Science is just a game

December 22, 2010 at 11:14 am | Posted in Editorial Comment | Leave a comment
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Blackawton bees

Kids get to grips with bumblebees

What a great way to get kids interested in science; make it into a game and spend the day as a bumblebee. Sounds like fun, and it’s exactly what a group of 8-10 year olds from Blackawton Primary School did.

What’s more, when they finished the experiments, they wrote it all up and sent it off to peer-reviewed journals. It’s just been published in Biology Letters and the children might just be the youngest scientists ever to have their work published.

The children were inspired by a lecture given by Beau Lotto from UCL on human perception, bumblebees and robots to investigate the humble bumblebee.

“If you want to ask a question of a bumblebee, you have to put yourself in the perspective of bumblebees,” said Lotto. “So we had a day of being bumblebees.”

The children settled on finding out if buff-tailed bumblebees learn to recognise nourishing flowers based on colours and patterns. They designed a series of tests where bees learned which circles contained sugar water, and then altered the parameters to see if bees used the spatial patterns and ignored colours.

They wrote-up their findings up,  illustrated it with hand-drawn, coloured-in images. This is what they found:

“We discovered that bumble-bees can use a combination of colour and spatial relationships in deciding which colour of flower to forage from. We also discovered that science is cool and fun because you get to do stuff that no one has ever done before.”

They submitted it to many journals, some of whom got stuck on the fact that there were no references. “That wasn’t the basis for doing the experiment. It was what was interesting to them,” said Lotto.

The project has changed the way science is taught at Blackawton, and the students have a much more positive view of science – with some even wanting to become scientists.

“I thought science was just like maths, really boring,” said Misha, Lotto’s son. “But now I see that it’s actually quite fun.”

Blackawton bees paper

Its great how such a simple experiment can inspire a school of under-11s. Lets hope some of them do become scientists in the future.


It’s Christmas

December 20, 2010 at 9:22 am | Posted in Just for fun | Leave a comment

Merry Christmas

Doctor, please accept my friend request

December 17, 2010 at 12:40 pm | Posted in Editorial Comment | Leave a comment
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Doctor, please accept my friend request

Doctor, please accept my friend request

New research suggests that doctors with a profile on Facebook could be compromising the doctor-patient relationship – especially if they don’t make their profile private. This research – published in the British Medical Journal – got me thinking; would you send your doctor a friend request?

I can’t see why anyone would want to add their doctor to their friends list on Facebook – what do they expect, medical advice via their Wall while the whole world can see what’s wrong with them? The idea seems ludicrous – I certainly wouldn’t want to add my doctor as a friend, nor would I feel comfortable seeing the latest photos from my doctor’s night out pop up on my newsfeed.

Obviously there is nothing wrong with a doctor having a Facebook profile – and why shouldn’t they? They have every right to share their photos, play games and chat to friends over the social networking site just like the rest of us, but it seems that they have to be especially aware of unwanted attention from patients.

The BMJ research showed 73% of doctors surveyed had a Facebook profile, with 24% logging on several times a day. Almost half believed the doctor-patient relationship would change if patients discovered they had a Facebook profile, with three-quarters saying if this would only happen if the patient could access their profile.

The survey also showed that 6% of doctors had received a friend request from a patient. Most respondents said they’d refuse the request – and rightly so – but 15% said they’d decide on a case by case basis.

I have to wonder what sort of doctor would accept your friend request – the only reason I could see for it is because they are genuinely a friend that you know from outside the parameters of the GP surgery, but who also happens to be your doctor. The reasons for accepting a friend request, according to the research, is to feel an affinity with the patient or for fear of losing that patient if they declined – I don’t see that as being a good enough reason.

So it seem that they key to keeping your profile hidden from your patient is to make it private – a difficult task at the best of times as Facebook are always changing what we can and can’t do, and hiding the simplest of settings.

Mad men – why are fictional scientists evil?

December 14, 2010 at 9:33 am | Posted in Science Lite | Leave a comment
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Mad men – why are fictional scientists evil?

Mad men – why are fictional scientists evil?

Christmas has rolled its tinsel-covered self around again – a bit quickly for the Science Lite team who still have most of their Christmas shopping to do – but we are looking forward to the traditional deluge of James Bond movies bound to grace our TV screens over the holiday period.

The team at LabNews Towers like a bit of James Bond – Daniel Craig in tight trunks for the girls, and the latest Bond girl in a skimpy bikini for the guys – but have you ever noticed how all the scientists are evil? Not that we’re complaining ­ – being bad is more interesting and entertaining than being a pushover – but we’re just curious as to why?

In Moonraker, the nasty Hugo Drax wanted to destroy London with a nuclear bomb, and Dr Julius No wanted to disrupt US guided missile tests in Dr No. Both met a rather satisfying and grisly end – Drax is killed after Bond alters the missile’s guidance system and aims it at Drax’s base, and Bond kills No by smothering him in a heap of guano –that’s bat poo to you and me.

Then there was Ernst Stavro Blofeld who created a deadly virus he hoped would destroy British livestock and cereals in On her Majesty’s Secret Service. Obviously he was thwarted by Bond, but survived to tell the tale and featured in many other Bond episodes (well the books at least).

And it’s not just Bond – it seems if you’re going to be a fictitious scientist in film or TV, you’re destined to be evil. There’s Lex Luthor in Superman, Dr Octopus in Spiderman and Dr Eldon Tyrell in BladeRunner. And they’re always backed up by a team of just-as-nasty employees and some pretty scary-looking henchmen to ensure that if any scientist did have the tiniest doubts, they’d soon forget them.

The idea of the evil scientist isn’t just reserved for adult films: children’s film makers are also keen to get in on the act and teach kids that science is evil. Take Dr Finklestein – the wheelchair-bound mad scientist – from The Nightmare before Christmas. He’s the ‘father’/creator of the rag doll Sally and is most definitely portrayed as an evil and overpowering scientist. Then there’s Syndrome/Buddy Pine from The Incredibles; a shunned fan who grows up to create superhero-killing machine – and lots of other inventions in revenge. And then there’s Mandark from Dexter’s Laboratory: as Dexter’s arch-nemesis, the evil Mandark pulls out all the stops to make Dexter look bad – just because he made fun of him for being called Susan (well you would, wouldn’t you?).

To be fair, Dexter is far from evil and one of the few normal – if somewhat eccentric – scientists on our screens (or at least he used to be – do they still show it?). The only others the Science Lite team could think of are Professor Frink from The Simpsons and Emmett Brown from Back to the Future. If you can think of anymore then let us know – by twitter, facebook, blog or even good old fashioned e-mail!

We’d like to see more ‘normal’ scientists on our screens, but let’s face it, they make better baddies than goodies, and we’re too busy thinking about Christmas parties and presents to do anything about it!

Give your brain a festive workout

December 8, 2010 at 2:35 pm | Posted in Just for fun | 2 Comments

Give your brain a workout at the sameAs pub quiz (credit Carolune/flickr)

Fancy flexing the old grey matter and having a good cerebral workout before you lose a few IQ points over the festive period? Well then get yourself down to the sameAs science and technology pub quiz on 20th December.

sameAs aims to bring together interesting people from diverse backgrounds to discuss science and technology – and everything in between. They bring together communities and individuals under one roof to uncover “the threads that stitch them all together”.

At previous events, they’ve discussed TheWeb and Sound, and this is their first stab at a pub quiz – ten rounds of taxing science and technology questions from quizmaster Matt Brown.

Tickets cost £5 (order them online).

Venue: The Book Club in Shoreditch.

More info: sameAs

Christmas crossword

December 8, 2010 at 1:38 pm | Posted in Competition | Leave a comment

Fancy winning yourself a Free LAB PALTM Sample Labeller from Brady?

Just click on the grid below, print out and complete the crossword below and fax back to 020 8253 4609 or scan and email to by the end of December. First out of the hat will win.

1 Relic Cub removed from melting-pot (8)
6 Unhappy with first cruel person (6)
9 Good fellow puts cape on flashing beam (6)
10 Dilatory in a way with excessive devotion (8)
11 More or less attractive lot (6,4)
14 Still one abominable snowman (4)
15 Sprite hid fancy plate in laboratory (5,4)
18 Removed oldest individual magnet (9)
21 Part of eye, part mauve always (4)
22 Computers deal with optical instrument (10)
25 Intercept as scab is removed (8)
26 Add a little water to weaken the spirit (6)
27 Oozed out of old udder almost all over the place (6)
28 Exercises when training for this examination (8)

2 It is an answer still (6)
3 Cut roe out of toasted bread (6)
4 Strong as an ox (5)
5 Some Jezebel I hunted was a Job’s comforter (5)
6 Sin of a slow-mover (5)
7 Separation involved new daily and little sister (8)
8 “Grating” written quickly (8)
12 Composers coming from West Way, Rhode Island (7)
13 He will investigate if anyone is unusually late (7)
16 Where to put handwarmers in compartment where radioactive material may be manipulated? (5,3)
17 Ahead, having lent money (8)
19 Ill-disposed collie had some ringed spots of colour (6)
20 In epitaph that disease thrush was evident (6)
22 Thought you and me were in the sea (5)
23 Vice of learner in temporary quarters (5)
24 Unevenly? (5)

Royal Institution Christmas Lectures

December 6, 2010 at 9:48 am | Posted in Watch | 1 Comment
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Mark Miodownik

Mark Miodownik

Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without the Royal Institution lectures and this year they return to the BBC for the first time in 10 years – we’ve missed them.

Dr Mark Miodownik, a materials scientist from King’s College London, will host a three-part series called Size Matters, looking at why elephants can’t dance; why chocolate melts and jet planes don’t, and why mountains are so small.

The lectures take place on the 14th, 16th and 18th of December and will feature on BBC4 later in the month. Check out our Big Ask with Mark Miodownik in December’s Laboratory News (pg 14)

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