15 November 2016

Norwich Science Festival in 2016 | Articles + Interviews

I wrote these 6 pieces for the science festival held in my city when I was apart of their Young Communications Team. It was a great experience; I got to meet some scientists; I practised interviewing, journalism, and writing; and I was able to build my confidence.

Glamorising Science with Mad Scientists

I spoke to some mad scientists today. Not any old mad scientists, though, these are the mad scientists Dr DNA and Helium Helen from Mad Science who are working with Anglian Water today to put on a science show for the Keep It Clear campaign.

Helium Helen explains how she was never engaged with science at school and strongly believes that this performance platform can showcase science in a more exciting way. She thinks the Norwich Science Festival is a “great way to engage and enthuse children which is good for Norfolk and Norwich to show what science happens here and what is discovered”.

They begin with the bathroom, getting interactive and asking the crowd "what can you put down the toilet?" to replies of the 4 p's: paper, pee, poo and puke. By this point, everyone is beginning to realise that this isn't actually going to be a glamorous show.

But then it was experiment time. There was a leaf blower, some volunteers, and toilet paper (which ended up covering the audience). Another involved toilet paper and wet wipe tornadoes and some noisy chanting from the crowd, adults and children.

My conversation with the mad scientists before the show is visualised through the science onstage. Dr DNA was telling me how many children they "see who say they hate science but they just haven't been taught about it in the right way". They think “science needs to be taught like this at school because we hear lots of stories about people saying they ”weren't taught science like this at school“ but this is the most engaging way to teach science”.

Next, we move to the kitchen, "so what can't you put down the sink?" the audience is asked. Some of the children enjoy this challenge and yell out “fat” and “oil” showing that they know the answer.

Added to a u-bend blocked with hardened fat and oil was dirty washing up water, washing up liquid, and some boiling water. This exploded, with one child shrieking "wow! It's exploding".

This mad science explosion finished off the mad scientist's performance for the day and they were rewarded with lots of shouts and cheers from the crowd who were still squeezed into the small section of the Large Hadron Collider.

Leaving the show, I could hear comments about how much adults and children alike had enjoyed the show. With one 4 year old boy telling me excitedly how he'd loved seeing the toilet roll fly over the audience.

Pictures - Becky Moore | Original article

Scientists of the Future

We’re halfway through the Norwich Science Festival and starting to think about how this brand new event can help turn the children of Norwich into the scientists of the future.

In The Forum, the Norwich Puppet Theatre activity table is surrounded by children for Puppets in Space, where everyone is getting involved and making a mess. The idea is to create puppets and collage aliens or spacemen, but some just seem to be embracing the creativity.

Zara, one of the people running the activity, said the festival was helping children to “experiment with different things and understand the extent and variety of science”.

A childminder, Vicki, surrounded by six children between the ages of two and 14, tells how they got involved in the Puppets in Space activity and have come away with lots of alien and spaceman puppets.

Another creative activity was the Ready Steady Lego challenge in the library. Lots of children using their imagination to build whatever they want. Collette, a 10-year-old joining in, talks about the Lego garden she is creating and how much she is enjoying the festival.

One parent, Ida, is already a scientist so was looking to excite her five and eight-year-old children in science. She really loved the idea of “hands-on science getting children engaged” and believes that it is great for Norwich to utilise “the Norwich Research Park, the University of East Anglia and all of the experts we have on hand”.

Science of Construction: A Lego Challenge

I entered the hall where the Anglian Water Lego Challenge was taking place and was met with the cheers of families midway through their Lego build.

Talking to one of the volunteers, I found out that “Anglian Water do this challenge themselves” to build a Lego house in under 7 minutes but they “have never managed it in under 5 minutes but we have”. He sounds excited as he explains that one group of families managed to complete the challenge in 3:54.

Another troop of builders forms to try and beat the 5 minute mark. Everyone is joining in: some with the job of collecting up the right bricks, others beginning the build, and some reading the instructions carefully to make sure they build it correctly.

"And this is where it gets competitive," the volunteer tells me. Looking, I can see he's right, adults and children are all trying to build their specific section of the house as fast as they can. Everyone is beginning to get louder and look round to check that they're keeping up with the other teams.

"Careful it doesn't fall apart," one mum encourages her child to carry the first section of the house into the middle of the room. I can see how much everyone is concentrating and trying their hardest to beat the earlier team, so much so that one parent has to remind their little boy not to panic.

With precision, the sections are packed together and I can see it eventually coming together to look like a house. All the builders are crowded round as the construction takes place. Finally, it's finished “5 minutes 54”. Glad to have completed their task, the next fun bit starts. 

Breaking the house down is as fun as building it as all the children throw themselves dramatically on top to destroy their creation. The bricks are now all laid out separately for even more people to take on the fun of the Lego Challenge.

Pictures - Sara Rae | Original article

Kitchen Chemistry with Dr Stephen Ashworth

Wednesday at the Norwich Science Festival was dedicated to a day of Chemistry, so I thought I'd join in by attending Dr Stephen Ashworth's Kitchen Chemistry show.

He began the show by explaining why he loved chemistry saying that it was "important because it is all around us" and that "we're all made of chemicals". Before starting any experiments he did a lovely health and safety talk, referring to if cabin pressure drops we should grab our oxygen masks and that to do chemistry we would all need a lab coat and goggles.

Now we were ready to go some experiments, it seemed more like he was showing us magic tricks. Firstly, he made the audience move an impurity in a bottle of water with our minds, then made salt disappear in water, and then made paper disappear in acetone. This caused many children in the audience to already have faces of astonishment and cry out "wow".

Flames and fire caught the audience's attention even more, with energy being created from simple household products. All this caused the crowd to wonder how it had happened and ask many questions about all the experiments afterwards.

When the audience had filtered slowly out of the auditorium after having their questions answered and still with faces of "wow how did that happen", I got to talk to Dr Ashworth a bit about how he got into chemistry and what he thinks of the Norwich Science Festival. I've shared the interview below.

What do you think is your favourite chemistry experiment?

Oh, that's really difficult because I have so many favourites. When we're talking about the reaction of the audience, it's what's called the Water into Wine, where I take the wine glasses and go from one to another, although the Whoosh Bottle is a perennial favourite, which is the big blue bottle which goes whoosh.

So probably those for the reaction of the audience but I just like doing all these experiments over and over again and that's why I do the shows.

Are these science shows your whole job?

No, I'm a full-time lecturer at the UEA and this is something I do at different places in the country and different places in the world. You can go on the website and look at my blog - www.kitchenchemistry.eu - and see where I've been.

How did you get into science / chemistry?

When I was very very very young, about your age, I wanted to be a chef and it just turned out that I was good at chemistry and science at school. I had to work hard to do other things but these sort of came easily to me and I could get hold of the concepts readily. I was better actually at biology at school, but I was more interested in chemistry so I went to university to study chemistry.

Then the opportunity opened up for me to do a PHD and I took it. And then once I got my PHD, I went and worked in America and then after I finished in America for a year, I went to Berlin and worked there for two and a half years and then came back to Bristol for 3 years. I have been at the UEA ever since.

I did my degree and PHD at Oxford University, but I went to school in Norwich and I'm from the area.

What do you think of the Norwich Science Festival?

I think it's a huge undertaking to have more that a week of activities but I think it has been going really really well from what I've seen of it because I was involved in Physics Fest on Sunday. I think they're doing a great job: there's a buzz, lots of people and this is an excellent place to have it in the forum right in the city centre.

Do you think the festival is a good way to showcase science to children or different age groups?

Yes, it's nice to have a festival devoted to science: you have a Beer Festival which is also this week, you have a Literary Festival. This is the first time that the science festival has really been put on so that it goes annually. There have been little festivals like the British Association came to Norwich in 2006, the BA Festival of Science. But we couldn't get the momentum then to get that going every year, but someone has and it's fantastic and long may it continue.

Did you find that struggling in other subjects became a problem in becoming a scientist?

No, there are things you have to work on more than others obviously. At university, there were bits that I found more straightforward than others, but I didn't struggle ever, but it's just that learning the dates for history was something that went in one ear and out the other but learning the numbers for chemistry, I was interested.

History, geography, the amount of Copper that Zaire produced annually, I didn't really mind whether it was this number or that number, but knowing how many atoms in a mole, I really had to know. It's just that I can see now that I was more interested in that stuff.

Do you think science in schools should be taught with more experiments than it is?

Science is a practical subject, you wouldn't learn the piano by having lectures about it, you have to do it and get it wrong and practise til you get it right. Science is just the same. Any branch of science has some manual handling skills that you need. skills about estimating quantities and you only gain those by doing it. You can read about it til you're blue in the face but if you don't do it you just don't get those skills.

If schools don't do practicals then children are missing out. I was lucky as I went to a school where we did practicals regularly. If there was a double period, there was a practical. There is an issue with health and safety and I think there are ways to deal with that but teachers have so many other things to worry about so practicals are something they can put to one side.

I do think you really need to get down and do it, which is why I encourage people to visit my website and try it for themselves.

Pictures - Sara Rae | Original article

Welding Wildlife with Harriet Mead

Expectantly, I waited for Harriet Mead to begin her talk. The first slide of her powerpoint was already up offering a hint at what she would be talking about: Welding Wildlife it stated. I hadn't heard much about her, but I knew that she was a sculptor who links up agricultural and natural history through her metal work, as was obvious by two beautiful sculptures lying on a table at the front.

Harriet started her talk by explaining how she had been introduced to wildlife early and got to be close up with nature, looking at things, "being in nature, out there and absorbing it". She displayed photos of family holidays and trips where her father would take her to ring birds and see wildlife.

Moving on, she told us how she chose to do a degree in fine art to begin her art career. This is where she was able to try welding and was gripped, describing it as "sewing with sparks". Ever since she hasn't stopped welding.

Next, she developed an obsession with using old items and agricultural bits. She believes that found objects are more interesting with accentuated characteristics and a history themselves. Empty space can be created through using the found objects which she then has to consider, along with the 3D nature meaning that all angles and views have to be thought over.

Through her art, she tries to capture all the different aspects of the wildlife so the piece can be all about the creature and their habitat and not about what she makes of it. Portraying the movement of animals abstractly with fluidity and life; showing the stance and mass of the creature; thinking about the anatomy and bone structure, this is what her work is about.

Interestingly, she showed us pictures of her sketches and explained how she always uses pen because it isn't about the mistakes, it is what you first see and interpret of the animal right away. However, she also said that while she sketches the animals, she makes no plan about what pieces of metal she will use to build her sculpture.

After telling us about her art form, she moved on to talk about what she has been involved in through her work. Referencing that she is the president of the Society of Wildlife Artists, she tells us of amazing expeditions and trips which she has been able to go on because of her career and the projects she becomes involved in.

Projects that Harriet has been involved in include Ghosts of Gone Birds was a collection of artists creating pieces around extinct birds; From Waste to Art in 2014 was a collection of artists whose art focuses on recycling and creating art out of waste; BTO/SWLA Flight Lines Project involved a trip about the migration of birds that don't know about the politics and boundaries which actually lie in the human world; and the Artists for Nature Foundation.

Finishing the talk involves a recap about what making wildlife art is all about for Harriet: she is overall trying to capture "what is it to see a hare and what it is to be a hare", or any other creature in wildlife.

After watching her talk, I was lucky enough to catch up with Harriet and interview her so I have shared that with you below.

Why did you choose to do a fine art degree, even with your background in wildlife?

I just had this attitude as a child, like little boys think they're going to be train drivers or astronauts or whatever, but I always knew I was going to be an artist.

I was always interested in the wildlife side because of my dad's background with all the bird ringing and the research but it was just that I knew I needed to make art, it was as simple as that. Although it sounds odd, somehow or other I have ended up being an artist and have never had a job interview in my life.

Who do you think was your inspiration as an artist?

As an artist, I don't think there was anyone. Maybe my parents and the fact that they encouraged myself and my sisters to just look at nature and the natural world and to just be inquisitive - so they were an inspiration.

Artist wise, it's the wildlife that inspires me. I'm not trying to emulate another artist as such, I can admire other artists work or can be excited by other people's work, but I don't actually become inspired by the artist. It's seeing that hare or that barn owl and wanting to make it, that's the inspiration.

Do you think you are different or similar to other artists in that way?

I think possibly quite a lot of wildlife artists make art like me because what they are trying to do is to convey to an audience what excites them about that creature, whether it's a damselfly or an elephant or a corncrake, For them, it's trying to give something of their interpretation of that creature to the person who's looking at their finished piece of work.

How did you begin to link the agricultural objects with nature and wildlife?

Again, it was just a happy accident. I realised that welding was such an amazingly flexible way of working so that I could make pieces that have only one piece of contact was the base; can be extraordinarily delicate, but intensely strong. I always knew that welding was the way forward for me and also I'm not a carver. I'm very much about construction: I build things, I don't carve away.

So it just happened that I was looking to find materials that I could weld and, of course, a lot of it is scrap so a lot of the stuff that you could find for nothing or that's been thrown away tends to be agricultural items but also domestic things, like a lot of old tools that you can you, anything that rusts can be welded but actually there are all sorts of other techniques for welding so you can weld stainless steel, but for me, my equipment is the rust. 

What do you think of the Norwich Science Festival?

Well, unfortunately, I've been away in London for the Society of Wildlife Artists exhibition -  all week and prior to that, I've been preparing for it. I have looked at the programme and I know a lot of the speakers and it's really exciting and just to see the number of visitors here and how animated everyone is. I'd happily go and have a look at some more of these exhibitions,

I love the idea of science and photography, so I want to have a look at that. And seeing the Hadron Collider: I'm going to have a look at that as well.

Although I've chosen an arts background, I could just have easily have gone into a science background, I suppose, I mean the material and the way that I work, is actually perceived as a very male orientated thing to be doing, to be welding. I'm hoping less so now and I think this is true, that more and more women are being recognised in science.

But I think when it comes to it, anything that can encourage boys and girls to become interested and fascinated by science, is a good thing. It's a good thing in tv shows and on social media that there seems to be excitement and some of these presenters are worth their weight in gold in actually getting people engaged in the subject. Let's face it, there are some fascinating things that go on in physics and chemistry and biology.

Visit Harriet's website - http://harrietmead.co.uk/
SWLA Event in the Mall Galleries in London - http://swla.co.uk/wp-swla/events-exhibitions/

Pictures - Ellen Jay and Sara Rae | Original article

Richard Fortey and the Wood for the Trees

Hearing that Richard Fortey was a former senior palaeontologist and the author of several different books about popular, it surprised me to find out that he had purchased a wood in Oxfordshire called Grim's Dyke Wood and had written a new book all about the year of the forest.

Richard began his talk by reading a passage from his new book The Wood for the Trees. It was a lovely passage really summed up what his talk was all going to be about: the whole life of the wood. He spoke about the history of the wood having been started after the Romans had left because before then, during the Iron Age and Romans, the land was used for farming and crops. 

We heard of all the species which now live in the wood including different fungi, birds, animals, and beetles, but also about the flowers, trees, and rocks which can be found there. He went into lots of detail, passionately describing how he had written everything he observed in the wood in one small notebook which can now still be found in the wood. To finalise the book in some way, Richard decided to use the Cherry tree wood from his forest to make a cabinet specially designed to house everything he had picked up while studying the wood, along with the notebook he had used to catalogue it all.

Talking more about the history around the wood, we heard about all the people who had owned the estate or worked on it. Hearing of the Knowles family in the Tudor times; the Stapleton sisters in the 19th century; the river Thames alongside which was used to carry goods through Oxfordshire, I was fascinated by the detailed history of a seemingly simple wood.

One of my favourite points during the talk was finding out about the uses of wood through history. The wood was used for chair legs, tent pegs during world war one, the backs of brushes, and broomsticks when the first Harry Potter film came out. I also like the idea of the wood having enemies like the grey squirrel and the muntjack deer, because something that seems like it has no life, like a wood, really does live a very complicated and long one.

After his talk, I got to interview Richard Fortey to find out more about all his different scientific passions and what he thinks of the Norwich Science Festival.

What made you decide to change from palaeontology to natural history?

You could say I have always been a naturalist at heart. When I was at the Natural History Museum, I had to be a specialist because that is what I was employed to do. When I started writing books, it was a way of going back to being more of a naturalist.

I've always been a naturalist and then I became, for while a specialist and I still study trilobites. Most of my scientific research is published on trilobites, but I published other stuff on a much wider range of things which is also part of my personality.

How did you become interested in palaeontology at the beginning?

I found my first trilobite when I was about 14 in St David's in Pembrokeshire and I spent most of my summer holiday bashing rocks up trying to find another one. So that sort of turned me on and I never really lost interest after that and I was very very lucky, unlike many people who dream of say being an entomologist or an ornithologist or a palaeontologist, that I was actually able to make my dream come true.

How did you become interested in the naturalist side?

I've always been a naturalist, ever since I was very little. When I was very young, I started studying or learning the British plants I learnt quite a lot of British birds, not as many as Mark Cocker, and then I started looking at fungi, which has stayed with me ever since. And then I found my trilobites when I was 14 and decided those were best of all.

What made you decide to buy Grim's Dyke Wood?

Well, we had a hankering to buy a wood, I don't know why. We'd often talked about if we had some money should we buy a piece of woodland. We were thinking of doing it near our cottage in Southwold in Suffolk, so we originally looked around Suffolk but we couldn't find anything that was what we would call a proper wood.

Then Jackie found this ad. We realised that local wood was being split up into separate plots. We're not nearly rich enough to have bought the whole wood, but one of the plots was exactly the same size, almost to the penny, of a cheque I'd just been paid by the BBC for doing a TV series. We didn't have to think about it very hard.

What do you think about the Norwich Science Festival?

What I've seen of it is very good. You know, I've only been here today, of course, but it seems to be full of young people, which is good, and quite a lot of activities seem to relate to natural history so quite a lot to like.

I think that is is very important for people to be aware of the natural environment and enjoy it, that's the main thing. It has given me a lot of pleasure over the years and it is really learning how to have fun with nature if you like, it's not nature study: just learn to enjoy it.

How was working at the Natural History Museum in London?

In many ways, it was great. In one of my books, I said that when I got the job there it was like somebody saying, "amuse yourself for money". That said, it was a very large institution, and it was a government department, so it was a bit stuffy in some ways and I was always a bit anarchic to fit in comfortably.

I was employed as a researcher, behind the scenes on the collections. My job description said to prosecute research upon fossil arthropods, which, of course, includes the trilobites. Trilobites became my speciality and I've written more than 200 scientific papers on them throughout the course of my working life and that's  what I was paid for. 

I'm still doing the trilobites, I haven't given it up. It's just people sometimes say "well how do you feel about doing television and giving up the other stuff". I've now done 3 TV series and I have managed to do that as well as the other stuff, so I'm getting more activities rather than fewer. And keeping the old ones as well as acquiring new ones.

Pictures - Sara Rae | Original article

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