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Stand Up for Science

standupforscience  A number of Societies and Organizations, together with a few universities helped Voice of Young Science (VOYS) and Sense About Science sponsor the “Standing Up for Science Media Workshop” today, April 8 2016. Among the sponsors was my old acquaintance, the Biochemical Society and so it happened I had an occasional notification on mail a few weeks back. I was in the need of some new material for the blog, But busy as one is during the last months of an education, I still hesitated to go. Another workshop? As if I hadn’t got enough excuses to avoid writing on my thesis already. Then after some days decision anxiety, I put in the application. After all there are worse ways to waste one’s time. At the very least, it would give me the opportunity to clear my brain among fellow scientists. I also recently got involved as a mentor to two engaging end very inquisitive students from the
British Science Association journalism competition, frequently picking my brain over mail. But sometimes I felt that their questions and my answers were not always on the same course. I could not help thinking I could use some help in how to better explain my research to a journalist. So I went. If nothing else, there would be a free lunch…

It turned out to be a day way above expectations.

The event took place at Manchester University and attracted young scientists from both UK and the rest of Europe. The workshop itself consisted of a combination of workshop and panelist discussion with both scientists, experienced in media communication, and with science journalists.

Personally for me as a young scientist, I found the straight forward advice from the scientists to be the most useful take-home of the day. (After the free lunch of course!) The overall message is really quite simple:

  1. Don’t be afraid of media or public contact. Any publicity is good publicity and the general public has a short memory for your failures – even if you don’t.
  2. Be prepared to be harassed. If in a hostile environment, prepare your message in advance, focus on that and say only what you came there to say.
  3. Answer questions truthfully and to the best of your ability, but only if you want to. Learn to deflect ignorant/unwanted/irrelevant/provocative questions. You are not obliged to answer anything!
  4. Remember – you are the expert!

A full list of the advice compiled by Chris Peters (Sense about science) can be found at the bottom of this page, and also check out these tips in The Guardian. All good and sound advice, not only for communicating science .

The need to communicate science efficiently is certainly not a new issue. Popular Science journalism plays a large part in communicating science to a wider audience and indirectly plays a large part in promoting the interest in STEM (Science, Technology, engineering and Math) subjects. Just a few days ago,  The Wellcome Trust launched the second phase in their project to investigate the effects in Informal Science Learning, Science Learning+.

Let’s hope they are aware of projects like VOYS and Sense About Science, whose staff had the excellent habit of keeping the participants updated both before and after the workshop, filling my mail box with a bunch of useful links to projects, both their own and others, and tips of how to get involved.

See this page for some pictures, this page for some more pictures and a short summary of the day. Sense About Science Media Workshops are open to all postgraduates, are free to attend and are a recurring event since 2011. Do you want to attend of find out more – Click here!

 Speak about science in the media cheat sheet

–        Pick the message you want to get across and don’t be afraid to repeat yourself

–        Keep it brief & simple

–        Have your notes handy

–        Know when to say “I don’t know”

–        Avoid over-extrapolating too far beyond what the data say (in a paper).

–        Talk to your press office

–        Ask politely for recognition of your institute/team etc

–        Ensure the facts are conveyed (e.g. evolution) even if they’re obvious to you

How a Squid Can Improve Your Health


It is advertised as the first “Neurosquid Review Conference“. The First of what I wonder? The First in the World? In the country? The First to be advertised by the MedTechWest perhaps? There is no way of telling. I am not an expert on Neurosquids, but I check out some of the illustrations on the ad. It looks scientific enough. With lots of body cut-throughs displaying inner organs and sketchy drawings of human bodies with cables sticking out of them in strategic places. Not just scientific. Medical Science. Yummy – this is right up my alley. And there will be lunch – that settles it – I’m going! At the very least, I will get to satisfy my curiosity and find out what a Neurosquid is.

Said and done, at the date in question, feb 9 2016, I step into the Sahlgrens Aula at the Sahlgrenska University Hospital in Gothenburg, trying my best to look as if I belong. Scanning the room for the lunch buffet, while at the same time keeping an eye on the far corners, hoping to spot The Squid.

There is no squid and my disappointment is almost total. It turns out a neurosquid is just a little measuring gadget for small magnetic currents. how cool is that? But as the day passes by with one presentation after the next, my fascination for the subject increases. The conference seem to be largely a club for internal admiration: almost everybody know each other, even though the participants come from research groups all over the world. Some of the talks go way over my head, but a few of them have a more digestible approach. All of them have one thing in common: They all work way beyond the research front.

  • Where do you regularly come in contact with quantum mechanics in your everyday life?
  • What is one of the most common use of nanotechnology today?
  • Why does most hospital machines measuring your bodies magnetism have to be so bulky?The answer is not The Matrix. The NeuroSQUID answers all of those questions.

SQUID stands for Superconducting Quantum Interference Device and is the most common detector of weak magnetic fields that exists. It was invented in 1964 and is in use today in hospitals in MRI cameras and MEG (magnetic encephalogram). The SQUID itself consists of a superconducting loop, interrupted by a thin insulating layer, which is called a Jospehson Junction. In the absence of an external magnetic field, electrons will tunnel through the insulating layer, creating a small base current, equally divided between the two branches of the loop. But in the presence of an external magnetic field, an additional current will flow through the loop, slightly changing the base current. The change can be measured as an electric signal and voila – we have measured the magnetic field. Today, SQUIDS are routinely used in hospital environment to measure brain activity of for magnetic imaging of the body or brain, using MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging). It can be used for schizophrenia research, diagnosis of epilepsy and for evaluation of neural damage after stroke of physical trauma.

So back to the topic of the day – why do those machines have to be so big that the patient needs to crawl into the machine instead of having the sensor placed on or inside the body? After all a SQUID is small – about half a millimeter across the loop. What do you remember from physics class about super conductors? The have to be cryogenically refrigerated! So, in addition to the sensor, we also need a huge cooling system, with fumigating and expensive storage tanks, safety procedures to keep liquid nitrogen from escaping, not to imagine the cost of producing and delivering and administering the coolant. Is there not a better way? This is the questions these groups were trying to answer – using the phenomenon of high critical temperature superconductors. There are a few elements, which experience superconducting properties at room temperature. Why they do so is still an open question in physics, but if we could make sensors out of those instead, science would have a whole new way to approach neurological measurements. They could be done in your home, on the move, of maybe (and why not), implanted in your scull.

No, we are still not talking about The Matrix. For starters, REAL scientists have much cooler outfits – AND they get free lunch.

A New Medical Landscape

The medical field is by tradition and necessity a highly conservative business, and as such has been one of the last to adopt highly integrated computerized solutions. Probably with good reason given the critical systems involved. Robust systems of high quality does not come about by themselves, but are a product of adequate resources, efficiently put to use.

Both Sweden and the UK are countries where a discussion around these issues has started to yield concrete results. A new law on biobanking and an action plan for the implementation of an e-health system in the former, a strategy for Life Science in the latter. In 2014, three Swedish institutes, LIF, Swedish Medtech and Sweden BIO, concluded that quality in individual systems was usually sufficient, but that coordination between systems and organizations was missing. An action plan was devised. In UK, the situation is somewhat improved by the presence of a national healthcare system, the NHS, making it possible to launch nation wide research and healthcare collaborations such as the UK Biobank.

Clear is that the new technological environment will bring a new possibilities in healthcare, but also changes in how we work. How does this new environment patient, the researcher, the medical personnel and the provider of technical services? The technician will suddenly be an important part in a traditionally non-technological field. What will that require in terms of people skills, risk assessment and ethical thinking?

As a Swedish citizen, working for several years in the UK on the fence between medicine, biology and technology, I take a particular interest in some of the differences between their respective national systems, against the backdrop of European and Global policies, trying to bring to light some of the opportunities and challenges facing us. At the same time, I will try to share my knowledge in this field.

A Day of Uncommon Sense

When we decided to undertake the production of this internet magazine, there was half a plan of having it launch on 9th November, as a tribute to the tragic history of 11th September. By choosing the opposite of the more famous Nineleven, we thought we could announce this as a new global date to honor Common Sense – indeed the very opposite of what Nineleven has come to stand for. A day where we will only make logically and emotionally sound decisions, where our choice of words will be balanced and thought through, our arguments sound and our actions based on facts, skeptically scrutinized to the best of our ability.

But a quick review of human history through On This Day soon reveals the cruel facts:

9th November is just as filled with historic atrocities as any 11th September, including a declaration of war by president Saddam Hussein in 1980, a hurricane in 1965 (although it can hardly be blamed for its bad behavior), a nuclear test in 1962, and of course the Kristallnacht in 1938. The list is only slightly brightened by events such as quite a few successful space explorations in the 60:s, a romantic encounter in 1966 (which may not be an entirely positive event, depending on the view, since the lady in question is named Yoko Ono) and airplane flight lasting more than 5 minutes in 1904. Perhaps the only really worthwhile memorable event in recent history on this day is the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989.

So – no this day seem to be occupied, sorry. Instead, we propose to elect 10th November the global day of Uncommon Sense. And in the spirit of this day, bringing logic extrapolated from lessons to the inescapable conclusion, we will not even bother to check what unsound actions may taint the history of this day, and the Reader is adviced to check out the backlog at their own risk. Is it even going to be possible to find a day without an overshadowing backlog of bloodshed, plundering or even the one occasional rampage? Any Reader is encouraged to post comments inspiring hope for the human race in the commentary field. It seems it will be needed.