Sunday, 18 December 2011

end of an era

So there it was... Dec last day at Catalyst. Six years ago a perfect stranger bumped into my husband at his work place.
Being the gentleman that he is, he opened the door for this heavily laden lady and also being the polite guy he is, he spoke a few words....and that was it.
The woman was Sue Andrews, a teacher and a trustee at Catalyst and she contacted me to do some freelance work with her over the summer. Early September I got a phone call inviting me to meet the then Director of Catalyst, Julie Burgess Wilson and within days I was the education manager at Catalyst discovery centre in Widnes. I had never done anything like it before and really was not sure if it was something I could do so I offered to give it 6 months trial which became 6 years!

I discovered that I am a terrible show off and unrepentant player to the gallery but I have had the most amazing time both doing workshops and classes but most exciting of all shows.
I have taught over 60,000 children over the years and shared science with probably the same number of families. Now I am about to take all that experience and energy out on the road to schools.

One of the most annoying things for me has been the cost of transport for schools going on a trip. It didn't matter how we kept the cost down of our entry and activities - a limited budget meant that a school had to limit the number of children they brought. If our team went out to a school we could do the whole school for the same price as a class visit.
So I have decided to get out there and take the science to the schools. I have done quite a bit of this over the years and absolutely love the excitement as little children arrive in the hall to see the "scientists".  
"Are you going to blow us all up?"

I also love the expectation in a hall full of 350 teenage boys as we start to show demonstrations that fizz and bubble and change colour.

I even love making litres and litres of slime with families at college open days

So at the risk of jumping off yet another cliff ( I really should stop doing this!) I have left the safety of the science centre for the open road.
Over the next few weeks as the web site, bank account, transport issues not to mention insurance and everything else involved in setting up a small business is sorted, I will be creating a whole set of shows ready to take out and SCIENCE2U will be born.
Crazy? Probably! Exciting? Definitely!

Last night I was at a reunion of teachers I used to work with.  I wondered what their reaction would be...everyone of them got it! They so understood my motivation and caught the enthusiasm. Hopefully I will soon be able to offer some of them a show!

It was strange leaving Catalyst but I know I am doing the right thing.
So watch this space because this is where you will see me thrashing out my ideas, sharing the highs and hopefully not too many lows, leave some comments and let me know what you think!

Today is the start of the rest of my adventure.......

Saturday, 10 December 2011

Strange day- possibly the last science club I will do at Catalyst.
Some of you know that I am leaving the science centre at Christmas to start up my own business.

When I  left teaching to come to Catalyst the one thing I thought I would really miss was that special relationship a teacher has with the class - whether it is a primary teacher who has 30 or so kids for a whole year or the secondary teacher who might teach 100s but also gets to see them every week for months on end. You build up a special bond - sometimes you are relieved to see them go...let's be honest but mostly you get a special joy watching them mature and grasp whatever you have been trying to pass on.
My Mike 
As education manager at Catalyst I teach about 11,000 kids every year and usually see them only once so no chance of getting to know them at all. 

Science club has given me the chance to really get to know a whole group of great kids - some I have known for 6 years! I have watched them grow up - written references for some, written college and university letters for some, chatted over the nerves about going to secondary school with the young ones, chatted over the nerves about going to uni with the older ones!
It has been a joy to watch as youngsters choose to study science, to help out with tricky homework and for just a few to watch as they succeed in science at A level and go to university.

When I arrived there were 6 in the club and it was a bit intense - which for those of you who know me just is not my style. We now have over 60 on the books who come pretty regularly - there were 35 there today either in SSC for the younger ones or in OATs the older group. New ones arrive almost every month.
Mike Pitts one of our helpers in a show
The idea is to make science exciting and accessible by doing so lots of hands on experiments. They love being lab rats for new shows the education team is developing and they certainly know how to give feedback!! We invite local scientists to come in a share their work or their favourite experiments - it is a great place for potential STEM ambassadors to cut their teeth.
And so to Scientific Santa - a tradition we stared 5 years ago where we make presents with a science feel. It actually gets quite hard to think up new ideas but as the members move on we can bring back old favourites.
Of course it wouldn't be us if we didn't make soap and this year we made bath bombs too.

soap fruits

thermoplastic keyrings and Christmas decorations
We made keyrings coloured with glitter from our fantastic thermoplastic and I managed to get hold of some candle kits that only need the heat of your hand to melt and mold the wax. But I think the runaway success this year was the BOING BOING balls - little crystals poured into moulds that are submerged in water for a minute and then set into amazing bouncy balls. Huge fun

So thanks to all the volunteers and helpers over the last 6 years that have made science club possible - special thanks to my husband Mike, who only came to carry the heavy stuff but ended up as one of the main leaders - you know I couldn't have done all this without you x
blowing up icing sugar testing it for the Big Bang show

testing candyfloss for the suagr and spice show


blowing up Charlie

sugar glass - science of the movies

Thursday, 1 December 2011

Advent Calendars at the ready

The web is full of ideas for Christmas and I  love some of the scientific advent calendars around but thought I would just share some ideas for pressies. Sadly many are from the States - why do they always have the best gifts!!
for the girl who either needs to cheat in her exams or just loves her elements nearby 
a periodic table bangle!
clean up your chemistry with  a periodic table bar of soap
keep science close to your heart
or maybe create a lurve potion!!
I will share more if I come across them

Saturday, 26 November 2011

Climate Change project

A few months ago I was totally blown over by a phone call from a member of the Science Museum London's outreach team asking if Catalyst would think about being part of a project with them......after I had picked myself up from the floor....
The project is a three year exploration of climate change inspired by the Museum's atmosphere gallery 

Last year a couple of centres took part working with schools to share ideas about climate change through art. This year the sharing is through print - journalism actually.
Each school has to produce a double page spread of articles and interviews about local climate issues which will then be worked on by a graphics team to create an actual magazine. This will be published and the schools  and pupils will all get copies and a travelling exhibition will be produced and go to all the participating museums and science centres.
So early Tuesday morning the science museum team arrived at Catalyst to set up for the day.
The school kids arrived - 60 year 9s from local schools in Cheshire and Wirral and even one from North wales and the day began!
A fun session with Punk Science followed by an interview on journalism. then a tour around the museum and lunch. The afternoon session was a hands on have a go at being your own journalistic team to get the ideas flowing.
Over the three days 7 different schools have been challenged and they have until Spring 2012 to produce their ideas. 
A really exciting project which I will keep my readers up to date with. Watch this space.....

Monday, 21 November 2011

Saving the Planet

We have just finished a week of Enterprise where we challenge large teams for 12 - 16 year olds to create a gizmo to save the planet by using alternative energy methods or recycling or similar.They then have to pitch their idea, models and all to a small team of Dragons from industry!
Helen and I have done this event since 2007 and we have pretty well seen it all but this year we had some new ideas.
One which was totally unique wanted to harness the energy produced by all those small earthquakes that happen every day. Another wanted every factory to have its own CO2 scrubber made from a small plantation of trees - they called it the Tree factory.
It is great to see young people thinking so imaginatively without boundaries. Their science may not be up to the task but because they have no pre-conceptions they think very radically. Perhaps this is the way for companies to go - have brainstorming sessions with youngsters then bring in the scientists to filter out those possible for development.

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

The Story tent

I have just finished creating a dedicated space for story telling at Catalyst. We have been telling stories for a few years - Herby the hedgehog goes recycling, Freddie the Frog - a life story and Bertie the Bear explores light and dark. Stories for the very young with a science feel. We made our own stories and big books and used props to make it come alive.
Now however we have moved on to myths and legends about science facts - story telling for an older age group.
The first story - hot off the press - explores world myths about rainbows, from the Greek Goddess Iris through the Aborigine Rainbow serpent to the Hawaiian rainbow maiden. then we link in how a rainbow is formed and the spectrum and finish with our wonderful rainbow glasses that split white light up into a myriad of rainbows - quite a trip really!

The idea of the story tent is to create a space removed from the science centre that is peaceful and quiet and creates an atmosphere of wonder. Our room certainly does that!

Arnold School from Blackpool were the first ones to try it out yesterday. The year 4 group said it was awesome - quite a compliment I think.
It does look a bit like a tarts boudoir with all the swathes of material and coloured lights but it is a super place to tell legends and I think year 4 might be making some of their own up back at school.
Now I am off to research the myths about the sun, stars, moon and planets.........

Sunday, 30 October 2011

Gunpowder Treason and Plot!

We have just finished Autumn half term holiday week at Catalyst which is usually one of our busiest weeks of the year. This time was no exception.
I have created a show on the theme of Bonfire night so all about gunpowder, fireworks and generally blowing thinks up. As ever I tweak the basic show because I get very easily bored so won't do the same thing over and over. This time I added some spectacular indoor fireworks - I am not sure I would ever use them inside my home - I am sure they would set fire to the place!! but they worked fantastically in the show room.
In the show I talk about fuel which leads onto the custard factory explosion - so then I can do some dust explosions. HSD loss prevention consultants have loaned me a piece of kit - a Hartman tube which they use to test dust explosions.
So I set off icing sugar and because the kit is very safe I can get a volunteer to come and set it off. This time I also added the classic demo where you sprinkle something like coffee whitener over a flame and it was certainly impressive. The finale is the whoosh bottle which always gets a round of applause .
We had full houses for nearly every show and it certainly went down well.

We are taking the show out on the road next week to  Liverpool so I hope they turn the fire alarms off!!!

Friday, 7 October 2011

How many senses have we got?
Really funny week with very little ones!
We have just finished a week of themed activities with mainly younger children based around Healthy Humans. One of the workshops was tasty toothpaste where we make our own bicarbonate of soda based toothpaste and try it out against shop bought ones. It always makes me laugh how many of the little ones offer to let me brush their own teeth with it! We don't of course - we use ceramic tiles with flowers drawn on in permanent marker and they brush the tile but.....
They love making up weird colours - as soon as they realise that the colour really doesn't make the toothpaste work any better they all want purple or brown or orange.

One of the other sessions we have been doing is called Our Super Senses so of course the first question is how many senses do we have....well that is a debate and a half. One little girl was sure we had 9 because we breathe and we have knees - you try responding to that one without grinning!

Today we had 5 groups - 150 little ones aged between 5 and 7 all trying to identify mystery smells and work out what objects were hidden in the shakers. It was really super to see a visually impaired lad be the best in his class and working out the answers - without good eyesight his other senses truly are SUPER!

So I have sent them all home to see what happens if you hold your nose while you eat.... I can imagine some interesting conversations at the dinner table this weekend!

Monday, 26 September 2011

Primary Science DVD launch

At long last we have the launch of the RSC NW Trust sponsored Primary science DVD. I had not realised that it was in 2008 that I was approached to think of something to help primary teachers be inspired to have a go at experiments based around Materials and their properties ( chemistry type stuff). I immediately thought of my good friend and fellow science buff Lorelly Wilson who does the most amazing science shows. Lorelly's shows are quiet and quite serious but fascinating and full of great science ideas - my shows are much louder and often very messy but we complement each other well.
Together we came up with the idea to create a DVD of short clips for primary teachers to give them ideas for classroom experiments, starters or just simple let's have a go and see what happens type science.
We both knew that specialised equipment and chemicals are virtually unheard of in a primary school so it would have to be based around everyday containers and household chemicals that everyone could get hold of. After many months of planning we finally were ready for two days of filming here at Catalyst with the fantastic Centrescreens production company from Manchester. Cheryl our producer guided us through the filming process, re-takes and goofs and the final result is amazing - even though I say it myself. Plus thanks to the faith that the RSC NW Trust put in me all that time ago we have been able not only to fund the filming but also reproduction and distribution so any primary school teacher, student teacher science ambassador or interested science presenter,  can have a copy for free.
Catalyst has taken on the job of sending out DVDs on request plus the local sections of the RSC have been lending a hand and distributing within their area.
Last Thursday we held the official launch - attended by Andrew Miller chair of the science committee at the House of Commons, local MPs and the great and the good with a smattering of local teachers and supporters for good measure.
Thank you to everyone who helped to make this possible!

The Manchester RSCYM have even put the clips on You Tube! So if you want my autograph....actually if you want some ideas grab a DVD!

Friday, 19 August 2011

So another week of holiday events ends! I wonder how many families will be having a go at the experiments this weekend? Sales of the booklet have gone really well plus lots of questions about further exploration. It is great to see families all having a go at the experiments not just the kids - I love it when grandma wants to get messy with the cornflour - that is what hands on science really is!!
Some other people expanded their horizons this week - huge thanks to all the helpers that took part - this was definitely not a one man band! Some of the Catalyst staff left their normal work and came to muck in... and made a brilliant job of it. Special mention to Nathan - the slime king!! and to Sian - queen of the gloop.

just one problem - who realised just how long it wold take to get rid of a tub of gloop after we had finished running on it!

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

kitchen chemistry to the MAX

This week our family activity is kitchen chemistry. It is a brief demo session followed by about 30 minutes of intense hands on. We have had people walking on custard ( well cornflour really) and making slime plus home made indicator testing and so on.
One thing I forgot - summer is not the time for red cabbage but I managed to create a very passable indicator using blackberries which smells so much nicer than the cabbage and works just fine!
Everyone has to pitch in and help with this one as it is very staff intensive - and we are two staff down - one has moved on and one is off long term sick! What am I doing to folk!! So all the volunteers have been thrown in at the deep end - even someone who only wanted to observe Learning outside the classroom for two days - we don't do observing but we do roll our sleeves up and get involved! And boy Vikki has - brilliantly!
So more of the same tomorrow - plus sales of my book ( well booklet really!) have raised over £7 so far - which is not bad as it all helps to go towards the consumables!!

Tuesday, 2 August 2011

It's been ages since I have been able to post anything and sincere apologies to those who follow this blog.
Life has been hectic both at home and at the science centre.
At home - we finally lost the battle to save our pusscat Smartie which left a huge whole in our lives. We had no intentions of getting more cats - this was to be the last in the long line of Halliday chocolate named cats. But the house was so quiet and if one of us was away we really noticed how silent the house was!
So we now have kittens - and there is a reason the house was quiet - quiet being a lovely description....and not what we have now. Cute and cuddly and mayhem is what we have right now. So no computers - they managed to break my laptop within a week! No jewellery making - beads are way too tempting and very little anything else..... and no blog!! The boys are called Theo and Bromo ( OK so think about it... all our cats have been named after chocolate bars....think "theobromocacao.......")

Add to this the fact that Carrie Anne long time education team member and Egyptologist finally took the plunge and launched into the big wide world of the National Trust! So Helen and I are running the place over the summer - and not really firing on all cylinders because we are so rushed. Helen only works part time so at the end of a day I am lying down in a dark room with a BIG drink!!

Summer holiday activities stared well with Musical Junk - you guessed it musical intruments from recycled rubbish - very Blue Peter!
Now we are into Bubble Trouble - bubbles of all sizes. This is a great day out for all ages but especially the little ones - as long as they don't drink the bubbles. When you are 3 it is hard to remember when to suck and when to blow!!

We also have a brilliant  project running in the lab to celebrate International year of Chemistry 2011. Working with Keele uni and RSC NW Trust we have created a molecule treasure trail around the building linking molecules to our exhibits and in the lab you can build molecules of all shapes and sizes from MolyMod.

It is Tuesday end of play and we have had two great days of bubbles - we are all damp but we have had good visitor numbers.
Next week is the science of your summer holidays so lots of sandcastles and liquid nitrogen ice cream.

All I need now is a little peace and quiet to finish off the I won't be doing it at home then!!!

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

make some noise for Catalyst!

We had a visit yesterday from Esther McVey MP for West Kirby on the Wirral. She toured the place and saw what we get up to and bless her tweeted all about it. We need more of this if we are to up our visitor numbers and continue to be able to offer the brilliant hands on science that happens here.
Centres like ours are expensive to run and we get NOTHING from the Government or local council so we are totally reliant on money through the door - either from the visitors or through sponsorship.
Times are hard -we all know that - but science needs somewhere like us to be able to offer exciting activities that stretch the imagination and engage people in science. Families making science based costmetics, science club members doing stuff they can't get their hands on in school; teachers pushing their own boundaries and having a go!
One young man told his teacher last week that this was the coolest place he had ever been to and could he bring his mum to see us! Of course!!!!!
So friends and followers - if you have any influence give a shout out for us - because if people don't know how great we are then we don't get the recognition we need and of course we don't get the money to keep us going. We may be small but we punch way above our weight and WOW do we make science exciting!

Saturday, 14 May 2011

more science fun

being creative - making new shows
this is the reaction I am looking for!

Posted by Picasa

So what about next year?

I am actually on holiday from Catalyst but being away from the workface helps to be creative rather than being bogged down in day to day minutiae.
So my thoughts have turned towards the new programme for 2011/12 which is usually published in mid June and sent out about 4,000 schools.
The first thing I need to do is to check the school holiday dates which this time are much more sensible. The current academic year has seen half term and Easter holiday dates all over the place which has caused us real problems at Catalyst as our visitors come from across many education authorities with different holiday dates.
However next year everything seems to synchronise which is a really good thing and should help us with visitor figures.
Some local schools were only actually in school for 6 days in April - so of course no-one was going to arrange a trip out but we also had to contend with Easter Bank holidays and other authorities being off school. In the end we made the decision to run three weeks of activities - hence all the candy floss!!

A couple of my guest speakers have decided to retire so next year I will have to think about either creating more shows or finding speakers.
We have already decided to highlight Healthy Humans because we have two or three activities that fit into the theme so with another one or two we should have a good section broadening our range.
It looks like we will be creating a special space for story telling - watch this space for more information and photos once we get going on it! I think we will be very creative.
I am also going to make the historical/object handling ideas actually happen. We have been working on this for a while but with a new deadline to meet we will get going next week.
Apart from that I think we just need to tweak the programme details and highlight Murder at the Manor because it is such a good session and schools haven't really picked it up yet.
So back to work on Monday and put all these ideas into practice.

Saturday, 30 April 2011

marathon end in site!

It has been a very long three weeks of holiday activities covering all the Easter holidays and this weekend's mega holiday for the Royal wedding and May day holiday.
Counting the extra sessions booked by holiday clubs etc we will have done 35 Sugar and Spice shows plus 52 Sweet temptations sessions - a marathon by anyone's standards.
Well done to all the team for an heroic effort. We have looked at the science of chocolate, candy floss, jelly beans, rice crispies, popcorn and sherbet. We have made so many crispie cakes we could sink the centre and I am now thinking about running away with the fair, I am so good at making candy floss!
Hopefully everyone who has been to a session has enjoyed themselves and learnt a little more about science.
The vagaries of the English education system mean that we have only 4 weeks until the next holiday!So in the words of Monty Python for something completely different....we will be Up Close and Personal - thinking about costmetics, washing and bodily functions! What a job!

Sunday, 24 April 2011

candy floss

We are a business and so have to bring in the public whenever we can because they pay the bills! Hence this holidays theme of the science behind your sweets and chocolate. Actually I have discovered some amazing facts about how the brain reacts to sweeties, how popping candy explodes in your mouth and I can now make the coolest candy floss ever.
There is quite a skills involved in making candy floss!!
I think the best experiment we share with our visitors is the fact that you really do need your nose to experience flavour - just try eating a jelly bean while holding your nose. If you allow it to begin to dissolve a little and then let go of your nose suddenly you are filled with whatever flavour jelly bean you picked.
Try a trick on someone at home. Cut an onion in half - you can let them see you do this, have a slice of apple handy - don't let them see this. Have you victim close their eyes or blind fold them if you know they will peek! Hold the onion near their nose but feed them the apple and they will be convinced you have fed them onion! mean trick? Yes but not as mean as jelly belly "bean boozled" - you have no idea which is the nasty or the nice flavour - slightly worrying that I am developing a taste for baby wipes flavoured beans.......

Friday, 15 April 2011

In praise of student placements

Purely by accident we got roped into a foreign student placement. One of our board members asked if we could help her out by having a German language student who is also a chemist on a three week placement with us. I was not sure at first because the placement was supposed to be lab work to extend scientific English skills and three weeks with us certainly was not going to be that! h
However Carolin has been brilliant. She was a little surprised to be at a Discovery centre helping in family activities all about sweets and chocolate but we are having a fantastic time. Her English is stunning and my German is dire but we are getting on really well and she loves the shows. Two of the senior managers from the placement organisation came for a visit today. Matthias and Ulrich were amazed at quite what we were getting up to and even complemented me on my easy to understand English ( without an accent!! in their opinion) but I have to say I found it very hard not to think of Basil at Fawlty Towers when one of them bowed and clicked his heels when we shook hands.
I hope that the next two weeks are as much fun for Carolin as this one has been.

Saturday, 2 April 2011

science fun

tasty toothpaste!

Hmmmmm I wonder if I should be creative impulsively more often!
We got a phone call at Catalyst from a school desperate to get in a trip linked to their topic on Healthy Teeth and Bones. This was to be a finale to their topic but the question was - where did an activity that would fit.
"Can you create something in a hurry Sue?" I was asked - if you know me then the answer is usually "no problem!" and off I go and have a mini meltdown trying to be creative.
Well for once not only was I creative but everything worked - it worked really well!

I created a simple workshop where we looked at why we brush our teeth; how much hidden sugar there is in fizzy drink (Try the floating coke can experiment - it is very revealing - you can see it working here
Then we played with some huge teeth models I have got and brushed a giant mouth full of teeth with a giant toothbrush - of course!

Finally we made our own simple bicarbonate of soda based toothpaste which we coloured totally wacky colours to see if toothpaste really had to be minty type colours!!
We tested the toothpaste on ceramic tiles which we had drawn on with marker. The home made paste did really well compared to commercial brands. Should we set up in business I wonder!!!
I am beginning to put together the new education programme for 2011/12 and I think this has earned a place!

Tuesday, 29 March 2011

new folk to inspire

Catalyst is taking part in Halton's people into jobs programme which means we offer work placements to local people but they get paid by the council. So we have two new guys working with us for 6 months. Nathan is helping out Paul on the technical and handyman side and Alex is working with us in education. Alex is thinking about training to be a teacher - well he will certainly know whether he wants to teach or not by the time he has finished with us.
Yesterday was a baptism of fire - we had 250 year 7s from Cardinal Heenan school in Liverpool. I did three flash gang whoosh shows - huge fun! The boys were super and really enjoyed their day - they were very enthusiastic about the shows!
I think Alex and Nathan were a little overawed at so many kids all in one place but we had a good day and both of them came back today for more!
Today Alex put on a lab coat and certainly began to enjoy being a scientist - I hope he continues to enjoy this!

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

reviewing NSEW

Last week was very busy. National Science and Engineering week which lasts over 10 days here at Catalyst because we get so busy!
We started with Flash Bang Whoosh shows for secondary schools with a guest presenter thrown in on the Friday from King's school Macclesfield - thanks to the guys who came over - all three are as mad as they come but passionate about science and they certainly do a mean show!
Saturday was the world première for Alicia Cutler studying chemistry at Manchester Met. She presented her first ever science show - the magic of the movies. Saturday science club were the lab rats and I think they had a good time!Well done Alicia - I loved the sugar glass!!
The Ed team did another Flash Bang show for the public in the afternoon and lots of the morning gang stayed so a good time was had by all.
Monday was more secondary shows and then we changed gear for the primary shows - lots of liquid nitrogen and dry ice, burning iron filings and generally causing lots of oohs and aahs. Great fun and some really big audiences on some of the days. I think Wednesday and Friday broke the record for how many kids can you squash into a science show!!
So three very tired but happy science presenters finished the week with not quite a bang but certainly a whoosh!

Saturday, 12 March 2011

Students visit

We had a group of student teachers visit us from Liverpool John Moores University. All the Education team were involved in leading sessions with them. Soap, fantastic plastic and a hands on in your classroom session.
I shared snippets from the RSC DVD we have been involved in making and we had a go at some experiments suitable and easy to do in primary classroom
Hopefully as they go out into schools on placement this week we will have inspired some of the students to have a go!

Thursday, 24 February 2011

Are you really a scientist?

Why do people ask in surprise "Are you really a scientist?" when I have just delivered a show or workshop about some scientific topic.
Sometimes I feel like answering No I am an actor just pretending....!

Thursday, 17 February 2011

Curing the Plague??

This is a strange time here at Catalyst.
It is half term school holidays in some education authorities but others are not off school until next week.
We made the decision to put on holiday events over both weeks which means we are having fewer people in but it will stretch over both weeks and hopefully we will get the same number as usual in the end.
But the workshops have smaller audiences - not a bad thing really as we are usually so packed it is a stretch on resources BUT running a show for 2 families is rather too intense!
Especially as the shows is supposed to be interactive with lots of volunteers coming out to have ago. The short show is all about medicines from the old days - old wives tales etc the "show" bit lasts about 15 minutes then the audience get to have a go at hands on stuff themselves - making a nosegay posy to keep off the plague; testing fruit juice for Vit C, curing stings with old wives tales and so on....
One good thing about doing two weeks is that I don't have to worry this weekend about setting up - it is all ready and I can relax!

Monday, 7 February 2011

Chemistry:- It's All About You

I really love this video. It sums up what I try to do every day

Madness and mayhem

Last week was amazing! We had a guest speaker here at Catalyst - Dr Bunhead AKA Tom Pringle from the TV show Brainiac
Naturally anything to do with the TV brings out the crowds and we were heaving! Tom has been coming here for a number of years with his exploding energy show for KS3.
Most days we had 200+ teenagers who were extremely excited. Also most days the Education team were busy teaching lots of workshops and stuff because the schools didn't just come to see the show they wanted to do extra stuff too.
So by Friday we were all a bit dazed and extremely tired but great financially for Catalyst - as ever it is hand to mouth!
It looks like most of the funding we do get will disappear so we will be left to fend for ourselves.
However bookings are good and we expect a great National Science and Engineering week.
This week is quieter but we are getting ready for half term. We sit astride two different areas as far as school holidays are concerned. Although we are in Halton which tends to follow Liverpool holidays, most of our visitors and from Cheshire, Manchester and Wales who are not following Liverpool holidays. So for Feb half term we are doing 2 weeks - this is a bit of a gamble so we will see what happens.

Thursday, 20 January 2011

Sharing a chemical moment in time

Went to an all girls event on Tuesday. The first one in this International Year of Chemistry. A breakfast for women chemists at Liverpool John Moores Uni. We skype linked with numerous other breakfasts from around the world and thought about how to get girls into chemistry.
Great presentation from Dr Helen Aspinall Liverpool Uni showing how once women are at uni there is very little difference gender wise in take up for undergrads.
Some super speakers sharing a schools point of view, the industry scene and then I talked about how to get the very young interested and to keep up interest in the non specialist.
It was certainly worth doing especially as this is the first event in a year of celebrations.
I think perhaps people like me have the hardest job - it certainly seems that once you choose chemistry there is nothing to stop you getting on in academia although industry still doesn't have enough senior women and anecdotal reports seem to say it is still very blokey. But getting girls interested in the first place is still hard - we are so influenced by the media and girls want to fit in so being a scientist especially a chemist is still just that little bit too strange.

Monday, 10 January 2011

Communicating science

Spent lots of last week in meetings or speaking about science communication.
First day back after the hols and I was off to Manchester to Centrescreens Productions to view the final edit of a fantastic DVD for primary teachers. The Royal Society of Chemistry North West Trust commissioned me and my great friend and colleague Lorelly Wilson ( to create something to inspire primary school teachers to have a go at hands on science in their classroom. We have all heard the tales of health and safety closing down science - NOT TRUE!!
These are just tales and lots of great teachers out there are having a go but there are also lots who are not sure where to start or what to do to make their science fun.
This is especially true in chemistry - which isn't called chemistry in primary school but Materials and their Proprieties - hey ho!
Anyway - Lorelly and I have put together this fun DVD full of clips of experiments to have a go at using little or no equipment and everyday household ingredients.
We had a wonderful time filming it and now it is almost ready... just a couple of days away from going into lots of schools in the North West for free.

Thursday lunchtime I was out at West Derby Rotary speaking about my work and sharing the joys of being a science communicator with the good folk of Liverpool. What a super bunch of people and thanks for the donation to Catalyst funds guys!

Friday and off I was again, this time to Chester to the School of Education to talk about a project we got involved in last year linking student teachers, schools and learning outside the classroom placements like us.
We worked with a school in Ellesmere Port giving their year 6 pupils a chance to make a real difference to our displays, notices and trails. The project is running again this year so I was sharing case study information with the prospective placements. Good luck everyone!