People learnt about geology and medical dilemmas in Cardiff; created their own bacteria and parasites in Glasgow; dissected pellets in Essex and made medicines in Cambridge. Fun scientific activities were organised by organisations including the British Science Association, British Pharmacological society, Biochemical Society and Jeans for Genes.


Our Member Organisations held interactive biology events, such as UK Fungus day organised by The British Mycological Society, which included events at Cambridge Science Centre and Kew Gardens. The Physiology Society organised ‘Physiology Friday’, with numerous competitions including Ode to Physiology and Bio Bakes! The British Naturalists’ Association also organised a brilliant bug hunt in Essex.

Our branches ran some great events including: a lecture on Antarctic exploration and Scott’s loyal assistant, Edward Wilson, from the London branch; a look at the unexpected role of plants in drug development from the Thames Valley branch; and insights into equine welfare, from the Northern Ireland branch.

Biology Week was also celebrated in classrooms across the nation, with hundreds of schools completing our quizzes, and using our Biology Week resources. Our spotlight schools: Hereford Cathedral School and Altrincham Girl’s Grammar School organised great programmes of Biology Week activities, including debates, a dissection club and a wildlife photography competition.

Overall, it was a fantastic week of biology celebrations, with researchers, families, and students all getting involved. Take a look at the highlights of Biology Week 2014 on our Facebook or Storify, or read our blog.

The countdown to Biology Week 2015 has begun!

Keep faith in UK science excellence, says Greg Clark MP

The past two months I have been the Biology Week Intern at the Society of Biology. This amazing experience gave me the opportunity to interview Greg Clark, Minister for Universities, Science and Cities at the Biology Week Parliamentary reception in the House of Commons.

I wrote this news article for the Society of Biology, you can also read the article on their website.

“Excellence in the biosciences requires we keep faith with the reputation this country has for science excellence” said Greg Clark MP, yesterday evening at the Biology Week Parliamentary Reception.


The recently appointed Minister for Universities, Science and Cities, urged the audience, including policy makers, academics and members of the Society of Biology, to “keep faith with the institutions responsible for success and respect the foundations laid down by predecessors”.

Clark, speaking to the wider science community for the first time since his appointment, said that the Society of Biology is “in the vanguard of making progress”.

He said, “I am incredibly privileged that I have such a prestigious and expert group of people to advise me and I will follow that advice, I very much look forward to working together through the years ahead.”

The annual Biology Week reception was hosted by Andrew Miller MP, Stephen Metcalfe MP and Dr Julian Huppert MP at the House of Commons, in partnership with the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC).

Andrew Miller MP implored scientists to engage with their MP and “make policy makers understand challenges in laboratories and the exciting potential of the science you’re engaged with”.

Melanie Welham, director of science at BBSRC, said “it is really important the BBSRC partners with Society of Biology and other organisations to make sure the potential in biosciences is actually realised”.

Dr Mark Downs FSB, chief executive of the Society of Biology, congratulated the Society on its 5th birthday and presented Ria Warren MSB, Severn Tent Water, with her Registered Scientist award.

The evening also saw Mary Barber, pioneer of antibiotic resistance take first place in the ‘unsung hero of biology’ ballot. See the full declaration of ballot results.

The Society of Biology, in partnership with BBSRC, have developed the Biology: Changing the World project to celebrate great biologists of the past and inspire those of the future.

Biology Week took place from the 11th to 18th October with events around the UK and beyond.

Longitude Prize 2014: Have YOUR say in the future of Science

After spending months cooped up studying for my final exams, I ventured onto twitter and discovered a whirl wind of excitement surrounding the ‘Longitude Prize 2014’. Science communicators were very excited about this amazing opportunity, so clearly I had to find out why.

The Longitude Prize 2014 Launch.
The Longitude Prize 2014 Launch.

The Longitude Prize is a challenge to encourage inventors and scientists to find solutions to six key problems facing the world; Dementia, Flight (creating carbon-neutral air travel), Food, Paralysis, Water and Antibiotics.

The prize is a staggering £10 million, and it’s up to the public to vote and decide what topic will get the opportunity to fight for the prize money.

This prize is run and developed by Nesta with the Technology Strategy Board. It was created to commemorate the 300th Anniversary of the real Longitude Prize, which was talking a major problem and aimed to invent a clock which could keep time at sea, and so this year’s Longitude Prize tackles six of the world’s largest problems.

Horizon dedicated a whole show to this great event, and produced a fantastic documentary, describing why each of the topics has been chosen and why they deserve your vote.

Vote online at the BBC Horizon website, or by text (text your topic name to 60011) Join the discussion on twitter #LongitudePrize

Voting closes at 7.10pm on 25th June. Don’t miss your opportunity to sculpt the future of Science.

Fancy finding out more?