Five minutes with… Brynley Pearlstone

Brynley Pearlstone is a PhD student in the University of Glasgow’s Institute for Gravitational Research. Last year, he shared his experiences of chasing gravitational waves with the ‘Chasing the Waves’ team, and also took part in Q&A sessions with hundreds of school children. Today he stopped for a chat with the GSF blog!


I am Brynley Pearlstone, and I am a Ph.D student, researching ways to analyse data from the LIGO experiment, in order to find very weak but longer lasting gravitational waves from rapidly rotating neutron stars.

2. How long have you been researching gravitational waves?

About 2 and a half years now

3. What’s the best bit about being a scientist?  And the worst bit?

The best bit about being a scientist? Well, there are a few. The people you meet, the hands you shake, and the scientists you work with are great people, often with closely shared interests, quick thinkers, and good chat. And you get to meet these people from all over the world as well!

The worst part is probably when you’re telling somebody else that you’re a research student, some of the responses are “Oh, so you’re still at school?” with a little laugh. That isn’t great.

4. How were you involved with ‘Chasing the Waves?’

When the team behind Chasing the Waves was getting going, I was asked to have a chat with them about some time that I had spent at one of the LIGO sites. I sat in front of an iPad as it recorded me, and chatted with some of the people involved.

5. What did you think of the show?

I really enjoyed the show! Some of the in-jokes were great, particularly the “Stock Response” skit. My experience of being at the site rang true in parts of how the show portrayed it.

6. Tell us your favourite science joke or fact.



Drugs on Trial

Drug doping in sport remains a huge issue which has plagued the headlines in recent weeks. To explore the issue, this year’s Glasgow Science Festival features a special event with a comedian, lawyers, athlete, pharmacologist, sociologist and doctors discussing whether or not drugs in sport should be legalised. Event organiser, GP and Masters student Fran Taylor had a chat with the blog.

lucia at fountain

  1. Who are you and what do you do?

    I am Frances Taylor, a general medical practitioner in Lanarkshire, currently doing a Masters degree in Sport and Exercise Science and Medicine at Glasgow University and moonlighting as an opera singer Picture is from last week’s performance as Lucia di Lammermoor.

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

    I am involved in helping organise the public engagement event ” Drugs in Sport : The Trial” for my Masters project along with Dr. Jason Gill, Mr. Nairn Scobie and  Dr. Deborah McNeill and Dr. Zara Gladman of GSF.

    3. 2016 is Scotland’s Year of Innovation, Architecture and Design. What innovation could you not live without?

    Digital radio-I’m addicted to crime (drama) !

    4. It’s Glasgow Science Festival’s 10th birthday! We’ll be celebrating with some science-themed cake and balloons. What’s your birthday treat of choice?

    My daughter made me a wonderful Turkish Delight inspired sponge cake for Mother’s Day which would be hard to beat!

    5. And finally: impress us with your favourite science fact or joke.

    One for Zara: Igneous is bliss but being sedimentary is not gneiss

    And for Debbie: Biology is the only science in which multiplication is the same as division

Join Fran and special guests tonight for Drugs in Sport: The Trial, 7pm in the Boyd Orr Building. Tickets are free and can be booked online.


Quantum Physics Vs Zombies

Today’s guest blog is by the team at QuantIC, who are showing how quantum physics can be used to save us all from a zombie apocalypse!


QuantIC is the UK Quantum Technology Hub for Quantum Enhanced Imaging based at the University of Glasgow. Our mission is to translate new technological applications  and revolutionise imaging across industry and consumer markets.

We’re really excited to be involved with the Glasgow Science Festival this year with a few events to promote understanding of Quantum Physics. Many people think it is just weird science but a lot of our modern electronics is based on quantum physics. Lasers and our smartphones for example, wouldn’t exist without it.

Everyone thinks quantum physics is too difficult to understand, so alongside a Quantum Physics Teachers’ Workshop,  we’re doing something completely different to show how quantum technology can  be applied in a zombie outbreak. Yes, the walking dead will be roaming about in a secret location and the audience will have to get involved to survive and save the world! 

We’re hoping everyone who comes will have fun and also learn something about our research. There’ll be some twists and turns – but we’ll keep those as a surprise. Can you escape from the walking dead?

 Join the QuantIC team tonight for Mission Impossible: Agent Photon & the Quest for Quantum. The event is FREE but ticketed, see the website for more details.

Zika Virus: the Glasgow Story

Outbreaks of Zika virus in Brazil have been all over the news. But did you know that a Glasgow scientist helped discover this virus, as revealed in documents found in the University of Glasgow’s archives? A special event for Glasgow Science Festival will explore the past, present and future of this virus.

1. Who are you and what do you do? 

I’m Ellie Tiplady and I’m an Immunology PhD student at the University of Glasgow

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Ellie speaks to reporters about her finding in the University of Glasgow atchives

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

I’ve been doing an internship with the University Archives, researching a collection donated by Alexander Haddow – one of the discoverers of the Zika virus. We are putting on an event on the 15th of June, with myself and two other panelists, to discuss the present, past and future of the Zika virus.

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Original research notes from the archive

Zika Virus Project 025

Haddow’s findings


The research took place on forest expeditions

3. 2016 is Scotland’s Year of Innovation, Architecture and Design. What innovation could you not live without?

My smartphone – perhaps literally as I have come to depend on it for so much.

4. It’s Glasgow Science Festival’s 10 thbirthday! We’ll be celebrating with some science-themed cake and balloons. What’s your birthday treat of choice?

It’s the one time of year I feel it’s acceptable to eat a whole cake by myself, so I can’t pass that up.

5. And finally: impress us with your favourite science fact or joke.

I’m no good at jokes, hence the academia. My favourite science fact is that the elephant shrew, named for its long nose, turns out to be more closely related to elephants than it is to shrews.

Join Ellie and other Zika experts on Wednesday 15 June from 18:30-20:00 at the University of Glasgow. The event is FREE but ticketed. For information and booking, click here.



Fun with DNA

DNA, the ‘building block of life’, is what makes us so alike yet so different. This molecule is the subject of three hands-on activities for families at this year’s Glasgow Science Festival, led by postgraduates Weronika, Lauren and Millie.

1.Who are you and what do you do?


Weronika: My name is Weronika and I am currently working on a PhD project, which aims to design a quick and simple diagnostic test for hepatitis C virus.


Lauren: My name is Lauren and I am currently working on a PhD project which aims to find new treatments for haemorrhagic stroke.


Milly: My name is Milly and I am currently a PhD student working on prostate cancer

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

Weronika: I have never done public engagement work before, but I thought that taking part in the Glasgow Science Festival would be a perfect opportunity. I genuinely like to try out different experiences and challenges and I always found the prospect of working with people exciting. There is nothing more rewarding than to engage with the public, especially non-scientific people as it helps to remind me why I love science so much.

Lauren: Glasgow Science Festival is my first public engagement work! I enjoy the challenge of trying to make relatively complex concepts more accessible to those without much prior knowledge of the subject. I think it is really important for children and young people to be exposed to the amazing work that is going on within the field at the moment. Sometimes it can be difficult to relate what is learned in the classroom to how this knowledge could be applied in real life and I think the Glasgow Science Festival gives current science students a fantastic opportunity to be able to forge this link and spark interest in the sciences!

Milly: Being a part of the Glasgow Science Festival Internship has been my first experience with public engagement. I find public engagement such an important part of research, allowing scientists to talk about their research and teach the public on relatively complicated topics in a much more understandable way. I got involved so I could help children understand science in a fun and creative way!

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

Our activity is based around DNA and how each of us has our own unique changes to this DNA sequence which makes us, us! Through activities including building a DNA molecule from sweeties to catching a criminal and saving the Scottish Wildcat through DNA analysis, our activity will leave everyone with a greater appreciation for the importance of DNA technologies in our world today. Plus you will get a chance to gain some scientific knowledge in a fun, family-friendly way!

4. 2016 is Scotland’s Year of Innovation, Architecture and Design. What innovation could you not live without?

Weronika: I definitely could not live without my smartphone. It allows me to send emails, read scientific articles and communicate with people. That definitely saves my time tremendously and not to mention space in my already overly large bag!

Lauren: I think my answer may be similar to many people – my smartphone! It is extremely helpful nowadays to be connected wherever you are – whether that be for work or keeping in touch with friends/family. I think you only realise how important your device is to your day to day life when you forget to charge it and your day seems to run much less efficiently!

Milly: The internet has to be the BEST innovation of all time. It allows me to keep in contact with people all over the world as well as keeping me up to date on research …. and shopping!

 5. Impress us with your favourite science joke or fact

There is enough DNA in an average person’s body to stretch from the sun to Pluto and back. 17 times.

Weronika, Lauren and Milly will be bringing fun science to the Science Sunday Big Birthday Bash on 19 June from 10:00-16:00 at the Hunter Hall, University of Glasgow.


The Gravitational Wave Detectors

Communicating complex concepts and specialised research is a big challenge for scientists. This group of postgraduates have developed a fun, interactive activity to explain gravitational waves to a public audience at the Science Sunday Big Birthday Bash.



1. Who are you and what do you do?

Holly: I’m a PhD student in the chemistry department and I make materials that can levitate trains using powerful magnetic fields!

Euan: I’m a PhD student in the particle theory group of Glasgow university. I study ways of simulating small patches of spacetime on a supercomputer.

Finlay: I’m Finlay, and I’m a PhD student who fires lasers at strange liquids to make crystals grow in them.

Fraser: I’m Fraser, a PhD student in Biomedical Engineering at the University of Glasgow. I use nanotechnology to make millions of tiny pillars that fit on a slide no larger than your thumbnail, and we want to use these to get stem cells to do what they’re told.

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

Holly: I’ve never carried out public engagement before, but am really excited about the prospect of making science cool for non-scientists!

Euan: Besides GSF I am a volunteer organiser for the Pint of Science festival, in which researchers give talks about their work to general audiences in pubs. I am attracted to public engagement by the prospect of inspiring the next generation of scientists.

Finlay: I love teaching, and helping others see that ‘complicated science’ is actually easier than it seems. This is my first time being involved with Glasgow Science Festival, but won’t be the last!

Fraser: I’ve never been properly involved with public engagement, but I’ve taught in a high school before as part of my undergraduate course in Physics. I really loved seeing young people, and even the teachers, getting involved in some “complicated” concepts like Gravitational Waves and Spacetime, and seeing the questions they asked and the ideas that they had towards it. Public engagement is also really good for teaching yourself things, because if you want to explain something in a really easy way to understand you need to really understand it yourself first.

3. 2016 is Scotland’s Year of Innovation, Architecture and Design. What innovation could you not live without?

We’ve built ourselves a pretty cool make-shift gravitational wave detector that you can come and try out to detect a gravitational wave, and have a chunk of spacetime that we’ve cleverly captured in a tupperware box, along with a star on a stick, to show you how spacetime really makes gravity happen.

4. It’s Glasgow Science Festival’s 10th birthday! We’ll be celebrating with some science-themed cake and balloons. What’s your birthday treat of choice?

Holly: Definitely mascara.

Euan: google maps

Finlay: My GPS watch.

Fraser: Hot showers. Have you tried going a day or two with only cold showers? Brrrr.

5. And finally: impress us with your favourite science fact or joke.

There are places in the universe which are physically impossible for humans to reach, since they are moving away from us faster than the speed of light.

Holly, Euan, Finlay and Fraser will be at the Science Sunday Big Birthday Bash on 19th June from 10:00-16:00 in the Hunter Hall, University of Glasgow. For more information, visit the website.


Science-themed Monopoloy

Our postgraduate internship brings together researchers from a huge range of subjects, be it stem cells, ice sheets, nano-sized materials or renewable energy. We chatted to one of the postgrad teams as they prepare to bring their hands-on activity to the Science Sunday Big Birthday Bash on 19th June.


The team preparing for GSF 2016

1. Who are you and what do you do?


Crystal: Hi, my name is Crystal Smiley and I am in my final year of my PhD within the School of Geographical and Earth Sciences. My research focuses on detecting oxygen and hydrogen isotopes within water from different terrestrial sources, such as the Greenland Ice Sheet and the annual snow cover, within the marine environment in retrospect to marine palaeo-runoff proxies.


Mark: I’m Mark and I am currently doing a PhD in Biomedical Engineering. My research involves understanding how cells change their behaviour based on what kind of surface that they are growing on, which could be used to make stem cells turn into bone.

Eddy: I’m Eddy and I’m in my first year of a Chemistry PhD at Glasgow University. I’m investigating nano-sized metal oxide clusters that could be used as molecular magnets.


Roberta: I am Roberta, a first year PhD at the Chemistry department. I have always been fascinated by the use of renewable sources to produce clean energy. My research is focused on this field by looking at an alternative way to store energy using hydrogen.

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

Crystal: Yes, I have done two public engagement activities before. I participated in the Glasgow Science Festival in 2013 presenting Ocean Acidification affects on corals. In 2014, I travelled to the US to give a seminar on “Opportunities in Earth Science” within the Aberdeen, Washington and McCleary, Washington School Districts. I started public engagement because I wanted to share the world of science and its many fascinating discoveries. I also wanted to strengthen my presenting skills to a non-science based community.

Mark: I’ve not done any public engagement before. I wanted to get involved because I wanted to take advantage of as many opportunities that a PhD provides as possible. A PhD gives you a chance to take part in so many things that you’d never thought about before and this is one of those things that you don’t know what it’s all about or whether you’ll like until you’ve tried it.

Eddy: This is my first time doing public engagement. I wanted share my enthusiasm for science and how science has changed our world for the better.

Roberta: This is the first time I’ve done public engagement but I really like the idea of sharing my passion with others. I think that doing public engagement is a beautiful way to inspire young minds to pursue a career in science and I really like the idea of being a part of this.

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

Come visit us and discover some of the Scottish Innovation technologies that make Glasgow a greener, cleaner, safer and smarter city. Join in on the fun by playing a giant innovation version of your family friendly board game, MONOPOLY! As you move around the board you will have the opportunity to learn and collect some of the new innovations that are happening around Glasgow. Collecting four innovations of the same colour or one of each colour wins a special prize and bragging rights for the year!

4. 2016 is Scotland’s Year of Innovation, Architecture and Design. What innovation could you not live without?

Crystal: It’s hard to narrow down one innovation to live without but I couldn’t live without my camera.

Mark: Too many things that, I think, we wouldn’t even realise we needed until they weren’t there. I would say a microwave; it makes it really easy to heat up all my leftover meals.

Eddy: The kettle.

Roberta: I think I could never live without a smartphone. This is very funny because actually I was one of the last among my group of friends to get one and now I use it for almost everything.

4. Finally… impress us with your favourite science fact or joke!

Crystal: Why wasn’t the Geologist hungry? Because they lost their APATITE.

How often do you like jokes about elements? PERIODICALLY

Eddy: Atoms, with a callous disregard for etymology, can in fact be split.

Never trust an atom. They make up everything

Roberta: If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the precipitate!

Meet Crystal, Mark, Eddy and Robert and have fun with giant Monopoly at the Science Sunday Big Birthday Bash on 19 June, 10:00-16:00 in the Hunter Hall, University of Glasgow. More information on the website.