Friday, 30 May 2014

Pint of Science

Last week the pubs were even more crowded than usual. Not because of a special drinks offer, but instead to meet a group of scientists. Across 6 countries and in 21 cities, everyone was enjoying their “Pint of Science”. Guest blogger Amanda helped organise the event in York and is here to explain all.

To the pub

Almost a year ago I received an email looking for volunteers to help organise an international outreach festival, Pint of Science. The event combined two of my favourite things, hearing about exciting new research and going to the pub! It later became apparent this wasn’t going to be a small event. The festival was running 12 events within each city involved, over 3 evenings. Last year, Pint of Science was run in London, Oxford and Cambridge, stimulating and engaging the public about current research and why science is relevant to their everyday lives. Now, a team of York postgraduates were challenged with extending the festival up to the north of England.

What really excited me about the festival was removing science outreach events from lacklustre venues and into a relaxed environment that is well known for fuelling the generation of many great scientific ideas. For example, James Watson admitted that many crucial discussions between him and Crick were at pubs in Cambridge during their discovery of the DNA alpha helix.

In the 10 months leading up to the event we put together a programme of talks covering all areas of science. The talks included mind reading using MRI, plasma science as sustainable energy sources and fish and (computer) chips for understanding Parkinson’s disease.

My personal highlight was a talk at Brigantes bar, given by Professor Dave Smith, a previous lecturer of mine and famous for his YouTube videos. In “From G&T to TLC – how chemistry helps you feel better”, he demonstrated the healing properties of tonic water, and his own research on gene delivery using self-assembly techniques in an engaging an interactive talk. Other highlights across the pubs in York included a very large and loud plasma reactor and a Gangnam Style dancing robot!

A great success of the festival was the interaction between the audience and the speakers. The informal environment really encouraged discussions around the topics being presented, with a pint in hand.

Thursday, 8 May 2014

Musical science and mini engineering

They never disappoint. They never fail to impress. There's always one that will make a smile appear on the face of even the most miserable of chemists. Of course, I'm talking about the fabulous cover art of Angewandte. (I should get paid for saying these things, er hey Angewandte if you are reading this...)

If you ever tire of scanning through yet another table of contents, then pop over to Angewandte for a quick peek at their gallery of cover art. Every week they put out not just one, but five covers! Because as we all know, a magazine obviously has five fronts. Well, there's the actual front, the inside front, the inside out, the back, the front back, the back to front, oh and probably some others... But this week there were a couple that caught my eye and surely the eyes of every miniature scientist out there in journal land.

Musical chemicals

Firstly, there was the appearance of some wonderfully entertaining chemicals. Two pairs of blue and yellow guanine musicians just don't seem to be able to get the hang of their instruments. Struggling together, they are actually looking quite bored. Perhaps this is because they are only cartoons with no musical knowledge, or just maybe it is because they are missing the input of a little dancing blue circle! With the crowd now joining in, the duets bond together to form a quartet and everyone is happy again.

What a fantastic analogy this is for the conversion of GG base pairs into guanine-quadruplex structures after interacting with cations (our little blue friend). The best part of this cover by far is the couple of gate crashers at the bottom, trying to catch a glimpse of the show - but sorry, they've already bonded, no room for you guys.

Chemical engineering

The second cover this week showed off some little chemical builders. With their little hard hats, their little hammers and tiny walkie talkies, surely this is how synthesis will really happen in the near future. These engineers have been working away on an old worn out porphyrin ring and have converted it into a new shiny carbaporphyrinoid. Now take away that pyrrole ring and throw it on the molecular scrap heap. The first structure of its kind and made by mini (more like angstrom sized) scientists, what's not to love.