No need for flashes and bangs!

As you may already be aware, I am a proud ScienceGrrl. I have a volunteered at a number of events, but most recently at MOSI during Manchester Science Festival. The volunteers all took part in an ‘I’m a Scientist, Talk to me’ event which I have posted about before. It was a great day that involved me walking around the museum and talking to kids and their parents about what I, and other chemists, do for a living. I mainly talked about how I work on methods to make new medicines in a cheaper and more sustainable way. Most kids have taken medicines (typically that yummy banana flavoured antibiotic) and so they know how important they are to everyday life. To some, I even explained that antibiotics were becoming less and less effective and why we really need new ones. I also talked about process scale-up. It was fun seeing kids’ faces look amazed when I described how big plant-scale reactors are compared with lab-scale ones. I love to bake so I used this as an analogy. I compared having to make cakes for the whole population, instead of just for a small family – just imagine the size of that mixing bowl!

What was great about the day was how the children and parents were really interested in what chemists (and biologists, mathematicians, archaeologists, geologists etc.) actually do for a living. They didn’t need a full on practical demonstration, just a conversation. They wanted a description of my everyday life and what the point of my job is i.e. how do chemists help the wider world? I was keen to show that chemical reactions are important to modern life from the purification of drinking water to the  discovery of new chemotherapies.

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Recently, there has been some chit chat online about how we need to inspire kids in to chemistry, without flashes and bangs. Dr Mark Lorch has recently written a really interesting piece for the BBC and Prof David Smith has previously written his viewpoint in a Nature Chemistry Commentary. My personal opinion is that we just need to talk to kids and show how important chemistry is, without any of the flashy fuss. We also shouldn’t try to compete with biology and physics, but embrace them as sister sciences and show how collaboration improves science. A few of us tried to demonstrate the importance of this at the ScienceGrrl event. For example, there was another ScienceGrrl who was a microbiologist and her job involves testing drug-type molecules against TB bacteria. Simply put, she is helping to find new cures for TB. We realised that without chemists, she would not have any molecules to test but without microbiologists, chemists wouldn’t know which drug types were effective. We successfully showed, to kids and parents alike, that scientists all need to work together to achieve great things and that chemists are really important, but so are biologists.

In conclusion, I think that ScienceGrrl and MOSI do great things to promote science to the masses, in a simple and effective way. I am doing my bit, along with many other fabulous ScienceGrrls, to make sure chemistry sounds fun and interesting to kids. I am already looking forward to the next ‘I am a Scientist, Talk to me’ event so that I can excite even more young minds!

Photo: Via ScienceGrrl (taken by Dr Heather Williams)

3 thoughts on “No need for flashes and bangs!

  1. Here in Mexico, in order to get your degree, you must provide about 500 hours of social work within your field of studies. Some chemistry students just go straight into a research lab and start working on their theses, which is fine of course, but back in the year 2000, when I was almost done with my BsC, a friend of mine and I would go around elementary schools in Mexico City offering a show called “Fun with Chemistry” in which we’d show kids some cool colorful reactions and also some flashes and bangs (I don’t think they should be the entire point of these demonstrations but I also don’t think we should skip them altogether). As a way to fill our report we gathered the kids’ impressions and I wish I had kept them. It was, without a doubt, one of the most rewarding experiences of my life.


  2. In MOSI you are preaching to the converted. out there in the real world, Nothing like flashes and bangs to get thier attention, THEN you can talk to them. As I gear up to devote several 14-hour days to this sort of thing over the next few weeks, to over 2,000 children, i must admit to feeling a bit deflated by your blog post title. Perhaps it’s a Grrl thing, liking’ just talking’. I prefer to do stuff, THEN talk about the more creative side of things. I thought Science Grll was supposed to challenge stereotyping? SHall i just cancel all my shows, and you can chat the crowds instead?

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