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Introducing Enterprising Science

Today is a big day for us. It is the official launch of Enterprising Science, a five year partnership between the Science Museum, King’s College London and BP, bringing together expertise and research in informal science learning.

This new project builds on our Talk Science programme. Since 2007 we have worked with over 2,600 secondary school teachers across the UK to support STEM (science, technology, engineering, and maths) teaching and learning.  The main aim of Talk Science was to give young people the confidence to find their own voice and have a say in the way science impacts on and shapes their lives. The core our work was with science teachers, because of their important role and ability to make a difference in young people’s lives. Were you one of those teachers?

So what did we do for Talk Science? We delivered a 1 day teacher CPD course, in over 30 cities across the UK. We developed physical & digital resources to support teachers in the classroom; ran student and teacher events, delivered communication skills training for scientists working with young audiences and held seminars for other museum educators on informal science learning.

Linking up museum educators and teaching professionals at our Talk Science Seminar

Connecting museum educators with teaching professionals at our Talk Science Seminar July 2012

This year we began working with King’s College London to develop, test and share new tools and techniques to engage more secondary schools students with science. The tools and techniques are all grounded in research from Kings College London’s five year ASPIRES study of children’s science and career aspirations, combined with our experience from five years of the Talk Science project. Our partnership with Kings is really exciting: it makes Enterprising Science the largest science learning programme of its kind in the UK.

As part of Enterprising Science, we will be working closely with small groups of partner teachers, to collaboratively develop and trial new tools and techniques for engaging students with science both inside and outside the classroom. These new resources will be shared through our work with schools across the UK and online.

But it is not just about science in the classroom. In fact, research shows that one of the strongest indicators of whether a young person will choose a career in science is the type of support they get outside of school from their families. We will be working with teachers, young people and their families to help create a supportive learning environment for students. By raising the value that young people place on science, we hope to help students develop a genuine interest in science and understand how it is relevant to their lives.

We are excited to see where this project will take all of us. Here’s to the next 5 years!

Wonderful Things: Drug Castle

The fifth floor of the Science Museum is a fascinating area, full of gory and often unusual paraphernalia related to the history of medicine.  One of the more unusual objects lurking in this gallery is the Drug Castle.

The Drug Castle raises questions around the price of health care

Our knowledge of medicine and how civilisations have treated illness and disease stretches all the way back to the earliest writings on the subject from Ancient Egypt.  However, the ways in which people have treated illness have not changed very much over the centuries.  It is only during the last 200 years that scientific developments have gathered pace and enabled doctors to make huge breakthroughs in treatments.  It is often easy for us, living in the 21st Century, to forget that as little as 100 years ago there was no penicillin, nobody knew the cause of rickets and there was no vaccine for tuberculosis. 

Now, we can mass produce a whole range of pills and potions for a variety of different ailments that had previously been untreatable.  All of the syringes, pill bottles and tablets used to create the Drug Castle are real and it is a brilliant visualisation of how central the use of drugs has become to the treatment of illness in the developed world.   However, this shift in how we treat disease does not come without its controversy.

 The Drug Castle itself is a reminder of this as it was created to feature in a poster campaign by the East London Health Project in 1978.  This campaign aimed raise questions around whether pharmaceutical companies were more interested in making money or making their medicines available to all.  Health care is extremely costly and is frequently an issue that is considered and debated by governments worldwide as they try to provide the best health care they can for their citizens with the funds that they have available to them. There are also significant issues with the effectiveness of the drugs that are prescribed by doctors.  One of the primary examples of this is with antibiotics, that when first manufactured, were very effective at treating infections, but now are less so because the bacteria has mutated so that antibiotics, such as penicillin, are not as useful. Therefore, in order to keep treating infection scientists will need to develop new drugs that can combat these more virulent illnesses.

Should we keep creating new drugs for antibiotic resistant bugs – or do we need to change the way we take medicines?

The Drug Castle is in the Science and Art of Medicine, Science Museum 5th floor

-Kate Davis

Hello bug-burger!

How will we feed ourselves in the future?

With more and more people on the planet demanding meat, whilst climate change threatens our environment and the price of food goes up, shouldn’t we be worried about where we will get our next meals?

Yes. And lucky for us, there are teams across the world working on how we are going to sustain our exploding population in the decades ahead. 

In the West, many of us are used to eating meat every day. But what if it became a luxury food again, and we had to resort to other sources of protein instead of our beloved burgers?

Insects – or mini livestock- are one interesting idea; many people in the world already eat them, spicy fried locusts, crunchy dried larvae… they are a good source of protein and easy to farm. They’d just need a bit of an image revamp to suit our squeamish sensibilities!

Dig into an insect feast! Many others already do...

Dig into an insect feast! Many others already do...

A worm kebab not doing it for you? What about algae bread? A lab-grown steak? Or making that Kit Kat taste sweeter by listening to bells as you devour it.  All these ideas are being researched now, some will catch on, and some definitely won’t.

One thing is for sure though- food and eating are the very basis of human survival and culture, so anything that impacts that will also affect us very deeply. I wonder what will our meals be like in 20 years time? (Here’s hoping I can still whip up a mean spaghetti al pomodoro without resorting to a can of spider eyeballs!)

Science GRRLS

A couple weeks ago, the European Commission launched its ‘Science: it’s a girl thing’ campaign to encourage girls to study science and consider science careers. An important message, of course, but the video which was released to promote it received a huge backlash (justifiably!).  It did absolutely nothing to stir aspirations or promote the potential of exciting science careers  (looks like it’s  just high heels and cosmetics, girls). 

These ladies , on the other hand, are poster girls for women in HOT science careers, genuine role models for girls considering (or not) whether to study science. From NASA astronauts to the Surgeon General, to founding Flickr, these women are out there now, getting on with it! (Whilst being inspiring and amazing).

Peggy Whitson, a heroine of science & technology

Peggy Whitson, a heroine of science & technology

Have a look and remind your girls that studying science does not necessarily mean working in a lab- far from it! There are a multitude of science career paths to travel, and even if they want to work in the Arts, in Finance etc; studying science means they can go on to do just about anything because the skills they will learn apply to many other disciplines, and to life!

yes, passionate science girl here :)

Talk Science Course new dates

Here at the Science Museum we have noticed it’s summer outside the window (occasionally)… so the blog will be taking a break for a few weeks whilst we recharge our batteries!

Holidays on the coast

The Talk Science Team is on holiday

I will leave you with the new dates for the Talk Science course 2011-2012…

The Talk Science course is all about running classroom discussions around contemporary science-  it’s packed with hands-on activities and practical ideas to use with your students (and is really rather enjoyable if we say so ourselves). There is no charge for the course, and it includes lunch- get in touch to book yourself on!

Thurs 20th October 2011 – Newcastle

Thurs 3rd November 2011 – London

Wed 9th November 2011- Bristol

Thurs 8th December 2011 - Leicester

Thurs 2nd Feb 2012 - London

Thurs 23rd Feb 2012 - Birmingham

Thurs 1st March 2012 – London

Tues 17th April 2012 – Edinburgh

Thurs 24th May 2012 - Belfast

Thurs 14th June 2012 – Cardiff

Thurs 21st June 2012 - London

Wed 4th July 2012 – Manchester

Hope you are all having a great summer- see you in a few weeks!

Coming LIVE! from Antenna

Have you ever visited the Antenna gallery at the Science Museum? It’s an ever-changing exhibition of science news and cutting edge research, where you can find out what’s bubbling and what’s buzzing, see some incredible objects (a dress made of thousands of paper cranes folded from the London Metro newspaper- how’s that for throwaway fashion?) and share your views on our interactive kiosks.

Antenna also has a website which is great for an instant peek into whats happening right NOW in the science and tech world- a lot of teachers even get their students to use it for info gathering before a discussion.

But anyway! The exciting news is that Antenna has 3 live events happening on gallery this month!

2-4 August: Space Robots

Time: 10.00–13.00 and 14.00–16.00

Come and see the robots that could be bound for the surface of distant planets. Are they the future of space exploration? Scientists from Rutherford Appleton Laboratory who developed the robots will be there to answer all your questions.

 16-18 August: Cockroach Robot

Time: 10.00–13.00 and 14.00–16.00

How do insects move so quickly? Come and check out a super-speedy six-legged robot from the Royal Veterinary College. Find out how its cockroach-inspired legs help it move from the engineers who designed it.

Cockroaches get fitted with tiny accelerometer 'backpacks' Cyber-roach – fitted with an accelerometer backpack

23-25 August: Demon unmanned aerial vehicle

Time: 10.00–13.00 and 14.00–16.00

It’s the world’s first flapless aircraft – the Demon UAV, which uses compressed air to manoeuvre. Could this be the stealth plane of the future? Join engineers from Cranfield University and BAE Systems to find out how the Demon works.

Demon unmanned aerial vehicle

Demon UAV - first flapless flight

 So come check out this month’s ‘bots, and chat with the scientists who devised them!

Do scientists have all the answers?

Do scientists have all the answers? Many people like to think so. After all isn’t science meant to be the rational, evidence-based approach to explaining the way the world works-  and therefore, shouldn’t scientists be the rational, reassuring bearers of that ‘knowledge’?

What about when their predictions turn out wrong, should scientists be held accountable? The Italian government believes so, as 7 geologists in Italy are being charged with manslaughter after failing to predict a large earthquake that devastated the city of L’aquila and killed over 300 people in 2009.

Aftermath of earthquake near L'aquila, Italy

The judge in the case says that the scientists supplied “imprecise, incomplete and contradictory information,” in a press conference 6 days before the quake, and therefore “thwarted the activities designed to protect the public.”

However, one of the seven scientists said there were no grounds for thinking that a major quake was imminent, even though the area around the town had been experiencing a series of smaller tremors in the previous months. The prosecution claims the commission made statements that gave the town’s people a false sense of security.

Did the scientists really release statements to falsely reassure the people, or did the press gather their statements and interpret them as such? It is likely that the statements given by the scientists were backed up by as much evidence as possible, but that they simply weren’t as appealing and definitive as ‘stay in your homes, there is nothing to worry about‘ or ‘evacuate your homes immediately’. So people remained in their homes because the scientists did not have enough evidence to advise for an evacuation. In the aftermath of the quake, the blame quickly fell upon those scientists.

The public can become frustrated with scientists for not knowing all the answers, and instead referring to evidence that ‘suggests’ or ‘supports’ something- but scientists and supporters of scientific thinking must stand by this.  The chief of the American Association for the Advancement of Science has said this case ”reflects a lack of understanding about what science can and can’t do… This just feels like either scapegoating or an attempt to intimidate a community.”

Science is not the process of proving a fact, but in a way searching for evidence that disproves it. Only then can that possibility be eliminated, and a theory become more refined. So the scientists were not able to advise an evacuation because they did not have enough evidence. Now they stand trial for applying the scientific method, and being unable to predict the future!

A picture spurs a thousand words…

If a picture can tell a story, a powerful image can also be a fantastic tool to stimulate discussion. In fact, an interesting, vivid, thought-provoking image has the dual function of being an engaging hook to get your students talking, as well as putting across information and allowing your students to bring that knowledge into the discussion.

So, we thought we would point you in the direction of the Wellcome Collection’s image awards for this year! These stunning photos are all centered around life sciences and have real wow-factor and accompanying text to give some background science.

Some also challenge preconceptions, for example this image of oral bacteria- which appear so beautiful and intriguing, yet the text reminds us that the bacteria comes from someone with aggressive gum disease.

Source: Wellcome Collection via Derren Ready, Eastman Dental Institute

Photomicrograph of periodontal bacteria

Some are just fascinating, full stop, and all serve to remind us that beauty and art are everywhere in science- and technology has allowed us to capture that.

ASE, the place to be!

Hello all and happy New Year!

Come and see the Science Museum at ASE Annual Conference 2011

We are kicking off 2011 with a bang at the ASE Annual Conference in Reading, where we will be running a workshop with Mystery Boxes, and another great activity from our course. In fact, we even had a bunch of scientists try out Mystery Boxes, and this film shows what they thought of it.

In other exciting news, in our session you will also catch the EXCLUSIVE ASE PREMIER of Punk Science’s Nanotechnology Song! You will not want to miss this… but if you do, well, you’ll also find it right here for your (and your students!) viewing pleasure.

Punk Science also explore the brain chemicals that make us happy in this film (good for post-holiday resolutions. Yeah right). Finally, if you want some ideas for spicing up your science, check out Punk Science’s top tips.

So where can you find us at ASE? Our session will run 11:30-12:30 on Saturday 8th Jan, in the Palmer suite 108. Places are limited so make sure you get there on time.

If you just can’t make it to that, you will also find the Science Museum on Stand C1 in the Exhibition Marquee, for the duration of the conference (5th-8th Jan). So come and say hello, and find out more about our great resources, courses and visits.

See you there!

Breaking the rules for life…

Wow.  There’s a place called Mono Lake, in California. It’s an ancient saline lake (3 times as salty as the ocean) with a pH of about 10, making it rather alkaline. It is also loaded with arsenic. Though you and I might think that would make it quite inhospitable to life, it supports a very diverse and interesting ecosystem, including brine shrimp and algae.

Mono Lake

Mono Lake, California


Most excitingly, NASA researchers recently discovered a bacterium living in the lake, that actually uses arsenic instead of phosphorus as the backbone for its DNA molecules. Up until now, phosphorus (along with oxygen, carbon, hydrogen, sulphur  and nitrogen) was thought of as one of the building blocks of life.

What does that mean for the possibility of life on Earth? And what about life on other planets? Should we pump lots of money into searching for it? And if organisms can adapt so well to their surroundings, perhaps we shouldn’t worry quite so much about climate change and damaging habitats, as surely, life will always prevail? Well I’m playing devil’s advocate here, but you could do the same in a classroom discussion!