Scientific Outreach Grants awardees announced

We are pleased to announce the awardees of the next round of Biochemical Society Scientific Outreach Grants. These grants support innovative and engaging events or activities for school children, young scientists or the general public.

Students and teacher doing outreach

Wonder eyes: Seek and you shall find (Priyanka Joshi, University of Cambridge)

Fifty students at an eVidyaloka study centre in a village in Jharkhand, India will undertake practical activities, brainstorm and arrive at possible solutions to challenges they face in their daily lives (eg. disease, clean water, good sanitation habits). The students will be given foldoscopes, small foldable microscopes, and will examine field samples for microbial cultures. They can then analyse the data using Raspberry Pi computers. Scientists from the nearest research institute will deliver an inspiration talk to the students, encouraging them to actively pursue their studies in science.

Everything about me (Dr Steve Rossington, University of Salford)

‘Everything about me’ will showcase the science of the human body by highlighting through a serious of spectacular chemistry demonstrations the biological and chemical importance of the elements constituting the human body. There will be over 15 events held at The University of Salford and/or selected UK based secondary schools commencing.

From Bugs to Drugs (Dr David Allison, University of Manchester)

This is a family orientated Community Open Day, where the various key stages associated with drug development will be demonstrated and put into context.  Set against a public health theme, visitors will be invited to journey through the different stages of the drug development process to find a cure for a new and highly infectious (and of course fictitious!) microorganism that turns human beings into zombies if infected.

Parasite Biolab (Dr Johnathan Dalzell, Queens University Belfast)

The Parasite Biolab Kit will contain everything needed to study the behaviour and parasitism of the insect parasitic nematode Heterorhabditis bacteriophora. The kit will be offered to selected Schools primarily in the Shankill Road area of Belfast, and further afield as resources permit.  This will be in conjunction with an initial training event for invited Key Stage 2 teachers.  The kit will contain everything required to conduct the experiments, including parasite infected insect larvae (which pose no biosafety concerns) and instructions on how to collect and work with the parasites.

Illustrating drug target interactions using molecular models (Dr Steve Rossington, University of Salford)

This activity will use molecular modelling (through computing and actual model making) to introduce the idea that certain drugs fit into specific shapes of a host protein (or enzyme). With this in mind,  a purpose built protein molecule has been constructed which will allow modelled traditional drugs (such as aspirin) to fit inside, highlighting the fact that only certain drugs bind to specific parts of a protein.

ReelLIFE SCIENCE Video Screening and Awards Ceremony (Dr Enda O’Connell, NUI Galway)

ReelLIFE SCIENCE is Ireland’s first science video competition for primary, secondary and special schools.  It encourages students to engage with Science in a novel, hands-on way, by making a three minute video explaining one of the competition topics for a general audience.  This year’s topics include ‘The Food we Eat’ and ‘The Power of Science’ for primary schools, and ‘Exploring the Cell’ and ‘Medicines’ for secondary schools.  The competition also seeks to inform and educate the general public via the content of the videos.

“Brain  EXPLORERS” workshop (Amira Mahdi, NUI Galway)

“Brain EXPLORERS” is an interactive workshop which introduces the general public to the basics of brain biology from an anatomical to a molecular level, using hands-on and interactive activities. Visitors can do puzzles, play games and use microscopes to find out more about this fascinating area of biology.

The Bacterial Commonwealth Games: Resistance is Futile! (Carla Brown, University of Glasgow)

The Glasgow Commonwealth games which are being held summer 2014 will provide a great platform to introduce to pupils the concept of bacterial fitness and its importance in the human host. The bacterial commonwealth games is an interactive workshop designed to show participants that like athletes, bacteria compete against each other to survive in the environment and in the human body. The workshop is designed in the style of a mini sports event and includes interactive sports games including the gymnastics, swimming and boxing. For each of the games there will be interactive videos. In these games participants will be able to identify the properties of winning bacteria and will use this knowledge to then compete against other during an educational card game.

Science Week: Detective Scientists (Claire Price, Swansea University)

This event will focus on analysis and encouraging the students to question everything, using their skills to determine what something might be. By observing known samples of salt, sugar and baking soda in various mediums, with and without a microscope, they can then try and identify a mystery substance. They will also have a go at chromatography, using felt tip pens. The students will learn why scientists use these techniques in the laboratory and create their own lab book as part of the workshop.

The Biochemistry of the Cupcake (Dr Jill Williams, the Bay Tree Community Cafe Project)

This event will consider the biochemical nature of cupcake ingredients and the changes which result in the transformation of a wet, viscous mix of flour, butter, eggs and sugar in uncooked cake batter to a light and delicate but strong and stable sponge. This will incorporate topics such as monomers and polymers, the reaction between acids and alkalis, the activity of gases upon the application of heat, protein denaturation and the difference between mixtures and compounds.  How cupcakes are digested, absorbed and utilised by the body will also be discussed. Each topic will be investigated using a variety of experiments, posters, molecular models, anatomical models, quizzes, takeaway literature and workbooks in which participants can record the information they have learned.

Breathing new life in biochemistry (Mrs Denise Taj, University of Bradford)

This activity involves training three scientists from industry, three academics and three students in preparation for a public engagement event at the British Science Festival. They then team up with leading UK scientists to prepare an exciting event as part of the British Science Festival and to learn more about biochemistry, molecular biology and cell biology by taking part in family friendly, hands on activities.

Cells: The LEGO of Life (Dr Caroline Scott, Weatherall Institute of Molecular Medicine)

‘The concept of ‘Cells: the LEGO of Life’ would be to use child friendly materials to study different aspects of cells found within our bodies.  The focus will be on blood cells. A series of afternoon sessions will be run for 8-11 year olds, using Lego to illustrate the exchange of genetic material within cells, soft toy blood cells and edible cells made of biscuits.

Babraham Institute Schools’ Day 2015 (Michael Hinton, Babraham Institute)

The Babraham Institute’s annual Schools’ Day in March has been the Institute’s flagship event for 16 years and aims to enthuse young people about bioscience and inspire them to pursue scientific careers. Around 120 GCSE and sixth form students from 18 different local schools and sixth form colleges spend the day in Institute laboratories on two different projects, experiencing bioscience research alongside ‘real scientists’.

The next round of Scientific Outreach Grants opens in April 2015.

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The Biochemist: Student Editing Experience

Originally posted on John Innes SVC:

Every year The Biochemistry Society’s magazine, The Biochemist, holds a competition. This competition invites early career researchers to try their hand at editing an edition of The Biochemist. Interested teams submit a proposal on a theme that they would be interested to see an edition based around. This year’s winning proposal came from the John Innes Centre, and a team comprised of Tom Vincent, Leonie Luginbuehl and Guru Radhakrishnan. Their winning theme was ‘Communication in Plants and Microbes’. I sat down with Tom (as well as a brief email exchange with Guru) to find out what the competition involved and how the team felt about their experiences.

The Leonie, Tom and Guru, the editing team

What attracted you to apply to edit the Biochemist?

T: Having little experience in science communication, this looked like a great way to try something new in a new area. New experiences may even have…

View original 720 more words

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Medicine Makers at Big Biology Day 2014

Most of us will have taken medicine in some form; suffering through injections at the doctors, swallowing spoonfuls of sticky cough syrup or taking tablets of various shapes, sizes and colours. From an early age, we know that when we get sick we should take some medicine, in whatever form is appropriate for our condition. We rely on these medicines to make us feel better, we know they will ease our symptoms… but how do they work?

As part of our public engagement program, the Biochemical Society and the British Pharmacological Society have teamed up to create an exciting, hands-on activity called Medicine Makers. This activity will focus on the roles of biochemists and pharmacologists in discovering and developing drugs, as well as offering an insight into how medicines work in our bodies.

Biologists, pharmacologists and chemists work together to identify potential new drugs. However, developing a new drug is costly and time consuming. It takes 10-15 years and millions of pounds to take a drug from target identification (understanding how a disease works and how a drug will affect it) to approval, where the drug is licensed and made available to the public.

Our new activity Medicine Makers focuses on painkillers. These pharmaceutical agents are one of the most widely used classes of drugs, with over 70 million prescriptions and more than 30 billion over-the counter tablets sold annually in the United States alone.

3D printed model of COX2 enzyme and aspirin molecules

3D printed model of COX2 enzyme and aspirin molecules

One of the ways in which a medicine can help a patient is by binding to a protein in the body and changing the way it does its job. Proteins are large, complex molecules that play many different roles in our bodies. They are made up of chains of small units called amino acids, which fold into unique, complex 3D structures. The structure of a protein determines its function.

When a painkiller binds to a protein, it changes the proteins structure which can stop it performing its job, or slow it down. In order to do this the medicine must fit into a specific space on the surface of the protein or enzyme, called the active site. One protein associated with painkillers is an enzyme called COX2. To illustrate how this enzyme works, we have a 3D printed model of COX2 for visitors to handle. Our model is 7.5 million times bigger than the actual enzymes at work in our cells!

There is also the opportunity to get creative! You can create paracetamol, ibuprofen and aspirin, or invent your own brand new medicine. The challenge is to fit your medicine model into the active site of the proteins at the stand! Your medicine model can be taken home, complete with an identity tag, to remind you what you made.

Come and see us at Big Biology Day on Saturday 18th October 2014 at Hills Road College, Cambridge between 10am and 4pm. This event is part of Biology Week, organised by the Society of Biology.

We have volunteers from the membership helping us out at this event. If you would like to join out volunteer list for future events, please email

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Independent review of the implementation of RCUK Policy on Open Access

OASince April 2013 there have been changes in the way that Research Council-funded researchers have published their findings. Although there was momentum already building towards open access (OA) publishing in the bioscience research community, the Research Council UK’s (RCUK’s) open access policy arguably served to formalise this.

After the introduction of this mandate in April 2013, researchers are expected to publish any peer-reviewed research papers which acknowledge Research Council funding in compliant journals. These are defined as journals which ‘provide, via their own website, immediate and unrestricted access to the final published version of a paper, which should be made available using the Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY) licence, and allow immediate deposit of the final published version in other repositories without restriction on re-use’. This may involve payment of an Article Processing Charge (APC) to the publisher. Alternatively, the policy states that a compliant journal must ‘consent to deposit the final Accepted Manuscript in any repository, without restriction on non-commercial re-use and within a defined period’. In short, so-called ‘gold’ OA is preferred, but where this isn’t a viable option, ‘green’ OA is advocated. The decision tree below outlines how the policy works in practice.

RCUK decision tree.

Crucially, in order to aid the implementation of the policy, the Research Councils introduced a new funding mechanism from April 2013 – a block grant to universities and eligible research organisations to cover the cost of APCs.

On introducing the policy, RCUK committed to a number of independent reviews during the transition period (five years from April 2013) to monitor the implementation of the policy and provide advice where needed. The first of these reviews was announced in July this year and covers the first sixteen months of the policy’s implementation until 31 July 2014.

The Biochemical Society, and its wholly-owned trading subsidiary Portland Press Limited, fed into this Review via contributing to the Society of Biology’s response. This response aimed to present an over-arching view of the landscape, focusing on three key questions posed by the Review: the impact on learned societies; the effectiveness of the communication of the policy; and the impact on the wider OA landscape.

The Society of Biology’s collective response highlighted that a sustainable model of scholarly communication is vital to ensure that the UK remains a world leader in science and innovation, and in scholarly publishing. Equally, it stressed that the invested support of the active learned society community is a key element of its growth, development and excellence. It is therefore essential that RCUK policy developments enable a functioning market of journal publication without any loss of support for the scientific community.

The response made several recommendations. It called on RCUK to highlight emerging examples of good practice by institutions in communicating the policy to their research communities. It also suggested that RCUK collates descriptions of functioning models for allocation of the block grants and disseminates these as appropriate in order to promote good practice.

The response emphasized that, in many instances, it is too early to know the full extent of the effects of the RCUK policy. However the Society of Biology urged RCUK to monitor this situation closely and take action as appropriate, particularly in the context of concerns that the policy should not restrict UK researchers’ ability to act as prominent authors in international collaborations.

Finally, the Society of Biology’s input recommended further careful monitoring of the impact of RCUK’s OA policy, particularly in light of the fact that the review has been regarded as too soon to truly reveal the effects on the community by many. The response recognised the wise foresight in pre-arranging an early review in case of early disruption but, as this has not occurred, further periodic reviews to fully monitor the evolving impacts were called for.

Portland Press Limited (PPL), the wholly owned trading subsidiary of the Biochemical Society, has observed an increased percentage of papers from the UK where the authors have chosen to make their papers open access over the last 3 years. It is difficult to say whether this change is directly attributable to the RCUK policy as it is difficult to disambiguate the impact of this from the recent implementation of the HEFCE OA policy for the 2020 REF as well as the momentum towards OA publishing which was already building in the bioscience community.

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Images of women in science

An idle Google image search of ‘women in science’ throws up some interesting results. Cue reams of pictures of girls in labcoats brandishing pipettes… all very nice and politically correct but, why is it only young women who’re portrayed as doing science?

women3women4women1In the majority of these images, women are featured in trainee-type or educative settings; clustered around a microscope learning the ropes or listening with rapt attention to a (probably male, let’s face it) lecturer. Are women only involved in science as students or trainees?  The images we use certainly portray this; they’re not just rife in a Google Images search but are found all over well-meaning sources.

Unfortunately this is an image which is also backed up by statistics. In the biosciences, the undergraduate, PhD and postdoc communities present an approximately 50:50 gender split. However, as soon as more senior roles are considered, this balance erodes until we are left with only 15% female bioscience professors in the UK.(1)

While it’s definitely a great thing that the bioscience student population reflects the gender balance – something which is not seen with other scientific disciplines – it remains a concern that this does not pervade right to the top of the career ladder. The possible reasons for this are many and varied.(2)

In order to change this, we need to alter the perception that women in science are generally young and involved as learners rather than as leaders. Changing the images we use is obviously only a small part of the process required to change this but it’s a step. Anything that could have an influence on the perception of women in science, especially that of young women and men considering a career in science, can only be a good thing.

So let’s champion (and create!) images of women in senior roles and of senior ages.  When selecting images to accompany articles, marketing materials or reports think about the age and role of the female scientists portrayed. It’s a small change, but one that could get us a little closer to a more gender balanced community.

(1) 2011/2012 HESA data
(2) For an analysis, see the Society of Biology’s response to the House of Commons Science and Technology Select Committee’s inquiry into women in academic STEM careers

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My General Travel Grant Experience – Member Guest Blog

Guest Blog by Katie Grayson – 4th year PhD student working in photosynthesis research and synthetic biology, in the lab of Professor C. Neil Hunter, FRS at the University of Sheffield


k grayson

Gordon Research Conferences (GRCs) provide an international forum for the discussion of frontier research. I recently attended the August 2013 GRC on Photosynthesis. This was the first international conference I have been to and it came at an ideal time as I was just finishing the 3rd year of my PhD. The conference was held at Mount Snow in Vermont, with rolling hills and trees as far as the eye could see; the remote location really fostered a sense of community. Despite the fact that the conference was intense in terms of science, the beauty of the location helped create a relaxed atmosphere.

GRCs are intended to be small and create plenty of opportunities to interact with other attendees. The atmosphere was not cliquish – people, including the senior scientists, were approachable and everyone had a voice. Formal networking opportunities came in the form of discussions after talks and poster sessions, but there were also 3 hours of free time in the afternoon to form social connections with other people. Even during these informal periods, we had stimulating scientific discussions in a more relaxed environment than during the scheduled formal discussions, encouraging everyone to speak freely.

The talks were diverse and covered the latest developments in my field. My research involves just one small area in the wide field of photosynthesis, so it’s important to keep in touch with what other work is being done. Poster sessions were held for a couple of hours each day, and provided a chance to meet people whose research was relevant to mine, to share ideas and discuss experiments. I came away from the meeting inspired to try many new things in the lab, and with new ideas for directions to take my research. By having the chance to talk to scientists from other stages in their career, I learned about the possible career paths I could take, and what sort of area I would like to continue research in after my PhD. I also gained tips and tricks for when it comes to looking for postdoctoral positions, especially internationally as there were attendees from all over the world.

Traveling to America for a conference was a great cultural experience. I made new friends and have formed many new contacts, who I hope to see and possibly work with in the future. I now have contacts should I need inputs on science, possible collaborations and jobs. I also met people from the USA with whom I have existing collaborations; it was invaluable to be able to meet face-to-face rather than exchanging emails across time zones.

I am extremely grateful to the Biochemical Society for awarding me a travel grant to help fund my attendance at the GRC. The travel grant application process was a useful exercise in focusing my goals for what I wanted to get out of the conference, and I would encourage anyone to apply. I would recommend anyone who has the chance to attend a conference to seize the opportunity as, for me, it was a rewarding and inspiring experience. GRCs are especially good for anyone who is attending an international scientific meeting for the first time due to the sense of community and non-intimidating atmosphere.


Have you been a member of the Biochemical Society for over a year? You can apply for a General Travel Grant to support your attendance at a conference.

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