Mary Arber

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.


Sarah-Jane Judge

I have 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!

As a 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 Industry).

I have 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.

I want 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.


Phil Waywell

Science 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?”.

My 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.

For the 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.

As 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.


Ann Grand

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 those chances.

So, in 2003, I started the Bristol Cafe Scientifique, a member of the world-wide 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 ...




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