Detective Dot

“It’s not magic,” said Dot. “Just code.”

Nine-year-old Detective Dot is a secret agent for the CIA (the Children’s Intelligence Agency), exploring and questioning the world around her, using code to complete her missions.

The funny and informative children’s book (written by Sophie Deen) introduces concepts of coding through story telling. It gets children thinking about coding, applying what they learn in schools, and grounding what they are learning in applications and ideas for uses of code. The beautifully illustrated story book (illustrated by Nathan Hackett) touches on themes to encourage children to question the world around them, including issues like ethical fashion.

The book is designed to be read at home, are can even be used by teachers. In schools, children are now being taught coding from 5 years old, and therefor teachers can use Detective Dot as a teaching tool – which is especially helpful for teachers who lack confidence in teaching STEM subjects.

The book can be bought on its own or in a Megapack, which comes complete with a CIA Membership card, seven fun coding-based missions and an adorable personalised letter from the CIA.

Not only does this book get kids into coding but it helps address the lack of equal representation in media, specifically in children’s books. Last year I wrote a blogpost, Starting a new chapter for gender representation in children’s books, discussing my concern over the lack of good representation in the books children are reading, especially STEM story and educational materials. In the blogpost, I encouraged you to look at what you are buying your children and look at who is featured in the books they are reading. Because the world those books may be opening up to them on the pages, may be reinforcing the fact that that world might not include them.

Detective Dot addresses this issue. It’s not only a great way of getting kids into coding, but also the main character is an inquisitive young girl, with endless intelligence. And she isn’t white, becoming an even greater role model for children, and helping young girls from all ethnicities to identify with her and realise their full potential.

All children can bond with the storyline, and the character helps to open up the world for children who are often excluded from coding and STEM subjects through stereotyping. This book is inspiring the next generation of coders, and it’s helping to ensure that the next generation of coders is more diverse and equal.

Find out more about the book HERE.

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Pint of Science is coming to Cardiff!

Do you like science? Do you like a pint? Well good news! The UK’s largest science festive, Pint of Science, is coming to Wales for the very first time – bringing some of the best scientists Cardiff has to offer to your local pub to share their knowledge. Come grab a drink and get geeky, listening to talks on topics from climate change to cancer research!

The festival is happening in 25 cities across the UK on 15th – 17th of May, bringing logic into your local, showcasing cutting-edge Welsh science. Pint of Science is making science accessible so that you can get to grips with a range of topics, hearing from some of the best in the industry; so that you can get to know more about things you are interested in or you can learn something completely new.

The line-up is looking amazing, with a range of fascinating science being shared – all you need is a ticket and a pint.

Cardiff Versus Cancer – Dr Matt Smalley and Professor Andrew Godkin – Half of all people in the UK will develop cancer during their lifetime and exciting research is being conducted into combatting this disease. Find out what Cardiff is doing about it!

Urine-ka! Recent Discoveries with Kidney Research UK – Dr Timothy Bowen and Professor Donald Fraser – Putting the ‘Pee’ in ‘Prognosis’, using urine for a cheap, non-invasive diagnosis method for early detection of chronic kidney disease.

Battling the Superbug Apocalypse – Dr Mark Toleman and Dr Cerith Jones – Keeping us with the Kardashians? More like keeping up with antibiotic resistance, amiright? Come along to O’Neills on St Mary’s Street to find out what Cardiff is doing to stop this.

Impacts of Past and Present Rises In CO2 – Professor Paul Pearson and Dr Sindia Sosdian – Cardiff University School of Earth and Ocean Sciences is a world leader in the study of past Earth climate to help predict the future of human-induced climate change (a topic that a certain President could do with learning a bit more about). Pop in to this talk, and get informed!

Changing Tropical Marine Ecosystems – Dr Jocelyn Curtis-Quick and Dr Phil Renforth – Do you get excited about ecosystems? Or are you a fan of Sir David Attenborough’s Planet Earth? Become immersed in the biology and chemistry that can help to keep our ocean ecosystems.

Shaking and Sliding: How the Earth Moves – Dr David Thompson and Dr Claire Earlie – While the cocktail shakers are shaking, get a low down on the quakes and shakes of planet Earth.

Science of the Tiny – Dr Niklaas Buurma and Professor Philip Davies –  Up and atom! This talk is looking at how things work on a microscopic level.

What Would Life Look Like On Other Planets? – Dr Chris North and Professor Nigel Richards – If the talk about climate change has got you a little nervous, this talk also might be a follow up. Because before we think of moving out of Earth, it’s a good idea to see what life is out there on other planets.

An Element of Danger – Dr Ian Fallis  and Dr Joseph Beames – Explore the darker side of chemistry, from air pollution to chemical weapons.

Curious Connections – Dr Matthias Gruber and Professor Liam Gray – Get to know your neurones and connect with your connections. How can brain circuitry effect our everyday life?

A Trip Down Memory Lane – Dr Adele Pryce-Roberts and Professor Kim Graham – Our brain is a mysterious and delicate organ, with some of its features beginning to fail us is conditions like Alzheimer’s. Cardiff University is world-leading in Alzheimer’s research, come to the Little Man Coffee Co, Bridge Street, to see what they are doing to find out about future cures.

Sex, Drugs and Big Mutations – Professor Ian Jones and Professor George KirovWith 1 in 4 people being affected by mental health conditions during their lifetimes, treatment and understanding are more important than ever. How can recreational drugs treat these illnesses? And how is genetics linked to mental health?

For more information check out the Pint of Science website pintofscience.co.uk, or contact Cardiff publicist Michael Nairn, NairnMG@Cardiff.ac.uk.

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March for Science – Cardiff

April 22, World Earth Day, and the day tens of thousands of scientists all over the world took to the streets to March for Science. Scientists and supporters of science picked up placards and donned their white coats to join in the rally happening across the world, to address concerns for scientific research in the light of Donald Trump and Brexit.

I joined in the demonstration in Cardiff, starting at the Senedd in Cardiff Bay and marching to Techniquest Science Discovery Centre. First listening to some amazing speeches from science minds and the march’s organisers, addressing the issues that the community of scientists were here to support. The take home messages from Cardiff March for Science were:

Science in a global activity

“Science transcends boundaries, is it not a luxury but a global activity.” – Professor Richard Ketlow, Foreign Secretary of the Royal Society.

Everyone is interested in science and can bring us together, regardless of proximity. I thought this idea was particularly poignant in the light of Brexit and the triggering of article 50. Science depends on freedom of movement, as this allows scientists to work on the projects they are specialists in and that they can contribute to. As Britain leaves the EU, Britain moves into uncertain times for science. As science in the UK relies on immigration, and the potential for barriers in the movement of the science workforce is worrying.

Science in a global activity, and it thrives on collaboration.

Science and politics

Andrew Haigh, UKIP’s national organiser for Wales, sells a product called “Aerobic Oxygen”. It is an industrial-strength bleach product that is told to have health benefits if used when cleaning your teeth. This is a man who wants to influence policy in Wales, including science policy. This is obviously incredibly concerning.

The influence in science is crucial, as the miss-informed cannot create well-informed policies.

How can we expect politicians and policy-makers to form the best political frameworks for Britain, when they lack a full understanding of issues like climate change, research in health care and the science community? We need to integrate science research and policy-making, helping to make better political choices about the world we live in, which is shaped by science.

STEM the spread of incorrect information

We all know that bad news will spread more quickly than good news, and this has certainly been witnessed with incorrect facts spreading like wild fire. We all remember the so-called link between MMR and Autism, which now leaves many children with inoculations against measles, mumps and rubella.

Science should influence news and media, to prevent the spread of incorrect information and help generate an informed general public, who can make informed decisions.

Science and diversity

The number of women and girls in STEM has not changed, despite all the work that women in the science community are doing to help this. We need to continue striving towards equality and diversity in STEM, to better the workforce for women and help girls reach their full potential, but also better the quality of science research itself.

As hundred of marches for science happen across the globe, I hope this brings people’s attention to how misinformed politicians can lead to misinformed policies, which will not only impact scientific research community itself, but also how science research moulds our modern society.

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BBC Expert Women 2017

On the 31st of March, I took the train to BBC Television Centre, selected as one of 25 women for BBC Expert Women 2017. This was a call from the BBC Academy in conjunction with BBC News and Women in Film and Television UK to find women with particular expertise to appear on television, radio, and online as contributors or presenters.

The 25 women who were invited ranged in specialism from law to terrorism, from sex education to fashion. We got the opportunity hone our skills in radio and TV interviews, as well as meeting with programme editors.

As someone who would love to work in STEM journalism and make science documentaries, this was incredibly useful. Not only that, but I was left in awe of the amazing women I was surrounded by, from varying industries, who all show outstanding expertise in their field. More schemes like this need to set up to ensure that women can give their opinion on current affairs and increase the representation of female experts in the media.

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Baylab: A Lab for Everyone

Last week, a new state-of-the-art school laboratory was launched, with the aim of encouraging every child to get involved with STEM. As part of an £11m investment, Bayer opened Baylab, which aims to inspire young people to pursue opportunities in life science and strengthen the UK STEM talent pool from the bottom up – highlighting the access gap for children from a low-income background.

There is a huge lack of diversity in science, which is something I talk a lot of on my blog in terms of gender, but economic background is also an issue close to my heart. During my education, being from a working-class background put me at a statistical disadvantage to my more economically-advantaged peers – as there are stark differences in attitudes and experiences between affluent and poorer areas when it comes to interacting with science at school. Research by Bayer showed that in affluent areas, 14% of teachers said that a scientist was something the children aspired to be, whereas this was only 7% in poorer areas.

The Wellcome Trust revealed that around one third of GCSE students enjoy access to ‘hands-on’ practical science lessons less than once a month, with poorest pupils being the most likely to miss out, demonstrating how easy it is for some young people face barriers in their STEM education.

Children from poorer areas are less likely to get the hands-on STEM experiences at school, which are both educational and inspirational. And therefore, Baylab aimed to support teachers with delivering the national curriculum and fill the ‘hands-on’ science gap which can occur due to time and cost constraints in the classroom.

Baylab launched on the March 29th, opening its experiments to the public – ranging from giving children the chance to extract their own DNA to characterising the proteins of an enzyme, trying their hand as a formulation scientist and even working through crime scene forensics. KS1-4 students of all ages and abilities were invited to work with professional scientists on real-life experiments to show them how science is used in our everyday lives.

Alongside the Baylab, Bayer has launched the Inspiration Space, a high-tech interactive exhibition; through the latest motion sensor, touch technology, and body scanners, students will understand what constitutes sustainable food and provide informative insight into the complexity of the human body in relation to maintaining a healthy heart, skin and wound care.

These sorts of projects are vital in ensuring equity of access to STEM subjects for children across the UK, as research shows that we have a long way to go in ensuring that girls and children from a low-income background are given the same opportunities – and to help them realise their full potential in a future career in STEM.

For more information and to register a school with Baylab, headteachers, science coordinators, teachers and parents of children in KS1-4 should visit www.bayer.co.uk/en/baylab

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Hidden Figures

On my 25th birthday, Hidden Figures came out in UK cinemas. In my mind, there was no better way of marking a quarter of a century in age than celebrating the lives of amazing female scientists.

The biographical film depicts the story of three NASA scientists, Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson, who arguably served as the brains behind one of the biggest moments in American history – the Space Race. The film was all that I hoped it to be, an engaging story, beautifully shot, which highlighted the barriers they faced.

It shone the spotlight on the overt discrimination experienced by the three scientists, with scenes where Katherine Johnson had to run between buildings to use the bathroom, or having to use a separate coffee pot; helping to paint a picture of the institutionalised racism and segregation experienced on an everyday basis.

But cleverly, I found that many of the scenes in the film acknowledged the less obvious forms of discrimination which we still sadly see today. With the women being excluded from discussion, doors slammed in their faces, and even leaving their name off publications that they have contributed to.

And although the film clearly had added a Hollywood spin to their lives, it was heart-warming, informative, and (most importantly) it was celebratory towards women who have been ignored.

(And don’t even get me started about how Katherine Johnson joined the actresses on stage at the Oscars, because I will cry.)

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British Science Week: Let’s Talk about Women in STEM

Today is the first day of British Science Week, and as scientists set up their tables at festivals to engage the public with science, its also important to engage people with some of the issues in STEM.

Totaljobs has undertaken some research which has highlighted some of the issues that face women within STEM careers, and illustrates some of factors that lead to inequality within science.

The lack of representation of women in STEM is a huge issue, as we loose girls from science education through unconscious bias and we loose women during their careers due to lack of support. It also appears that not only are women in STEM suffering from a social disadvantage, but they are also at an economical disadvantage, as totaljobs research across 1,450 STEM-related professionals showed:

•Women in STEM typically expect to be paid £7,107 less than men

•Men in STEM earn £639 more than women in bonuses

•65% of women admit they don’t feel comfortable asking for a pay rise

•37% of women believe their male counterparts are paid more for the same role

Alongside their research, they have made a useful video demonstrating some of the issues that lead to a lack of women in science – including a lack of female role models at a young age.

We find that young girls really enjoy science at school and don’t necessarily say ‘science isn’t a women’s job’, but we do find that they say ‘science just isn’t for me’. This is due to a lack of female role models in STEM and limited depictions of women in the media, leading them to not identify with a career in science.

Unconscious bias also has a role to play in the lack of girls engaging with STEM. As we are products of a biased society, we find that teachers can be subconsciously less encouraging towards girls in school: by allowing boys to answer questions more or scolding girls more often when they shout out in class – subtly reinforcing the idea that intellect and academia is a ‘boy’s world’.

Parent’s also display this unconscious bias, in fact as a science museum, parents are more than three times as likely to explain the exhibit to their boy child than their girl child.

And as totaljobs’ research suggests, we see gender differences in grown adults as well, due to stereotyping. We tell girls that women are passive and less competitive, so when they reach their career they feel unable to ask for a pay rise (as well as the clear gender pay gap within science, demonstrated in their research).

So as we get into British Science Week, spreading the joys of science, lets keep in mind the unconscious bias that can prevent girls from interacting with STEM subjects and how this can follow them throughout into their careers.

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Mind-Ful celebrates #IWD2017

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For International Women’s Day, I wanted to share some experiences and stories from fantastic women in STEM.

I don’t need to say anymore, I now hand you over to these inspirational women.

Amanda Gray – Geologist – Scottish Stemettes

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My Story: I was inspired into a career in earth science after watching BBC’s Planet Earth when I was 14 years old. I even went to my Science Teacher and requested to do an extra Standard Grade subject so that I could do all three sciences!

After not getting the Maths grade needed to get into my first choice at Edinburgh University, I went through the UCAS clearing system to get a place at Aberdeen University to do a BSc in Geology & Petroleum Geology. Excited by the opportunities in the oil & gas industry I went on to get an MSc in Integrated Petroleum Geoscience.

I had landed the dream job with a small oil company but it did require moving far away from my family and friends. I did have a great experience as a Graduate Geologist; gaining many skills and trying to make the most of every opportunity from field trips in Greece and France to visiting an onshore oil rig in Kazakhstan! I met many wonderful mentors and friends who shared my enthusiasm for geology and science in general.

However, when the oil price dropped in 2015 the industry I worked in became a very uncertain and unstable environment to be in, and the company I worked for got bought over. This brought about big changes in the job roles available and where I would be expected to live and work. Ultimately, I wasn’t happy in my personal life living so far from home and I wasn’t excited about the new job opportunities on offer. So, I turned down a job offer for a big oil company in London, took a redundancy package and moved to my favourite city in the world, Edinburgh.

Through that complicated experience I had lost my mojo. I needed a change. I figured if I couldn’t work as a geologist at this moment, let’s throw my energy into another passion – STEM education. I strongly believe that everybody deserves to have the career that they love and I want to help young people discover that their career could be in STEM.

So, I volunteered at a Stemette’s event and loved it so much, I asked if I could work for them. I am now the Scottish Stemette, leading the establishment of the not-for-profit social enterprise in Scotland. On a day to day basis I get to organise fun events, inspire young people, and meet other people passionate about STEM. It is one of the most rewarding job roles I’ve ever had and has inspired me to continue science outreach work throughout my career.

Only recently, I saw a geology PhD project at Heriot Watt University that excited me and I was have been fortunate enough to be offered a place to study there for the next 4 years, and will be starting in autumn this year. I felt like this was the next challenge in my career. I love getting to share stories of inspiring women in science to girls, and I wanted to make sure that I continue doing research so that I can be one of those role models too.

Favourite woman in STEM experience: My favourite experience as a Woman in STEM, so far, has been inspired other young women that they are capable of careers in STEM. At the my first ever Stemettes event I did speed mentoring sessions. I asked teenage girls if somebody has ever made them feel like that couldn’t do STEM… I was heartbroken to hear several stories from these young women ranging from “My teacher said ‘are you sure you want to do computing science? That’s a boy’s subject’” to “The boys in my maths class laughed at me when I said I wanted to be an engineer”. This cemented my commitment to make sure girls have more role models to show them that they can do STEM too.

Nicola F. – PhD at University of Westminster – Blogger at FreshScience

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Advice I would give to girls in STEM: Having the confidence to push yourself to achieve something great, through the hardships, is so important for women in STEM, and something that every woman is capable of.

Quote I am inspired by: Life is not easy for any of us. But what of that? We must have perseverance and above all confidence in ourselves. We must believe that we are gifted for something and that this thing must be attained” – Marie Curie

 

Jessica Fletcher – Educator – PhD in Cancer Studies – Science YouTuber

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My story: I can’t remember the exact moment when I decided that science was for me. I do know that from a young age I had a mental image of myself looking down a microscope and helping to save the world, and growing up I was lucky enough to have a supportive family around me who let me know that I could do just that!

Throughout my school years I had some wonderful female science teachers, however it was (and still is) hard to find strong female STEM role models represented in society and the media. I have worked hard and been successful in my STEM career so far, and am fortunate to be working in an environment which has many strong female STEM role models, however my journey hasn’t been without its moments. Moments where it has been made painfully aware to me that certain archaic discriminatory views and prejudices against women in STEM still exist. As a proud feminist and STEMinist

I hope to encourage girls and women of all ages to pursue their passion for science through my work at Swansea University Medical School and my YouTube channel ‘Science She Wrote’.

 

Jordina Escoda – Studying Chemistry at Universitat Rovira i Virgili

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My thoughts on science: Science is much more useful than I thought. I love it because I can learn as well as experiment with everyday’s things.

 

Carys Huntly – PhD in Spectral Imaging Science – Aberystwyth University

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My story: I always say that I “fell” into Physics, it’s not something I enjoyed at GCSE, finding the topics covered at the time fairly dry and uninspiring. However after receiving my results and seeing that it was my strongest science I decided to give it a chance at A-Level – and found I loved it! In a large part because of this I now take time to go out to schools and different public events to talk about my experience and research in the hope that others will find it at least half as exciting as I do!

I am currently studying for a PhD in Physics at Aberystwyth University, where I also completed a BSc in Physics with Planetary and Space Physics.

My PhD is based around Spectral Imaging Science, using specially modified, or custom built, cameras to analyse data about the scene. The applications of this technology are widespread but I am focussed on agriculture and planetary exploration. I am fortunate enough to be sat in the team working towards the European Space Agency’s ExoMars 2020 mission, where the primary objective is to search for evidence of past or present life in the sub-surface of Mars.

Quote I am inspired by: “We look at science as something very elite, which only a few people can learn. That’s just not true. You just have to start early and give kids a foundation. Kids live up, or down, to expectations.” – Mae Jemison

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FameLab Regional Finals

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This month I got the chance to be the Simon Cowell of sci-comms, judging in the Welsh regional finals of FameLab at Techniquest to find the up-and-coming science communicators.

I was joined on the judging panel by Dr Tim Cockerill and Beth Evans, to judge the contestants on their charisma, clarity and content – and believe me it was incredibly hard!

All of the contestants were amazing science communicators, who could turn something as complex as brain surgery or time travel into an understandable and engaging presentation. They had three minutes to present a topic of scientific research to the gallery and the panel of judges, and whoever was successful would go on to compete in the UK wide final.

I was incredibly impressed with the standard, and how well humour and narrative was used to explain very difficult scientific topics (including the physics of time), making the research understandable for the general public, and an audience of a variety of ages and levels of scientific understanding.

This made judging the winners very hard, and it was a close contest. The panel had to choose a wild card winner and an overall winner, from the contestants who came from all over Wales.

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After deliberation, we decided that our wild card would be awarded to the charismatic Daniel Olaiya, a neurosurgeon who gave an engaging presentation about Parkinson’s disease, the midbrain and Deep Brain Stimulation; which featured a clever use of dance moves and song lyrics to get his points across.

The overall winner of the FameLab regional final was awarded to Carol Glover, who told a humorous story of deterring a thief from stealing a bike by educating him about corrosive worms. Her use of comedy and a storyline helped to make the topic clear and understandable within the three minute time limit.

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I came away from the event impressed by everyone. All of the regional finalists were fantastic, and it was a truly hard decision to make, as all of the contestants were knowledgable in their field and effortlessly made their topics understandable and exciting – the key to science communication!

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