Blog posts

Make it meaningful: RCSU’s Science Challenge 2022

Every year the Royal College of Science Union‘s (RCSU) international science communication competition, the Science Challenge, welcomes entrants from schools across the globe. This year’s competition focused on climate change, with questions set by Professor Lord Robert Winston, Professor Kathy Sykes, Professor Richard Templer and Dr Paulo Ceppi.

In this post RCSU Vice President Operations, Trinity Stenhouse, reflects on what led her to the VPO position as a first year undergraduate. why the Science Challenge has been designed to focus on sci comm for non-specialist audiences, and the importance of making science meaningful.

You can also find out more about this year’s winning entries!

By Trinity Stenhouse

A sci-comm challenge by design

Science is often seen as a specialist subject, and this can make the general public feel disconnected from it – disheartened from getting involved, assuming that it’s only after taking a degree in a specific area that you’re you qualified to engage in it. The truth is, we need everyone to care about science and share their thoughts. Only by opening discussion to wider society can we really make way for scientific development. There are lots of different ways to engage with science, and lots of ways that science impacts our lives every day; everyone can find out more about – and in some cases feed into – academic research. Science communication can also play a huge role in tackling misinformation.

Trinity welcoming the audience - in person at the Royal Institution and online
Trinity welcoming the audience, both in person at the Royal Institution and online, at this year’s hybrid awards ceremony.

Our theme for this year’s Science Challenge was climate change, which really lends itself to science communication – lots of different audiences need to know about this urgent subject. Our questions asked candidates to discuss why people might fail to believe climate change is a threat, explain the technicalities and evidence behind it, and communicate these messages with leaders. The responses we received from candidates were fantastic – and the standard incredibly impressive. These young scientists are paving the way for a better future, so I would like to thank everyone who participated. In fact, one of our judges, Professor Kathy Sykes, said that it was “an absolute joy judging the Science Challenge. The quality of the entrants was extremely high, and their pleas to a leader to make change were clear, passionate and persuasive. Well done to everyone who was involved!”

Photo of Professor Sykes with her winner’s (Zerlynde Goik’s) video in the background. Demonstrates the multi-mode delivery of the awards ceremony, since not everyone could make it, so we displayed videos on the big screen sent in by winners.
Professor Sykes with her winner’s (Zerlynde Goik’s) video in the background. The ceremony was delivered in person and online to make it accessible to everyone who wanted to join.

Making it meaningful

As scientists, it’s our responsibility to communicate ideas to the public, backed up by research and evidence, not just make decisions by ourselves. The inaccessibility of scientific material, plus the amount of information that’s available to audiences from all kinds of sources, can contribute to distrust in science. If we can communicate things so that everyone can understand and contribute to discussions, then we have the chance to correct misinformation calmly through explanation.

It’s also useful to remember that not all world leaders have scientific backgrounds, so the people making the most important decisions likely won’t know what you’re talking about unless you can explain it. Looking to the future, the more people involved in scientific discussions, the more progress we will make, even if not everybody can do all the maths.

Independent thinking

For school students, projects and competitions like the Science Challenge encourage independent thinking and research, skills that students – A-level and undergraduate – don’t necessarily get the opportunity to develop before they get further on in a degree. These skills are integral at university, so these kinds of activities are invaluable to get into a more mature academic mindset.

For Imperial students specifically, communication isn’t a big part of our degrees, but it will most likely play a part in our careers, such as when applying for research funding grants or giving talks to other professionals. In the former case, there’s no guarantee that investors will have in depth scientific knowledge on your subject, so you will have to find ways to communicate it effectively. The Science Challenge is great practise for this.

I’d say never be scared to enter a competition like this. By participating you’re already taking that crucial step to become informed, inspired and able to make a difference, regardless of whether you win. The Science Challenge is an extremely rewarding part of what the RCSU does for the community. I look forward to seeing where it goes in future and I encourage everyone to stay tuned and participate.

A journey to the RSCU and a journey out of lockdown

I’ve always been involved with communities, and I like to try and help people, so when I joined Imperial in 2020 ‘Wellbeing Representative’ seemed like a natural thing to apply for. After my election, I realised how much the pandemic was affecting the wellbeing of my year group – it was so much harder to assimilate as a cohort during lockdowns, and I recognised the long-term effects this could have not just in the present, but throughout our degrees and into the future. I tried to make online activities to build a community, but there wasn’t too much uptake, and I felt like the people who were struggling the most wouldn’t be the ones who joined.

When the Prime Minister announced the lockdown easing plan in early 2021 I decided to plan some in-person events because I wanted to give everyone something to look forward to. So, as Wellbeing Rep I started organising in person picnics for my year group as soon as we were allowed to meet outside. These were a great success, but obviously they were limited to my own departmental year group – 1st Year Physics students.

I then contacted RCSU President Aparna Pillai suggesting we organise a whole RCSU end of year event. Aparna, Mareya Saba (who was then Vice President Activities) and myself started working on an end of year ball for RCSU students. The tickets sold out instantly and prompted us to organise a second event the day after!

As elections were going on for unfilled positions at this time, and RCSU Vice President Operations was open, Aparna asked me if I would run for it. As a first year, I had never thought about running for an RCSU position as I thought that was more for older students. Nonetheless, I ran, and luckily won – so here I am! I’ve really enjoyed being a part of the Executive Committee this year, and I will be happy to continue next year as RCSU Vice President Activities.

What’s it like being an RCSU Vice President?

I’ve really enjoyed working with external professionals for the Science Challenge. Our judges were outstanding throughout the process, and it was wonderful being able to talk about science with such passionate and knowledgeable people. Managing to get James Corden to speak in the launch video was incredible, and I would like to thank Professor Lord Winston for getting him on board.

Trinity and Professor Lord Winston on stage
Trinity and Professor Lord Winston on stage

I have definitely gained a lot of experience in organisation and events planning. Firstly with getting the Royal Institution to host the event, and then a lot of work went into preparing the Awards Ceremony. I had also never hosted an Awards Ceremony before, so this was a new experience which I essentially had to improvise on the night. Everyone seemed happy with how it went though, and I’d like to thank the team (Xavier Keogh, Susan Rutter, Kiarash Shaddel and Lingyi Wang) for making sure everything ran smoothly.

The most challenging thing has been time management, since RCSU is not the only committee I am on. I have lots of extra curriculars, and of course, I also have my degree to do. The Science Challenge isn’t the only thing that comes under the VPO position – I also manage Broadsheet, our termly magazine, sponsorship, alumni relations and our website, and attend meetings with the rest of the Executives and the Union. It’s a lot of fun being able to work with such a variety of teams, but it keeps me on my toes.

Find out who won this year’s competition, plus watch the entrants’ videos on the FoNS website.

A free postdoc and publication opportunities… interested?

Dr Viraj Perera
Dr Viraj Perera

Dr Viraj Perera is Director of Industry Partnerships and Commercialisation in the Faculty of Natural Sciences. In this post he highlights the reasons why the Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP) programme, run by Innovate UK, is such a valuable opportunity for collaboration and funding, detailing how FoNS academics can learn more about the scheme and its benefits. 

By Viraj Perera

Championing translational research

Innovate UK is the nation’s innovation agency and is a part of UK Research and Innovation (UKRI). Its approved budget for 2021-22 is £667 million, which is greater than the budgets approved for BBSRC, AHRC and ESRC funding combined. This clearly indicates a major thrust towards championing translational research in solving real-world problems in industry settings.

Innovate UK manages the Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP) programme, facilitating its delivery through a range of partners including the Knowledge Transfer Network (KTN). Each partner plays a specific role in the support and delivery of the programme.

A question of funding

KTPs are funded by Innovate UK, other government co-funders (the Scottish Funding Council, Welsh Government, Invest Northern Ireland, Defra and BEIS) and businesses. KTP projects involve the knowledge and expertise of academics to business-critical projects. Each KTP is thus a three-way collaboration between a university, a company (or a not-for-profit organisation) and a graduate or a postgraduate recruited and employed by the university to work with an industry partner, supported by an academic. Consequently, KTP projects strengthen the relationship between the academic institution and industry, providing multiple opportunities for ongoing collaborations. To be able to apply, the businesses must be UK-based and financially viable, and the proposed KTP must deliver a step change in the organisation’s performance.

The cost of a KTP project is shared by the business and by Innovate UK who contribute 50-67% of the project cost via a grant to the university. The business or industry partner makes a cash contribution for the remaining project cost, with SMEs contributing 33% and large businesses 50% per annum. The grants in total are approximately £100K. KTP is delivered on a full economic cost basis which means that the 10% of the academic’s time involved in KTP is 100% funded. Each KTP project can last between 12 to 36 months, based on the time needed to deliver the desired outcomes.

An infographic detailing a ten-part Knowledge Transfer Partnerships (KTP) process: from the initial idea which you need outside expertise to realise; through connecting with the right people via KTP who help the project progress; right up to strategic objectives being met and knowledge/capability being embedded for long-term change. Image source: Innovate UK.
The KTP journey. Image source: Innovate UK.

Rewarding collaborations

The KTP has been set up for conducting industry relevant research to apply knowledge and expertise to solving real-world problems. It’s a great way of scaling up our activities with industry partners, especially SMEs. Average statistics reveal that three new research projects and two research papers have been created for each KTP project. This can invariably lead to the identification of new research themes and contribute to the Research Excellence Framework (REF). The academics get the opportunity to lead rewarding and continuing collaborations with innovative businesses seeking research expertise to succeed, as well as the opportunity to publish in high-quality journals.

Applications to KTPs bear a high probability of being successful, with around 80-90% of applications being awarded. Funding competitions are open round the year and businesses and organisations from any sector are eligible to apply.

KTP seminar

29 March 2022 | 12.15–13.30

The FoNS Industry, Partnerships and Commercialisation (IPC) team, together with the Faculty office have organised a KTP seminar on 29 March 2022 from 12.15–13.30 for further raising awareness amongst Faculty staff. We warmly invite (and strongly encourage!) FoNS academic staff at any career level to join this session. It’ll be a great opportunity to explore Innovate UK funding opportunities and its KTP initiative.

Mark Lynch (Knowledge Transfer Adviser, Innovate UK) will give an overview about KTPs, explaining how the scheme works, the review process and all the benefits and support for academics and businesses. Mark will also tell us how to apply to the programme, and there will be time for Q&A.

Got a question?

If you have any questions please contact Viraj Perera (Director of Industry Partnerships and Commercialisation, Natural Sciences or Ester Buchaca-Domingo (Strategic Research Coordinator).

Through the eyes of a STEM student writer: Imperial Bioscience Review

The Imperial Bioscience Review (IBR) is a student-led project, publishing articles on emergent and established fields of bioscience. The team aims to remove barriers to science by providing accurate, up-to-date, unbiased and inclusive articles that are free-to-access.

Life Sciences undergraduate student, Andres Hernandez Maduro, is a contributor. In this post he shares insights into IBR’s editorial and publishing process, and why it’s such a rewarding role alongside his curricular studies.

By Andres Hernandez Maduro

A collage of three of the Imperial Bioscience Review magazine covers

Sci comm and collaboration

Imperial Bioscience Review (IBR) published pieces are short, evidence-based summaries of topics that interest student contributors – and these articles are made freely available online. Since its inception just over a year ago, IBR has extended its base to over 100 writers across several undergraduate and postgraduate courses. With articles published online on a weekly basis, the collection of work has quickly grown to over 400 review pieces. In addition, IBR produces a termly magazine to showcase our writers’ work to the college community, kindly supported by the Department of Life Sciences. (more…)

Animation: Target Malaria’s approach to Stakeholder Engagement Activities

In this post, Naima Sykes, Global Stakeholder Engagement Manager for Target Malaria, shares an animation video that the Target Malaria team developed, detailing their approach to stakeholder engagement activities. She also shares insights on how the consortium engages meaningfully with their varied stakeholders, and why this is so essential for their research.

By Naima Sykes

Target Malaria is a not-for-profit research consortium that aims to develop and share new, cost-effective and sustainable genetic technologies to modify mosquitoes and lower malaria transmission. By reducing the population of malaria mosquitoes, we aim to bring down the transmission of the disease, allowing people in affected areas to live without the burden of malaria and freeing up resources currently used to combat the disease. (more…)

Beauty of a more colourful world: CEP X Dyson X ICBS PhD Flash Mob #1

In December 2021 PhD students from Imperial’s Centre for Environmental Policy (CEP), Dyson School of Design Engineering (Dyson) and Business School (ICBS), organised an event in response to COP26 and the environmental crisis.

‘Beauty of a More Colourful World’ brought together twelve postgraduate research students from six different departments to showcase how their research ties into addressing environmental problems. In this blog post one of the organisers, Yurong Yu, reflects on the experience.

Author: Yurong Yu | Photo credits: Yunwan Tao.

My fellow co-organiser, Neel Le Penru, and I initiated this event because we realised that the complexity of environmental problems requires interdisciplinary collaboration, so opportunities for interdepartmental communication among researchers is vital. It’s also crucial for junior researchers to learn how to communicate their research to a non-specialist audience, to achieve a greater impact.

Organisers of the event
Organisers of the event, from left to right: Neel Le Penru, Judy Xie, Yurong Yu, Ric Zhang

After some discussion we came up with the idea of inviting interactive and entertaining presentations from multiple departments, using different formats such as demos, prototypes, installations and games to inspire members of our Imperial community. The title, Beauty of a more colourful world, not only refers to the colourful environmental system, but also our diverse Imperial research community. The “flash mob” element came about because of the tight timeline – normally an event like this takes months to plan and carry out, but we didn’t want to miss the perfect window created by COP26, so we sped up and made it come true in five weeks! (more…)

Impostor Syndrome, anyone?

An illustration showing three faces - one is green and smiling, one is yellow and ambivalent, one is red and sad. Above the faces are three tick boxes and the box above the smiling green face is ticked.

In this post Anna Goodwin and Ella Robson, our FoNS Wellbeing Advisors, explain what impostor syndrome is and share their tips for keeping those niggling feelings of inadequacy – at university, work and in social situations – at bay.

By Anna Goodwin and Ella Robson

First off, well done for making it to the end of this term! Hopefully you’re now starting to feel settled in your routine, and enjoying your course and all that student life has to offer.

If this not the case for you, however, then fear not – you’re almost certainly not alone. The later part of the autumn term can be a tricky time to navigate. With Freshers’ and start of term events now a distant memory, longer evenings drawing in and the reality of course demands kicking into gear, it’s understandable if you feel a little disheartened or overwhelmed.

If you also find yourself doubting whether you deserve your place on the course, or whether you belong at Imperial, then you may be experiencing a phenomenon known as impostor syndrome. (more…)

FoNS at COP26: Sofia Palazzo Corner

A photo of Sofia Palazzo CornerSofia Palazzo Corner is a PhD student at the Centre for Environmental Policy, and part of the Imperial delegation heading to COP26.

My research is about extremes in the Earth system (think rapid permafrost thaw, AMOC collapse) and specifically about finding a way to include these in simple climate models. The aim is to more fully represent the spectrum of plausible warming that could occur by 2100, taking into account the current uncertainty in many of the Earth system processes. As part of my research, I’m consulting researchers in different areas of climate science to obtain their expert judgement on the range of plausible behaviour within the Earth subsystems that they study. This is sometimes our best source of information when observational or model data is missing. (more…)

From student labs to outer space: a day in the life of a Physics technician

A photo of Paul Brown in a Physics workshop
Paul Brown MBE – Mechanical Instrumentation Workshop Manager (Physics)

Paul Brown is Mechanical Instrumentation Workshop Manager in the Department of Physics. He’s worked on projects such as the Solar Orbiter and the Interstellar Mapping Acceleration Probe (currently being built), was made a Member of the British Empire (MBE) for services to Higher Education in 2017 and has recently been shortlisted for the Lifetime Achievement Award as part of the prestigious Papin Technical Prizes.

In this blog post he reflects on his experiences as a lab and instrumentation technician within an academic environment, and gives us insight into the projects he’s been involved in from a technician’s perspective. (more…)

FoNS at COP26: Patrick Walkden

Photo of Patrick WalkdenPatrick Walkden is a PhD student in the Department of Life Sciences, and part of the Imperial delegation heading to COP26.

My area of research focuses on biodiversity responses to environmental change, including land use and climate change. Currently I am working to develop a biodiversity indicator that measures and tracks the functional intactness of an ecosystem compared to a baseline. That is, looking at the amount of functional diversity – the aspect of biodiversity that is related to ecosystem functioning, and ultimately Nature’s Contributions to People – retained in ecosystems since human influence. An indicator like this would allow us to identify areas of conservation priority, to project into the future under different potential climate or land use mitigation scenarios and identify what actions would yield the greatest biodiversity outcomes in these scenarios. (more…)

FoNS at COP26: Paloma Ortega Arriaga

Photo of Paloma Ortega ArriagaPaloma Ortega Arriaga is a PhD student at the Grantham Institute, and also affiliated to the Department of Physics. She’s also part of the Imperial delegation heading to COP26.

My research is on energy access focusing on off grid renewable systems, specifically solar energy. My research project is mostly related to Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 7, which is to provide universal access to affordable, reliable and clean energy by 2030. However, there are currently millions of people who don’t have access to energy, mostly in rural areas of sub Saharan Africa and Asia. I investigate the techno-economic feasibility of off grid systems to provide them access using renewable sources instead of using, for example, diesel generators that some of these communities often rely on, which are generally more expensive and polluting. I also consider the economic and environmental implications of different electrification options. (more…)