Tag Archives: podcast

Speaking to… James Randerson

“If you’re going to set up a blog, there is a time commitment to that, to make a go of it you need to give it some energy, thought and time… So you need to think through before you do it, what are you trying to achieve through it?”

James Randerson
Image courtesy of The Guardian

This is part of a series of interviews with science communicators about science communication. Today we are Speaking to… James Randerson

James Randerson is the Assistant National News Editor at the Guardian, but yesterday he was the man co-ordinating the science blogging masterclass at the Guardian.

The day included sessions from James Randerson himself (about the rules of science communication and when to break them), Jon Butterworth (about blogging as an academic), Suzi Gage (blogging the evidence) and Dean Burnett (how to be objective, topical and funny).

Together, they gave us a run-down of their science blogging experience, including some top tips and cautionary tales. Continue reading


Speaking to… Kevin Davies

“It’s not a one way track where you’re sort of closed off. It can really lead you to some other exciting careers down the road.”

Kevin-Davies-science-communicationThis feature podcast is part of a series of interviews with science communicators about science communication. Today we are Speaking to… Kevin Davies

Kevin Davies took the leap from the lab bench to the writing desk, was the founder of the first Nature sister journal Nature Genetics, and is now a publisher at the American Chemical Society.

Kevin Davies is definitely not the only person to become disgruntled with life at the lab bench. In this podcast we discuss his transition from lab-bench to writing desk, and the challenges, highs and lows in between.

20 years ago, Kevin got the feeling that genetics and molecular biology research weren’t for him. His colleagues were landing great Cell papers, but he wasn’t. He didn’t know what was going wrong. It wasnt the fault of his supervisors or colleagues, it was something that wasnt clicking for him.

To get validation that he wasn’t terrible at science, he started writing. His first big breakthrough was when he had started freelance writing for the New Scientist in 1989, when he had a front row seat to the race to identify the gene for cystic fibrosis. And he never looked back.

Kevin’s belief though, was that this was the only option for him. He had spent the previous years training as a scientist, and hadn’t done anything else. His only choice was to remain involved with science…but in some other way.

I ask him if this is the only option for scientists who are loosing their passion for research. Obviously it isn’t. For Kevin, he couldn’t see beyond science. But it was 20 years ago when he joined Nature. Things are completely different now. There are many more options, and much more support for people now. Although he has found publishing to be a great springboard into other things.

As someone who took the leap, Kevin has some advice for those in limbo. From what he’s seen in the USA, the graduate students are much more open to sharing their challenges, compared to when he was younger. There is a lot more debate, discussion and sharing, which is good.

“It shouldn’t be a prison sentence.”

There is no disgrace in a change of heart. But be careful how, and to whom you share your issues!

After this little sidetrack, Kevin and I delve back into what he’s been up to: writing books and working in the movies.

His first book was about the race to find the breast cancer gene BRCA1. Together with Michael White, he wrote Breakthrough, telling not only the scientific saga with Mary-Claire King and Myriad, but also the broader perspective of the politics behind it all.

His second book, Sequence (UK), (Cracking the Genome (US)) which talks about the mapping of the human genome project.

His most recent book is about personal genomics, The $1000 Genome.

And in the future… there are plans to work on a few chapters for James Watson’s second edition of DNA.

His first book however, got spotted by a movie director. He was asked to provide technical direction on Decoding Annie Parker, a true story about a Canadian woman, one of the first women to take breast cancer gene testing in the late 1980’s. The film also explores Mary-Claire King’s (Helen Hunt) adventures in how the breast cancer gene was mapped.

We talk about how difficult or easy it is for a scientist to provide advice to films, and whether or not it is difficult to see that not all the science ends up being exactly how it should be. Especially if a major oscar nominated actress plays a female scientist, this will attract scientists from around the world. But then it should be noted that the point of the film is not about getting the science exactly right. The point of this particular film is to raise awareness of breast cancer. So if the science isn’t perfect, scientists dont be too disgruntled.

We finish the podcast with some golden tips from Kevin for all those other scientists that are in limbo when it comes to decided whether to stay in science or not.

His advice: if the bench isn’t for you, follow your heart and see where it takes you.

PS: apologies if you can hear the washing machine noise in the background…

You can follow Kevin Davies on Twitter at @KevinADavies

Speaking to… Graham Walker

“Like any bit of PhD research, there is no simple answer!”

graham-walker-science-communicationThis feature podcast is part of a series of interviews with science communicators about science communication. Today we are Speaking to… Graham Walker

At the Abu Dhabi Science FEstival 2013, Dr Graham Walker is rushing around Abu Dhabi presenting two different shows.

One of these shows is called “Green Power”, and it explores some of the science behind renewable energies.

Graham has been doing science shows for years, and he’s been doing them so long that he even decided to do some research into their effectiveness. He was curious as to whether or not science shows really do inspire those that watch them.

His research explored different kinds of motivation, from getting kids to keep studying science to the more specific like actually changing the way people think about climate change or HIV Aids.

And then what is it about a show that motivates or inspires your audience? Is it the presenter? The emotions? The humour? All these factors are important when looking at how effective a science show is.

Using a HIV Aids case study in SA, Graham looked at how motivations and beliefs changed from immediately before to immediately after the show, as well as whether or not they had changed again one month after the shows.

Graham has had the priveledge of doing science shows around the world, and for him, one of the most important factors to consider is your audience. Not just the age or gender, but the culture as well. Working in Abu Dhabi, you have to consider their cultural beliefs. These will be different again somewhere else. Every time you take a show somewhere, it has to be changed accordingly. This helps to build relationships with your audience, and allows them to relate to the science that is being communicated.

This was especially true for his HIV Aids show. It would have been difficult for the kids there to relate to the material in the show if Graham had presented it as a white man from Australia. So, Graham worked closely with local people and trained them to deliver the show.


It is working with local people and different audiences that keeps the job challenging and interesting for Graham.

“My belief is that a good science show presenter is a kind of tinkerer, an experimenter. Someone who hasn’t forgotten how to play.”

Informal and formal ways – talks about how he got into it.

Speaking to… Mike Bruton

“What we encourage them to do is to take this knowledge and their enthusiasm home….do a dissection at home on the lounge carpet!”

Mike-Bruton-science-communicationThis feature podcast is part of a series of interviews with science communicators about science communication. Today we are Speaking to… Professor Mike Bruton

At the Abu Dhabi Science Festival 2013, I had the pleasure of meeting Professor Mike Bruton, the founding director of the Cape Town Science Centre.

In this interview with Speaking of Science, Mike talks about the work shop he is running at the festival called What’s Inside: exploring the insides of marine animals.

This fairly unknown world has been at the heart of Mike’s research for the last 40 years, and he hopes that it will fascinate the children at the workshop, especially some of the surprises they find inside!

We also talk about the Bahrain Science Centre that Mike has helped develop over the last two years. Having been fortunate enough to work with MTE Studios, working in science centres in the middle east for many years, Mike has the know-how to set one up in this culture. But moving there full-time was a bit of a shock.

As with any projects that are being set up from square one, there are always issues and kinks that need to be explored and ironed out. So Mike tells me about some of the challenges of setting up the Bahrein Science Centre, as well as the joys.

It’s interesting listening to Mike talk about what it takes to make a successful science centre. It’s all about making sure that the centre offers things that the audience want, especially as they are coming to you out of choice.

One of the other exciting things that Mike has been involved with is the Science Centre World Conferences (held every 3 years), and that he chaired the 6th one in Cape Town in 2011. Over 400 people from 70 countries converged onto Cape Town, focussing on Science Across Cultures: adjusting the way science is taught depending on the culture of where you are teaching, and the importance of indigenous knowledge.

this links directly to some of Mike’s research, as he has been to some more isolated areas on the planet, where he has been learning about the inventions of indigenous people the world over. What he finds fascinating about them is how they make use of certain properties of the world around us, and then how that is transferred into the western world.


Speaking to… Nicola Shepherd

“In a mall there’s shops and what-not, and then there’s these weird bikes and these crazy people in brightly coloured lab coats, but they are still equally excited.”

Nicola-Shepherd-science-communicationThis feature podcast is part of a series of interviews with science communicators about science communication. Today we are Speaking to… Nicola Shepherd

The Abu Dhabi Science Festival 2013 is based at two main locations: one half in a big blue cross-shaped tent on Yas Island, and the other on the Corniche – a large stretch of beach in the main city centre.

Nicola Shepherd is one member of the Busking Bikes team that takes the Science Festival beyond these locations, to people in other areas of Abu Dhabi.

In this podcast, Nicola Shepherd and I talk about the busking bikes, the reactions that people have to the busks, she shows me a demo and she tells me how she got into this international busking life.

The ideas behind science busking is to try and get people to see everyday things in a different way. To get them to explore everyday life from a science point-of-view.

Children are children – everywhere and anywhere they will react the same to a demonstration, according to Nicola. The interesting reactions come from parents.

Parents are often taking their children to events to entertain them, but it is probably surprising to them when they realise they are being entertained too.

Their reactions also vary depending on where they are being entertained: when they bring their children to a science festival, they are ready and prepared for it. In a shopping mall or waterworld, these weird buskers in crazy lab coats are encroaching their space. But even so, the ability for parents to become children again is what Nicola finds fascinating.

There are also differences between busking here and at home: at home, people are used seeing people being silly on the street. Over here, it isnt part of the culture to do things on the streets, but yet they still seem to take to it.

We also discuss Nicola’s trip to Bangalore in India. This was a unique experience; a community experience where the buskers were really well received.

And how did she get to Bangalore and Abu Dhabi as a science busker? Her background is actually in performing arts.

Finally, Nicola shows me how you can put a kebab stick through a balloon, without it bursting!

Speaking to… Jem Stansfield

“When I was a little kid…like four or five years old, I would tell people “One day, I’m going to be a professor of inventions” ….and then for the next kind of 15 years after that I wanted to be a professional footballer.”

Jem-stansfield-science-communicationThis feature podcast is part of a series of interviews with science communicators about science communication. Today we are Speaking to… Jem Stansfield from BBC Bang Goes The Theory

In this podcast, recorded at the Abu Dhabi Science Festival 2013, Jem Stansfield and I talk about his show here, and how there is an incredible amount of story telling when it comes to designing a demonstration.

Ever designed a demonstration? Or even just tinkered in your shed to make something? Jem Stansfield, currently one of the presenters on BBC Bang Goes The Theory, does this for a living.

Making things is what Jem does. Starting out working backstage on Scrapheap Challenge, he has built a plethora of things: cars fueled by coffee, a jet-pack to propel him all the way around a swing, a giant super-sonic vortex canon, and many more wonderful things!

Just like science, there is a method that Jem uses to build his demos: think first, talk about it, build rough prototypes to test your thinking and then scale up. And this is what he tries to bring to the audience in his shows.

Jem is unusual however, in that he tries to use the internet as little as possible when it comes to researching his ideas. He uses people instead. After coming up with an idea, and sometimes having thought about it for a year, he will trial the idea on his friends, and see what it is about the idea that catches their imagination.

Sometimes, it is even a misheard concept that ends up becoming the final model.

With a background in aeronautical engineering, Jem has an incredible trust in maths. So once the ideas have been trialled on people, he starts doing calculations. Sometimes, he then takes his ideas to researchers around the world: It is these opportunities to visit some of the greatest minds for TV shows that keeps him in the business.

But unfortunately, he is not always able to. When working in TV, there are very tight deadlines. Sometimes, Jem only has one day to design, test and build something in 1 day. He build an iceboat for a TV show, and spend 3 100hour weeks working full time on it.

But even he knows that there is only so much maths you can do to design the demo, but it’s also about plucking up the courage to test it too!

We also talk about how Jem first got into this industry, and his first introduction to presenting TV shows by looking at the development of TV shows.

One of my favourite parts of this interview (starts at 14:45) is Jem’s perspective on maths. He was good at maths, but he also found it rather hollow. He said that you could

“circumvent understanding just through the use of algebra.” 

During his final year, Jem was looking at how satellites would be able to withstand small meteor impacts. He ended up working with the technicians that helped build his models. And he found that they knew more about engineering and building than the lecturers who were teaching him.

“It was that physical intuition, that understanding of what those numbers really mean in reality. That is what humans are about.” 

It is having that hands-on experience, and the trust that these people have in their senses of how things work that Jem fell in love with.

And the rest is history.

I really enjoyed meeting Jem Stansfield – I hope you enjoy this chat.

“Never see things for what they are. See things for what they could be, if you gave it a different life.”

Image credit: Peter Wright

Speaking to… Brian Wecht about The Story Collider

“True stories about how science has affected peoples lives.”

Brian-Wecht-Science-CommunicationThis feature podcast is part of a series of interviews with science communicators about science communication. Today we are Speaking to… Brian Wecht

Stories. Wonderful Stories.

We’ve had a few different science communication interviews on Speaking of Science about science, science stories, and science and stories.

This podcast is going to add to that – this is an interview with Brian Wecht, one half of the founding team of The Story Collider, a live show and podcast that brings stories and science together.

In this podcast we talk about what The Story Collider is, how it started, and how it appears that the British scientists are more reluctant to talk about their emotions when it comes to science…

This Thursday (24th of October 2013), The Story Collider is hosting it’s third UK show in London.

You can get tickets (FREE) from here.

And I would love to recommend their podcast, which you can download and subscribe to via iTunes.