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Tales from the watercooler - March 2013

Barrie Cadshaw reveals the movers and shakers in public engagement.

Barrie Cadshaw reveals the movers and shakers in public engagement.


It was an excellent start for the British Science Association’s new CEO, Imran Khan, to be trending on Twitter with the announcement of his appointment, and a flutter of congratulatory tweets. Science blogger Ed Yong remarked on the fresh-facedness of the new appointee when he tweeted ‘Massive congrats to @imrankhan, who will be the first CEO of the @BritSciAssociat to not yet hit puberty. WELL DONE.’ I have also learned that he has a ‘mean Yorker’ – which Wiki tells me is ‘a term used in cricket that describes a ball bowled (a delivery) which hits the cricket pitch around the batsman's feet.’ I think he may be confusing his Imran Khans.


Jane McGill has taken up the role of British Science Association Regional Officer in Scotland.

Dan Richards has left the Association to take up the post of Communications Manager at NC3Rs. Claire Bithell leaves the Science Media Centre to be Head of Communications at the Institute of Cancer Research. Alice Henchley leaves The Royal Society to take up Ruth Francis’s former role as Head of Press at Nature, while Ruth becomes the new Head of Communications for BioMed Central and Springer. Dan Glaser leaves the Wellcome Trust to become the new Director of Science Engagement at King’s Cultural Institute.


On the subject of the Wellcome Trust, we hear they are about to spend £17.5 million on a refurbishment of the Wellcome Collection. It is doubtful that this huge spend will take them the same way as the poor (literally) old (also literally) Royal Institution (Ri). At the time of writing, the public engagement world has just been shaken by news in the Times that the Royal Institution has approached a property agent to market its premises at 21 Albemarle Street.

In a statement, Ri Chair Sir Richard Sykes says: ‘It is well known that the redevelopment of the [Royal Institution's] building during the last decade undermined the financial position of the charity.’ The project, which cost the Ri a massive £22m, up-dated the eighteenth-century buildings, and installed a swish restaurant and bar. It was hoped that private hire of the venue would help re-coup costs, but sadly this hasn’t happened. Sykes also said that ‘the Ri and its advisers are exploring a range of options…this is likely to involve a restructuring of the charity and, ideally, a substantial partnership.’

No dice

It wasn’t long before the Twitterati were suggesting a merger with the British Science Association. My sources tell me no such conversation has taken place. There was a suggestion in the mid-90s for the two bodies to get together to redevelop the Albemarle Street buildings as the headquarters for each. Some then wanted them to merge altogether.

Jim Al-Khalili, along with UCL science popularisers Andrea Sella and Mark Miodownik (with Brian Cox in spirit if not body), have met Ri representatives to stress to them the groundswell of passion and affection so many in the UK have for the institution The sale of the building is, says Al-Khalili, ‘utterly out of the question’.  The scientists’ meeting is not specifically linked to Harry Kroto’s campaign to save the Ri, but to help maintain the issue in the public eye.  Contributions to the Ri can be made on their website.


More sad news: the doors to science centre Science Oxford will close in August.  Although there will be no physical space, the tremendous head of steam that the outfit has built up over the years will continue to blow across the county in an outreach programme.

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Barrie Cadshaw
Barrie Cadshaw is at the British Science Association
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