Hello and welcome to my blog! My name is Caroline and I am a PhD student at the University of Sheffield. My research project focuses on Striga - a genus of parasitic plants that devastates harvests by infecting food crops. I am exploring the defence reactions that can make host plants more resistant against Striga. Due to my ongoing battles with anorexia, I haven't made as much progress as I would have liked but I am determined to finish the course.


This blog charts the ups and downs of life in the lab, plus my dreams to become a science communicator and forays into public engagement and science policy....all while trying to keep my mental and physical health intact. Along the way, I'll also be sharing new plant science stories, and profiles of some of the researchers who inspire me on this journey. So whether you have a fascination for plants, are curious about what science research involves, or just wonder what exactly I do all day, read on - I hope you find it entertaining!


Thursday, 12 October 2017

Prepare to be amazed - BSA Sheffield at Fun Palaces Weekend 2017!


No dictionary definition of ‘scientist’ mentions lab coats or googles, but many feel that only people who wear a white coat and work in a laboratory can call themselves a ‘proper scientist’. Similarly, many of us would hesitate to call ourselves an 'artist', even if we quite enjoy drawing, printing other creative activities. We simply don’t feel worthy of these titles.


The Fun Palaces movement is on a mission to change this attitude. Every year, during the first weekend of October, hundreds of temporary Fun Palaces pop up all across the UK. They vary in size, structure and theme, but all have the aim of engaging the public in science and artistic activities that celebrate the innate creativity in all of us – as befits their motto: “Everyone a scientist, everyone an artist”. This year, BSA Sheffield were invited to host our very own science themed Fun Palace.
Our 3D sound demos in our Fun Palace at DINA venue

It took us quite a while to decide the theme as there were so many possibilities – Outer Space? Dinosaurs? The Brain? What we really wanted was something that would thrill the imagination and stimulated all the senses....so what better than the five senses themselves? Once we'd settled on this, the suggestions for activities came thick and fast – it was hard to cut them down to a manageable number!

We might have the Fun but we still needed a Palace....fortunately , DINA a not-for-profit social enterprise stepped in. Besides the advantage of having a prime city centre location, we were given full use of the venue, allowing us to take over every nook and cranny (even the basement!).
The magical illusion cabinet!

I was very impressed and humbled by how my fellow BSA volunteers took ownership of their activities, giving up hours of their own time to research optical illusions, cut out thaumatropes, source craft materials and decorate the rooms. On the day itself, their hard work was rewarded as we welcomed a steady stream of visitors. Some were Fun Palace veterans who had sought us out specially, others simply wandered in off the street.... but everyone, young and old, found something to captivate them. We had 3D sound demonstrations, ‘guess the contents' boxes, jelly bean tasting and even a fruit orchestra! (I’m still not entirely sure how that actually worked but it did!) Crafting was especially popular for all ages - including making Victorian thaumatropes - a popular 19th century optical illusion made of a disk with a picture on each side, attached to string on either side. If the strings are twirled quickly enough, the two images seem to blend into one, due to the persistence of images on the retina. Simple but highly effective and fun to make – why not have a go yourself?

Learning how to play 'Mary had a little lamb' with a lemon,
a cucumber and an orange
Perhaps the biggest hit was the 'Illusion Cabinet' – those who dared to enter inside appeared to lose their body, with their head being suspended in the air. Built by an intriguing former Professor in the Biology Department where I work, it had been languishing in a store cupboard and I was determined to get it out. The lovely people in Research Outreach team had also lent us an Infra Red camera so that we could demonstrate the senses that some animals have but we don’t, such as 'snake vision'. It went down very well, although when I found out how much it cost, I nearly didn't dare to take it! Apparently, I have one of the coldest noses in England….


There is a curious phenomenon ( or is it an illusion?) that time simply flies by when you do science outreach and suddenly it was time to close the doors and pack everything up ...It had gone so fast, especially as we had been preparing for months. We’ll simply have to start preparing for the next one!
Who has the hottest cup of coffee? Playing with the Infra-Red Camera


And in the meantime – if you enjoy science or art, then dare to call yourself a scientist or an artist! You don’t need any further qualification than that.
You can find lots more photos of the event on our Facebook page.



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