Inspiring future scientists to see the world a different way

Oxford Mail: Ralph Taylor, seven, holds an artificial hand as Amanda Hyne, from Oxford Brookes University, brushes it at the launch of the Oxfordshire Science Festival in Bonn Square on Saturday Ralph Taylor, seven, holds an artificial hand as Amanda Hyne, from Oxford Brookes University, brushes it at the launch of the Oxfordshire Science Festival in Bonn Square on Saturday

I WILL always remember my first Brookes Science Bazaar. It was the year 2009. My colleagues and I were running microscopy workshops throughout the whole day.

The air conditioning struggled to cope with the heat produced by two big laser microscopes, a bunch of excited children and their parents. At the end of the day, we collapsed in exhaustion.

Oxford Mail:

Dr Anne Osterrieder

But it was all worth it because we got to share our passion for plant cells with our visitors. Together we dived into the microcosmos of a plant leaf and, open-mouthed, watched fluorescent organelles whizzing through the cells.

The following year, we became directors of the Disgustovision Show.

Wearing striped shirts and tiny top hats, we guided visitors into our microscopic world and turned their perceptions upside-down.

Who would have thought that pesky fruit flies look stunning when observed with a scanning electron microscope?

Blue cheese under the microscope resembled a network of caves, filled with disgusting blue mould. For every parent who left with the resolution to never eat Stilton again, we gave each other a stealthy and triumphant high-five.

Changing perceptions of visitors remains one of our main goals.

At the 2012 event, a small boy whispered to his father: “Daddy, daddy – I just saw a scientist!” But on that day, the lab coat – the scientist symbol – was only worn by English students running the science-themed poetry lab.

Our researchers are not stereotypical old men with white lab coats, goggles and spiky hair. We are real people, young and old, and, against all rumours, we have a life outside the university.

Events like the science bazaar give us the opportunity to talk to people outside our discipline. Sometimes this can be a challenge for both sides when we realise how specialised some of our research is.

Engaging in this dialogue, communicating our work and passion, and listening to new and different voices can help us to become better researchers.

At the heart of Brookes Science Bazaar will be our young visitors. For this year, we again have put together an exciting and fun package of interactive activities.

Do you have the XX factor?

Have a go at modelling chromosomes and see what happens when they get hit with radiation.

How well do you know your brain? Do we always see what we think we see? Who in your family makes the best decisions? Take a close look at insects, and test your bird identification skills. Explore DNA, viruses and the bones in our bodies. Learn life supporting skills, a magic trick and join in a birthing simulation.

If you visit us on Saturday, March 22, talk to us and ask questions. We might not know all the answers, but that is all right. Science is not about knowing everything, but about curiosity, creativity and having the courage to ask in the first place.

This event is part of Oxfordshire Science Festival 2014.

The Brookes Science Bazaar takes place on the university’s Headington campus from 11am to 4pm. Visit hls.brookes.ac.uk/ brookes-science-bazaar

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