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)

ScienceGrrl at MOSI

At the weekend I had the pleasure of being a ScienceGrrl for the day in Manchester at the Museum of Science and Industry. I was joined by a range of women scientists from all walks of life from archaeologists to nuclear physicists to cell biologists. The aim of the day was to communicate to museum-goers about what we do and promote science to all. We all had props relating to our job and the parents and children had to guess what our job involved.

For my prop, I decided to take something interactive and, after a lot of umm-ing and ahh-ing, I finally decided on demonstrating the fun of glow sticks. I went to a dark section of the museum and shared the wonder of chemistry with young children. I described the chemical process occurring in the glow stick and let them “crack” them open and see the chemiluminescence happening in front of their eyes. The children were wide-eyed with wonder at the changing colour and parents were genuinely intrigued by the science involved.


Apart from the props, the other ScienceGrrls and I spent the day wandering around the museum with a badge on saying “I am a Scientist, talk to me”. The idea of this was that we share the reason behind our research and show people how varied and exciting science careers can be. I shared the pharmaceutical relevance of my project, whilst others demonstrated how PET imaging works, how statistics is important in archaeology and how we are all made of stars (yes, really!). We also had the opportunity to stand on a soapbox and share science stories with the museum-goers, which was both a nerve-wracking and exhilarating experience.

My hope is that children went away from the museum inspired to read more about science and think about how science really is all around. I tried to share with all children that I spoke to that chemistry is everywhere, from the shampoo we use to the medicines we take to the cakes that we bake.

I had an amazing day. I met some fantastic women and I am even more inspired to keep researching, but more importantly, to keep sharing my love of science with the world.

Thanks for letting me be a ScienceGrrl for the day, bring on the next event!

p.s. Also check out Biofluff’s, Gemma’s, ScienceGrrl‘s and Becky’s blog posts on the event