Tag Archives: research



Have any of you been following this hashtag lately? It’s absolutely brilliant!

What started with one neuroscientist, dr_Leigh, venting her frustration (and sense of humour!) with her student by tweeting that ’ incubation lasted three days because this is how long the undergrad forgot the experiment in the fridge #overlyhonestmethods’, has snowballed into loads of other scientists around the world revealing the often-hilarious realities of life in the lab.

For any of us who have been there, rigging up experiments with make-do-and-mend equipment (I used to call it the ‘scotch tape and toothpicks method’) the tweets ring true and will make you laugh (with agreement and relief). For those who haven’t been there, reading these tweets brings a refreshing blast of honesty to sweep away some of the misconceptions that laypeople have about scientists.

#overlyhonestmethods continues revealing the world of science

Guess what- they are just like everyone else!

Their work is often confusing and messy. They are overworked, underpaid and fuelled by caffeine, sometimes they cut corners, like anyone who gets tired of repeating the same lengthy process a dozen times over. Occasionally that corner-cutting leads to a new method, and better results. Sometimes they spend far too long thinking of witty titles for their papers, because it might mean getting published in a higher-impact journal- just like the newspapers favour attention grabbing headlines. Sometimes they set off explosions just to see what happens!

The real nature of science is not perfect experiments designed to demonstrate an unequivocal point, carried out by stern geniuses who never crack a smile- scientists are not just their job- they are people like any of us, who mess up all the time, but try again and learn something from it- even if its just to set a timer on their experiments!

 Your students might be amused, and pleasantly surprised to see some of the tweets… Hooray for #overlyhonestmethods- keep it rolling!

I’m a scientist, get me out of here!

Registration is now open for I’m a scientist, get me out of here!

What’s it all about? Well if you’re a teacher who wants to deliver How Science Works and give their students a chance to meet and interact with some real scientists; or you’re a scientist who fancies facing up to a few students, improving your communication skills and making a difference, then this is a competition made for you :)

Thirsty for competition? This might be made for you!

Thirsty for competition? This might be made for you!

A little dash of X-factor flavour means scientists have to fight it out online to win the approval of the student ‘judges’.  Students get to ask the scientists questions about their work, and learn about their careers, so it’s a nice chance for young people to have a meaningful interaction with the ‘people behind the white coats’ (did you know they are real humans just like the rest of us?). There are also events linked to the competition throughout the year, and teaching resources such as lesson plans all ready to go.

The X-factor format is fun and familiar to your students, and because the competition takes place online, it’s pretty much hassle free and teachers won’t need to use any special equipment or materials (unless they want to!).

Why not take a peek?

On this day…

March 5th is a particularly good day for science… On this day were born several scientists whose discoveries have made their way into our everyday life in some way.

Edouard Joseph Louis-Marie van Beneden studied the number of chromosomes in body cells, working out that half of them come from the male sperm and half from the female egg. Standard knowledge for us now!

23 pairs of... chromosocks?

23 pairs of... chromosocks?

Sir Charles Wyille Thomson was a marine biologist who led the HMS Challenger, the first expedition to trawl the ocean depths for new forms of life. We still know so little about the bottom of the oceans, and research continues in great depth (haha).

Etienne Jules-Marey studied how blood moves in the body (he invented a device called the sphygmograph to record variations in blood pressure) and later observed the way animals move using a high-speed camera to produce some of the earliest slow-motion film.

What’s my point? That every single day we can be reminded of discoveries and innovations that changed the way we observe the world and what we know about it. There isn’t a day in the year without a scientific advancement to recall, and that’s quite a powerful thought. Check Today in Science for people and events that made science history, and marvel at how many researchers names you are totally unfamiliar with, yet recognize the technology or ideas they contributed!

Countdown to Futurecade!

There is much excitement in Talk Science team this week- Futurecade launches this Thursday!

Futurecade launches this week!

Can science save humanity?

Futurecade is a suite of online games based on current and developing research in the fields of robotics, space junk, geo-engineering and synthetic biology.  Most importantly, Futurecade’s four games Bacto-Lab, Robo-Lobster, Cloud Control and Space Junker, are designed to be fun to play- so are an immediate hook to get your students engaged- and they use questions to provoke thought around the way technology might impact our future.

We’ve also worked with scientists to create background science notes and questions for each game, which we hope you’ll find useful to support you using the games in the classroom.

We haven’t been able to stop playing the games (it’s all ‘testing’ of course!) and we really hope you’ll try using Futurecade with your students, as a great hook or stimulus for a discussion around the themes of the games, to explore the applications and implications of science with your students, and help teach How Science Works.

Three… two… one… See you Thursday!

Wonderful Things: Antarctic ice core

Faced with mounting concerns over climate change and global warming, we look to the scientists for answers, to explain what exactly is going on and what can be done to remedy it.

This is how we know what we know about climate change today: scientists, like good detectives, have to look  into the past to find clues to help them form a better picture of what is taking place now. By doing this they can ascertain what environments and climates were like on our planet millions of years ago, and so helping us understand where we stand today.

Can scientists travel through time?

Yes, but not in the “Doc Brown” way you are imagining.

 In a technique that is similar to the way we determine ages of trees and  have given a time of extinction for the dinosaurs , a sample of ice, known as an ice core is taken. This is basically a cylindrical cross section of ice, showing various layers of ice that were laid down over hundred of thousands of years. From this we can see what our world was like back before humans even existed.

The ice core in the Atmosphere gallery

The ice core in the Atmosphere gallery

How is this possible?

As scientists peer at this ancient shaft of ice they explore the various layers. Each layer corresponds to a year or sometimes a season. Within these layers lay trapped everything that fell that year including dust, pollen and atmospheric gases. Seasonal swings are detected and thus our past weather patterns are indicated, which gives us a clue as to what we should be experiencing now.

This is one of the reasons we know something is wrong. If we were to go by previous climate patterns, our planet should be getting colder not warmer, bu the unexpected turn has been attributed to the increased production if greenhouse gases.  

The Atmosphere gallery houses the first ice core sample in the world to be put on display! Taken from the Antarctic, almost 200ft beneath the top of the ice in 1989.

If you had all the money in the world, what would you do to preserve the environment?

In fact, is it more important to save the environment or learn to adapt to a changing climate?

Where will you live when the sea levels rise?

And if you’re going to be looking at climate change with your students, you can use Cloud Control, a game about geo-engineering the climate, to get them started on the topic. Cloud Control is part of our new online game suite Futurecade, launching next week!

The ice core is in the Atmosphere gallery, on the 2nd floor of the Wellcome wing

-James Carmody

A year of talking science!

It’s been a great year for the Talk Science team: we have travelled far and wide, worked with - and learned from- loads of brilliant teachers on our courses, and been busy-busy-busy developing new (and improved!) resources to bring extra zing to your science teaching!

Our Punk Science films are now all available online. Bring their special brand of humour into your classroom with Healthy Living, Medical Trials, The Ends of the Universe, Nanotechnology song, Selective Breeding… Have you had enough of Jon and Dan yet? They even share their top tips on How to Punk your Science.

News + Views got a bit of spiffing up! This popular resource gets your students into the role of journalists to explore a a hot science topic. It’s a great way to get your students discussing current science issues and give them ownership of the research as they work to a deadline to create attention-grabbing display posters, in which they also express their own opinions.

And, Futurecade will be released in 2012!! Yes, FUTURECADE IS COMING  (we’re only a little excited!!)

Bacto-Lab is just one of Futurecade's 4 fun games

Bacto-Lab is just one of Futurecade's 4 fun games.

Futurecade is a suite of 4 online games based around current and future technology, that you can use to stimulate discussion around topics like space junk, geo-engineering, and synthetic biology. Keep your eyes peeled for them at the start of February.

We hope you will use Futurecade to help communicate How Science Works, that science impacts our lives, and our future will be shaped by technology (and decisions) made now. Use the games to provoke your students’ thinking and help them formulate opinions about the science and what it will mean for them.

The games are incredibly fun, and we think your students will find them really engaging. I am actually finding it a little hard to STOP playing one of them in particular, but I don’t want  to influence your preferences. Can’t wait to hear which one YOU like best!

And we arent the only ones who think games will be big in 2012!

We will be at the ASE conference in January so come find out about what we’ve been up to, and much more, on our stand, B29.

From everyone in the Talk Science team, thank you for your support and see you in 2012!

Wonderful Things: Tucker Sno-Cat

The Sno-Cat is a tracked vehicle that was originally used to maintain phone lines in North America in the 1940s.

Tucker Sno-Cat - great for Antarctic adventures

Tucker Sno-Cat - great for Antarctic adventures

In 1958 however, it was used to carry equipment in the first motorised crossing of Antarctica, travelling 2000 miles over 2 years! It traversed terrains as different and perilous as soft deep snow and frozen choppy sea. It was able to function in extreme conditions, including -55°C and wind speeds up to 45mph. In fact, this very expedition led to the founding of the British Antarctic Survey.

The Sno-Cat was able to reach the remote areas of Antarctica for scientific survey (it did get stuck a few times though!) , such as measuring the thickness of the ice sheet, which continues to be important in understanding climate science. Visit the Atmosphere gallery to find out more about our climate changing world- and see a real Antarctic ice core.

What about its use in the future? With energy shortages on the horizon we will need to find new sources of fuel. The sea surrounding Antarctica contains rich oil fields and natural gas, and in 2048 a ban on mining minerals is set to end. Maybe vehicles like the Sno-Cat will be used to reach these valuable resources?

Why can’t a normal car drive across Antarctica? (How would the Sno-Cat fare on UK roads?)

What equipment would you need Sno-Cat to carry on an expedition to Antarctica? (See here for an idea of daily life on the British Antarctic Survey)

Should areas of remote wilderness like the Antarctic continue to be protected from mining, when our need for energy increases every day?

The Sno-Cat is part of the Ten Climate Stories exhibition and is found in Making the Modern World, on the ground floor.

Tom (Cambridge University), Gulmira & Chen (Tokyo Institute of Technology)

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!

Can we all become astronauts?

Last month, the world celebrated 50 years since the first manned spaceflight, by Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin. Yuri became the first man in space after completing a single orbit of Earth on the Soviet spacecraft Vostok, in April 1961 (at the Science Museum we actually have a fantastic drama event about Yuri’s incredible journey).

Last month, a lot of people also went on holiday for the Easter period. We traveled by plane, on trains and by water. Technology has developed by leaps and bounds since Yuri first saw the Earth from above, likewise, so has our desire to visit faraway destinations; people now take holidays abroad for granted.

Once upon a time those faraway destinations were mapped by explorers, before tourists followed in their footsteps… Deserts were crossed, mountains were conquered, lives were lost to chart the rainforests. But it wasn’t long ’til curious amateur adventurers also found their way to these once-unknown places.

Space appears to be no different. Virgin Galactic is currently taking bookings for their space flights, so any of us can be an astronaut! Well, any of us healthy and wealthy enough to afford that $200,000 ticket.

Holidays in space for everyone?

Seeing the Earth from above has changed people’s lives. Jim Lovell, who was on the Apollo 8 and 13 missions, has said “It gives you in an instant…(an idea of) how insignificant we are, how fragile we are, and how fortunate we are to have a body that will allow us to enjoy the sky and the trees and the water.” And Anousheh Ansari, the first female space tourist to visit the International Space Station in 2006, announced that “if people can see Earth from up here, see it without those borders, see it without any differences in race or religion, they would have a completely different perspective. Because when you see it from that angle, you cannot think of your home or your country. All you can see is one Earth.”

Earth from space

Earth from space

Perhaps it is something we could all benefit from experiencing- in fact, could it one day be a right just like education? So how long will it be before holidays in space really become commonplace? And should there be a low-cost alternative for those of us who don’t mind a little less legroom?

The Big Bang Fair- were you there?

We were. And we had a fantastic time meeting students, educators and even Prof Brian Cox whilst working on the Science Museum stand at the fair! Oh, and gawking at the amazing flying penguins.

AirPenguins by engineering company Festo captivated us at the Big Bang Fair

The Big Bang Fair is a wonderful science festival for young people, promoting careers in science and showcasing young people’s STEM projects from across the UK- from marine biology to product design. These inspiring young participants were finalists in the National Science and Engineering Competition, and their STEM projects had made it all the way through from the heats at regional Big Bang Fairs, to the national Finals which took place last weekend in London. A huge well done to everyone who was there, engaging people with their research and sharing their hard work and successes with other students!

So if your students are carrying out a project, be it at home, in school or as part of a club, think about getting involved. Your students may find themselves presenting their research at a regional fair, one of which we are excited to be hosting here at the Science Museum on 22nd June 2011.

See you there!