Monday, 29 July 2019


As I am writing this it is pouring with rain and has been for 48 hours - some of the country has had a heatwave and in some places people are asking what heatwave???

On the supposed hottest day I was engulfed in a torrential hailstorm!

hailstones on July 25th

However whatever the summer weather most of us are totally converted to wearing sun protection and if you read the last posting you will have got a good understanding of why.
Now, of course, there are so many things the conscientious person has to think about including the latest - sunscreen and the ocean. There are findings that seem to suggest that certain chemicals in sunscreen can cause coral bleaching and in the light of this research some places are banning many sunscreens.

Some sunscreens contain inorganic pigments and minerals like titanium oxide and many contain organic compounds such as oxybenzone and octinoxate that absorb UV radiation. It is the latter that are causing concern. 
Apparently sunscreen formulation has not really changed over the last 25 years and many ecologists are demanding that the industry gets up to date and creates new products. 

Last year, the Pacific nation of Palau announced that, from 2020, it will ban sunscreens containing certain chemicals linked with coral degradation. Tourists will have offending suncreams confiscated and anyone importing them will face a $1,000 fine. 

 Jellyfish Lake is one of Palau’s key tourist attractions. Photograph: Ullstein Bild/Getty Images

Hawaii’s ban on sunscreens that contain oxybenzone or octinoxate – the two most controversial chemical compounds – comes into force in 2021, and tourists swimming at certain beauty spots in Mexico are already forbidden from wearing not just chemically active but non-biodegradable sunscreens - so the local advice is to buy there because this ban is strictly enforced.

In Hawaii a report found that oxybenzone and octinoxate can cause coral bleaching and high levels had been found at popular tourist swimming resorts.

It is a minefield because we know our ocean ecosystems are in trouble from climate change and pollution so the last thing we want to be doing is contributing to that with our sun protection. 
The brilliant folk at Compound Interest have produced a poster explaining the issues.
you can find one of the research articles here

I have done a little research too and it is quite hard to make sure we are doing the right thing! Plus as ever there are companies jumping on the bandwagon with amazing claims and high prices.
Big name companies have claimed their products do not affect the ecosystem and are safe because of the extensive testing needed for personal products but consumers are taking matters into their own hands a turning away from the big brands to smaller names such as Banana Boat and other "ocean friendly" sunscreens.
ocean friendly sunscreen

Australia is getting very involved in the issue

I read a very level headed article from the Guardian which ended with the advice - if you are holidaying in the banned areas buy your sunscreen there because they are not allowed to sell anything on the banned list. If you plan a trip to a delicate ecosystem  then try to buy ocean friendly sunscreen. If you are staying in the UK you'll be fine - at the moment!!
One great fact I did find is that the old faithful Boots Soltan is ocean & coral friendly and has always been - they don't use any of the culprit ingredients.

And to make matters worse it could be that the mineral oils  and some nanoparticles in sunscreens can cause problems too
Just when you thought it was safe to go in the water...........

Tuesday, 23 July 2019


I've been trawling the archive having a look at old SUMMER SCIENCE SNIPPETS to see what can be updated and what is just so good it is worth sharing again! So over the next few weeks while UK schools are closed I will be sharing some old and some new and some tweaked Science Snippets. Here is an updated one first shared in 2015!


Depending where you live you may have had a decent amount of sun or very little at all this summer so you might be thinking that it is an umbrella you need not sunscreen but UV can damage our skin even on a cloudy day so the science of sunscreen is always worth another look.

When choosing sunscreen you need to look for one that includes UVA and UVB protection - UVA penetrates deeper into dermis giving the deeper damage - ageing, wrinkles and some skin cancers whereas UVB is the redness and sunburn and can also contribute to skin cancer.
There are creams, gels and sprays on the market that only need applying once a day even if you go swimming and you can get very high factors beyond 50 for fair skins, sensitive skins and the very young. Plus don't forget if you are taking medication or pregnant that can have an effect on your sensitivity. 
Apply liberally - and it really does means that - you need to make sure that you have covered your skin and all those easy to miss spots like the top of your feet!

special UVA filters on the camera show the effect of wearing sunscreen

There are some fun creams for youngsters that go on in neon colours so you can see where you have applied and the kids think it is cool. 

There are also some great gels around for sporty folk who will get sweaty and for the more hairy who hate putting heavy creams on.

You can now get clothes, flip flops, hair bobbles and wrist bands that change colour in UV and give you an idea about exposure.

Over the years we have used our UV beads many times and always everyone is so surprised at how reactive they are even in weak sunlight.

If you haven't seen them before they are little creamy coloured beads that turn brightly coloured when exposed to UV.
We often use them in investigations to test whether the different factors of sunscreen make a difference. I have seen them made into scrunchies for hair, tied on flip flops and even sewn onto baby clothing. I think many people are not aware how UV can bounce around even when you think you are in the shade.
The images here speak for themselves.
You can see the beads exposed to full sunlight at the top of each bag and then one bag is smeared with Factor 20 and the other Factor 30. The F20 beads are quite noticeably darker than the F30.

The very first time we did this I made the mistake of smearing the sunscreen onto the beads themselves and it took me forever to get it all off! So now we use a plastic bag smeared with sunscreen to show the effect .
You can also use the beads to show how sunglasses protect your eyes ( or not) from UV but that is for another post!

Thursday, 11 July 2019


WOW! what an amazing day!
If you have never experienced 8,000 young people all excited about STEM then you need to make sure you go to Big Bang NW next year because it will lift your scientific spirits.
We went over to the Liverpool Exhibition Centre on the Monday1st July to deliver all of our kit and to see the set up. To our delight the show stage was bigger than ever with a super size back stage just perfect for setting up and prepping.
Early on the next day we set off into Liverpool and managed to get a good parking space so we didn't have far to carry stuff.
Once we were signed in, badged and braceletted we went into the arena. It was huge with machinery, a helicopter, balloons and so many stands to visit.
We were on the main show stage sponsored by Scottish Power - due on last in the morning session so it gave us plenty of time to wander round and see what was on offer.
Soon all the schools arrived and the place began to come alive.
We watched the team from Lego who shared their new dancing robot and everyone had lots of fun dancing with Spike then we were thrilled by insects, lizards and snakes from Zoolab.
Finally it was our turn!

Andy Kent the ringmaster warmed up the audience and introduced us and our signing interpreter Andy who taught us all how to sign Science is Cool.
Then we were all passed in quite a blur - the pink and blue bottles, rainbow test tubes, fire and flame plus lots and lots of dry ice.
All to soon it had come to an end....thankfully we were on 1st on the afternoon session so it was a quick reset and a very short break as the morning school left followed by the next groups arriving and we were on again.
The afternoon crowd seemed even livelier and our session went very well. Lots of laughter, volunteering, popping off lids and again soon over. Wow the adrenaline rush!
It was a great day - we really enjoyed ourselves.
You can catch all the action on the All About STEM website, FB page and Twitter feed. So here are just a few images from our side of the stage - enjoy!