Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Using science to sell

I came across this great video when it was advertised on - it's a very engaging piece on DNA related research initiatives that IBM are using to market themselves.

Its high production values and fascinating story really do help you think about IBM as a very different company to what you might have first thought...

Friday, November 09, 2007

Facing your fears... rationally

The remarkable Dana Centre in London is hosting an interesting event looking at whether people's fears are rational or not:
Be Afraid. Be Very Afraid!
29th November. Dana Centre, London

Who's afraid of the big bad wolf? Or spiders, or heights? Why? Do your fears and anxieties hold you back? Are they even rational? Does fear serve any useful purpose? Join our panel of experts to explore and challenge your fears.
(via the November 2007 BA-Lert)

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Science Week preparations in full swing

With only a month to go before Science Week Ireland 2007 kicks off on 11 November, science communicators around Ireland are working hard organising a huge variety of events.

Full details are on the Science Week website.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Leonardo's machines

If you're in the Loire Valley in France you might find a visit to the house where Leonardo da Vinci spent the last three years of his life worthwhile.

The gardens around it are home to lots of large models of his machines that are a lot of fun to play with - the house is called Clos Lucé and its official website is at:

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Apple pushes science marketing

I think it's really interesting that Apple's revamped website includes a big marketing push aimed at scientists.

One particularly eyecatching strand of their science content showcases scientific imagery. Called Inside the Image - How scientists see the world its authors say it is:

"[a] column devoted to the exciting and fascinating world of scientific discovery and how images made in laboratories and publications in science advance our understanding of the world around us."

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Leonardo da Vinci manuscript in Dublin

This weekend I finally made it along to see Leonardo da Vinci's "Codex Leicester" manuscript in Dublin's Chester Beatty Library.

Subtitled "Reflections on Water and the Moon", it was great to see some of his intricate scientific drawings first hand.

And I was a pleasantly surprised at how many people were there - it's not often that an exhibition of a scientific manuscript would attract so many curious visitors.

The exhibition runs until 12 August 2007 and tickets can be pre-booked online.

Friday, June 15, 2007

BBC documentary on Northern Irish astrophysicist

I really enjoyed the recent BBC One Northern Ireland documentary "Northern Star" about the remarkable life of pioneering astrophysicist Jocelyn Bell Burnell - unsurprisingly perhaps as I suggested the idea for the programme!

Broadcast on June 13, 2007 it tells the fascinating story of how the Nobel prize for discovering pulsars was not shared with her - despite all her hard work on it. It also gives an insight into how scientists feel about their work - and makes the hard science accessible by presenting it in the context of a very personal story. For a behind the scenes account of the making of the documentary visit the Belfast Telegraph site, and Wikipedia has a detailed biographical account of her life.

Interior design for space craft

As astronauts on board the International Space Station struggle to fix the shuttle and their computers, design aesthetics are probably the last thing on their mind.

The interior design bar has been raised with this new sleek design aimed at the space tourism market - but is it perhaps a bit too minimalistic? Although it does beat the clutter most space craft succumb to! (story via

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Beautiful science photos

I really like the photos in the Photographing Science on-line audio slide show just published by The New York Times (which I first read about on the site).

Says the story's narrator (and research fellow) Felice Frankel:
"I have the wonderful joy of helping researchers visualise there work"
And she touches on the sometimes controversial issue of:
"How much can we manipulate an image in science?"

Monday, June 04, 2007

Tips on filming science demos for the web

There's great scope for filming science demos for use in the classroom using relatively cheap and easy to use video cameras. But telling good stories that work on tv isn't always easy and takes a little bit of getting used to.

The SciCast Video Skills workshop to be held on 23 June 2007 in Manchester aims to give teacher's a crash course in making good videos (and "mini movies" as they call them):

"A one-day video-skills workshop, organised by the British Interactive Group, based on teachers' workshops run as part of the NESTA/ ETB/IOP SciCast project. Facilitated by science TV professional Jonathan Sanderson, participants will work in small groups to film and edit a short demo-based movie, learning about working in video, from script to performance, and exploring what makes a compelling web video."
This is a really interesting project and their well designed and written website has some great tips on visual story telling as well as some videos showcasing best practice - including a silent movie by the staff of the Glasgow Science Centre.

(This story is also from the Institute of Physics e-bulletion for the North West region of the UK - see below for another interesting story they mention.)

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Short film helps get science funding

A major new science initiative called 4th Generation Light Source (4GLS) is being pursued at the Daresbury Laboratory in the UK - and they're using a well made short film to explain why the research is important and worth funding.

You can watch the film online and I really like the smooth moving equipment shots and graphic transitions and overlays they're using in it.

I also like the emphasis on the real world practical applications (and I'll look up the hard science later, honest). It's particularly interesting that they say that the science will be helpful in the world of "security" - i.e. combatting terrorism and drugs by helping detect chemical traces. I remember when it was enough to claim that the research would help make faster computers to secure funding!

And if you're wondering what the facility actually does, well according to their website:

"4GLS will be a world-leading photon facility to enable internationally outstanding science in the UK. The 4GLS facility will combine energy recovery linac (ERL) and free electron laser (FEL) technologies to deliver a suite of naturally synchronised state-of-the-art sources of synchrotron radiation and FEL radiation covering the terahertz (THz) to soft X-ray regimes."
So there you have it. The video glosses over that bit!

(This facility was mentioned in the recent Institute of Physics e-bulletin for the North West region in the UK - compiled by Louise Butcher and distributed to IoP members via e-mail.)

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

When science communication backfires

A top chemistry research group has dramatically left the UK's Royal Institution - and I read in a recent Education Guardian article that one of the reasons could be all the science outreach activities that are going on there.

This story emphasises how outreach activities need to be carefully managed to ensure that as many people as possible on the science side have "bought in" to the communications strategy and that they don't feel their research has been sidelined. This is true even for the Royal Institution whose outreach activities have been going on for centuries in the guise of its Christmas Lectures.

According to the article:
"...members of the RI have told Education Guardian there is concern within the organisation that research is playing second fiddle to "public outreach", meaning the communication of scientific issues to the public. The RI is seen as a model of excellence in this respect, opening its doors to more than 30,000 children each year. Its Christmas lectures, held annually since 1825, have introduced world-famous scientists - such as the father of electricity and magnetism, Michael Faraday, and Sir David Attenborough - to young audiences.

One member of the institution says: 'The direction in which the RI is heading is deeply troubling. It is playing down research...' "

Friday, April 27, 2007

Science on stage... and on the streets!

This year's international celebration of science that is "Science on Stage" was as good as ever by all accounts - more details and photos are on the ESA site.

And shoppers on Dublin's Grafton Street might get a bit of a surprise on Saturday, 26 May 2007 when live "physics busking" will be performed by some familiar faces from the Irish delegation to Science on Stage!

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Irish science communication competition

An article in today's Irish Times (12 April 2007) highlights an event that sees the seven Irish universities in the Republic go head to head next month in a competition designed to find the ultimate postgraduate science communicator:

The annual Science Speak competition takes place on Thursday May 3rd, in the Royal Dublin Society Concert Hall at 7pm. A panel of judges will hear seven competitors, one from each of the universities who must explain their scientific research in ordinary language and without recourse to technological jargon.


Science Speak is a joint initiative organised by the RDS and The Irish Times in association with Irish Universities Promoting Science. It is sponsored by the Discover Science Engineering programme and by Wyeth Biotech at Grange Castle, Dublin.

Admission to Science Speak is free of charge but places are limited, so it is advisable to book a seat. book online at or by telephone on (01) 240-7217.

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Promoting science in Second Life's on-line world

The on-line simulation of the world that is Second Life was home to some a dramatic science demonstration recently as sections of it were "flooded" (virtually) as part of a campaign to raise awareness climate change.

Like it or not, climate change is the big science story of the moment, and although this stunt (in the positive sense of the word!) was pioneered by an environmentalist it shows the impact that science-based content from scientists could have. Rumour has it at least one Irish science outreach programme is planning to setup shop on Second Life too.

National Geographic News has more information on the virtual flood:

Tokyo, Amsterdam, and the entire Mediterranean island of Ibiza were inundated with floodwaters today due to rising sea levels brought on by global warming.

Or at least, that would have been the headline if events in the virtual world Second Life mirrored reality.

A rolling flood temporarily swamped several areas of the online world as part of a campaign to illustrate the potential environmental and financial impacts of climate change.

"Our message was, You may have a second life, but [you still need to] offset your second life in real life," said David de Rothschild, a London-based environmentalist and adventurer whose nonprofit Adventure Ecology helped stage today's flood.

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Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Upcoming Science Communication Conference

From the BA Website in the UK comes news of their 2007 Science Communication Conference...

The conference seeks to address the key issues facing science communicators in the UK.

In 2007, it will take place over 2 days with the second day focusing on climate change and the first on more generic and varied aspects of public engagement. Each day the conference will run sessions in three strands - engaging to inspire & educate, engaging to involve and engaging through the media & PR.

Date: 14 & 15 May 2007

Venue: The Institution of Engineering & Technology, Savoy Place, London

Specifically, the conference aims to

  • demonstrate and discuss the contribution science communication activities are making to the various broadly-shared strategic aims for public engagement
  • raise awareness of new developments
  • promote greater understanding and cohesion amongst those working in science, technology and engineering communications
  • provide opportunities to network, share ideas and good practice

The conference is aimed at key people engaged in science communication, including policy makers, professionals and academics, in government, research institutions, universities, industry and business, the media, PR, science centres and museums, science education, funding organisations, learned institutions, NGOs and research charities.

The conference is jointly organised by the BA and the Royal Society.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Bernard Schiele makes some interesting comments in the December 2006 issue of RTD info magazine (which for some bizarre reason only arrived in my letterbox today late in February 2007!).

This RTD info "magazine of European Research" from the European Commission often has interesting articles, and the interview with Bernard Schiele gives an insight into some of the challenges faced by the media when covering science. He's a member of the PCST (Public Communication of Science and Technology) scientific committee and a Professor in the Communications Faculty of the University of Quebec at Montreal (UQAM), and he points out that:
the media are often in a difficult position [...] They often bemoan the researcher's lack of talent in the art of communication, but at the same time that justifies their own role. Nevertheless, whenever they find a scientist who seems to be at ease and has a certain 'aura', the media are quick enough to call on that person for every topic [...]
He also discusses briefly the changing role of museums / science centres and he has this to say on the topic:
Museums’ treatment of science is undergoing a “cultural revolution”. The new centres are placing an emphasis on the relationship with communication, producing interactive exhibits that are both educational and playful in order to capture the attention of visitors and concentrate on the technical and industrial realisation of the research, but that did not count on the questions of a public that does not necessarily want all the answers, but does want to be able to contemplate.

Museum directors are, therefore, torn between a new relationship between science and society, which suggests to them that science should be depicted just as it is, a more critical general public, and pressure from the cultural sector towards consumption. Fortunately, they also know that while they can never compete with Disneyland, they will never return to a rose-tinted view of progress. It is maybe this frame of mind that tells us that making an effort in scientific communication can bear fruit…
This analysis is of particular relevance to Ireland now that the exciting plans for the Exploration Station science centre to be based in Dublin have recently been launched...

Science needs to get better at marketing

I first heard about Google cofounder Larry Page's comments on how scientists should be communicating on the really useful blog. CNN has a Reuters story with more details including the following amusing quote:
"There are lots of people who specialize in marketing, but as far as I can tell, none of them work for you," Page told researchers at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science late on Friday.
He has a point - a lot of science communication is really about finding innovative ways of marketing science to various target audiences - be it school children or funding agencies. And that's ok.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

New "Nature Education" publication aims to create leading edge, digitally-based science learning solutions

One of the perks of being involved with science and the media is that I get preview access to some of the stories from the Nature journal... Usually these stories are locked away under strict passwords and embargoes but here's one they want everyone to know about now...

(see Nature Publishing Group announces the launch of Nature Education [PDF Document, 22.72 KB] for the full press release)

Nature Publishing Group (NPG), publisher of the world's most influential science journals, today announced the launch of Nature Education, a new venture to develop innovative educational resources and tools for science students and their professors. Building upon NPG's strong reputation with educators and their students as a source of timely, relevant and high quality information - some of which is already used to supplement traditional teaching resources - Nature Education will take a non-traditional approach to the rapidly-evolving college education market, focusing primarily on creating leading edge, digitally-based, learning solutions in biology, chemistry and physics.


“Now is the right time to redefine undergraduate classroom education worldwide,” said Vikram Savkar [Publishing Director]. “Instructors and students are thirsty for learning environments that move beyond traditional textbooks and even course management systems to provide a highly interactive and personalized experience that simultaneously builds understanding, inspires career and research aspirations, and connects the student to a worldwide community of likeminded thinkers. With its excellent content, brand, global reach, and community of practicing scientists, NPG and Macmillan are superbly positioned to catalyze and capitalize on a radical shift in education.”

Monday, January 15, 2007

Eye-catching New Science Centre

I find that the website is a wonderful place to explore some of the most creative new design concepts around - it often has stories that give fresh insight into the broad themes of the art-science-technology-human interface...

I came across a description just recently on that site of the new Science Centre in Hamburg which is architecturally very impressive (as pictured above). For more photos and details have a look at: Eikongraphia » Blog Archive » Amethyst, by OMA which says:
The new Science Center in Hamburg designed by Rem Koolhaas/OMA looks just like an amethyst. [...]

The Science Center measures 14.000 square meters and features an aquarium, an academic theater, and probably also a planetarium.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Talking physics in the social Web

I think Physics World magazine has got to be one of the best science publications out there - even if it is limited to members of the Institute of Physics who (luckily for them) get a copy in the post every month. Non-members are teased by the extracts that appear on physicsweb...

The January 2007 edition has a great selection of articles looking at modern science communication including some insightful analysis on how the so-called Web 2.0 is shaking things up. Blogs feature prominently with an article by Sean Carroll, co-contributor to reputedly the world's most popular physics blog, as well as an indepth analysis by Martin Griffiths called "Talking physics in the social Web" which makes the following points which I found very interesting:
While some may see them as vanity projects, physics blogs are starting to have a real impact on the way researchers communicate. For instance, several papers have already been published on that cite blog entries, demonstrating that blogs are becoming a bona fide channel for scientific communication.

Meanwhile, a debate about string theory that began in the blogosphere has recently been thrust into the spotlight, being widely reported in science magazines and picked up by national newspapers. The most outspoken critic of string theory, Columbia University mathematician Peter Woit, has used his blog Not Even Wrong to point out that string theory does not make predictions that can be tested by experiment, and that the status granted to the theory as the most promising approach to reconciling quantum physics with gravity diverts resources away from other alternatives.

His blog has sparked a fierce, and sometimes unexpectedly personal, debate, both in the comments posted on Not Even Wrong and on string theorists' blogs such as Luboš Motl's Reference Frame and Clifford Johnson's Asymptotia. Such slanging matches may not be typical of the level of discussion in physics departments, and cause one to wonder how much of the debate depends on the easy anonymity that such online forums offer. But, for better or worse, blogs have opened up a new form of discourse in physics that can – as it is carried out in such a public fashion – be propelled into a broader context in a way that a discussion at a conference, say, would not have been.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

What Europeans really think (and know) about science and technology

The latest edition of Science in School magazine has recently been published (story via It includes a number of interesting articles on science education in (and outside) the classroom and also a report on a recent Eurobarometer survey in an article about "What Europeans really think (and know) about science and technology" which includes the surprising revelation that "On the whole, there is a noticeable drop in the number of people who claimed to be “very interested” in scientific themes between 1992 and

Science press releases with attitude

Few science press releases can beat NASA's good writing and their latest news feature on moon dust is no exception:

NASA - True Fakes: Scientists make simulated lunar soil
  • "Life is tough for a humble grain of dirt on the surface of the Moon. It's peppered with cosmic rays, exposed to solar flares, and battered by micrometeorites--shattered, vaporized and re-condensed countless times over the billions of years. Adding insult to injury, Earthlings want to strip it down to oxygen and other elements for "in situ resource utilization," or ISRU, the process of living off the land when NASA returns to the Moon in the not-so-distant future."