Newsletter May 2021
This newsletter can be viewed online at https://www.socnatsci.org/newsletters/newsletter-may-2021/
In April the Society was accepted into membership of the Science Council. This will give the Society and its members a voice in STEM at national level. In the Science Council press release announcing the decision, we said:
The Society for Natural Sciences was formed in 2019 from an established network of universities to promote and support interdisciplinary education in science, particularly at undergraduate level, with the overall aim of increasing participation in science both for its cultural value and for its economic benefits. The Society is an accrediting body for interdisciplinary science degrees, supports educational research and the wider dissemination of information on natural sciences and interdisciplinarity, and provides a forum for cross-institutional undergraduate activities and professional networking.
We are delighted to be accepted through our membership of the Science Council into the community of professional bodies in science.
Professor Nicola King, chair of the Society said: “The Society for Natural Sciences seeks to raise awareness of the value and importance of taking an interdisciplinary approach to scientific and societal problems. We aim to strengthen and advance education in interdisciplinary sciences to create the next generation of scientists to meet these challenges. Membership of the Science Council is a significant step forward for us.”
Professor Derek Raine, the Chief Executive Officer said: “The Society recognises the important contribution of interdisciplinary approaches to socio-economic problems and aims to be the professional body for graduates in interdisciplinary roles. We are pleased to have achieved the support of the Science Council for our mission.”
The accreditation of degrees in Natural Science got underway with a successful piloting of the processes. In ensuring the maintenance of standards in accredited degrees, this will be an important aspect of the Society’s work.
Annual General Meeting
At the AGM the following were re-elected as Trustees of the Society:
Professor Roddy Vann
Professor Geraint Thomas
Professor Derek Raine
Dr Ruth Sang Jones was elected to serve for a term of 3 years. Ruth is a Trainee Patent Attorney. She has an MSci degree in Natural Sciences from the University of Leicester and a PhD in nano-materials from the University of Oxford. During her PhD she was editor in chief at the Science Innovation Union and before taking up her present position she was publicity officer for the Oxford Venture Capital Network for a year.
The Society welcomes nominations for Trustees (up to 8) especially from underrepresented communities in Natural Sciences. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org
We also welcome offers to join the subcommittees of the Society to assist with its work. Please email email@example.com for further information.
The annual student conference was held online this year as a one-day event. There were some great presentations from students showing complete mastery not only of their subjects but of the online technology!
Our outreach activities continue despite lockdowns through the Channel Talent programme. This delivers on-line sessions to schools and individuals introducing topics in contemporary science and informing potential undergraduates about degrees in Natural Sciences. Topics so far have included Modern Materials and Nuclear Fusion. Recordings of some of these talks are available on the Society web site in the News Section
For academic staff we run a monthly seminar on developments in teaching and learning. In March’s seminar the chair of the Society, Professor Nicola King, presented evidence on the success of students entering Natural Science degrees with a variety of backgrounds in the individual sciences at A-level. An absence of any particular science (Biology, Chemistry or Physics) was shown not to be an issue in student attainment. In April’s seminar Dr Layal Hakim introduced a project on the use of Pedagogical games in Higher Education Mathematics.
Seminars are held virtually on the final Thursday of each month 1.00-2.00pm using the Advance HE Connect platform. See Society for Natural Sciences Learning and Teaching May e-Seminar: Youtube videos in teaching biology: the example of cell division (advance-he.ac.uk)
We’ll also be repeating the two online workshops on Getting into Pedagogic Research in July: (July 6 and 8, 2.00-3.30pm) Advance HE Connect | Events (advance-he.ac.uk)
University admissions needs to shake off the tyranny of A levels — A levels were designed as pre-entry qualifications for university. They’re no longer working, argues Nicky King. You can find Nicky’s blog here: University admissions needs to shake off the tyranny of A levels | Wonkhe
The Natural History Museum’s collections are on the move – impact on access for research and loans
In 2026 the Natural History Museum will open a ground-breaking new science and digitisation centre at Harwell Campus in Oxfordshire. This is an ambitious programme which will secure the future of the collection and widen access for researchers and partners to tackle urgent global challenges.
The final decision on which collections will move to Harwell will be taken in July 2021 – to allow the Museum to prepare specimens for the move, access to some collections will be affected. Anyone interested in the project can now sign up to receive updates on the programme, changes to collections access, and opportunities to get involved, on the NHM website (www.nhm.ac.uk/about-us/harwell). You also find out more at the NHM blog (https://naturalhistorymuseum.blog/category/our-science/nhmharwell/)
UCL Natural Sciences students win the Bright SCIdea Challenge
Run by SCI (formerly the Society for Chemical Industry) the Bright SCIdea Challenge offers undergraduate students the opportunity to create a product from core scientific principles and plan its development right through from lab to market. The organisation provides them with free, accredited business planning training, helping them to understand their target market and make a product financially viable. Teams are asked to submit a full business plan, detailing how their idea can be taken to market and shortlisted teams will be invited to pitch their idea to a panel of experts at the final to win a significant cash prize.
Following the success of the UCL Natural Sciences team in 2018, this year the course provided two of the finalists – Team AATBox, and the victorious Team Metallogen of Rafael Hunt-Stokes (Natural Sciences – Physics/Physical Chemistry) and John O’Sullivan (Natural Sciences – Physics/Molecular Cell Biology). The team were aware of the dual problem of shortages of the heavy metals (such as cobalt and cadmium) used in the electronics sector, and the subsequent contamination of farmland close to those mining sites. John explained further:
“We found studies where, about 30 years ago, a lot of people tried using plants such as the soya bean to extract metals from the ground. They found that this was effective, but it took an extremely long time – a few decades to restore the land, so this wasn’t profitable. We learned that this process could be accelerated using nanoparticles. With our methods, we think we could get an increase in uptake of 300%, which would rapidly decrease the time it would take. This technique is also friendly for the environment, really cheap, and it can be integrated into the traditional agricultural tools that are used in these communities already.”
When the team initially heard about the competition, they were already aware of the problems, having encountered them during their studies. Rafael explained:
“The competition was trying to use science to help develop a business idea, but also to help with one of the large challenges that the Science Institute are trying to solve, and one of those areas was agri-tech – food security, pollution, sustainable development, that kind of thing.
“We had to submit a preliminary description of our idea in the early stages, and then as we went through, we had to develop a fully-fledged business plan with all of the costings, followed by a training day about pitching. In the final we had a ten-minute pitch we had to give to the judges.”
The team were both full of praise for the Natural Sciences course and the help it had provided – even though, as John notes, he didn’t initially choose to follow a Chemistry path!
“I didn’t even do the chemistry stream, but I ended up doing a chemistry option in my final year I caught the physics bug in my third year and ended up doing a lot of condensed matter stuff in my final year, and chemistry helped support that, and now I’m doing PhD material science! The “interdisciplinary thing” related to natural sciences has been done to death, it’s easy to say “oh, it’s so interdisciplinary”… but it’s also true!”
Both Rafael and John are now studying for their PhDs at Oxford, with John part of a team looking at Silicon solar cells, and Rafael studying for a PhD in Particle Physics as part of the Sno+ group, focusing on neutrino physics. Rafael adds:
“Now, we’re looking at the incubator programmes at Oxford, and contacting people to support the business. We’re also having meetings with SCI, and we’re applying for more funding competitions. The £5k we won in the BrightSCIdea competition – because our idea is quite cheap to carry out, we could use this money for a small-scale trial, like a proof of concept, so we’re looking at this as well.”
You can find out more about the work of Team Metallogen, including their pitch for the competition, and about the other teams on the BrightSCIdea page at soci.org Bright SCIdea final 2020 (soci.org) (https://www.soci.org/news/2020/11/bright-scidea-final-2020)
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