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I’m a scientist, get me out of here!

March 24, 2013

For the last two weeks I’ve been taking part in an event called “I’m a scientist, get me out of here!“. It’s a free event where students from schools can interact with scientists online. The students get to ask questions on a discussion board style web page and also have scheduled live chats with the scientists in a chat room. The students get to vote for who they want to win as their favorite scientist and that scientist wins a 500 pound grant! Each event (they run several times a year) is made up of different zones, each with 5 scientists battling it out to be crowned the winner by the students.

During the event in the last two weeks I was one of the scientists in one of the general zones – the ‘Ruthenium Zone’. I’m really trying to up my skills as a science communicator and I thought answering questions from the students would be a great way to really learn how to simplify complex concepts quickly and accurately. The students can ask almost anything, so seeing what they thought were important questions in and around science and being a scientist was most enlightening!

All the scientists had to create a profile detailing our work, education and interests, so quite a lot of questions related to topics close to our hearts…

(All questions are as written by the students)

“How come from space water on earth looks blue when it is actually clear?”

“If water is transparent, why does the ocean look blue? But sometimes it looks other colors too like green or red, why?”

“What causes the red tide?”

“Wouldn’t s(h)allow seas, coral reef and dumping areas effect your work; those do change the colour of the ocean from space?”

“Hi Hayley…can you find old under water islands and volcanoes using a radar?”

“if yellow stone erupts (volcano) would it bring down global warming?”

“Do you think the polar ice caps melting will effect the w(h)ales migration?”

“why is sea water salty ??????????????”

…but some were right out of usual area’s of expertise!

“what is quantum physics?”

“why do men lose their hair?”

Some were about day to day life in general…

“Hayley do you have any brothers and sisters? how did you bercome a scientist? how old are you if you dont mind me asking? I voted for you to win bye your awsome xxxxxx” (<—how cute is this?! :))

"What are you having for your tea?"

"is the university you go to near any beaches or the sea and do you do any practical experiments down there?"

“you dont have to dissect little rabbits or anything do u ???????”

…and some were about how to follow in our footsteps!

“Im a year 7 student and i want to be a marine biologist when im older. do you know any facts or tips to help me out. i want to focus on sea mammals and turtles”

“i would love to become a scientist and i my level in science is 5.5 if i keep it up do you think i have a chance of becoming one? thank you”

Space was a very popular topic…

“would your head explode in space?”

“what is the coldest planet ?”

“Why is jupeter a planet when it is nothing but gass?”

“I’ve heard the universe is getting bigger,but how can you tell? And can it ever get too big?”

“Do planets ever get smaller?”

“Can a human being go to Jupiter ??”

“when we go further up to the universe why does it get colder?”

“Can you crack your knuckles in Space?”

“How does space smell like?”

“How long will it take for a person to die without oxygen or a space suit in space?”

“In space why is the universe black when there are millions of stars (including the sun) that lights up everywhere?”

“why is the sun so hot (warm)?”

…as was health…

“Is there any way a person can come back to life after die?”

“What is the most un-healthy food in the world?”

“my little brother had a stroke (at the age of 2) 😦 . my question is why do kids get stroke at a young age, without any reasons how they got it?”

“Can cancer be genetic?”

…and the world ending/the apocalypse!

“will a meteor destroy us?”

“Will there ever be a zombie apocalyspe?”

“…my question is could we ever live on another plant if the world ends?”

Some questions really made us think…

“what was the first country?”

“why are some people left handed and some people right handed? and what does it depend on? also why is most of the world right handed?”

“why does your hair look like its dry under water??”

“if you travelled 60 kmph how long would it take you to travel a light year?”

and others were very philosophical!

“Is it possible to stop time? If so what would you do?”

“Why are people busy studying space and dark matter and fighting in wars and stuff when illness’s and Cancer tumers are harming so many people?”

“is it right to eat animals?”

“Can you ever prove/disprove that ghosts are real?”

“Is an ant more free than a school child?”

“how will people help the enviroment ?? because people say they willl and they dont!”

“why is there suffering and death?”

There was the hilarious…

“Who’d win in fight Isaac Newton or Charles Darwin?”

“why is number pie called pie like the food?”

and the ridiculously profound.

Why is Science split into 3 parts (physics, chemistry and biology) when we all of them already, in normal day life, in science? Why choose 1 when you can do it all ?

“Are you ever worried that your work isn’t effective because people don’t listen?”

“Is it more important for a scientist to ask the right questions than to have the right answers?” (my favourite :))

It was a great two weeks. Although in research you’re often over-subscribed and can find it difficult to make time for outreach and communication, the online format of this event made it really easy for me to take part (even from overseas!). There are relatively few chats (maximum one per class) so it’s not too hard to find time for those, although I did find myself wanting to do more and more as the evictions happened.

I think the format probably gives the students more confidence to ask the questions they’d really like to ask. The partial anonymity of the online format possibly makes things a lot less scary/intimidating and something I think that might work quite well in South Africa, where students often seem reluctant to ask questions. At the moment the event is UK based, but I’m hoping to talk to some people about getting a Cape Town class to potentially participate in a future event and I think it would be wonderful if the funding and drive for a similar event could be found in South Africa. The lack of internet would be an issue for reaching a lot of schools, however I think lessons from this project could be applied in a low bandwidth/low technology environment with a little creativity.

Anyway…after answering lots of questions, frantic live chat and 3 rounds of evictions, I was declared the winner of my zone! (Cue much bouncing around my living room and squealing). So I now have a 500 pound grant to use for science communication! I’m thinking of running an ocean-themed day for some bright kids from a local school, or perhaps using the prize to help get them involved in the next “I’m a scientist” event – but I’m open to ideas and volunteers to help would be massively appreciated. More than the prize, being voted for by the students feels like the best validation of my science communication skills yet.

Screen Shot 2013-03-22 at 5.20.21 PM

I’d like to thank the event organisers for a fantastically run event, the scientists in my zone for being great competition and mostly the students, for voting for me and making me work hard for it! Whether you are a teacher, a scientist or even a school student, I thoroughly recommend checking out the I’m a scientist website for more information.

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