The Importance of Science Communication

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This summer has sadly, once again been impacted due to Covid-19 restrictions. Instead of jetting off to another part of the world, my Leadership in Action portion of the scholarship is based in my university town, St Andrews. The aim of my project, which I am working on with a fellow scholar Matt Fry, is to bring the chemistry lab into the kitchen, allowing students from secondary education to still access the most exciting part of science education – experiments!

This is an area I feel particularly passionate about – one of the many effects of the pandemic has been on practical education. Restrictions like social distancing and 72-hour quarantine on equipment has meant that practicals that are not compulsory for exam qualifications have been non-existent. The resulting engagement of students has fallen to a real low, and this is damaging for the future of chemistry, and science in general.

Going through secondary education, I was lucky enough to be able to experiment with lots of practicals in school science and develop a sense of scientific curiosity that I still have to this day. One of the most amazing aspects of science, and chemistry specifically is discovering everyday why stuff happens. Take for example, sherbet – when you eat it you experience the acidic tang, fizzing as well as a cooling sensation. But why do these happen? These are the result of reactions that can be explained by fundamental concepts such as endothermicity and neutralization.

The aim of this project is to explain these concepts through easily understandable and affordable kitchen-top chemistry experiments that teach students these concepts, with some fun in thrown in too. These resources can be used in schools, during potential future lockdowns, but also for students who may suffer from chronic illness meaning everyday schooling is not an option. Alongside the experiments and worksheets, we are also creating some videos to help explain the reactions. This is something entirely new for me, but I have loved the science communication side to this project.

Science communication is difficult – the balance between educational and exciting is hard to achieve without coming across as patronizing. One scientific communicator I have been particularly inspired by is Prof. Mark Miodownik, a materials scientist. He manages to strike a good balance between informative and fun, and through lectures and books has fueled my scientific curiosity for years. By recording these videos, I have had a taste of the world of scientific communication, and it has really appealed to me, and may just be a possibility to my future!

Science is such an incredible subject and allows people to see the world in a new way, and even if the work done this summer inspires just one person, then that is the best I can ask for. One of the core values of the Laidlaw Foundation is the importance of education, both in the UK and all over the world, and I hope my project can contribute to their efforts in a small way. I am hugely grateful to Lord Laidlaw of Rothiemay and the Laidlaw Foundation for giving me this opportunity to work on something so important to me.

Testing out homemade bioplastics, one of the experiments for our secondary student resource pack - in the kitchen, turned research lab!

Alice Martin

Student, University of St Andrews

I am a fourth year chemistry student at the University of St Andrews, interested in many fields of chemistry, but particularly areas within inorganic and physical chemistry. My research project is supervised by Dr. Petr Kilian focusing on the synthesis and characterisation of peri-substituted aromatic systems. These previously un characterised compounds have many applications within green chemistry, particularly within catalysis.