September 2nd, 2010

lolcat: science

I’m going to be famous on the internets! Ooer.

I spent my lunch hour, plus a little extra, filming for a project at the Science Museum yesterday. It’s going to appear in the Talk Science portion of the web site in a few weeks, under the Mystery Boxes tab.

The Mystery Boxes activity was designed for teachers to use with students. It’s supposed to demonstrate the way science works. The Science Museum gets feedback from teachers who’ve used the activity. Students generally enjoy it, but they wanted to see how practising scientists would react to it. So the Science Museum asked a bunch of scientists if they’d be willing to be filmed trying it. Several of us turned up yesterday to do it, with a considerable amount of trepidation since a key element of the activity is not to know anything about it in advance.

It turned out that another colleague in my group had volunteered for the filming, so we walked over together. We were pleased to go in through the Director’s Entrance, where a big orange sign at the front desk helpfully informed us that the threat level was ERNIE. I mean, SEVERE. We walked up a wide staircase and entered a large, high-ceilinged anteroom flanked by armchairs, only two of which were occupied. The buffet table sat at the far end. The place had clearly been designed to facilitate the entertainment of a great many more people than were scheduled to arrive. We poured ourselves some Exotic Juice (Tesco brand), took some sandwich squares and sat down facing the imposing double-doors that led to the room where the filming was to take place.

At two minutes past noon, we were ushered into the Fellows’ Library. I would have loved to have had time to stroll around and inspect all the beauties lurking behind the glass-fronted cabinets and to ascend the spiral staircases to the walkway around the balcony level. Alas, there was no time. The eight of us sat at the long tables under the lighting rigs and awkwardly introduced ourselves. Two of the participants worked at the Science Museum, one of whom was an ex-chemist. The remainder, aside from my colleague and me, were biologists and medics.

We were given a brief introduction to the purpose of the filming and a few orders about how to behave. We were to ignore the cameras and the microphone boom. This turned out to be a lot more difficult than I thought it would be, particularly when one camera was filming in front of us, one was behind my shoulder and the microphone was directly above my head. Additionally, we were asked to repeat ourselves a good deal to so they could get different shots. Pretending to be shocked without being overdramatic? Not as easy as it looks.

Just in case anyone wants to try the activity in future, I’m going to put the description of it behind a cut. Collapse )

Once we were finished with activity, they asked each group a couple of questions and filmed our answers. What did you like best about the activity? Do you think it reflects the actual process of scientific research? The answers to the first question seemed to be most reflective of the personalities of individual participants. I was rather pleased to observe that I’d ended up in the group that valued our cooperative abilities the highest. The second question produced a universal yes, though we all agreed that the experimental methods were far too crude and that it could be improved by adding a stage where certain measurement tools could be earned through proposals - e.g. I think this is a metallic object and I would like a magnet to test this hypothesis.

It was a lunchtime well spent and it added an option to my repertoire of outreach activities. I’ll post a link to the video when it appears on the site. I would claim that I’m going to be a Famous Nerd, but I think it’s more likely that I’ll just be Famously Nerdy.


On a different note, if you’re wondering how to disable the option to repost to Facebook or Twitter on your own journal, you can find very clear instructions for doing so - with pictures - here. I recommend it.