Science @ the shops

perspectives - in action

perspectives - in action


perspectives is a poster exhibition in which researchers funded by the UK Research Councils present and explore the social implications of their work.  Today’s guest bloggers are perspectives participants Joshua Howgego and Becky Broadbent who found
themselves in a packed shopping centre standing between a concertina of brightly illustrated posters, a prototype Mars lander and a giant egg-shaped relaxation pod. They could be nowhere other than the British Science Festival.

We young researchers – finalists in the perspectives poster competition – had journeyed from every corner of Britain to Guildford, the Festival venue, to chat to the public about all things scientific. From climate change to how chemistry might help us fight diabetes, and even fluorescent dyes in fly brains.

Sometimes it’s all too easy for us scientists to remain hunched over our test tubes and computer models, not considering how our research impacts the real world. So for two days we decided to buck this trend and, armed with pink balloons, enthusiasm and of course our posters, we put ourselves and our research firmly under public scrutiny. We were apprehensive at first but we were pleasantly surprised at how receptive the Surrey shoppers were. It was reassuring that so many people seemed to be willing to debate our research with us.

Jean, up for the day from Southampton to go to the theatre, was one of the first to look at the poster on how Chemists are trying to combat diabetes. Jean was anxious to know how the treatment worked and, more importantly, when it would be ready. This was especially meaningful for her as she had developed type 2 diabetes herself a few years ago.

The poster of a blurred image of a moving train attracted swathes of people tired of living close to noisy railway lines. Unpleasant for them but proving that the research is really worthwhile.

Later we were embarrassed to run into a child prodigy who seemed to know almost as much as some of us about RNA. He confidently informed us that he knew all about it after watching a documentary (‘The Cell’ on BBC 4) about creating artificial life.

As well as all this, there was a mysterious room to our left. We weren’t initially sure what was going on in there – harassed looking parents kept emerging from the area looking relieved to be out. It wasn’t long before the yells of excitement had us wondering what was happening. We poked our noses in to see what all the fuss was about and were enthralled by a whole host of delights for the younger audience. The kids could assemble model brains and neurones out of pipe cleaners, see nerve cells in action under a microscope and build dangerous looking machines out of wood to learn about forces and motion.

Three o’clock came and we headed to the pub for a pint, safe in the knowledge that the adults and children of Guildford were all scienced up ready for the coming week of Festival fun.

3 thoughts on “Science @ the shops

  1. Pingback: Are you sitting comfortably? Then I shall begin… « Becky's Blog

  2. I am the Jean refered to in the above article. I have always loved science from my schooldays, but didn’t pursue it as a career. I thoroughly enjoyed the whole exhibition in the shopping centre in Guildford, but especially my discussion with Joshua Howgego about the research into Diabetes.
    If you read this Joshua, I have only just read your article, as nine days after speaking with you, I had a nasty accident, braking both bones in my lower leg, displacing my kneecap and tearing tendons and ligaments in my foot. After 19 days in hospital, being initially plastered, then a 3 hour op having everything put back in place and “plated and screwed” together, a brace for over three months and 6 months physio and ultra-sound. Now, nearly 10 months later, I am walking, or rather “lurching”, about the house.
    To enable me to get around the house, furniture had to be moved into our spare bedroom, which is where my computer is. That meant that I could not get anywhere near it. Thus I did not read your article. I have just found the programme for the Festival (I still had it!), with your website address, so I looked it up and found that you had mentioned me. Thanks very much for our chat on the day.
    With best wishes for the future
    Regards Jean from Southampton.

    • Hi Jean,
      great to hear from you and that you love science – we are two like-minded people in that respect. Sorry to hear of your accident, but very touched that you remember my blog!

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