First things first:
I’m not a scientist. My professional background is in law, policy
development and teaching. I’ve worked for and alongside all sorts of
organisations in the public sector and done a stint as a freelance
writer. However, I’d definitely describe myself as an interested
observer of scientific ideas and discoveries – an informed layperson.
Professionally I’ve had to grapple with the legal and ethical impact of
technological advances. On a more personal level, my interest has grown
as developments shed new light on what it means to be human.
When I first heard
about Junior Café Scientifique (JCS), I was teaching GCSE and A-level
law at a local college. Obviously, my primary role was helping students
succeed academically in externally assessed exams but I was increasingly
interested in less tangible aspects of learning - intellectual
curiosity, lateral thinking, creativity and self-expression. As a law
teacher, I was forever dreaming up new ways of encouraging students to
engage with topical issues. It can be hard within the constraints of a
classroom - and the limits of an exam syllabus - to find time for this
side of learning. JCS is an ideal opportunity to focus on what I enjoyed
most about teaching: creating space for students to encounter, consider
and discuss contemporary ideas and issues.
But why science, as
a non-scientist? Well, unlike other topics I’m interested in, science
seems to have been pushed to the margins of mainstream society. It’s not
easy to engage with new ideas and participate in debate. Part of the
genius of JCS is the way science is taken out of the classroom, “thrown
back into culture” and made available to everyone. Reading groups are
old hat and film buffs have been getting together to discuss the latest
releases for years. Why not meet working scientists and discuss
challenging scientific ideas in a similarly informal, intimate context?
For me, JCS is an
exciting approach to science, at an exciting time for scientific
developments. As Project Organiser, my main aim will be to enthuse as
many students, teachers and speakers as possible and support them to
create a strong network of cafes.
always been the kind of person who was fascinated by finding out how
things work (my Mum will testify to this by recalling the time I ripped
her jewellery box apart to find out what was making the ballerina spin
round and round). To me, this is what science is: the thing that makes
everything work, from space rockets to biros and ecosystems to slugs.
Science is simply everything!
student (reading for an honours degree in Aquatic Biosicence and then a
Masters in Ecotourism) I was lucky enough to get a job at the Glasgow
Science Centre working (if you can call anything that much fun work!) as
a science communicator. During my five years at the Science Centre I
learnt to translate complex issues into simpler forms and communicate
them to the public. This often involved blowing something up and
involved a lot of balloons. I decided I loved science (and talking) too
much to become a research scientist, so I decided to make a career out
of it (science communication, not blowing things up!). I went on to
research and develop science exhibitions at another science museum, the
Centre for Life in Newcastle. You can see two of the exhibitions I
worked on there: the Climate Change area in the Futures Zone and Wasted:
the trouble with rubbish (also in the Manchester Museum of Science and
a huge appreciation of the natural world and, being a sub-aqua diver, I
have a special place in my heart for the underwater environment. My
favourite animals are turtles; while at university, I set up a
conservation project for leatherback turtles in the West Indies. I love
going back to Tobago and seeing my friends (human and turtle) but my
climate-aware conscience does not allow this too often. A lot of my
work as a communicator has centred on environmental issues, especially
climate change; at the moment I am managing the web communities for the
British Council’s Low Carbon Futures programme.
to make other people as excited about science as I am and realise that
scientist does not have to equal “geek” . Or, that if it does, then
everything is geeky, from Formula One cars to Hollywood movies. And, of
course, jewellery boxes.
has always been a large part of my life, mostly because I never stopped
asking questions when I was a child. Some of my favourites were (and
still are); “will my eyes pop out if I keep them open when I sneeze?”,
“why does my voice sound different when I hear a recording of myself?”
and “why would anyone think Marmite tastes nice?”.
natural curiosity continued through my school days, helped in no small
part by some fantastic teachers and I eventually chose to study A levels
in Chemistry, Maths and Physics. I soon realised that chemistry was my
strongest subject, so when it came time to choose a degree course it had
to be chemistry. Making a short hop across the Pennines, I began my
Masters in Chemistry at the University of Sheffield. I enjoyed my time
as an undergraduate in Sheffield immensely and decided that I wanted to
combine my love of the city and my passion for science by continuing to
study there for a PhD (I’m writing up my thesis at the moment). My
research has concentrated on figuring out the structures that form when
certain molecules bind to DNA, which means I've had the chance to work
with some amazing chemists and biologists.
last few years, I've increasingly become involved in the promotion of
science both to school students and the general public. Having spoken to
hundreds of people, from a wide range of backgrounds, I have come to
realise that everyone has a scientist inside them. Your scientist is the
little voice you hear when you question something amazing, such as the
colour of the sky during a sunset, or when something doesn't quite go to
plan, like forgetting to put yeast in your bread dough. After all, when
you think about it, science is all about asking questions and then
finding the answers.
Project Organiser for Cafe Sci, I’m looking forward to having the chance
to bring together school students who share my love of science and the
scientists who can provide the answers to our questions.
Like a lot of people
these days, I don’t have a job so much as a portfolio. As well as
working for Café Scientifique, I’m also
Company Secretary for
Cyberlife Research Ltd and a freelance copy-editor.
But you want to know
why I’m interested in science.
Science has long been a
passion of mine. Although never a practising scientist, I've read about
it, thought about it, tried to understand it (even attempted to explain
it!) for most of my life. I took science A-levels at a time when this
was still very unusual for girls. From college, I went on to be a
biology teacher and later took an Open University degree, studying
topics from geology, to systems theory, to the politics of health care.
Although not a great success as a teacher, my passion for communicating
the excitement and exhilaration science can bring was undimmed.
Eventually, I was able to leave teaching when my ex-husband achieved
immortality as a digital god, as a result of writing the computer game,
Creatures. Go to his
website to read more about that.
This was great, because
through him, I had the privilege of meeting some of my intellectual
heroes (and some people who've become new heroes). I was able to
listen to, talk to and meet with scientists at the leading edge of their
fields. I had the chance to ask questions, to listen to the answers,
to be challenged and generally to develop my own understanding. I've
been pleasantly surprised at my heroes' willingness to explain their
ideas, answer dumb questions and take an outsider's view of their work
seriously. Doesn’t this sound exactly like what Café Scientifique is
about? That’s why I wanted to make it possible for more people to have
So, in 2003, I started the Bristol
Cafe Scientifique, a member of
Cafe Scientifique family.
Although I’ve now stepped back from organising the cafe, I’m still an
enthusiastic attender and I’m able to keep in touch with the world-wide
family because part of my role with café sci is to look after the
website for Café Scientifique. And from my interest in cafe scientifique,
I segued neatly into my role with cafe sci ...