An expedition into the world of sub-atomic particles: Meet Charanjit Kaur Khosa

My academic journey has started with a desire to find my path and, after one point, it has been driven by the curiosity to know more about the fundamental questions related to the existence of the universe. 

I grew up in a village in India where every aspect of life revolves around agriculture.  Only professionals I have seen until the end of my schooling were my teachers. I used to get fascinated by knowledge of my teachers and also by their lifestyle. Being very interested and good in mathematics and also being able to do well in other subjects helped me to build confidence and a belief that I can dream about pursuing anything in life. In hindsight, it feels it was inner belief which led me to cross the boundaries of my comfort zone. By the time I was 10 years old, I used to imagine myself going for higher education, though back then I did not know about possible options. Without any exposure, I thought of taking one step at a time. After school, I decided to study physics and mathematics, a decision which was purely an elimination process. Afterwards also, up to some point, choosing physics has been an elimination process. It was only while doing my master thesis project in particle physics; I realised how much I enjoy this subject and how much I am fascinated by the ongoing research in that area. After that, my journey had been driven purely by curiosity to understand unsolved puzzles in Particle Physics. So I pursued a Ph.D. in theoretical high energy physics. As a Ph.D. student at Panjab University, Chandigarh, India, I worked on the particular model, which is one of the attractive candidate theories for physics beyond the standard model. I did theoretical calculations to incorporate the effect of heavy additional particles predicted in that model on the processes involving fundamental particles. During my Ph.D. period, the particle physics community witnessed the discovery of the Higgs boson. Though this was the biggest discovery in the field, it was not the end of the story. The joy and excitement in the field made me gear up for my work on the intersection of theory and experimental physics, where one would confront the predictions of complex mathematical models with experimental data. This is the path which I am following now. It also involves building strategies to find unknown particles in the big chunks of the data created by the particle collisions. Come to my talk to know more about it. 

In terms of what it required to be at this stage of my career; it required persistence, continuous alignment of goals, being realistic, and acceptance of reality. It involved quick moves to different geographical locations as well. So far, it has been a beautiful journey of being amazed by nature and the joy of making tiny contributions to something grand. I look forward to following this path and sharing more experiences in the future.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The power of collaboration and diversity in interdisciplinary research: in the case of a responsible gambling project

By Dr Ruijie Wang, a Soapbox Science speaker, an interdisciplinary researcher and a Lecturer in Psychology based at Bournemouth University. Her research interest lies in Cyberpsychology and Human Computer Interaction. As a woman working in STEM disciplines, Ruijie gives a talk about “Being ‘GambleAware’: How science and tech can help and why collaboration matters” at Brighton seafront for Soapbox Science 2022.

With the emergence of online gambling and continuous digitalisation of daily life, gambling has been made accessible 24/7 through the Internet and technology. No matter whether you gamble, have you ever thought about why people keep gambling even when it is causing more harm than fun? The colourful animated flashing lights and the triumphant sounds simulating clinking coins to reinforce each “winning” at a slot machine might have provided some insights into the answer. Likewise, online gambling websites and platforms are also designed using persuasive mechanisms to be engaging for people to stay and play longer, not to mention various gambling adverts and promotion overspreading websites and social media. Moreover, gamblers may have cognitive distortions and erroneous beliefs such as “gamblers’ fallacy” (Tversky & Kahneman, 1971). When random events have deviated from the population average in a short run, gamblers may believe that the opposite deviation would be more likely to happen even though the odds stay the same. They may also hold “illusion of control”, overestimating the control their actions have over outcomes in games of chance (Langer, 1975). All these internal and external factors can potentially make people lose control and continuously chase losses and eventually lead to at-risk and problem gambling, causing harm to not only gamblers, but also their families and the society.

At Bournemouth University we have an interdisciplinary research group working on a GambleAware-funded research project titled Powerful Social Norms, Meaningful Transparency and Data-Informed Behavioural Change for Responsible Online Gambling (EROGamb 2.0). Responsible Gambling encompasses both Responsible Consumption of Gambling which refers to individuals’ safer gambling behaviour within personally affordable limits of money, time, and other resources (Hing et al., 2016), and Responsible Provision of Gambling which refers to good practice of gambling industry such as providing gaming fairness with reasonable odds (Hing et al., 2018). In terms of individual’s positive behavioural change towards responsible consumption of gambling, the accessibility and interactivity of the online gambling environment, and the persuasive techniques used to keep gamblers online can be utilised to prevent them from developing problem gambling behaviour. For example, safer gambling interventions can be sent to gamblers in a personalised manner based on their gambling behaviour retrieved from gambling operators’ database. In terms of the industry’s best practice towards responsible provision of gambling, we advocate information transparency in both the promotion material and games to tackle gamblers’ erroneous beliefs and facilitate their informed decision making.

Our responsible gambling project is highly interdisciplinary as it involves collaboration among different scientific disciplines to integrate multidisciplinary perspectives, theories and methods (Godemann, 2006). We have adopted multidisciplinary approaches including systematic literature review, randomised controlled feasibility study, eye tracking, interviews, website and social media analysis, as well as co-design workshops with experts both from academia and the gambling industry who have practical experience. We are a diverse research team in terms of not only the wide range of research backgrounds and interdisciplinary expertise, but also gender, ethnicity, and cultural backgrounds. Our team comes from different departments at Bournemouth University including Psychology, Computing and Informatics, Business, Health and Social Science. This has allowed us to adopt the abovementioned multidisciplinary approaches and establish knowledge in the core areas of this interdisciplinary project, including social norms, health psychology, transparency, consumer trust and corporate social responsibility.

With diversity and collaboration in our mind and practice, we have worked with multiple stakeholders, including other researchers working in relevant areas, policy makers, gambling operators and gamblers, and produced reports for both lay audience and the gambling industry to inform the best practice towards responsible gambling. Coming from a multidisciplinary background myself (with a BSc degree in Psychology, MSc in Human Computer Interaction, and PhD in Computer Science) and working on interdisciplinary research fields, I strongly believe that integrating diversity, collaboration and an open mind to different disciplinary perspectives into our research practice is always important not only to create an inclusive research environment and succeed in interdisciplinary research, but also to enrich our lives with fairness of opportunity, freedom from bias and discrimination and openness to a diversity of people, thoughts and ideas.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The sky is just the beginning: Meet Akhere A. Omonkhua

My name is Akhere Omonkhua and I teach Medical Biochemistry at the University of Benin, Nigeria. My major research focus is Medicinal Plant/Natural Products research.

At the Soapbox Lagos November 2021 event, I spoke on the topic “Can medicinal plants be used to treat diabetes?”.

I have always been fascinated by science and since I have always done well at school, my parents and teachers expected me to become a medical doctor. For a long time, I accepted this as a future career goal; it was only when I grew older that I realized I preferred core research to clinical practice.

I think what really ignited my love for science was my secondary school Chemistry teacher, Mr. O. T. Jonah. At Organic Chemistry class, I was totally awe-struck that science could explain so many phenomena; this fed my very inquisitive mind and opened up the possibility of research as a career option. Of course there were many discouragements along the way; surprisingly, mostly from other female students who felt science was a man’s career. This did not deter me; I have always had a stubborn streak, I become highly motivated and challenged when people tell me something is too hard to accomplish, either as a person or a woman. I love proving them wrong!

The first few classes I took in Biochemistry got me hooked on the course. Biochemistry is a very interesting science; in my opinion, it is the science that comes closest to explaining the phenomenon of life itself. Its ability to explain very complex life processes at the molecular level, whether it is a disease condition or the digestion, absorption, and utilization of food, is truly amazing!

I have been fortunate to have many wonderful teachers and mentors. My Masters and doctoral supervisors, Profs. Frederick O. Obi and Iyere O. Onoagbe respectively, were crucial in building my foundation of research. They both taught me, especially by their example, the integrity of research and how it should never be compromised. A few years after obtaining a PhD, I was fortunate to be mentored by Prof. Friday Okonofua, a renowned clinician and scientist, who nurtured my drive for research excellence. I have also been very fortunate to work with excellent collaborators and students who have reinforced my love for science and science education.

One of the most fascinating aspects of my research is to see how my findings are revealing previously unknown aspects of how the medicinal plants that I study can have multiple positive effects in preventing or reducing the negative effects of experimental diabetes and the long-term complications associated with it. These positive effects are seen both at the level of the biochemical parameters we assess and also at the level of gene expression i.e. how the administration of these plants can help change the genes expressed by experimental animals to favour their ability to treat diabetes. If this is established as a concrete mechanism of action, it could have huge positive implications for human diabetes.

I actually first heard of Soapbox Science from a friend in the UK in early 2021. One of the things that got my attention was knowing that this is a group of female scientists explaining their research to a diverse audience. I think young people are exposed to a lot of information. The way scientists normally explain their research, the jargon and all, can alienate young people. Being able to speak in simple language and demystify science can play an important role in rousing the interests of young persons in taking up a career in science. Over the last few years, I have become more committed to mentoring junior academics and it is a beauty to see how they blossom because someone believes in them and shares with them the tools to excel. I think being a speaker in a Soapbox Science event would broaden my ability to reach more people and hopefully contribute positively to helping them choose a career in STEMM.

One thing about the scientific culture of Nigeria that I would change if I could is the way scientists are trained. Our training can be overly didactic and sometimes even oppressive. This is capable of killing the zeal of emerging scientists. I believe mentoring should become more integrated in scientific training in Africa. Countless studies show that mentoring is a key ingredient for research excellence.

My advice to young people is this: whoever you are, whether a woman or a man, if you want to take up a career in research and study for a PhD; do not let anyone discourage you! Find what you love and build your research career around it! Tell yourself that if others have done it, you can do it as well. You may be pleasantly surprised to realize that it is even possible for you to be the first to accomplish a particular feat. I also encourage you to find a good mentor and allow them to guide you appropriately.

As someone said recently, the sky is just the beginning!

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

When the going gets tough, the Girl gets going: Meet Oluwakemi Oyelowo

Dr Oluwakemi Oyelowo Took part in the 2021 Soapbox Science Lagos event, with the talk: The role of edible seeds in human reproduction.

By Dr Oluwakemi Oyelowo

“The running of a PhD programme for a lady can be likened to a tough rough road. From experience, it is safe to say that there are a lot of pressures associated with the PhD programme: financial, emotional, material, psychological, etc. 

The inner strength, courage, and determination to carry on is very important. Some ladies are privileged to have supportive family and friends, however, some do not. After all, it takes someone in one’s shoes to understand the need to burn the midnight oil, be in the laboratory 24/7 (even when the results just don’t add up sometimes), bury one’s head in books and articles all day long. Some young children cannot understand why mummy is always working on her laptop even at weekends.

In my experience as a PhD student in reproductive endocrinology (physiology), the challenges were basically, balancing my job with the PhD programme, as I had to make enough time for both. I also had to support myself through the programme because there was no external funding received.

These are the 3 top tips that helped me finish my degree and today become a PhD holder.

Tip 1: I worked hard at it, I was determined, and I had the faith that it just must end well.

Tip 2: I had supportive family members and friends and that helped make the journey easy.

Tip 3: I was positive throughout. I managed the stress by trying to live life as normal as I could and taking out time to relax whenever it was necessary and possible. Unfortunately, numerous pressures have weighed in on some ladies and they have backed out! If a lady reading this piece is planning on quitting, please remember that tough times don’t last, but tough people do! Remember also that the PhD programme is a phase in life that can be conquered. When the going gets tough, Girl, keep going until you reach your goal!”

Q&A with Dr Oluwakemi Oyelowo

Soapbox Science: How did you get to your current position?

Oluwakemi Oyelowo: The Grace of God and hard work.

SS: What, or who, inspired you to get a career in science?

OO: I was inspired by the fact that living things (human beings inclusive) can be affected by their environment and behavioural changes (diet and lifestyle). My Mother inspired me to get a career in science.

SS: What is the most fascinating aspect of your research/work?

OO: Diets play different roles in health and diseases.

SS: What attracted you to Soapbox Science in the first place?

OO: A platform that allows one to communicate science to non-scientists!

SS: Sum up in one word your expectations for the day

OO: Impactful

SS: If you could change one thing about the scientific culture in Nigeria right now, what would it be?

OO: Better funding for research and better renumeration for researchers.

SS: What would be your top recommendation to a woman studying for a PhD and considering pursuing a career in academia?

OO: Be emotionally ready to face the challenges ahead. These challenges are surmountable if you don’t lose hope.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Soapbox Science Lagos, September 2021 Event: Speaker Topics

Held on 30th September 2021, Soapbox Science Lagos hosted speakers from a range of topics for an online event.

Here the speakers give brief introductions to their work:

COMFORT IN A BUILDING’S SKIN!…

Dr. Adeyemi Oginni, University of Lagos

Buildings well suited to their climes possess appropriate features making them fit for the users and their task performance. Building envelopes are essential modifiers of the microclimate; as a modifier of microclimates, building envelopes isolate spaces from environmental temperature and humidity fluctuations; they also shelter spaces from precipitation, prevailing winds and enhances natural lighting. Buildings, their environs and related facilities produce more CO2, generate more  pollution, consume more energy, and use up more natural resources than any other human industry; their performance is therefore of utmost concern in various parts of the world presently.

In Nigeria, the epileptic supply of power from the grid has necessitated the constant use of alternative power supply- the generator or inverter system in most homes. Yet, a sustainable approach to development remains a ‘buzz word’ in construction and remains cosmetic in its approach in the provision of buildings. Such are the prevailing issues evident in the nation Nigeria.

The need for climate sensitive approaches and environmentally responsible construction cannot be overemphasized. Presently, buildings in Nigeria are being constructed without much consideration for their impact on occupant‘s health, productivity and comfort.

Children are more susceptible to heat stresses; however, cultural factors and acclimatization can help minimize this. Heat stresses have an impact on learning capacity. At high temperatures, children are less able to concentrate and can exhibit irritable or aggressive behaviors. Adults (including teachers) can be similarly affected. School buildings are meant to be designed to ensure that human comfort conditions are easily and efficiently maintained through the variety of passive and active means available. Since children, spend most of their time indoors in school buildings, the indoor environment is therefore of primary importance. Countries of the world are currently overwhelmed with the effects of technology advancement and the pressure of man‘s activities on the environment.

 A Building‘s performance therefore has significant effects on occupants‘ productivity health and safety. In several countries of the world, especially in advanced communities, occupants spend most of their times indoors. Hence the indoor environment becomes key determinant of the health, wellbeing and efficiency and productivity of its occupants. In Nigeria, performance of pupils in schools has been on a decline. Could it be as a result of discomfort? The aim of this research is to assess the impact of the building envelopes on the thermal performance of public classrooms in Lagos.

The comfortable thermal sensation (acceptable) has been observed for the temperature range from 25 to 31°C from the dry to wet seasons. The pupils’ responses were happy irrespective of the value of the objective measurements taken owing to adaptations to the heat.  Most of the subjects recorded cool thermal sensation and preferred a warmer climate in cold or wet seasons. Most of the subjects voted slightly warm and warm and hot thermal sensation and preferred a cooler environment in the dry seasons.

Also, the buildings‘ characteristics impacted on the thermal performance (temperature, humidity variables). These factors are important even here in the Tropics. Building envelopes should be designed to enhance activities taking place at uncomfortable periods of the day, midday, when the weather is hot, or provide alternative means of adapting to such conditions. A case is made for computer simulation tools to be explored in initial design decisions on materials and designs of school classrooms in the Tropics to ensure thermal comfort.

PHYSIOCHEMICAL AND MICROBIOLOGICAL ASSESSMENT OF SURFACE AND GROUND WATER IN IPOGUN, ONDO STATE, NIGERIA

Drs. Bada, A.A, Osuolale O., Momoh, A.O and Asabe N.T., Elizade University

The study investigated the physiochemical and microbiological assessment of water sources (groundwater) in Ipogun village which were boreholes and wells. Water samples were collected from two (2) different settlement in the village which were one well and one borehole water sample from the police station area in Ipogun and 2 wells and 2 boreholes from the Petroleum Trust Fund (PTF) national rural water supply programme. The physicochemical, heavy metals and microbiological analysis were determined using standard procedures. The groundwater samples from each settlement contain normal p.H of 6-8.5. Some water samples were soft (below 60mg/l) while some were moderately hard (60-120mg/l); the hardness of the water samples were within the permissible range of the WHO standard (60-180mg/l). The conductivity levels of the water samples was below the WHO standard of 150-500µS/cm. The water samples were slightly acidic because all p.H obtained from the water samples were below 7.0. The alkalinity levels of the water samples (4mg/l-15.4mg/l) were below the WHO permissible standard of 20-200mg/l. Atomic Absorption Spectrophotometer (ASS) was used to analysis the concentration of heavy metals in the water sample to check for the presence of heavy metals such as cadmium (Cd), Lead (Pb), Zinc (Zn), Iron (Fe) and Copper (Cu). The concentration of Cadmium (Cd) was above the WHO standard, BH1, BH3, WL2 and WL3 showed low concentration of Lead (Pb) while BH2 and WL1 contained concentration of Lead within the WHO standard. All water samples had concentration of Zinc (Zn) and Iron (Fe) below the WHO standard while Copper (Cu) was not detected in all the water samples from Ipogun. The microbiological results showed that the water samples from Ipogun showed high bacteria pollution and can be attributed to both the shallow depth at which water is tapped, settlement pattern and land use practices. The bacteria pollution of shallow wells around Ipogun is anthropogenic in origin. The Escherchia coli in the water samples shows that there is presence of fecal contamination. Proteus vulgaris, Serratia mascescen, Bacillus cereus and Pseudomonas aeruginosa are opportunistic bacteria. Conclusively, regular and quantified monitoring of geochemical characteristics of ground water for sustainable water management as well as good sanitary condition of wells should be maintained at all times to minimize the contamination of the well water. There can be speciation of cadmium in the water which can provide different toxicological effects.

AN APPRAISAL OF THE APPLICATION OF NON-CUSTODIAL SENTENCING IN NIGERIA

Barr. Kemi Omodanisi, University of Ibadan

Non-custodial sentencing developed owing to international recognition that imprisonment though a legal sanction for offenders does not constitute a panacea for crime prevention, rehabilitation and re-integration of offenders. Also, the challenges of most prison systems in many countries such as: overcrowding, poor hygiene, sexual abuse, sexual and reproductive ill-health and outdated facilities have adverse effect on physical and mental health of prisoners. These impede the yield towards educational and vocational training and affect the likelihood of future adjustment to an ordinary life outside incarceration. More so, the negative impact of long term incarceration on an inmate’s family and work is another factor that led to the development of non-custodial sentencing.

Non-custodial sentences are codified in international and domestic frameworks. In Nigeria, with the aim of shifting the criminal justice administration from the retributive penal justice system to a problem solving approach, these sentences as innovations are codified in the Administration and Criminal Justice Act (ACJA), 2015 and re-enforced by the Nigerian Correctional Services (NCS) Act, 2019. They include: Restitution and Compensation, Probation, Parole, Suspended Sentence, Community Service, Fines and Plea Bargaining.

Regardless of these innovations by the ACJA, 2015 and NCS Act, 2019, some of these measures are yet to gain full integration in the Nigerian criminal justice system, considering that there are hardly pronouncements on these measures. However, some states such as Lagos State and Oyo State that have taken steps to enact their Administration of Criminal Law have utilized these measures especially as it relates to applying community service for simple offences such as traffic offences.

In view of these, this presentation seeks to examine the application of these measures in Nigeria bearing in mind factors and challenges that impedes the application of these measures. It will also consider judicial attitude in their application, regulations as well as policies in place to enhance the application of these measures. Comparatively, this proposed research will consider the application of these measures in Kenya and United Kingdom were there are robust judicial activism, laws, policies and regulations on the application of these measures. This will help Nigeria borrow ideas from these jurisdictions and proffer solutions to the ineffective application of non-custodial measures in Nigeria.

MORINGA OLEIFERA PROVEN EFFICACY

Dr. Elizabeth I. Omodanisi, Cape Peninsula University of Technology

History of Moringa 

Moringa oleifera(MO) is native to South Asia and has spread to the Tropics. This plant is in the annals of Ayurvedic Medicine since 2000 years BC. Studies has shown that MO has been able to manage so many health complications and it is nutritious, thus, the name Miracle tree. It is referred to by several indigenous name based on location. This plant is able to grow and thrive under several climate conditions. 


Figure 1: Moringa oleifera leaves, flower and fresh pods

Components of Moringa 

This plant has gained the attention of so many researchers who studied this plant and elucidated the benefits and efficacy of this plant.  Moringa oleifera is rich in Antioxidants which combat free radicals that cause oxidative stress and several diseases . MO is high in quercetin which lowers blood pressure, contains chlorogenic acid which helps to reduce blood sugar levels, antibacterial, antidiabetic, wound healing, properties. MO is use in the management of several ailments such as, intestine ulcer, heart problems, high blood pressure, stomach ailments, asthma, arthritis, rheumatism, cancer, diabetes, constipation, diarrhea, seizures, intestinal spasms, headache, symptoms of menopause,  kidney stones etc

Nutritive Properties of Different Parts of Moringa

Leaves– contain proteins, glycosides, Mineral (CA, Mg, P, K, Cu, Fe, S), Vitamins (A, C, B1), isothiocyantes, alkaloids, thiamine, riboflavin, tannins, sterols, isoqucertin, kaemfericitin, amino acids

Seeds -amino acids, fiber, proteins, fats, oleic acids, pterygospermin, fatty acids- linoleic acids, hehenic acids, minerals, cabohydrates, phenolic compounds

Rootbark-Alkaloids, Minerals, phenolic compounds, carbohydrates, proteins

Flowers-Calcium, potassium, amino acids, protein, flavonoids, glucosinolates

Pods– fiber, fatty acids, ash, protein, carbohydrates. Tannin, terpenoids, saponins, flavonoids

Where can I get Moringa 

Moringa is well distributed(and grown) in East, West, South Africa, tropical Asia, Caribbean, Florida’s ecological zones, due to the favourable climate found in these zones. Moringa can be purchased in local pharmacies as a tea, powder and/or capsule. (Popoola & Obembe,2013).

Who can take Moringa

Moringa Leaf is safe to use in all ages and genders, but cautionary measures should be taken in people diagnosed with hypothyroidism.

Moringa products 

There are so many over the counter Moringa products such as Moringa capsules, Moringa tea, Moringa powder, Moringa seed oil.  

Figure 2: Moringa products

 

 How can I use moringa/ Preparation of Moringa 

The seed(green pods) of Moringa can be consumed in a food dish either cooked or roasted, while the moringa leaf can be enjoyed as a delicacy once it is well dried. Moringa powder can be used as a warm drink(tea) for those tea lovers. Those who prefer cold drink can blend the moringa leaf to form a delicious and healthy moringa juice.

Figure 3:Meals prepared from Moringa leaves

For what should I use moringa / Uses of Moringa

Researchers have discovered many benefits of moringa oleifera and have proven efficacy in treating certain diseases .

Asthma

Moringa has antiasthmatic properties that improve lung function,  protect against bronchial constrictions, in adults . Researchers found that taking three grams of moringa, twice daily for a period of three weeks decreases the severity of asthma and also decreases allergies.

Diabetes Mellitus

Researchers discovered some significant effects of moringa on diabetes mellitus. It has been proven that taking the drumstick(seed) or leaves of moringa with each meal decreases post-meal sugar levels in bloodstream of diabetic patients not taking diabetic medications.

Malnutrition

Early Researchers found that malnourished children gained healthy weight when adding moringa powder to meal for period of 2 months.

HIV/AIDS

Moringa is found to significantly increase body mass index of HIV/Aids patients, when taking moringa powder for 6 consecutive months, although the direct effects on the immune function is still unclear.

Other uses of moringa include:  heart diseases; mild gingivitis; athletes foot, dandruff; wound healing; to name a few. More research is required to identify the mechanism of action of moringa in treating these above mentioned ailments and diseases.

EXPLOITING THE POTENTIALS OF HEAVY METAL RESISTANT SOIL BACTERIA – SUMMARY

Mgbodile Florence C. (Ph. D student), University of Nigeria, Nsukka

Metals have been in existence long before its first discovery by the ancient man, approximately 5000 years BC. Over the next 2000 years which marked the Bronze Age, human advanced in their use of metals for various purposes. Metals find applications in  everyday use, ranging from your kitchen utensil to electrical cables, jewellery, coins, batteries, vehicles and even in some thermometers to mention but a few. Can you imagine a world without metals? I bet not! For the purpose of this program however, we will be focusing on heavy metals. What do you know about heavy metals? You might want to take a guess, ‘metals that are heavy,’ well; you are pretty much close. They are group of metals with atomic density greater than 5g/cm3. Heavy metal pollution occurs when heavy metals and their toxicants accumulate in an environment up to a concentration considered abnormally high. There are up to 50 heavy metals relevant in toxicological studies but seven have the most immediate concern according to the WHO and they include cadmium, chromium, cobalt , lead, nickel, mercury and zinc; these metals when they accumulate are toxic to living organisms including human beings. Growth and developmental abnormalities in addition to carcinogenesis and renal dysfunction are some of the longterm effects of heavy metal accumulation in humans. 

“Have you ever wondered how wastes from metal mines are treated or where they are discarded? Has it ever occurred to you that your surrounding environments might be battling heavy metal pollution? What if edible plants are grown on a heavy metal polluted agricultural land or seafood is sourced from such aquatic environment, have you ever thought about the dangers of consuming those? These are some of the burning questions environmentally conscious individuals might harbour and you should too”. 

Heavy metal contamination is a major environmental problem due to its toxicity. Soils in some urban areas are affected by high levels of heavy metals as a result of increasing industrialization. Mining operations often generate large quantities of waste materials most of which contain high concentrations of heavy metals such as copper, zinc, iron, manganese, nickel, lead and cadmium. These metals can result in widespread contamination of soils and water bodies. Today, contamination of soils, groundwater, sediments, surface water, and air with heavy metals represents a serious threat to the environment and health of all living organisms since most metals are highly toxic and not easily degraded, unlike organic molecules, they thus indefinitely persist in the environment.  Therefore, cleanup of metal contaminated sites is necessary for environmental and human health preservation. In this regard, several physicochemical methods such as precipitation, ion exchange, reverse osmosis, electro dialysis, and ultrafiltration are commonly used to remove metal ions from aqueous media. However, most of these methods are very costly, ineffective, and environmentally destructive, which is why alternative processing methods, such as those using bacterial biomass is a valid choice to consider. 

 The big question then is: ‘How do we rid the environment of heavy metal contamination in a cost-effective manner without jeopardizing its safety afterwards?’ This is where our research comes in; we are seeking to evaluate the use of soil bacteria for the bio removal of heavy metals from polluted sites and further harness them to this effect.  Since environments heavily contaminated with heavy metals harbour organisms that can deal with the pollution, we sourced our soil samples from metal dumpsites. These soil bacteria can convert the toxic metals to less toxic states and this property makes them potentially useful in bioremediation and other industrial applications. Some of these microorganisms are also plant growth promoters. Since agricultural soils are equally affected by heavy metal pollution, using the bacteria as sources of inoculum can play a dual role of heavy metal detoxification as well as growth promotion. We isolated several strains of bacteria and subsequently screened them for lead, copper, and cadmium tolerance by exposing them to increasing concentrations of the heavy metals. As expected, these bacteria were highly tolerant to the heavy metals studied.

Isolated strains were characterized and identified by molecular techniques, and were found to be closely related to Pseudomonas asiatica, Sphingobacterium caeni, Burkholderia cenocepacia, Achromobacter ruhlandii, Klebsiella sp and Micrococcus sp. They were also found to be highly tolerant to high NaCl and sugar concentrations and in addition, produce a wide range of industrially relevant enzymes such as protease, pectinase, amylase, cellulase, xylanase, lipase and inulinase. The properties of the isolated bacteria strains underscore their potentials as bioremediation agents and possible candidates for producing halotolerant and osmotolerant enzymes that currently dominate the world enzyme market.

 Microorganisms have their good sides which can be maximally exploited to our own advantage. This is the case for our soil bacteria which when thoroughly studied can be applied in solving some of the major challenges facing our environment, of which heavy metal pollution is one of them.

SOLID WASTE EVERYWHERE!!!  CAN WE EFFICIENTLY MANAGE OUR WASTE?

Dr. Kofoworola A. Olatunde, Federal University of Agriculture Abeokuta

In most locations within Nigeria, it is common to see streets littered with solid waste. Given the efforts put in place by different stakeholders towards efficient waste management, it raises the question: can we really mange our solid waste?

The answer is yes.

For a start, what is solid waste?

A solid waste is any material that is not needed, is not allocated a value and requires disposal because of the space it occupies. This means that the concept of solid waste is subjective as my neighbor’s waste may be what I require or value.

The composition of solid waste varies with location depending on the consumption pattern and financial wherewithal of residents. Here in Nigeria, our solid waste averagely has a high proportion of food waste and organics which decompose with time. Other constituents include plastics, textiles, paper, glass and metals.

Waste generation is inevitable as long as we continue to live. We must therefore find efficient but ways to dispose them and ensure they do not end up on the streets as they currently do. Some problems associated with improper solid waste management include

  1. Loss of aesthetics
  2. Water , soil and air  pollution
  3. Proliferation of rodents and disease transmitting organisms
  4. Diseases and Infections

What can we do to improve our current solid waste management practices? We must adopt the 3R principles of solid waste management. The 3R is an acronym for reduce, reuse and recycle.

Reduce: This is the most efficient approach to managing our solid waste. It ensures we generate less waste that requires eventual diposal. We can reduce our waste if we

  • Buy only needed materials
  • Rent, borrow or barter goods
  • Avoid disposables
  • Buy re-usables
  • Use emails instead of paper correspondence
  • Refuse packaging when possible

Reuse: Upon generating waste, we should reuse materials that are reusable, either as initially used or for a different purpose. We can achieve this when we

  • Buy drinks in refillable glass bottles
  • Buy groceries in reusable bags
  • Give away clothes, furniture and other items you no longer use
  • Pack a lunch
  • Use plastics and packaging  as crafts for children

Some of our solid wastes are not reusable. They can however be converted into other materials that can be used for new purposes. Different recycling strategies are available. We should adopt viable strategies that are environmentally friendly and economically viable. A major approach that should be encouraged is composting due to the high proportion of food and vegetable materials in our solids wastes. This can be done at the household or communal levels. Compost, the product of the composting process can be used as soil amendments for backyard gardens or farm. A judicious adoption of the 3R principle will help us toward achieving a clean and waste free environment.

CARBON SEQUESTRATION OF BISCAY FOREST, SPAIN

Dr. Esther O. Makinde, University of Lagos

Remote Sensing was used to carry out this study. Remote sensing is a general term that describes the action of obtaining information about an object with a sensor that is physically separated from that object. Such sensors rely upon the detection of energy emitted from or reflected by the object. The term remote sensing includes all activities from recording, processing, analyzing, interpreting, and finally obtaining useful information from the data generated by the remote sensing systems.

Remote sensing systems are mostly used for surveying, mapping, navigation, aerospace, artificial intelligence, monitoring etc. of resources and the environment.

‘Eyes (Sensors) in the Sky’

HOW?

Without direct contact, some means of transferring information through space must be utilized. In remote sensing, information transfer is accomplished by use of electromagnetic radiation (EMR).

Example

Land Satellite (Landsat) from United State Geological Survey was used to assess the green space land cover, spectral indices, biomass of Biscay and carbon sequestered from 1999 to 2019 within the same season, with a view to proffering nature based solutions.

Left: Landsat images;    Right: Biscay Province Extracted

Classified Images

In addition, other indicators for measurement were adopted. Some of them include Normalized Differential Vegetation Index, Enhanced Vegetation Index, Normalized Differential Built-up Index etc. They were used to further analyze the satellite images and to compute for changes within the three decades under review and conclusions were made.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Soapbox Science Ten Year Report

The year 2020 marked an important milestone for Soapbox Science; it was the project’s tenth year and a time to reflect on a decade of engaging with the public on the streets.

To mark this occasion we created a report, to collate all of the statistics and some of the stories from the many Soapbox Science events that have taken place.

The report is available to read here:

Foreword from Soapbox Science Co-founders Nathalie Pettorelli and Seirian Sumner

When we created Soapbox Science, we wanted to demonstrate that there was a need, and a niche, for public outreach platforms that challenge stereotypes about what sort of person a scientist is and what it means to be a scientist. We believed then, and still believe now, that the paucity of senior women and non-binary scientists in Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics and Medicine (STEMM), especially at top position levels, is unacceptable in a progressive 21st century world. Public engagement activities are often viewed as an unnecessary demand on a scientist’s time. Yet these activities have the potential to make a difference in a scientist’s career, by raising their profile and widening the reach of their work. Importantly, they can raise the visibility of under-represented groups, thereby providing accessible, visible role models for the next generations of scientists.

Since 2011, Soapbox Science has grown from one event in London to dozens of events worldwide, and has involved thousands of speakers, volunteers and organisers. With this report, we hope to showcase some of the key achievements of Soapbox Science by discussing its growth, reach, and impact on speakers and audiences.

Nothing would have been possible without the support and help of the communities we aim to serve. We would therefore like to extend our heartfelt thanks to all of the amazing people who make Soapbox Science possible. Firstly, to our Local Organising Teams for volunteering their time and working tirelessly to bring events and the spirit of Soapbox Science to their cities; to our speakers for coming up with engaging, fun and inspiring presentations and for having the guts to stand on boxes in crowded streets; to our volunteers for making sure events run smoothly and everyone has a good time; to our funders and supporters for making the events possible; and to our audiences for choosing to stop when they see us in their local streets and heckling our scientists with brilliant questions.

We finally would like to thank our Soapbox Science coordinator, Isla Watton, for her dedication to making this initiative a global success. Isla joined us in 2016, and has overseen the rapid expansion of Soapbox Science, developing processes and tools that enabled us to reach new continents and new audiences. Isla’s artistic background proved invaluable for strengthening our communication strategy and science communication training approach. Soapbox Science could not have a better person in charge.

Nathalie & Seirian

Soapbox Science Co-founders

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

It takes a village- the importance of building a support network during your PhD: Meet Rebekah Boreham

Rebekah Boreham is a PhD student in the Biosciences Department at the University of Exeter where she conducts research in ecotoxicology and environmental biology. Her work aims to further our ability to assess the prevalence and effects of chemicals in the environment resulting from human activity. Here we find out why it is important to play a game of rounders in the sand and get Rebekah’s friendship ‘must haves’ for getting the most out of your PhD.

‘It takes a village- the importance of building a support network during your PhD’

“Catch it!”- A rounders’ ball sails through the salty air and is caught by a first year PhD student in a dramatic dive into the sand. There’s a cheer from the remainder of the party who are sat chatting and building sand castles on the sunny Cornish beach. This is how the group of us- a mixed bag of postgrads at various stages of their research degree programmes- have decided to blow off steam. After a stressful few months of vivas, experiments and paper submissions, we’ve driven an hour and a half down the coast to spend a March weekend in Cornwall. This isn’t how I imagined embarking on the third year of my PhD, but so far I’m not complaining.

A sunny Sunday in Cornwall with lab mates. Photo courtesy of Will Davison

If there is one piece of advice I could bestow on any newly-minted PhD students, it’s this: make friends. Build a support network. PhDs can be the one of the most rewarding and stressful periods of your life and it’s important to have a close group of friends or family to help you stick out the rough parts as well as celebrate the highs. I’m just over halfway through my PhD and I can’t emphasise enough how much I have lent on my support network already.

A support network can be made up of anyone you like, but there are five key friends that I wouldn’t do without:

  1. The Work Friend for practical help. From answering a question about paperwork (a PhD is surprisingly bureaucratic!) to assisting you on a marathon 16-hour sampling day. Starting a PhD can feel very much like being thrown in the deep end, a peer who is going through it with you- or better yet, is even just a few months or years ahead of you- can be a valuable guide and a helpful pair of hands.
  2. The Work Friend with an empathetic ear. For me, my PhD is turning into the most rewarding, but also one of the most stressful, times of my life. There are certain frustrations that only a fellow postgrad can understand- from a strained relationship with a supervisor, to a P value you just can’t get to budge below 0.06- never underestimate the power of a good vent to a friend in the same boat.
  3. The Non-Work Friend. Whether they are friends or family, keeping in close contact with someone from outside of work can help you gain perspective and remind you that the PhD is not your whole life. It can be difficult sometimes but it’s important to remember that you are not your research. Your self-worth must not be tied to the outcome of your work. I’m the first of my family to do a postgrad degree and it can be wonderfully refreshing to talk to my parents who have nothing to do with scientific research. Sometimes it takes a friend totally removed from the world of academia to remind you that you have a life outside of the lab.
  4. The Mentor. If you’re lucky, this person could also be your supervisor, but this might not be the case. Building a relationship with some kind of senior researcher in your field is well worth your time. They can be invaluable for providing insight, career advice, or to champion you and put you forward for career opportunities. The main thing I’ve valued my mentor for is ‘the resilience talk’; when everything in your project seems to be going wrong, it’s important to remember that sometimes that’s just how science goes- and it’s especially comforting to hear that from someone who’s been dealing with science for years. If you do have questions about what to look for in a supervisor, I recommend a blog post by The Thesis Whisperer.
  5. The Twittersphere. If all else fails: reach out to the online community! As well as networking for career opportunities or to share news, twitter and other social media platforms are helpful for connecting with the wider scientific community. A selection of my favourite blogs and twitter accounts (which include @thoughtsofaphd, @Tessa_M_Hill or @ithinkwellHugh) can be helpful in providing advice or amplifying the voices of other women in research. Plus postgrads come up with the best memes.
Hour 12 of sampling zebrafish brains. Photo Rebekah Boreham

I chose a happy memory of bonding with my cohort to open this post because I wanted to reflect the joy and optimism. But the fact is that the most intense bonding has happened at the lowest moments, when two of us are trapped in the lab at midnight just trying to get the last samples into the freezer, or when a friend just needed to vent because their paper has been sat on their supervisor’s desk for two months and the deadline is sneaking up.

When I was an undergrad considering a PhD, one of the most common warnings I kept hearing is that a PhD is a lonely experience because no one else is doing your exact project and no one else will know the answers but you. In that respect they would be right, a PhD can be lonely, but there are so many people in the same metaphorical boat as you. I would argue that this has been the least lonesome period of my life; I feel like I am part of a wonderful community of like-minded people who can share my frustrations, but also share my drive and my obsession with the natural world. They say it takes a village to raise a child. I feel like it’s taken a village to turn me into a scientist.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The understanding of wasp insect societies: meet Cintia Akemi Oi

My name is Cintia and I am Brazilian. I do not look like a “typical Brazilian” because I have Japanese grandparents that flew out of Japan to become immigrants in Brazil. But what most people do not know is that Brazil is a multicultural country, and São Paulo state composes the biggest Japanese community outside Japan.

My parents gave a lot of support for me and my two older sisters to always study and to go to college, they always said we need to be independent. For my parents I always dedicated everything I succeed!

For my studies, I was always in love with animals in general, then I enrolled as a bachelor’s in Biology. During my studies, my passion with insects flourished, and for my Master thesis I worked with orchid bees. My project back then was related to urban population genetics and mark recapture of Euglossine bees in the cities. They are the most beautiful bees in the world with their metallic colours. I tagged them to follow them in nature.

I had good mentorship during my master’s and then a dream of mine was to pursue an academic career. I waited around two years to get a scholarship and to be admitted to a PhD program abroad. I chose to come to Belgium, following my promoter which was a leader in the study of social insect societies.

From bees I changed to wasps, from Brazil I moved to Belgium, from Portuguese speaking country I came to a Flemish university which uses English in the higher-level education, but the university is in the Dutch speaking part of Belgium.

My PhD research aimed to characterize and study experimentally if the wasp queens in social species produced pheromones to tell the workers that she is present in the nest and those pheromones maintain division of labour in place. Therefore, I worked mainly with behavioural ecology, chemical ecology and identification of queen pheromones. In 2016, I got my PhD and since then, I work as a postdoctoral researcher. I focused my research to comprehend the physiological links of why some individuals reproduce, and if this due to hormonal changes. Also, I still investigate if these hormonal changes affect how the individual smells, and this can be used for communication.

First, why wasps? Because they are good models to understand social behaviour, as we have species that range from solitary to social behaviour. They are also understudied compared to bees. Wasps perform important ecosystem services as for example as pest-controls, and they are not only sting machines. But I must admit that they are fearless in defending their nests. Of course, I was the predator, because I needed the queen and I tried everything to collect the whole nest in the field and then I got stung a lot. I used protection, bee suits, but extra layers of protection came with the experience of each of the sting. Loose tick sweaters, plus loose thick pants, long boots etc.. The European social wasps are clever, and they can find a weak spot in your bee suit. To guarantee the sting does not happen often, I must be sure to tape any hole that a tiny wasp can crawl to sting and try to be as fast and efficient I can. Everything I learned I passed on to the next students, less and less we got stung when we got to the field. But in fact, I developed an allergy, but I am in treatment, so do not worry! I still can do a lot of research with them and I will never blame the wasps!!

I can say that the most fascinating part of my research is to go to the field and get insights of the behaviour of these extraordinary insects. In Belgium, most of the field work for social wasp was done in people’s houses as wasps often nest in the garden, bushes, shed or attic. Spreading advertisement locally, we get phone calls, and we go to remove the nests for free to conduct our research. With this contact with people, you can also talk about science, I am grateful for the people that welcome us in their houses to get rid of the wasps’ nests, but also contributed to the research I did. I love my job!

I not only worked with European social species, but my research provides me the opportunity to go back to Brazil and establish a collaboration there, and in New Zealand where the European wasps are considered invasive. Here are some photos to show how cool it is.

I liked to have some other side projects: bee hotels project, sex pheromones in wasps, solitary species, foraging behaviour, ant and bee experiments. I am biased, but I think the insects are easy to work with, they are fascinating animals that can teach us a lot and you can find them anywhere, meaning that there is so much to discover!

Because of my background, I think women and minorities need to be resilient in science. Developing countries need more grants and funding, developed countries need more inclusion. Having the incentives as the Soapbox Science initiative, provides me support to be resilient and to encourage others that we can make a difference. I advocate for more women in science and women should have a welcome environment to be able to have a healthy balance between work and family.

Woman in Science, come and join us!

This is me and this is my story! 

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

How to select a good talk title for Soapbox Science: 10 Top tips and things to remember from Orode UV Aniejurengho

This list will help you clarify if your talk title is suitable for Soapbox Science.

Written by one of the Soapbox Science Lagos, Nigeria, organisers: Orode UV Aniejurengho.

  • 1. Soapbox Science is a novel public outreach platform for promoting women & non-binary scientists and the science they do.

  • 2. Scientist is used in a general way and includes those involved in science, technology, engineering, maths and medicine research (STEMM). PhD students, lecturers, professors, STEM professionals, entrepreneurs – you can take part in Soapbox Science.

  • 3. The main aim of Soapbox Science is to bring your cutting-edge science to the public, in an accessible, fun and unintimidating way.

  • 4. We want the public to be aware of research that is taking place or done by women in science – we find that this creates awareness of career opportunities in STEMM, inspires young ones towards careers in STEMM, gives an opportunity to see people who look like them, e.g., from BAME backgrounds, doing fabulous research, could minimise the spread of false information as the general public hears direct from you the researchers.

  • 5. Your talk must be scientific, consider research you are currently doing or have completed e.g., from your PhD, Your Post-doc. If your talk title is motivational – this is not suitable, it is best to consider submitting this for consideration to be published as a blog post on the global Soapbox Science website.

  • 6. The title should be easy to understand by the general public (not an expert in your area, but the people who have not had the opportunity /inclination/ means to meet a scientist or learn about science that happens in their local area). Example title – How are drugs personalised for you?

  • 7. For your talk/presentation there is no middle-man, no PowerPoint slide, no amphitheatre – just you remarkable scientists.

  • 8. Props can be used to demonstrate certain aspects in your talk, we find that where relevant, this can promote understanding for your listeners. Examples of props used by past speakers have included giant DNA, interactive experiments, mannequins, giant superbugs, plants, salt, balloons, confetti. The list is varied, and guidance can be provided by the organising team.

  • 9. Your local organising team will usually arrange some training in designing talks, understanding what Soapbox Science is etc. We encourage you to take advantage of this, previous attendees have commended the training and we find that the talks of those who attended the training is more engaging.

  • 10. If the event is Online, you will be guided by the organising team on structure etc.

The general public always enjoy engaging with the research in different areas of STEMM that the speakers present, and there are always a wide range of questions.

It can be a nerve-racking experience but all speakers at the end usually enjoy the process of rethinking how they communicate the complexities of their work to the general public. Amongst some speakers we find collaborations being set up.

Overall, Soapbox Science has been described by both speakers and attendees as exciting! We look forward to hosting you as a speaker and supporting you to prepare an engaging and inspirational scientific presentation.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

OPTIMIZING WATER FOR AGRICULTURE USING REMOTE SENSING/GEOGRAPHICAL INFORMATION SYSTEM- Meet Dr. Esther O. Makinde

Summary

Water and land productivity for agricultural purposes are essential in addressing food security in Nigeria owing to its population. This rapidly growing country is unique in its location on the West Africa region because it cuts across the Sahel, Sudan, Guinea and Tropical Rainforest agro-ecological zones. However, the availability of water for sustainable agriculture all year round is a major challenge. Although, the surface water found in lakes, rivers and stream; and the subsurface water (also referred to as groundwater) located underground in large aquifers [1] is available across Nigeria to combat these challenges, has not been utilized. Agricultural surface and subsurface water use is particularly important in regions with increasingly variable water supplies like Nigeria, acting as a natural insurance mechanism and powerful climate change adaptation option [3]. Geospatial techniques comprising of Remote Sensing (RS), Geographical Information System (GIS) and Global Positioning System (GPS) is been used to assess, delineate, map and identify the location of surface water and potential subsurface water targets in a  more convenient, cost effective than invasive methods and efficient way [2, 4]. In today’s world, the solution to sustainable agriculture lies in adopting these unique techniques.

References

[1] Huggett, J. (2005) Fundamentals of Geomorphology, Routeledge, Oxon

[2] Elbeih, S.F. (2015) An overview of integrated remote sensing and GIS for groundwater mapping in Egypt. Engineering Applications and Water Division, National Authority for Remote Sensing and Space Sciences, 23 Joseph Tito st., El-Nozha El-Gedida, Cairo, Egypt. Ain Shams Engineering Journal, Elsevier 6, 1–15 http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.asej.2014.08.008

[3] CGIAR: Research Program on Water, Land and Ecosystems (2017) Agriculture and groundwater: feeding billions from the ground Up. https://wle.cgiar.org/event/agriculture-and-groundwater-feeding-billions-ground

  • Makinde, E.O. and Oyelade E. O. (2019) Land cover mapping using Sentinel-1 SAR and Landsat 8 imageries of Lagos State for 2017.Environmental Science and Pollution Research, Springer 1-9. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11356-019-05589-x
Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment