Soapbox Science 2014


2014 was an exciting year for us. We ran our 4th annual London event on The SouthBank at the end of June. In addition, we established new events in different cities around the UK and Ireland, including BristolDublin and Swansea. This marked the beginning of Soapbox Science expansion, providing opportunities for women all over the UK to get on their soapbox and tell the world about their work.  It also widened our audience, which until 2013 had been restricted to London.

Our London event

On the 29th of June 2014, 12-3pm, London’s Southbank was transformed again into a hub of scientific learning and discussion, as some of the UK’s leading female scientists took to their soapboxes to showcase science to the general public. 2014 saw strong competition to appear at this London’s event with over 40 applications received. The winners and their discussion topics included:

Professor Eleanor Highwood, University of Reading “When smoke gets in your skies: the effect of atmospheric aerosols on weather and climate”

Dr Priya Kalia, King’s College London “Putting Humpty Dumpty together again” 

Dr. Suchitra Sebastian, Lecturer and Royal Society University Research Fellow in Physics at University of Cambridge “Levitating trains: the magic of superconductors”

Dr Pola Goldberg Oppenheimer, School of Chemical Engineering, University of Birmingham “Nanotechnology: no small matter”

Dr Louise Janna Johnson, School of Biological Sciences, University of Reading  “Life finds a way! How bacteria bounce back from a breakdown”

Dr Natasha Stephen, Research Associate, The Natural History Museum, London & Imperial College London Why are we studying Mars and would you want to go?!”

Dr. Erin Heerey, Senior lecturer at Bangor University “Six secrets of social behavior”

Dr Sarah Durant, Senior Research Fellow, Institute of Zoology Getting up to speed on cheetahs”

Listen to Sarah’s podcast here

Dr Yvette Hancock, Department of Physics, University of York “Ellie the Electron’s Life in the Quantum World

Dr Jennifer Bizley, University College London Ear Institute “On the difference between hearing and listening”

Dr Deirdre Hollingsworth, University of Warwick “Why do we need maths to help us control infectious diseases in developing countries?”

Dr. Isabel Pires, Lecturer in Biomedical Science and Group Leader University of Hull “Why cancer cells don’t choke in low oxygen

Watch Isabel’s podcast here

Our Bristol event

On the 14th of June 2014, Soapbox Science joined efforts with the Bristol Festival of Nature to transform the city’s open spaces into a hub of scientific learning and discussion, as some of the UK’s leading female scientists took to their soapboxes to showcase science to the general public. The speakers and their discussion topics included:

Prof Aniko Varadi, Professor in Biomedical Research, Department of Biological Biomedical and Analytical Sciences, University of the West of England Bristol “Keeping your blood sugar levels at bay”

Charlotte Watson, PhD student, School of Chemistry, University of Bristol “Escape from Flatland: adventures in asymmetric synthesis” 

Dr. Elaine Massung, Research Assistant, Department of Computer Science, University of Bristol “There’s an (environmental) app for that: smartphones and sustainability”

Dr. Joanna Joy Bryson, Reader, University of Bath  “Cooperation Is Natural: can we make it artificial?”

Jenna Todd Jones, School of Experimental Psychology, University of Bristol  “Optical illusions, tongue twisters, and the eyes in the back of your head: your brain is a magician!”

Dr Kate Hendry, School of Earth Sciences, University of Bristol “Glassy creatures – a silicon life on the ocean waves!

Prof Krasimira Tsaneva-Atanasova, Associate Professor in Applied Mathematics, College of Engineering, Mathematics and Physical Sciences, University of Exeter “Through the looking-glass: a glimpse into the mathematics of living systems”

Dr Laura Evenstar, Research Associate, School of Earth Sciences, University of Bristol “The Atacama Desert: the oldest, driest desert in the world.

Dr Mirella Di Lorenzo, Lecturer, Department of Chemical Engineering, University of Bath “Bacteria transform waste into energy in microbial fuel cells

Michaela Musilova, PhD Candidate, Bristol Glaciology Centre, School of Geographical Sciences, University of Bristol “Studying aliens – from Bristol to Mars!”

Dr Heather Whitney, ERC Research Fellow, School of Biological Sciences, University of Bristol “The beautiful tricks of flowers”

Emily Bell, PhD Candidate, School of Biological Sciences, University of Bristol “How to have a social life – lessons from the wasps!

Our Swansea event

On the 5th of July 2014, Soapbox Science joined efforts with Swansea University to transform the magnificent expanse of Swansea Bay (next to the 360 Beach and Watersports centre and café) into a hub of scientific learning and discussion, as some of Wales’ leading female scientists took to their soapboxes to showcase science to the general public. The speakers and their discussion topics included:

Prof Julie Williams, Professor & Chief Scientific Adviser for Wales, Cardiff University “What can genes tell us about dementia?”

Dr Ruth Callaway, Research Scientist, Swansea University “How can we design man-made structures that enrich coastal biodiversity?” 

Watch Ruth’s podcast here

Prof Siwan Davies, Swansea University “Explosive, unpredictable, microscopic but powerful: how tiny pieces of volcanic ash can help us to understand the climate of the Past”

Watch Siwan’s podcast here

Nia Blackwell, PhD Student, Aberystwyth University  Making microbes work: using naturally-occurring waste sediments and bacteria to clean contaminated mine water”

Dr Geertje Van Keulen, Associate professor, Swansea University “Microbes are shaping life on Earth as we know it now – from good to bad bacteria and back again”

Ina Laura Pieper, Scientific Research Manager, Calon Cardio-Technology Ltd “Improving heart pumps to save lives”

Watch Ina Laura’s podcast here

Dr Sophie Schirmer, Associate Professor, Swansea University “Quantum physical effects allow us to see inside solid objects including the human body to identify structure, function, biochemistry and diagnose diseases”

Sofya Lyakhova, Swansea University “How beauty lies in equations

Watch Sofya’s podcast here

Leah Johnstone, PhD student, Bangor University  “Everybody knows a left-hander…nobody knows why they’re left-handed”

Dr Kami Koldewyn, Lecturer, Bangor University “The social brain and how it shapes how we view the world”

Dr Yamni Nigam, Associate Professor, Swansea University “There’s a maggot in my wound!”

Dr Natalie De Mello, Postdoctoral Research Assistant, Swansea University “The new pain free drug delivery method that could replace hypodermic needles in the next 5 years”

Watch Natalie’s podcast here

Dr Emily Shepard, Lecturer, Swansea University “Meet the real airshow. Venue: Your back garden”

Dr Deya Gonzalez, Senior Lecturer, Swansea University “Understanding female fertility through womb pathologies in female cancers and endometriosis”

Our Dublin event

On the 26th of April 2014, Soapbox Science joined efforts with Trinity College Dublin’s Equality Fund and WiSER to transform Trinity’s Front Square into a hub of scientific learning and discussion, as our speakers took to their soapboxes in Front Square (whatever the weather!) from 12-3pm. The audience could look out for exploding Martians, very long rubber gloves, witches capes and misbehaving brains! The speakers and their discussion topics included:

Prof Aoife McLysaght, School of Genetics and Microbiology, Trinity College Dublin  “Evolutionary insights into how genes work”

Prof Emma Teeling, School of Biology and Environmental Science, University College Dublin “Batty ideas?”  Watch her performance here

Dr. Erin Williams, School of Veterinary Medicine,  University College Dublin “Healthy milk from happy cows”

Dr. Fiona Walsh, Department of Biology, NUI Maynooth  “Antibiotic resistance hunting in the bacteria jungle”

Dr Geetha Srinivasan, School of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering, Queens University Belfast “Ionic liquid – liquid salts”

Dr Helen Sheridan, School of Pharmacy and pharmaceutical sciences,  Trinity College Dublin “Nature’s pharmacy: therapeutic gifts from flowers, fungi, frogs and ferns” Watch her performance here

Dr Jessamyn Fairfield, CRANN, Trinity College Dublin “The little things matter”

Dr Kim Roberts, School of Genetics and Microbiology, Trinity College Dublin “What’s the big deal about bird flu?

Dr Lorna Lopez, Department of Psychiatry, Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland “Clues to understanding your brain

Dr Mary Bourke, School of Natural Sciences (Geography), Trinity College Dublin “Snows and flows on Mars”

Karen McCarthy, Alimentary Pharmabiotic Centre, University College Cork “Microcompartments – Mini Factories for us!”

Prof Yvonne Buckley, School of Natural Sciences and Trinity Centre for Biodiversity Research, Trinity College Dublin “Lights, fertiliser, herbivores, action!

Our 2014 Sponsors

The Royal Meteorological Society sponsored Professor Eleanor Highwood, from the University of Reading. The Royal Meteorological Society is the UK’s Professional and Learned Society for weather and climate.  It plays a key role as the custodian of both the science and the profession of meteorology in the UK and has an important role to play internationally as one of the world’s largest meteorological Societies. The Society’s mission is to advance the understanding of weather and climate, the science and its applications, for the benefit of all.  This is a wide remit that looks to broaden peoples’ understanding, interest and enthusiasm in meteorology, whether they are research scientists, amateurs, practitioners or professional meteorologists or members of the general public. It goes further, promoting the development of high-quality science, the next generation of scientists, and our practitioner community.  That is promoting professional development of individuals, accrediting organisations and further and higher education courses, encouraging meteorology as a career and helping develop the market for high-quality weather and climate services, both of which are strongly linked (as the Society is) to oceanography and hydrology in particular.  Promoting professional development includes strengthening and diversifying the applications of meteorology for the protection of life and property, for public and policy work and across business sectors.  The Society is owned by its membership, but exists for the benefit of all.

The London Materials Society (LMS) sponsored Dr Priya Kalia, from King’s College London. LMS is a local society of the Institute of Materials, Minerals & Mining. The society meets regularly to discuss every aspect of Materials from Ice Cream manufacture to the recent nanotechnology developments! They are open to the public and free of charge. “Like” our Facebook page to be kept up-to-date about LMS activities.

The University of Hull sponsored Dr Isabel Pires. The University was originally established as University College Hull in 1927, before becoming England’s fourteenth university upon the grant of a Royal Charter in 1954. Today the University is a vibrant and ambitious institution with more than 16,000 students from over 100 countries. Its six faculties offer teaching and research across a wide range of disciplines, including health, business, social sciences, the performing arts, education, science and engineering. The University’s research has helped shape the world through ground-breaking discoveries such as stable liquid crystals – now used worldwide in liquid crystal displays (LCDs) for smartphones, computer screens and televisions – and the first ultrasound scanner for detection of osteoporosis. Its alumni are another source of far-reaching influence, and can be found in positions of responsibility in a wide range of fields across the globe. The University prides itself on providing an outstanding student experience. 90% of its students were satisfied with the quality of their course overall according to the 2013 National Student Survey, a score which puts the University in equal tenth place out of mainstream English higher education institutions. Its Students’ Union was crowned Higher Education Students’ Union of the Year at the National Union of Students Awards 2012.

The Society for General Microbiology sponsored Soapbox Science Swansea 2014. The Society is a membership organisation for scientists who work in all areas of microbiology. It is the largest learned microbiological society in Europe with a worldwide membership based in universities, industry, hospitals, research institutes and schools. The Society publishes key academic journals in microbiology and virology, organises international scientific conferences and provides an international forum for communication among microbiologists and supports their professional development. The Society promotes the understanding of microbiology to a diverse range of stakeholders, including policy-makers, students, teachers, journalists and the wider public, through a comprehensive framework of communication activities and resources.

The Royal Society of Chemistry was happy to sponsor Soapbox Science Swansea 2014. In particular, we supported an exclusive opportunity for chemistry-interested pupils (ChemNet members) to interact with some of the Soapbox Scientists. ChemNet is the Royal Society of Chemistry’s free provision for 14-18 year olds and membership helps you to discover the chemistry in your life. As part of ChemNet, students benefit from monthly newsletters and competitions, events all over the UK, careers information, and help with your studies. Sign up here. The Royal Society of Chemistry is the world’s leading chemistry community, advancing excellence in the chemical sciences. We are the largest non-government supporter of chemistry education in the UK and our activities encompass lifelong learning, including both formal and informal education. We promote, support and celebrate chemistry. We work to shape the future of the chemical sciences – for the benefit of science and humanity.

The Wales Institute of Mathematical and Computational Sciences (WIMCS) sponsored our Swansea event, as well as Dr Sofya Lyakhova. WIMCS is a collaborative partnership of the universities of Aberystwyth, Bangor, Cardiff, South Wales and Swansea. Established in 2006 by the Welsh Government through the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales, WIMCS aims to enhance the standing of mathematics and computation in Wales, to foster links with industry, commerce and business, to generate substantial research funding and to provide a forum for education and public awareness of the Mathematical Sciences.

Tidal Lagoon Swansea Bay (TLSB) plc’ sponsored Dr Ruth Callaway, from the SEACAMS project at Swansea University. The company specialises in renewable energy, with both UK and international projects experience. It aspires to see the UK successfully shift towards clean and sustainable energy that is locally owned.  The Severn Estuary holds the second highest tidal range in the world and within this Swansea Bay benefits from an average tidal range during spring tides of 8.5m. This tidal range offers significant potential for the extraction of renewable energy through the construction of tidal lagoons. They are classed as ‘offshore generating stations’, and the planned Swansea Bay Tidal Lagoon will be an offshore generating station with a nominal rated capacity of 240MW, with the ability to power the equivalent of 155,000 homes. The vision of TLSB is to see this sustainable and abundant tidal resource help the UK towards greater energy security. It can help the transition to a low carbon future and lower costs of electricity while providing regenerative, economic and recreational benefits to local communities. The company is particularly interested to ensure that the lagoon benefits the local environment, promotes biodiversity and offers opportunities to rear locally important marine and coastal species. This ambition is pursued through collaborative research projects with the SEACAMS projects.