Glasgow Science Festival: The Wonders of Perception

After successful events in 2015 and 2016, philosophers from the University of Glasgow are set to bring more thought-provoking activities and illusions to Glasgow Science Festival this year. We chatted to Dr Jennifer Corns about what’s in store.

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1. Who are you and what do you do?

My name is Dr Jennifer Corns and I am a philosopher at the University of Glasgow.

2. What brings you to Glasgow Science Festival this year?

I am part of a team from the Centre for the Study of Perceptual Experience who will be hosting an interactive station on the Wonders of Perception.

3. Why should we come to your event?

Perception is amazing! At our interactive event, you can undergo hallucinations and illusions to learn more about the wonders of the mind and the way that you perceive the world around you. Experts on the nature of perceptual experience will be on hand to chat with you and answers questions about the mysteries of your mind.

4. This year’s festival theme is ‘Glasgow Explores’. Where would you like to explore?

I love to travel and am most keen to explore more of Asia.

5. What’s the best thing about being a philosopher?

As a philosopher, I get to interact with science, engineering, and other areas to ask deep questions about what they do, why they’re valuable, and how they are useful. The best thing about being a philosopher is asking questions!

Join Jennifer for the Wonders of Perception at Science Sunday on Sunday 18 June at the University of Glasgow. The event is free and drop-in. Full details on the website.

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Glasgow Science Festival: Bee the Change

Glasgow Science Festival creates a space where the public can learn about current issues in science and society, from health and well-being to the environment. We spoke to three PhD students who are shedding a light on the growing threats to our bee populations.

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1. Who are you and what do you do?

Kirstin – I’m Kirstin, a first-year PhD student in public health. I’ll be using big data to explore patient adherence to cardiovascular medications, or more simply, looking to see if people are picking up their drugs to keep their heart healthy. It’s an important area of research because unfortunately, we have a lot of heart disease in the West of Scotland!

Fernanda – I am an animal and plant lover that used to grow tadpoles in my fancy Barbie’s whirlpool and pool. My interest for living beings and their development inspired me to pursue a career on biological sciences. Later, I felt a lot of curiosity for those microscopic beings we cannot see but can exterminate the whole of humanity. For this reason, I specialised in cellular and molecular parasitology, which is the study of parasites that cause diseases. Currently, I am finishing my PhD thesis which was focused on reassessing the ability of a parasite, called Toxoplasma gondii, to move and invade human cells. Since then, I have converted in a micro-photographer and micro-movie maker. I have spent plenty of hours on different microscopes studying the way parasites move and penetrate human cells in the absence of very important components of the parasite “micro engine” .

Lynne – I work in Public Health Medicine and am in my second year of a PhD.  I’m interested in how public health threats are reported in the media and how this impacts on public perceptions of risks to their own health.  I’m particularly interested in what the public thinks about the health risks associated with antibiotic resistance.

2. Have you done public engagement before? What made you want to get involved?

Kirstin – I wanted to get involved because public engagement is so important to big data research. People find it a scary concept and I know in my career going forward I need to help people understand why I do what I do and how we keep patient data safe, otherwise they might not trust the research we are doing. Although our activity isn’t informing people about big data, I thought Glasgow Science Festival would be a fun way to get involved with public engagement and build my confidence for future outreach projects.

Fernanda – I’m lucky to have been involved in several ‘Crafty Critters’ events. This project, developed by  students at the University of Glasgow,  aims to teach the general public what different parasites look like and how they function. I had the opportunity to interact with lots of people of different ages. Their comments and questions made me realise the importance of communicating relevant/accurate information to others in a friendly and informal manner. For this reason, I thought that the Glasgow Science Festival was not only an opportunity to project my own ideas, but also to interact with other fellow students similarly interested in passing the voice of science to the general public.

Lynne – I’ve had plenty of experience with working with the public as a doctor but not of sharing scientific research.  That’s a whole different ball game!  To generate interest, an activity has to be fun but also to be relevant to the audience, and hopefully show them how they can make a difference.  Antibiotic resistance is such an important issue and I think we can communicate it more effectively – I hope I will be able to use some of the skills I learn by being involved in the Glasgow Science Festival to develop some public engagement activities around my own research area. Plus, you get to wear a bee costume!

3. Describe your activity to us. Why should we come along?

The importance of hives and individual bees has been remarkably understated over the years. These insects are gardeners, farmers, landscapers, and honey chefs of nature, but sadly their populations are rapidly declining and dangerously disappearing. Our activity  is focused in three different points: 1. Why bees are important 2. Why they are disappearing and 3. How we can help.

Our activity allows you to ‘Bee the Change’. Here, kids (or adults!) get to dress up as queen bees, and carry a hive while tackling our obstacle course. The aim is to rescue as many bees from your colony as possible before time runs out. At the end of the trail, you get a small bee-friendly gift for helping bees, taking the message home and spreading the information as much as possible.

4. This year’s festival theme is ‘Glasgow Explores’. Where would you like to explore?

Kirstin – I think it would be amazing to go to Iceland. I loved geography at school and it would be really cool to see a real glacier, climb a volcano, and see the Northern Lights. I’m also a big food fan so I’d love to travel to the Far East and explore some authentic cuisines!

Fernanda  If I had the chance I would love to explore the deepest and darkest environments of the sea even if my mom won’t let me go. What’s most interesting to me is the capacity of all beings in there to adapt to such a habitat. The anatomy of these organisms is extremely specialised for high pressure, darkness, and cold temperatures. Interestingly, these important environmental characteristics drove them to develop senses and biological features opposite to all the other living beings that inhabit the surface. Go team abyss!

Lynne – I have always wanted to explore the breath-taking scenery of the Rocky Mountains in Canada.  I’m more interested in photography than climbing so I would probably prefer to do this by train! There are also lots of beautiful parts of the Scottish highlands and islands that I have yet to explore.

 5. What’s the best thing about being a scientist or engineer?

Kirstin – I love being part of the scientific community. Now that I’m in public health I don’t get to spend time in the lab anymore, but I still get to do research that could genuinely benefit people and I find that really exciting. I was at a health informatics conference recently and it was fascinating to see what you can explore with big data; it’s a great time to be working in such a dynamic field.

Fernanda – The best bit about being a scientist is keeping alive the girl that grew tadpoles in a toy pool; I know that conditions have changed a lot, but the principle is the same. We do things for passion, vocation, knowledge and somehow, improve the living  quality of others. We all have projects directed to think outside the box and progress by updating information. Interestingly, this is the way to march forward as humanity and as professionals. In the same sense, in the same way.

Lynne – I am increasingly interested in behavioural science.  In order to improve health, we need to know the science behind disease and prevention, but we also need to understand what it is that determines whether people are able to make necessary changes to the way they live.  To make a difference to people’s lives we need all branches of science working together.

Join Kirstin, Fernanda and Lynne for ‘Bee the Change’ at Science Sunday on Sunday 18 June. Free, drop-in. Full details on the website.

Glasgow Science Festival: Wizard Science

At this year’s Glasgow Science Festival, the ‘Harry Potter and the Garden of Secrets‘ will invite the public to engage with science in a truly unique way. Supported by RCUK, the event will give muggles the chance to explore chemistry, genetics and other science subjects through wizard experiments in The Concrete Garden, Possilpark. We chatted to three University of Glasgow PhD students about what they have in store…

hagrids1. Who are you and what do you do?

Sarah – I worked as a vet for ten years before coming to Glasgow Veterinary School to do a PhD. I am researching the causes of a type of skin cancer (sarcoids) in donkeys. I am also trying to find a way of telling the difference between tumours that will respond well or badly to treatment.

Amelia – I am in the third year of my PhD in Biochemistry at the University of Glasgow where I research how our cells’ powerhouses, mitochondria, respond to stress. I have an undergraduate MSci in Genetics also from the University of Glasgow and in my spare time I like to compete in triathlons around Scotland.

Tolu – After a first and second degree in my country Nigeria, I started my PhD in Human Molecular Genetics here at the University of Glasgow and I am now in my final year of study. My research focuses on developing new methods for screening human populations for rare genetic (heritable) diseases that affect the nervous system.

2. Have you done public engagement before? What made you want to get involved?

Sarah – Whilst working as a vet I dealt with the public daily; I enjoyed thinking of ways to explain complicated diseases and treatments. We also ran client evenings at the practice to give people the latest information on managing their animals. Since joining the University of Glasgow I have taken part in workshops teaching primary school children about parasites – I like helping people understand topics that are unfamiliar to them.

Amelia – Yes, I have done various public engagement activities before including giving a talk and running an activity at Explorathon 2015 and 2016, Glasgow Science Centre European Researcher’s night. I have also helped run activities at science festivals organised by the Royal Society of Biology and also with primary school kids on visits to the University of Glasgow. I like to get involved because I believe it’s incredibly important to enthuse young people about science and also to showcase research to the general public.

Tolu –  Yes. I have participated in quite a number of public engagement events: one of which involved meeting with people affected (and their families) by the rare genetic disease, myotonic dystrophy.

I like helping people affected with rare genetic diseases to understand how their body works with the aim of getting them to make the most out of their condition and to prevent future occurrence in their family lineage.

 3. Describe your activity to us. Why should we come along?

Our activity is centred on the fact that we inherit many characteristics from our parents, but which we get is down to chance. Come along to see what sort of baby dragon you’ll get from the parents we’ve chosen!

4. This year’s festival theme is ‘Glasgow Explores’. Where would you like to explore?

Sarah – Having only moved to Glasgow in November I’m very much enjoying exploring this area. I love hiking so I’m keen to explore more Munros, Scotland is a beautiful place!

Amelia – As I enjoy long bike rides I would like to explore all of Scotland’s many cycle routes and spend more time exploring the countryside.

Tolu – Having lived all my life in an entirely different and far-away part of the world, I’d like to explore Scotland’s museums and sites of cultural heritage and history.

5. What’s the best thing about being a scientist or engineer?

Sarah – The world of animals and biology contains such amazingly interesting things, I could never get bored of learning about them.

Amelia – Investigating the unknown.

Tolu – Solving problems, preventing them from happening.

Sarah, Amelia and Tolu will bring baby dragon genetics fun to the Concrete Garden on Saturday 17 June. The event is now sold out. Some tickets remain, however, for our morning screening of ‘Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban’. For more details, visit the website.

Glasgow Science Festival: Mapping the Museum

This year’s Glasgow Science Festival theme is ‘Glasgow Explores’, celebrating the many ways in which scientists charter new territory and uncover the mysteries of the world around us. To celebrate this theme, a group of PhD students from the University of Glasgow have developed a fantastic new event – Mapping the Museum – as part of Science Sunday on 18 June. They had a chat about what’s in store…

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1. Who are you and what do you do?

Lianne – I’m Lianne, a 1st year PhD student in chemistry, investigating chemical treatments for conserving wooden and textile artefacts from the Mary Rose Tudor ship.

Gianluca – My name is Gianluca and I am a PhD student in engineering. My scientific research is devoted to the optimisation and testing of a fluorescence imaging system integrated in capsules for endoscopy and, capable of detecting early cancerous lesions in the gut.

Annemarie – I’m Annemarie, a 3rd year PhD student in earth science, working on the refining the age of the Chicxulub “dinosaur killer” impact structure.

2. Have you done public engagement before? What made you want to get involved?

Lianne – I’ve done a little bit through volunteering as a gallery guide and carrying out interactive activities in a museum.

Gianluca – I have never done public engagement before and that is the main reason why I decided to get involved with the Glasgow Science Festival.

Annemarie – I’ve done a fair bit of public engagement before, through previous involvement with Glasgow Science Festival, The Royal Society of London, and Pint of Science. I’ve also been heavily involved in my school’s public engagement activities, both during my time at Glasgow and while at the Centre for Planetary Science and Exploration in Canada. I wanted to get involved to broaden the scope of my abilities to outreach beyond my specific area of expertise.

3. Describe your activity to us. Why should we come along?

Our activity, “Mapping the Museum”, involves learning to navigate using cardinal compass directions (north, south, east, and west) and estimating distances as you walk. Through this activity you will follow directions to create a “treasure map” that explores some of the most exciting exhibits at the Hunterian Museum, and then navigate your way back to the starting point to receive a prize for completing the mission! In addition to the fun of exploring the museum, you will learn valuable skills like how to navigate, how to estimate how far you’ve walked, and how to estimate the size of objects. This will be a great activity for anyone who loves exploring!

4. This year’s festival theme is ‘Glasgow Explores’. Where would you like to explore?

Lianne – I’d love to explore Indonesia

Gianluca – I would like to explore Japan

Annemarie – I’d like to explore Mars

 5. What’s the best thing about being a scientist or engineer?

Lianne – Constantly rethinking things you thought you understood

Gianluca – You are continuously challenged and therefore there is no time for over-confidence, you have always to put your ideas into discussion.

Annemarie – The best thing about being a scientist is being able to work out the solutions to problems that you’ve never encountered before and having a job in which you’re constantly learning new skills.

Join Lianne, Gianluca and Annemarie in the Hunterian Museum as part of Science Sunday on 18 June. For more details, visit the website

Glasgow Science Festival: Promoting Well-being

Glasgow Science Festival is an excellent opportunity for researchers to gather public opinion on issues of importance to science and society. We spoke to a group of researchers who are doing just that, at this year’s family event in Kelvingrove Art Gallery & Museum.

1. Who are you and what do you do?

We are a team of researchers (Jo McParland, Lisa Kidd & Marilyn Lennon) based at Glasgow Caledonian University, Robert Gordon University and the University of Strathclyde, who collectively come from backgrounds in psychology, nursing and healthcare, and computing and information science.

2. What brings you to Glasgow Science Festival this year?

We want to talk to as many people at the Festival as possible to ask: what makes or keeps you well?

All too often we focus on the negatives and what is wrong with us rather than the positive things that we have in our lives that can benefit our health and well-being. We will use the information that we collect from Festival goers to help us develop research projects in this area that can be used to support people in different situations, such as those with long-term illnesses, to help them to live well and in a positive way.

3. Why should we come to your event?

There will be the opportunity to learn what others have said keeps them well but importantly, this will be a fun and interactive opportunity for Festival goers of all ages to have their ‘voice’ and share what they personally think helps to make or keep them well, healthy or happy.  Attendees will be able to view what others have told us on specially-created poster boards; using stickers, we’ll then ask them to select the five things that they most agree with or add any extra ones that we haven’t yet got!

4. This year’s festival theme is ‘Glasgow Explores’. Where would you like to explore?

We would like to explore what makes the people of Glasgow well. What do they have around them that makes or keeps them well, healthy and happy? People? Places? Themselves? Something else?

5. What’s the best thing about being a scientist or engineer?

Being able to work with and learn from members of the public to understand the issues most important in society that we need to focus on as researchers and academics.

Join Jo, Lisa and Marilyn at Glasgow Science Festival Explores @ Kelvingrove on Saturday 10 and Sunday 11 June. For full details, visit the website.

Glasgow Science Festival: A Fruitful Nudge

What makes a balanced diet? How can we persuade children to eat more healthily? Elena, Alison and Carmen are three University of Glasgow PhD students who will be sharing the latest research through fun activities as part of this year’s Science Sunday.

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1. Who are you and what do you do?

Elena – PhD student in Neuroscience and Psychology looking at what’s going on in our brain when we make food-related decisions.

Alison – PhD student in Molecular Cell and Systems Biology looking at mitochondria biogenesis.

Carmen – PhD student in Molecular Parasitology, studying the life cycle of Toxoplasma gondii – a tiny parasite that can infect and cause huge problems in humans.

2. Have you done public engagement before? What made you want to get involved?

Elena – Yes! I first started with science communication, and I now regularly write science mini-articles for theGist magazine. Last year I was part of the “Met the Expert” program at the Glasgow Science Centre, and I also helped running activities for Explorathon ’16 at the Museum of Transport. This year I am an event manager for Glasgow Pint of Science which is so much fun. It’s just so good to be out of the lab now and then, and to make science accessible to everyone through fun events!

Alison – No! This is my first time, I hope to do a lot more of it in the future starting with the GSF and hopefully some STEM ambassador activities in schools.

Carmen – This is my first experience of public engagement! As I progress through my PhD, I become more and more eager to share my work with the public, and try to make science more accessible and fun.

3. Describe your activity to us. Why should we come along?

Our activity will teach kids the importance of having a nutritionally balanced diet through a fun interactive game!

In the UK the EatWell Guide makes healthy eating easier to understand by giving a visual representation of the types and proportions of foods needed for a healthy and well balanced diet. With reference to the EatWell plate as an example of good balance between fruits, vegetables, protein, and carbohydrates, kids will learn what makes a well-balanced meal by building their own dinner plate.

Don’t Be Late Fill Your Plate begins with kids randomly selecting food groups by rolling a dice. During each round, they’ll have to pick foods from a food group in our fun-food-box to build their own plate. After seven dice rolls their plate will be complete, and they will have the chance to tell us whether it looks like a nutritionally good and balanced meal or unhealthy and unbalanced. At this point they will have the opportunity to add/swap foods to reach a healthier, colourful, yummy plate that looks more like the EatWell guide.

To calm the appetite after all that food handling, kids will be able to make their own healthy fruit lollipop before leaving the Fruitful Nudge station.

4. This year’s festival theme is ‘Glasgow Explores’. Where would you like to explore?

Elena – India! I would love to go for a proper Yoga retreat there, a change after all those western yoga YouTube sessions 😊

Alison – Mount Everest, I’ve recently started hillwalking and love the sense of achievement (don’t think my tiny legs would ever carry me up Everest though☹)

Carmen – I would love to explore the outer space, at least the Moon…

 5. What’s the best thing about being a scientist or engineer?

Elena – ‘Scientist’ will always sound clever, no matter what you do! Also travelling to conferences around the world presenting your research work to like-minded people is always a win.

Alison – Learning new skills and meeting lots of interesting people every week, never a dull moment in science.

Carmen – Being a scientist can be hard, but I love that I can organise my own experiments, and that there’s always the chance of learning something new through my mistakes…even if that can be frustrating sometimes!

Make your own healthy food place with Elena, Alison and Carmen at Science Sunday on 18 June. For full details, visit the website.

Glasgow Science Festival: SCOPE for Science

In today’s blog, we interview ‘SCOPE’, who are bringing hands-on science fun to the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum at this year’s Glasgow Science Festival.

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1. Who are you and what do you do?

SCOPE (the University of Strathclyde’s Student Community for Optics, Physics, and Engineering) is a student body headed by a committee of eight members (all postgraduate students) and an academic advisor. We run a range of activities for the benefit of the student and wider research community, including participating in outreach events, organising company visits and career/networking events, running a physics journal club, and social gatherings.

2. What brings you to Glasgow Science Festival this year?

We have been taking part in the Glasgow Science Festival for several years now, and we are always enthusiastic about outreach activities.

The Glasgow Science Festival brings families closer to science, inspiring the younger generation about how exciting science can be, and we are glad to be part of it.

3. Why should we come to your event?

Our activity this year is called ‘Catching Waves: Surfing on Light’. We want attendees to learn and explore waves, the properties of light, and its characteristics and applications.

Are you ready to become a light surfer and start your career in physics?

4. This year’s festival theme is ‘Glasgow Explores’. Where would you like to explore?

We’d like to explore… light! The goal of our show is to cover the key features and properties of light and their applications. Also, we will include several devices (polarizers, prismas, colours, 3D glasses..), each illustrating different phenomena, like polarisation, interference, diffraction and scattering. We will intend to cover also information about new technologies based on waves, specially on light.

5. What’s the best thing about being a scientist or engineer?

To learn more every day about the world around us, it is a never-ending process!

Join the SCOPE team at Glasgow Explores at Kelvingrove on Saturday 10 and Sunday 11 June in the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum. For more details, visit the website.