It’s been a mental three weeks since I got back from holiday and so much has happened. My world has been rocked around and science is pretty much the only thing that got me through!
When I was away I e-mailed all of the brilliant schools I chatted to during I’m A Scientist Get Me Out Of Here and thanked them for voting for me. When I got back I ended up visiting the sensational kids of Fitzmaurice School in Bradford-On-Avon. It was such a great two weeks competing in IASUK that I couldn’t wait to meet all of the students I’d chatted to- I spent the hot Greek evenings sourcing science kit that could be delivered before the end of the summer term and booked my train to Wiltshire. The journey was beautiful- the cotswolds were looking sparkling with blue skies and bright green fields. Fitzmaurice is a community school at the heart of the market town and the students were super engaged. It was a big week for them- their last at primary school, with their friends and with teachers. We talked about how atoms emit light and what happens in rainbows- and I made them all IASUK brownies for their end of term picnic! The students each wrote me a letter to thank me for what I’d done- which I received at the end of a particularly frustrating day of PhD meetings. I can’t really express in words how much these school trips have come to mean to me- they seem to make the crazy world of scientific academia worth being part of.
There was an epic double time day of STEM with STEMNET. I spoke at the Hornsey Girls School for a day of science careers. It is an incredible site in Crouch End nestled between terraced houses and trees. They have a big science department and a switched on assistant head teacher called Robert Davies. What was really moving was seeing the way he interacted with his students, who are from all different parts of the world. The day after my visit was Eid, and lots of the students were glamorously dressed awaiting their festival- and he was so perfect with them. We hear a lot about how our society is failing in education and that state schools aren’t very nice places to see- well, my outreach experience completely disagrees. Hornsey had big airy labs with a team (!) of science technicians and teachers who were interested in what I was researching. They had teachers who knew exactly what was going on with their students in their academic and private lives. There were very good people represented from academia and industry and the girls were all super inquisitive and keen to learn. I hot footed it from N8 to HA8 (two buses, one tube, one quite long walk) to speak at Canon’s High School in Harrow to talk about what you can do with a physics degree to Years 10 and 11. It’s funny that there’s so much emphasis on how hard it is to get girls excited about science- Hornsey Girls were totally turned on from minute one whereas the mixed class of Canon’s took quite a lot of warming up.
I’ve been doing a few things at Imperial College too, speaking to their physics and engineering STEM pathways students about all things physics and plastic electronics. The work experience scheme is very well planned- the students get to shadow big dog academics with fancy pieces of kit, sit in on exciting experiments and try out a whole range of techniques. They played with nuclear magnetic resonance spectrometers, a £2.4 m transmission electron microscopes and run their own chemical synthesis. I showed them roll up solar cells and large area organic lighting- and got some pretty heavy questions on why they weren’t reading newspapers like the Daily Prophet yet!
I also helped out with the Sutton Trust summer school for their physics strand- we made raspberry solar cells! It was beyond cool. I did not expect it to work quite as well as it did.. First I spoke about how we make solar cells in the cleanroom mixing long chain polymers and little feisty fullerenes. The Reach Out Lab has an awesome HD display for presentations which was a real Sci Comm treat!
The solar cells are super easy to make if you have conductive glass, a few berries, some titanium dioxide and electrolyte solution! If you don’t you can just get in touch with me and I’ll come and make them with you! One of the electrodes is covered in hyper conductive graphite which you can just make by colouring in with a pencil! You can prepare the other electrode yourself by baking some titanium dioxide nanoparticles, or you can buy them pre-made on man solar.
How do they work!? The solar cell works because the raspberries contain an organic dye which you can release when you squish them and make a raspberry solution. The dye absorbs sunlight and gets excited, then transfers some of its excitement (and electrons!) to the little particles of titanium dioxide. The charges bounce around through the nanoparticles and go into one of the conductive electrodes. Because the raspberries lose some of their electrons we say they have been ‘oxidised’. To keep the charges moving in our solar cell we have to put some more charges in. This is where the electrolyte layer comes in- pushing some electrons into the berry film (chemist speak: ‘reducing’)- and keeps the cell working.
I LOVED taking part with IC outreach and the Sutton Trust. The summer school is sponsored by Barclays, who tried very hard during the formal dinner to recruit the year 12 students into finance. The Sutton Trust stands for everything that is right about outreach- how we can improve social mobility through education- and convincing all these minds to spend their lives preoccupied with other people’s money. I met some really inspired students who were at the very beginning of their scientific adventures- people who really don’t need some arrogant CEO signing their lives away.
I had TOTALLY forgotten that I signed up to do Ride London for Breast Cancer Now! Ride London is a 100 mile bike riding through London and the infamous Surrey Hills. It’s a bit much to remember on Friday morning during a long lab session that you’re supposed to be cycling 100 miles on Sunday morning… but I made it work! If Breast Cancer Now can stop any woman dying of cancer by 2050, I can push my legs up Box Hill and down the mall. I wrote about my experience here and have already signed up for next year!!
Today I represented the WISE campaign at the launch of Project mc2! Project mc2 is a doll range and Netflix series based around the lives of a group of young female scientists in America. Their hashtag for the event was #SmartIsTheNewCool. Each doll comes equipped with home-based science experiments ranging from lava lamps to volcanos to glow sticks. It was a really fun lunchtime of science and right next door to my real life lab (in the science museum!). My cousin Polly and her family came along to test out the doll range with me and we were super excited to be part of such a fun idea. The characters speak at a million words a minute (faster than the Lego movie) and have some fab new acronyms (TCFHOG– too cute for his own good- IWATST– interesting and weird at the same time). Carousel PR did a very good job making the girls feel like super stars- there was a very high resolution photo booth (run by Dream Booth), lots of different science experiments, food, goodie bags and costumes. The legendary science translator Fran Scott wowed whole families with the power of friction- lifting herself up using the friction between two copies of the yellow pages. It’s certainly the most impressive I’ve ever been by the directory! Fran’s a true force for good in the science communication atmosphere and the audience were loving every minute of it. I cannot wait to see what other exciting things I get to do with WISE this year..
It’s been a pretty big few weeks for Jess science too- from super cooling 1.6 nm layers of copper phthalocyanine to using expensive lasers to look at charges sneaking around my conductive inks, I’ve had a few too many 11 hour days and insane analysis sessions. On Friday alone I got 32 Mb of data (that’s a lot of Raman…). My new experiment is electrochemically injecting charge into a plastic conductor. The equipment is pretty ‘rustic’ at the moment, but the results are so exciting we’re looking to integrate it into our current Raman spectroscope. It’s one of those moments where you really value being part of something like the centre for plastic electronics- the different pieces of kit come from three different research groups in chemistry who have all been really generous with their time and explanations.
One final word from me: check out how we cool our copper dyes in Korea and in SW7! Guess which is which…