Taking Science to the Streets - Soapbox Science 2012

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02 July 2012


For the third year running a small section of The Southbank was transformed into a hub of scientific learning and discussion with a series of free public lectures from some of the world’s leading female scientists. Soapbox Science, hosted by The Zoological Society of London (ZSL) and L’Oréal-UNESCO For Women in Science saw thirteen of the UK’s most prominent female scientists opening up their scientific experiences to members of the public.

For the third year running a small section of The Southbank was transformed into a hub of scientific learning and discussion with a series of free public lectures from some of the world’s leading female scientists. Soapbox Science, hosted by The Zoological Society of London (ZSL) and L’Oréal-UNESCO For Women in Science saw thirteen of the UK’s most prominent female scientists opening up their scientific experiences to members of the public.

The three hour event, the brainchild of ZSL Research Fellows Dr Nathalie Pettorelli and Dr Seirian Sumner, holders of the L’Oréal-UNESCO For Women in Science Fellowships stripped away the Powerpoint presentations and research reports usually associated with science to bring the best of science to life on the streets of London. Dr Seirian Sumner from ZSL said:

“Following the success of the event over the last two years, we wanted to continue to connect the public with the scientific research and discoveries that are shaping our world. This year’s event was really focused on encouraging the next generation of female scientists by showing how accessible a career in science is for women. There is such a breadth of female talent in the UK scientific community and this event provides the perfect platform for these scientists to share not only their research but also their journeys into a career in science.”

During the event, some of the UK’s top female scientists from the fields of biology, physics, chemistry and engineering took to their soapboxes to talk passionately about their subjects and answer any of the public’s burning science questions. Among the list of speakers at this year’s event was the renowned Professor Lesley Yellowees, who was appointed first female president of the Royal Society of Chemistry this year. Professor Lesley Yellowees, Professor of Inorganic Electrochemistry at University of Edinburgh said:

"Events like Soapbox Science are vital to showcasing the female scientist talent in this country. It was fantastic at the event to hear the broad range of experiences from a range of scientists at the height of discovery and innovation. I hope that the event will go some way to communicating the message to a new generation of scientists that a career in science is possible and in doing so will bridge the gender gap that is so eminent in UK science even today.”

One of the first speakers to take to her soapbox was the distinguished Professor Dame Athene Donald, from The University of Cambridge’s Department of Physics, who added:

“Slowly but surely we are seeing an improvement in the numbers of women in science in the UK and Ireland; events like Soapbox Science are really helping to encourage the next generation of female scientists. It was a pleasure to see such enthusiasm for science, not only from our panel of speakers, but also the hundreds of school children who attended the event with an obvious interest in getting to grips with the science."

The event was not restricted exclusively to speakers from an academic background. This year’s event also featured entrepreneur Ruth Amos, Young Engineer for Britain 2006, who invented the StairSteady, an aid to enable people with limited mobility to use their stairs confidently and safely. Ruth said:

“The event has provided an excellent opportunity, not only to talk about science but how it is being used in everyday life. Science is too often considered to be something that lives in laboratories and research reports but what was clear from the event was the real practical difference science makes to the things in life we sometimes take for granted. I hope it has inspired a new generation of young scientists to see the wider impact science can make outside of the lecture theatre.”

Watch the 2012 Soapbox Science Film

2012 Soapbox Science Speakers Included:

• Professor Dame Athene Donald, Professor of Soft Matter and Biological Physics at University of Cambridge – “Goo: The Physics of the Everyday Stuff that Surrounds Us”
• Professor Judith Mank, Professor and Chair of Evolutionary and Comparative Biology at University College London – “What makes us different: The genetics of females and males”
• Dr Heather Whitney, ERC Research Fellow at University of Bristol - "Peacock ferns and metallic moss - why are some plants iridescent?"
• Dr Samia Elfekih, UNESCO-L’OREAL Postdoctoral scientist, at Imperial College & Natural History Museum, London - "The genomics of pesticide resistance in the case of fruit flies of economic importance"
• Professor Lesley Yellowlees, Professor of Inorganic Electrochemistry at University of Edinburgh; first female President of the Royal Society of Chemistry (incoming) - “What have the chemists ever done for us?”
• Professor Kathy Willis, Tasso Leventis Professor of Biodiversity, and Director of the Oxford Martin School Biodivserity Institute at University of Oxford – “Where can we damage? Biodiversity planning for the future”
• Professor Helen Dawes, Elizabeth Casson Trust Chair at Faculty of Health and Life Sciences at Oxford Brookes University – “Movement Prints”
• Dr Nicola Raihani, Royal Society University Research Fellow at University College London – “Helpful humans and friendly fish - common mechanisms for cooperative behaviour in nature”
• Professor Sunetra Gupta, Professor of Theoretical Epidemiology at University of Oxford – “Dressed to kill: what do infectious disease agents have in their wardrobes?”
• Ruth Amos, Young Engineer for Britain 2006 – “The Science behind being an Inventor”
• Dr Deborah Goberdhan Lecturer in Physiology, Anatomy and Genetics department at University of Oxford– “How do cells and animals know how much to grow?”
• Professor Caroline Dean, Professor of Cell & Developmental Biology at John Innes Centre Norwich - “Flowering and the memory of winter”
• Dr Giovanna Tinetti, Royal Society University Research Fellow & Reader, Department of Physics & Astronomy at University College London – “The Exoplanet Revolution”

A Selection of Press Coverage of the 2012 Event

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