Royal Society Summer Science Exhibition

This year the Royal Society’s Summer Science Exhibition is taking place online between the 8 – 11 July 2021. 

With a packed programme of inspiring talks, fun science from home activities and exciting digital content, there is something for all ages.

Nineteen research groups from across the UK will be demonstrating their research through innovative digital experiences, from escape rooms and quizzes to virtual tours and digital games. 

This year you can explore all the cutting-edge research through our interactive Summer Science hub, with four exciting zones:

Zone 1: View from above
Blast off to the view from above zone to discover where galaxies come from, how we can track carbon from space, whether there has ever been life on Mars or simply marvel at how the iconic images from Hubble have changed the way we view our Universe forever.

Zone 2: Urban landscape
Explore the urban landscape zone to find out how microbes can turn rubbish into riches, test whether you can tell a landmine from a bottle top, design your own aeroplane based on a birds’ wing, test your eye control with the latest in robot simulations or discover how our air could be fresh again.

Zone 3: Under the skin
Delve under the skin in our zone dedicated to bodily research. Explore how tumours are made of different types of cells, why humans are smelly or how researchers are learning to grow new body parts from stem cells. Try your hand at creating 3D-printed personalised pills or ask yourself if you would connect your brain to the internet.

Zone 4: Forces of nature
Bring the outdoors in and explore the forces of nature zone. Do you know what a bee’s favourite flower is, or what the last day of the dinosaurs looked like? Discover what happens when we have too much water and take a forward look as we see how nature can help us to tackle the climate emergency and help us build a more sustainable future. 

In addition to the zones there will be a programme of short, online lightning lectures every day as well as interactive workshops and family shows at the weekend. The Big Summer Science Quiz will also return with science-themed rounds from well-known faces on Wednesday 7 July at 6.30pm, so get your team together and put the date in your diaries now. 

You can find the programme of events here.

Taking part in Summer Science 2021

This looks like a fantastic opportunity to entertain yourself and your family so why not have a look?

A Look at the Green Labs NL Project

Last week I raised a few questions about the kind of futures are envisaged for the planet from a rather argumentative standpoint: what will the political implication be if we take the technological fix approach to defending the climate?

Today I want to cast some light on a project that is asking another related question: what are the environmental consequences of actually carrying out scientific research?

This question moves beyond the idea that science and technological development might be able to help in reaching predetermined environmental standards (think about the Paris accord) or aims (UN Sustainable Development Goals) as it questions the research practices that might lead to this.

How can scientists make their research greener?

A small group of scientists in the Netherlands aim to investigate this question. They call themselves Green Labs NL.

From the website:

Green labs NL was started in 2021 by a few members of the Dutch Scientific Community who realized they shared a passion for making their science more sustainable.

The group aim to build a wider community in The Netherlands to help encourage individual scientists, lab groups and whole institutes to go greener when it comes to how we use our lab spaces, and the way we do science. The platform can aid by sharing resources and information, but also by bringing other like-minded scientists together.

It is run by scientists, and is fully non-profit. There is no CEO, CSO, … It is kept alive by the scientific community! 

This small team of scientists (4 people) have launched a really interesting blog and just held their first online Green Labs NL network meeting (in English).  The website also hosts a forum and a useful links section, one of which leads to Harvard University’s Green Labs website, so they are not alone in this movement.

This is an exciting development and I will certainly follow their work, and hope that some of our Technology Bloggers readers might do the same.

Luck in Scientific Work

Luck In Scientific Work

Last week I wrote a post about Alexander Fleming’s luck in discovering penicillin. I want to continue this discussion this week, as I left it (deliberately) one-sided.

Fleming went on holiday without cleaning his dishes, some mold grew that seemed to secrete something that killed some types of bacteria. Had he cleaned the dishes, he would not have made the discovery and nobody would know his name today.

But we have to acknowledge that this little piece of luck found itself in a scientific laboratory, and it was not luck that led Fleming to understanding the importance of the mold. Other people might not have noticed what was happening for example, only a chemist working with bacteria would have understood the importance of the gap developing between the mold and the bacteria..

In effect, we could see the growth of the mold was part of the experiment process, even though it was unforeseen. Without the scientific process it becomes merely mold!

Here is an article about other discoveries that owe something to luck.

Luck as a Scientist

From the various articles in the Journal of Responsible Innovation special issue on luck, I learn that luck is seen by scientists as playing a greater role in science’s social worlds, rather than the experiments themselves. Who receives your project (luckily someone who shares your approach maybe) could be important in terms of whether it receives funding or is rejected. Meeting someone in a lift who gives you a tip about something, or flicking through the cable TV in your hotel room and coming across a program that sets off a chain reaction in your thinking that leads to an understanding, lucky events that may lead to something big.

Obviously, we can take this as far back as we want, and bring in global political events such as wars and pandemics, but lucky encounters on a local level do seem to be important in building careers and carrying out scientific processes.

Luck in the Future

Now the big question then. What about luck in the future regarding something that you have developed yourself as a scientist?

Let’s take the invention of the electronic joystick by SEGA in 1969 as en example. This revolutionary control system boasted a fire button that enabled players of their Missile game to steer their missile towards enemy tanks on the screen. Little did the developers know (nor could they have predicted) the uses that this technology would be put to in the future: remote surgery techniques, flying modern jet aircraft, and flying unmanned drones over foreign lands, executing people from the comfort of an office in the USA.

There is a risk that your discovery will go on to be used for things that you might not like. You may be lucky or you may be unlucky, and may receive credit for having bettered the world, or unlucky and face huge criticism in the future.