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July 2013

Welcome to the blog, you can read all about the latest news for the sections and take a look in our archive. Scroll through the latest posts below, or select a section from the dropdown.

Ollie ChristophersOllie Christophers has worked in science communications since graduating from the Cardiff University School of Journalism and Business School. He has since worked for organisations such as the Met Office, Department of Health and British Science Association and these are his views about the impact of the Public Attitudes to Science Survey.

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Hold the front page! One of the top findings of the 2011 Public Attitudes to Science survey was that over 80% of the UK public think they should take an interest in science! With £4.6bn of taxpayer’s money being ploughed into it each year, not to mention the capital expenditure on top, you’d hope 80% would take at least an interest. Now in 2013, we’re about to have another round of questioning on public attitudes to science, but with bigger and deeper cuts to public expenditure looming, the PAS survey needs to provide more valuable insights than ‘the public are interested in science and half want to hear more’.

By Toby Shannon, Science in Society Officer at the British Science Association.

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This May on the Brighton seafront a sight more commonly seen in areas such as Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan joined visitors to England’s South coast, braving the unseasonably dreadful weather. Passers-by saw the life-size silhouette of a Reaper unmanned aerial vehicle (these are also known as “drones”) – a stubby fuselage and two wide wings sprawling across the promenade, just down the road from Brighton’s iconic pier. However, unlike similar sights in war-torn parts of the world, this wasn’t the shadow cast by a hovering drone nearby but an art installation as part of the 2013 Brighton Festival. Under the Shadow of the Drone by James Bridle makes what can be a distant and unfamiliar technology to many, a visible presence in a public space.

by Alice Taylor-Gee, Science in Society Manager at the British Science Association

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As the new Public Attitudes to Science survey is underway, I was interested to find out exactly how, or if, science communicators use the data from the previous PAS studies in their work, whether it impacts on the projects they run or helps them target certain audiences. I posted this question to the 2,500 or so science communicators who subscribe to the psci-com discussion list and was really interested to read how varied the uses of the data are.

by Katherine Mathieson, Director of Education at the British Science Association.

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Citizen Science projects, where members of the public play an active role in collecting or analysing scientific data, are on the rise at the moment. Many of the researchers involved would love more schools to get involved. But schools are busy places – are Citizen Science projects really giving teachers what they need?

Amy Jackson is a Chemistry teacher at Bury Church High School in Manchester. She has been teaching for three years and likes to encourage students of all abilities to engage with her subject.

This year she decided to start CREST Awards in school, adding recognition to the work her science club do after school and learning to work with other teachers across the school’s STEM departments.

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Some of the Bury Church High School students showcasing their work at a Big Bang Near Me FairLast year I was trawling the web for ideas for our science after school club when I stumbled across the CREST website. As a recently qualified teacher I wasn’t very familiar with all the schemes and options available for extra-curricular science. It struck me as a great way to recognise the achievements of pupils who engage in science enrichment activities. Our Head is keen to introduce and support extra-curricular activities and I wanted it to be a voluntary activity where pupils can investigate an area that interests them personally.

By Fred Turner, the UK Young Engineer of the Year 2013. Fred won the senior engineering and technology category of the National Science + Engineering Competition earlier this year, and has recently finished his A levels. He’ll be starting his degree in biochemistry at the University of Oxford in the autumn.

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I’ve always been interested in genetics and have always wanted to read my own genetic code, so about a year ago I decided to try, but soon realised the equipment required is far too expensive for an A level student to afford! After doing some research I decided to try and build the equipment instead. The one thing that I really needed was a PCR machine, which I built for about £250 – much less than the cost of a commercial machine which can cost thousands of pounds.  The best way to describe a PCR machine is a DNA photocopier, it takes a small amount of DNA and makes many copies of a specific region, which is very useful for carrying out a variety of genetic tests.

Aysha Fasal, a Year 13 student at Seven Kings High School was part of the Social Mobility Foundation’s (SMF) Aspiring Professionals Programme in 2012. The programme is designed to support high-achieving students from low-income backgrounds by providing a tailored package of support including mentoring and university visits, and often crucially for the students, work experience placements.

By Monica Lobo, Science in Society Manager at the British Science Association.

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It is stronger than steel, light and thin, transparent and elastic, and can even conduct electricity. These are just some of the amazing properties of graphene, the new wonder material.

Graphene’s future applications are almost endless: unbreakable and paper-thin touchscreens that could make mobile phones flexible enough to be worn as a bracelet, a better desalinisation process for getting fresh water, faster computers and broadband, solar panels or circuits which you can paint or spray on to virtually any surface, and much more. And there are already those who are trying to find the best way to use graphene in 3D printers.

Graphene could potentially revolutionise the telecommunications, electronics, energy and the automotive and aerospace sectors.

Doug WarrenFollowing our blog last week about public perception of the information around GM, Doug Warren explains what the recent Wellcome Trust Monitor can tell us about the way people get information about science and medical research. Doug is a Research Manager at Ipsos MORI.

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Almost nine out of ten of us look for information about medical research online - in the Wellcome Trust Monitor eighty-seven per cent of adults and eighty-six per cent of young people who looked for information about medical research said they looked online - and we turn to the internet when we feel ill. When looking for advice about medical conditions, it is very important that the information people access is reliable. While the internet has brought almost limitless information to people’s fingertips, it doesn’t provide any guarantee of quality. Googling the term ‘vaccination’, for example, returns over 35 million results; a huge number, considering that this is an area where people’s opinions have historically been influenced by media stories, which has had a lingering impact on public health.  Which of those 35 million results led people to informative sources?