Tag Archives: live shows

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… James Piercy

“I got a standing ovation from a group of people who I hugely respect. And afterwards I thought, I should do more of this because it’s really helped me. And I thought, maybe it could help other people, help understand.”

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

James Piercy, from science made simple, has been doing science shows for more than an decade, and I was lucky enough to bump into him at the Abu Dhabi Science Festival.

James likes to explore everyday things that we come across all the time, but he tries to get his audiences to look at them. To see what they really are and why they are like that. His first ever science show did exactly this with bubbles – how do they form, why do they have pretty colours? His show at the Abu Dhabi Science Festival 2013 takes this to the next level.

A few years ago, James was involved in a  car accident, and unfortunately suffered serious damage to his brain. After being off work for 6months, James plucked up the courage to face his colleauges at the BIG Conference of 2011, and told them all what happened to him.

This talk was emotional, tough, and yet somehow helped him in his recovery. By talking to people he respected, he found that he was able to deal with things better. Now, James talks about his accident to all sorts of audiences – from clinicians, to children, to other patients who have suffered similar things.

Finally, James and I talk about the science communication training he does with scientists and industry specialists. His favourite students are those that come with a sceptical view of science communication, and somehow, during his workshop, they realise that what he is teaching them is a valuable and important thing.

You can follow James Piercy on Twitter at @thepiercy

Terry Harvey-Chadwick

Speaking to… Terry Harvey-Chadwick

Terry Harvey-Chadwick

“My dream would be for a scientist, at some time in the future, to relate how this person (me) came to their school and ignited their interest and enabled them to start a career in science.”


This is part of a series of interviews with science communicators about science communication. Today we are Speaking to… Terry Harvey-Chadwick


Terry Harvey-Chadwick

Where are you based?

Seascale, in Cumbria. Right in the shadow of Sellafield, in fact.

Who do you work for?

Anyone who’ll book me. I’m a sole trader.

What sort of science communication do you do?

I call it Fun Science. It mainly consists of my two science shows, The Fun Science Show and The Fire Show, and various STEM-based workshops that I offer. The Fire Show which has, incidentally, been booked for the young people’s programme at the British Science Festival this year, is mainly aimed at upper primary and lower secondary school pupils. It’s basically a collection of some of my favourite classroom demonstrations, but all put together into a themed show. It has proved extremely popular in schools, and even in a short run of theatres and community centres to family audiences around Cumbria. The Fun Science Show is all about using common household objects to demonstrate sometimes complex scientific principles. In many ways it’s like a 45 minute science busking session, but the audience love it because it gives them ideas for things they can do at home. My workshops range from making bath bombs to building towers using spaghetti and marshmallows, which are all common STEM activities often used by science clubs. However, there are an awful lot of schools who don’t have science clubs and have never seen things like these shows and workshops, so it’s a good introduction into STEM for many. The main thing is that they have an experienced qualified science teacher (I still work supply) coming to them doing unusual science activities that the children love, and are often talking about for weeks afterwards. A lot of people make the mistake of going into schools and saying they are there to make science fun. I profoundly disagree with that statement, used by teachers and science communicators alike. I believe that science IS fun. I am there to show that to my audience. I don’t shy away from the fact that, for many people, science is also very hard. But what fun is an activity without an element of challenge? When, at the end of a show or workshop, I get people coming up to me and saying they found it difficult, but they were enjoying it so much they could not give up and eventually succeeded, that is what it is all about for me.

Who is your main audience?

Primary school-aged children, although adults and teenagers all like what I do as well.

How did you get into it?

I was a secondary school science teacher and took voluntary redundancy from my last school a couple of years ago. I used the money to start SV Educational Services and started by offering science parties in the local area. I then developed my two science shows and put together some workshops and used my local primary school to test them. With some good feedback in my pocket I offered my services to schools in Cumbria and things are developing from there.

Why do you do it?

I just love science and want to let everyone else know how fantastic and amazing it is. I concentrate on relatively simple science demonstrations and workshops, things that the children can relate to and that most primary schools will have the resources to take further, if they want. Many of my demonstrations from The Fun Science Show are things the children can do at home, and I get a lot of feedback from schools about how their pupils have gone away and tried them for themselves. The fact that I have enthused them to do that gives me a warm glow. I hope that enthusiasm will motivate some children to experiment further. My dream would be for a scientist, at some time in the future, to relate how this person (me) came to their school and ignited their interest and enabled them to start a career in science.

Why do you think science communication is important?

Science is more important now than ever. It has solved many things and brought some even greater challenges for humanity in the future. The fact remains that our future will be technological and science driven and it’s important that our children grow up prepared to live in such a world. All children learn the basics of science in school but it’s important that people are kept up to date with the latest issues that will affect them. Science communication has such a broad remit, from explaining the latest issues, how science and scientists work, to enthusing school children to be interested in science. Almost everything we use today has been created by science and, at the very least, it’s important that people have an appreciation of where all these gadgets have come from and why we are able to enjoy such a good standard of living.

What do you love about science communication?

Watching the excitement of the faces of children and adults alike as I show them how to use common household objects to demonstrate sometimes quite complicated scientific principles. It’s great when they realise that science doesn’t always have to be done by brainy people in white coats. They can do it too.

What has been your favourite project?

I don’t really have a favourite current project. Although the next question will deal with my favourite project that is coming up.

Do you have any new science communication projects coming up?


Oh, alright then. I have two new projects in the pipeline. They both combine my two favourite subjects: history and science. In my company name, SV Educational Services, the SV stands for Science Viking. I’m also a professional historical interpreter specialising in Vikings. I’m now broadening my period and developing a monk scribe (who cannot write very well) character to present the history and science of ink. The second new character is a medieval alchemist, a contemporary of Paracelsus, to present a history of chemistry. One of my skills is to seamlessly break in and out of character to highlight differences between the mind-sets of historical and modern people. I do a lot of work in schools and museums as a Viking, and I have found that people like to have the comparison during my “performances”.

Any tips for those wanting to get into science communication?

I think you need a passion for your subject, imagination and good people skills. If you’re going freelance, like I did, don’t sell yourself short when deciding on your fees. But, at the same time, make sure you gain plenty of experience by volunteering. I volunteered at The Big Bang Festival and found it invaluable. Talk to as many people as you can. Everyone is really helpful to newcomers. The main thing is, don’t give up. It will take two or three years before you get well known enough to be able to make a decent living out of it.

You can follow Terry on Twitter at @ScienceViking66