Brain Box event wows Manchester

Manchester Town City Hall was packed full of thousands of visitors when they dropped in on The Brain Box event on Sunday, as part of Manchester Day.

Over 5000 people of all ages explored the exciting science of the brain with scientists from across the region as well as experiencing brain-inspired arts in the form of images, poetry and dance.

The day was a unique collaboration between the city’s three universities: The University of Manchester, Manchester Metropolitan University and Salford University as well as Manchester City Council, MoSI, NHS Trusts, patient groups and artists, with even a float from Manchester Day parade joining the event.

The Manchester Day celebrations recognise the achievements of Manchester as a city every year and this year, to coincide with Manchester being European City of Science, the theme of the day was Eureka!

Professor Andreas Prokop from the University of Manchester and one of the main organisers of the event said:

“The Brain Box event is an important way for us, as scientists, to engage with our community, and to inspire young and old with the incredible science that happens in our city.”

An popular activity was a giant wooden sculpture of the brain, wired up by visitors throughout the day with thousands of pieces of string to reflect the complexity of the real brain’s many billions of connections.

A time-lapse film of the brain sculpture gaining it’s new connections over the course of the day will be posted soon on The Brain Box website.

The film will also be showcased at the British Pavilion in Rio at the Olympic Games illustrated the complexity of the brain’s electrical connections.

With more than 50 stands manned by over 200 volunteers, focussing on all different aspects of the brain – including the basics, vision, pain, history, learning, brain imaging and what happens when the brain goes wrong – the Brain Box provided a unique experience for the visitor.

In the historic city chambers, visitors to the event were treated to a series of talks on subjects ranging from history of our understanding of the brain to cutting edge brain-imaging technologies.

Professor Stuart Allan, another of the event’s main organisers added:

“We were delighted with how the Brain Box went: it was a huge success and everyone went home with a smile on their face.”

For a full story, check out the Storify.

Tuesday Feature Episode 36: Amy Chambers

Please explain your research for the general public in around ten sentences or less.

I work in the fields of science communication and screen studies and I’m interested in the relationship between movies and the public understanding of science. I conduct research into science fiction movies made between 1967-1977 and their incorporation of real-world science and imagined future science. My work also analyses how major scientific concepts and advancements have influenced onscreen representations of science. As part of my current project – The Playing God Project – I am looking more specifically at how leaders and members of religious institutions have interpreted and understood science in movies. I also work on the representation of women in STEM and the inclusion of women scientists in the processes of entertainment media production.

How does this research benefit the general public?

My research contributes to larger discussions about how public understanding of science is shaped and communicated through distinctly non-scientific sources such as movies, TV, and video games. There has been a lot of research into this area that confirms that the entertainment media we consume influences our understanding of science from what medical science is capable of to what dinosaurs look like. My research into women in STEM on screen is about gaining an understanding of how a more diverse representation of scientists on screen can directly influence the number of girls and women pursuing real-world STEM careers, and also advising industry professionals. The public greatly benefits from the work being done by science communication scholars who are committed to improving science content through a better understanding of how science is integrated into the production, dissemination, and reception of entertainment media.

 How did you first become interested in your research area?

I did my PhD in Film Studies and contemporary US history and studied the use of moving images (movies) as primary sources for historians. I focussed my research on science fiction movies released in the 1960s and 1970s and considered them as texts that reflected and interacted with their specific historical context. Part of my thesis analysed science and technology in this era both on and off-screen, and when the opportunity arose to work on a project looking at the intersection of science and movies – I knew this was an area of research I really wanted to develop.

Did you have any science heroes growing up?

I had a fictional science hero. When I was younger I wanted to be a forensic scientist having avidly watched the wonderful BBC series Silent Witness. I wanted to be Dr Sam Ryan (Amanda Burton). Unfortunately I discovered this would not be my future career after fainting in a year 8 biology class during a heart dissection demonstration (sorry, Mr Lewis). How disappointing.

 How has working in Manchester helped you?

I’m in the Centre for the History of Science, Technology and Medicine (CHSTM). Unlike other HSTM units in the UK, CHSTM is uniquely positioned within a science faculty. I work alongside a fascinating range of scientists, historians, and students who have helped me to understand the relationship between science and society from different perspectives that I would not have gained in a more traditional humanities setting. I have also had the opportunity to get involved in public science events like the FLS community open day where I have presented a stand on dinosaurs in children’s TV and movies, the British Science Fiction Festival being held in Manchester this year, and the Playing God Film Series that kicks off on 17th March at the Anthony Burgess Foundation with a great programme of six movies and speakers discussing science, religion, and cinema.

 Finally, what do you do outside of work?

I love to sing and the city has given me some great opportunities for that too! I sing with the amazing choir at St Ann’s Church in the centre of the city, and last summer I sang as part of a community choir for the Manchester International Festival production of The Skriker with Maxine Peake at the Royal Exchange Theatre. I also have two lovely cats that keep me company (and distract me) when I work from home, one of which is called Rosalind Franklin.

Famous Women Life Scientists

Women have shaped the history of life sciences. To celebrate UN International Day of Women and Girls in Science, we take a look at some of the famous and influential women life scientists from throughout history.

rachel-carson

Rachel Carson: An American marine biologist, her iconic 1962 book ‘Silent Spring’ brought attention to the dangers of synthetic pesticides accumulating in the natural ecosystem, and kick-started the global environmental movement.

 

jane_goodall_gmJane Goodall: Perhaps the most famous primatologist ever, this British OBE spent many years of her life in Tanzania studying man’s close relatives, and is considered the world’s number one expert on chimpanzees

 

marie_curie_c1920Rosalind Franklin: It is often assumed that Watson and Crick were responsible for discovering the molecular structure of DNA, but in actual fact, much of their work was based on earlier research done by this English X-ray crystallographer, who successfully identified the double helix nature of DNA molecules.

 

nobel_prize_2009-press_conference_physiology_or_medicine-11Elizabeth Blackburn: This Australian-American Nobel Prize winner made incredible advances in our knowledge of the telomere – the structure that protects the ends of chromosomes, and co-discovered telomerase, the enzyme that replenishes telomeres.

 

barbara_mcclintock_281902-199229Barbara McClintock – This American geneticist made incredible advances in the field of genetics by studying maize crops, uncovering various processes such as genetic recombination, transposition, and gene regulation.

 

dorothy_hodgkin_nobelDorothy Hodgkin – An American biochemist, she developed the technique of protein crystallography, and was awarded the Nobel Prize for Chemistry, being only the third woman in history to have received this (the previous two being Marie Curie, and her daughter Irène).

 

mary_anning_paintingMary Anning – An English fossil collector; despite having no formal education in science, she discovered a huge variety of Jurassic fossils along the coast of Lyme Regis, including never-before-identified species such as ichthyosaurs and plesiosaurs, and became one of the foremost figures in palaeontology at the time.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tuesday Feature episode 33: Thomas Nuhse

This week we speak to Lecturer Thomas Nuhse about his unique role here in the Faculty of Life Sciences.


 

Please explain your role here in the Faculty.     

I’m just a regular lecturer at the Faculty of Life Sciences and about two years ago I moved to something called a teaching and scholarship contract. My main role is to teach and the scholarship means that I’m expected to stay on top of new ideas around teaching and learning. I have to stay on top of the current understanding of how people learn, and how our teaching can support that learning in the best way possible. The expectation is that I do professional development, to learn about the best ways to teach and to share these practices with colleagues.

What type of teaching do you focus on?

I’m teaching across a whole wide range of units and types of teaching. These include things like lectures: I do first year biochemistry, second year plant physiology and third year biotic interactions. I also teach in a range of practicals and I will soon be teaching medical groups.

Why is your role and scholarship an important part of the Faculty?

This type of contract is a relatively new idea and I think there have been a number of different drivers that got the Faculty to support the post. Traditionally, academics would all have a joint research and teaching position but this role is a bit of a specialisation. It has been recognised that even though universities have historically been built on the unity of research and teaching, there is now merit in more specialised jobs. People like me, who learn how learning and teaching works, are able to support their colleagues who are more research heavy. We can take on a slightly heavier load of teaching to allow other colleagues to focus on research.

We can also drive the quality of teaching forward. We have a little bit more time to really try out innovative ways of teaching. In a way, this should benefit the students because we can try new things, we can invest time in building new types of courses and in new ways of teaching. In the end, everyone wins.

Why did you first decide to specialise?

It’s a bit of a personal story because I started at the University of Manchester as a research fellow. I started here in 2007 with a fellowship. My first two years, I spent almost all of my time doing research. The project that I was on was a fairly ambitious and risky project and I found that after a couple of years that things hadn’t worked out as well as I would have liked.  This was partly through bad luck and partly because I didn’t make the right strategic decisions. At the same time, I found that the teaching part of my job was something that I enjoyed much more and where I felt I was being much more productive.

When the opportunity opened up and this type of contract was introduced, I felt I could make a better contribution to the Faculty. I applied to switch contracts and two years  ago I was awarded with this new type of contract.

Did you have any science heroes growing up? Who inspired you?

When I was younger, I was much more into chemistry and so Marie Curie was a hero of mine. Through incredible hard work and determination, she was able to achieve a lot of great things.

 How has working in Manchester helped you?

I think what I’ve really enjoyed is that this is a large Faculty that has a very broad range of research interests. It’s quite exciting to be exposed to top quality research from so many different areas. It allows me to be interested in and learn more about areas that I never really thought about: whether that’s neuroscience, ecology or anything else!

Of course we have great students! We attract some of the brightest students in the country. It is really enjoyable to work with them because they have good ideas and make me think about things I had never thought about. Working with students is something that I enjoy much more than I expected to. Before I arrived here, I worked for ten years in pure research institutes which didn’t have any exposure to undergraduates and it was a bit of a surprise just how much fun it can be to teach students.

What do you outside of work?

When I have the time and it’s not raining, I like to go for walks in the peak district and I like to cycle. Once a week during the semester, I also sing with the University chorus.


 

 

 

Manchester Science Festival Opening Night

Yesterday was the launch night of the Manchester Science Festival – an annual event that showcases the extraordinary science of the city. MSc Science Communication student, Emily Lambert was invited to the event and has written up what happened and what is going to happen in the coming week.


Manchester’s annual Science Festival opened on Thursday, with a diverse programme of events for all ages happening across the city.

81,000 white balls make up ‘Jump In!’, Manchester’s first ever adults-only ball pool at the Museum of Science and Industry. ‘Part lab, part playground’, the ball pool is strictly for ages 18+ and is designed to promote stress relief and creative thinking through play. Jump In! can be used as a workspace that is a bit different from the average desk and businesses can book the area for meetings. It is open until 1 November with an entry fee of £5. MOSI is also organising some evening events in the space, with tickets still available for a Silent Disco on 24 October.

Two new exhibitions are at MOSI for the festival. ‘Evaporation’ is a striking art installation by Tania Kovats, inspired by James Lovelock’s Gaia theory of the Earth as a single interconnected living system. Kovats focuses on the connectivity of water. The exhibition features large metal bowls in the shape of the largest oceans that all contain a saline solution that is slowly evaporating, leaving salt crystal traces. There is also an impressive collection of water samples from over 200 of Earth’s seas. A campaign to find the remaining 31 samples needed to complete this ‘All the Seas’ piece will be launched after the festival.

‘Cravings: Does your food control you’ is a culmination of research from North West Scientists investigating the relationship between sensory perception and food. The exhibition is a fusion of art, science and interactive activities, including a surprising smell test. MOSI will play host to Cravings: Late on 28 October, a free event where guests will be invited to explore their own tastes with an array of talks, games and activities.

For the full programme of over 150 Manchester Science Festival Events, please visit www.manchestersciencefestival.com . Many events are free.

blog msci

Science Communication: The Manchester Science Festival Launch Night

Each year the city of Manchester turns into a hub of science, with researchers coming from all over the world to celebrate the Manchester Science Festival (MSF). This year is no different and this year some of the coverage of the event has been reported by students of the MSc Science Communication course. Below is a report done by Amy Hodgson about the start of the MSF and the launch night.


This year’s Manchester Science Festival launch had extra impact thanks to the first cohort of students on the University’s new MSc in Science Communication. The students live tweeted throughout the launch party on Thursday evening at the Museum of Science and Industry. Also promoting the European City of Science (ECOS) 2016, the party was a thoroughly entertaining and inspiring evening of demonstrations, experiments and ‘sneak peeks’ of what is to come during this exciting year of science in Manchester. The Manchester Science Festival runs from 22 October to 1 November with events across the city for all ages.

Marieke Navin, the Director of the Science Festival and Sally MacDonald, the Director of the Museum of Science and Industry introduced the launch event. Juergen Maier, from chief sponsor Siemens addressed the importance of innovation and technology in the UK. Judith Smith, from lead education sponsor the University of Salford asked whether science could have the same ‘pulling power’ as the Great British Bake Off. Danielle George, Professor Engineering at Manchester University showcased the beginnings of a new ‘robot orchestra’, using old floppy disks to play the Rocky theme tune. She asked for donations of any old technology items that can be added to the orchestra.

The headline exhibition at the festival is ‘The Cravings Experiment’ and at the launch party the award-winning chef Mary-Ellen McTague created two tasty experiments for the guests. The first involved two invented names ‘bouba’ and ‘kiki’ to investigate how we relate certain flavours to sounds. Various canapés were served and guests were asked which word best described each canapé. The second experiment aimed to find out if having food displayed in different ways changed the tasting experience.

Next on stage was ‘Gastronaut’ Stefan Gates who conducted various noisy and smelly demonstrations and experiments. These included firing marshmallows into the audience using a leaf blower, freezing cheese with a fire extinguisher and using a ‘flavour dispersal device’ to see if the audience could recognise a certain smell. There was also a taste bud experiment in which MSc student Emily Lambert’s tongue turned bright blue, revealing her to be a ‘super taster’.

The European City of Science ‘photo booth’ proved to be a popular attraction. Guests were asked to make a promise to join, create, share or tell for the year, with the pictures published on Instagram to ensure all promises are kept. The evening ended with a DJ set from Everything Everything. ECOS director Annie Keane said that the student social media team had done a ‘great job’ in helping to get the programme off to ‘such a fabulous start’ on Twitter and Instagram.

The Manchester Science Festival runs from 22 October to 1st November with events across the city for all ages. Manchester is the European City of Science 2016 and the EuroScience Open Forum runs from 23 to 27 July 2016.

     msf launch


Report by Amy Hodgson. The social media team was Amy Hodgson, Jair Sian, Emily Lambert, Bernadette Tynan, Alec Wilby and Dave Saunders.

Playing God in Manchester

Playing God postcardA unique and fascinating film series kicks off in Manchester on March 5, bringing together the diverse themes of religion and science.

The Playing God Film Series will explore the portrayal of these subjects in six classic movies. Each screening, showing at the Anthony Burgess Foundation across March, April, and May, will be introduced by an expert speaker and followed by a panel discussion.

The events have been organised by the Science and Entertainment Laboratory, based in the Faculty’s Centre for the History of Science, Technology, and Medicine. Dr David Kirby explains the thinking behind the series:

“We wanted to look at all six films in a new and different way, asking fresh questions about the content and challenging audiences to consider the nature of, and connections between, science and religion.”

The films are free to attend and booking is not required. All screenings, listed below, start at 18:30:

Bride of Frankenstein5th March: The Bride of Frankenstein

The film will be introduced by the science studies scholar Dr David Kirby.

Exorcist_19th March19th March: The Exorcist

With an introduction by film scholar Professor Mark Jancovich.

Planet of the Apes_16h April16th April: Planet of the Apes

Introduced by sci-fi expert Dr Amy Chambers.

Solaris_30th April30th April: Solaris

With an introduction by filmmaker Sean Martin.

Creation_14th May14th May: Creation

Introduced by theologian Professor Peter Scott and historian Professor Joe Cain.

altered_states_198021st May: Altered States

With an introduction by historian Dr William Macauley.

With a list of such controversial and at times genre-defining films, the discussions surrounding the Playing God Film Series promises to be fascinating. You can follow the conversations using the #PlayingGod hashtag on Twitter.