Showing posts tagged glasgow science centre

St Andrew’s Day science

“Of all the small nations of this earth, perhaps only the ancient Greeks surpass the Scots in their contribution to mankind.” 

Winston Churchill

I know we don’t make as much of a fuss of our national day as our Irish friends across the water but this coming Saturday is St Andrew’s Day. Historically, Scotland has a wealth of scientists, inventors and engineers whose discoveries changed the way we live today. As an educational charity, Glasgow Science Centre aims to inspire the scientists of tomorrow through thought-provoking, fun and exciting experiences. 

Let’s look at some of Scotland’s top scientists, both past and present: 


James Watt-
Born in Greenock on 18 January 1736, Watt initially worked as a maker of mathematical instruments, but soon became interested in steam engines. In around 1764, Watt was given a model Newcomen engine to repair. He realised that it was hopelessly inefficient and began to work to improve the design. Alongside his partner Mathew Boulton, he began to manufacture steam engines. Watt became a wealthy man and when he retired, he devoted himself to research work and patented other inventions including the rotary engine, the double-action engine and the steam indicator, which records the steam pressure inside the engine.

The unit of measurement of electrical and mechanical power - the watt - is named in his honour.


James Clerk Maxwell-
His ground breaking work in unifying observations of magnetism, electricity and optics into electromagnetic theory places Maxwell in the same league as Isaac Newton and Albert Einstein on the World stage. Indeed, Einstein once said of Maxwell’s work that it was the “most profound and the most fruitful that physics has experienced since the time of Newton”.

His four fundamental equations describe the behaviour of electric and magnetic fields. In addition they can be used to show that light is an electromagnetic wave.

Along with his contributions to the kinetic theory of gases, Maxwell’s work paved the way for the fields of special relativity and quantum mechanics.


Alexander Fleming-
Fleming was born on 6 August 1881 at Lochfield Farm, near Darvel in Ayrshire. At the age of 13, Fleming moved to London to live with his brother who was a doctor and at the age of 20 followed his brother into the medical profession. Fleming studied at St Mary’s Medical School and won almost every prize and medal available. After returning from the war, Fleming discovered and proved the natural antiseptic power of the enzyme he called ‘lysozyme’. Six years later, he identified a germ-killing mould – one of a group known as ‘Penicillium’. It was some 10 years later when Fleming, along with Howard Florey and Ernst Chain, isolated penicillin. They developed it as an antibiotic just before the Second World War.

The discovery of antibiotics became a great milestone in the history of medicine. Today penicillin is used to treat all kinds of bacterial infections.


Ian Frazer-
Ian Frazer was born to medical scientist parents, which helped inspire his love of science. Born in Glasgow in 1953, he received his s Bachelor of Science, and Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery at the University of Edinburgh. In the 1980s, Frazer immigrated to Australia where he now resides as the CEO and Director of Research of the Translational Research Institute.

In parallel with researchers at the National Cancer Institute, Georgetown University, and University of Rochester, Frazer and his colleagues developed and patented the basic technology behind the HPV vaccine against cervical cancer; the second cancer preventing vaccine, and the first vaccine designed to prevent a cancer. 

500 black

Sue Black-
Professor Sue Black is one of the UK’s leading forensic anthropologists, and is director of Dundee University’s Centre for Anatomy and Human Identification. She teaches forensic anthropology, anatomy and human identification. 
Black started her career as a lecturer of Anatomy at St Thomas Hospital in London. In 1999, she became the lead forensic anthropologist to the British Forensic Team in Kosovo on behalf of the United Nations and worked as a forensics expert on a number of high-profile criminal cases, including the conviction of Scotland’s largest paedophile ring in 2009.

In 2008, Black received a Lucy Mair Medal from the Royal Anthropological Institute, a police commendation for DVI training and an OBE for her services to forensic anthropology in Kosovo. She was also listed as one of the 100 most powerful women in the United Kingdom by Radio 4.

Which Scottish scientist, inventor or engineer from the past or present, would you like to honour? 

Celebrating Chemistry

It is National Chemistry Week so we thought we would mark this special week by having our very own Katy Mould, Science Education Coordinator, blog for us this week. Katy worked for GSC as a Science Communicator in 2008 before going to the University of St Andrews to complete PhD research working on the synthesis of a novel natural product with anti-cancer properties. Now back at GSC, Katy is now helping us to inspire the scientists of the future.

Here Katy contemplates the life of a PHD student- the challenges, the rewards and the frustrations.

"There’s a lot of things people think they know about the life of a PhD student. They work strange hours, drink a lot of coffee, and enjoy a free lunch. But what seems to still be shrouded in mystery is what a normal day in the lab is like! I hope to provide an insight into what it’s like to work in chemistry research and the many aspects of getting your work recognised in the scientific community. I completed my PhD research at the University of St Andrews earlier this year, working on the synthesis of a novel anti-cancer natural compound.

Each PhD journey begins with a research proposal that outlines the objectives of your project, and is used to secure funding from a major research council who believes your project has a novel concept and the potential to improve the quality of life in our society. In my case, my work was funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) and allowed me to work for three months at AstraZeneca to take advantage of the technical expertise and equipment available at one of the world’s largest pharmaceutical companies.

A challenging though rewarding experience, each day in a research lab is different and is largely led by the discoveries you make along the way that dictate what you do next. A typical day would begin by setting up the lab, but before I would even think about setting up reactions there’s a lot of planning and preparation to be done.

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Researching the reaction methods you use and whether it will work on your particular compound is one of research’s great challenges! Finding the correct experimental procedure in the literature, doing the sums to calculate the weight you need of each chemical reagent, ensuring your reagents are pure and your solvents dry- meticulousness really is the key to a carrying out experimental procedures! And even then- chemical bonds don’t form if they don’t want to, so even if you are painstaking in your preparation there is no guarantee of success.

Some reactions take five minutes: others take five days. Some reactions work first time, but a lot don’t and require optimisation to get them to work. I would normally set up several reactions in one day, which requires forward planning and good time management. In a synthetic chemistry lab it’s best practise to complete your reaction, purify your newly synthesised compound and analyse it on the same day to make sure you’ve made the correct compound. Throughout the project there were many times that my compounds quickly degraded and required going back more than a dozen chemical steps to start again, which was an exercise in perseverance and project management.

Compound purification is an art form, and it’s something that can only be mastered with experience. There are several ways to purify chemicals; distillation, crystallisation, chromatography. You might do several of these in one day, and not all of them successfully the first time, requiring patience and the willingness to repeat something to get a pure compound in high yield. Each time a scientist synthesises or discovers a new compound, it must be analysed fully in order to prove its structure without doubt. This usually involves six or more different analytical techniques, which again requires planning. Which techniques will give us the required information? Is the data scientifically sound? Is it the compound I meant to make? As scientists, it’s important to analyse and document everything we do so when the work is published it is accurate and a benchmark against which other scientists compare data to.

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An important part of working towards a PhD is keeping abreast of the latest publications in your research area. Not simply to keep up to date with the most recent advances in chemistry, but also to check that someone hasn’t published what you’re working on before you. It can be competitive- but that’s the nature of working on a project where the stakes are international recognition for synthesising an unknown biologically active compound for the first time. Many internationally renowned scientists will be working on the same molecule at the same time, and the success of a project comes down to career-spanning knowledge, talented synthetic chemists and a certain amount of serendipity.

Even the selection of the journal in which you publish your work in requires careful consideration, as each field has several journals with the highest impact work is published in the most prestigious. It has been said that the journal you choose to publish in can be the difference between being first or second to publish the same piece of research, which in academia can make a difference when building your international reputation.

As a research student you get plenty opportunities to present your work, not only in journals, but also at national and international conferences. I was lucky to have the opportunity to travel to Spain and Australia to present my work, and meet scientists from all over the world (even Nobel Prize winners!).

The majority of my four year PhD was spent doing practical synthetic work in the lab and culminated in four months writing up the bittersweet tale that was my PhD project. Many people find the write up period a cathartic experience, with the opportunity to put down your reasoning on paper as to why so much of your project provided unforeseeable challenges. Every project with research at its core throws up more questions and further avenues for scientific exploration, and one of the main challenges at the end of a PhD is knowing when it’s time to let go.

Many people don’t understand the appeal of an additional 4 years at University and I do sometimes find myself justifying the value of the PhD experience. It is difficult for people to comprehend that research is an all-consuming experience and coupled with the insatiable desire to find answers, it’s certainly not for everyone. But for me the most important part of research is nurturing an inquisitive mind which means that I’ll never stop learning, or wondering how things work. The long-awaited satisfaction of completing the journey from an idea to the amazement of discovering something for the very first time- that’s what it feels like to be a scientist.”

katy thesis

Jo’s “Holiday” Snaps

As you will remember from the blog a couple of months back, GSCer Jo Foo was awarded a Travel Fellowship by the Winston Memorial Trust. Jo’s project “Evaluating Wildlife Reintroductions- understanding social, economic and ethical impacts” has taken her to USA and Canada for 7 weeks. Here she is working with people who are key to wildlife reintroductions and speaking to people in the surrounding communities to find out how they address the challenges that arise from conservation efforts.

Throughout her trip Jo has been blogging about her experiences and the people, and animals, she has met. You can read her tales here:

Jo is an amazing photographer so we have picked out some of her ‘holiday’ snaps to share with you- they are truly remarkable.

butterscotch boys

Butterscotch Brothers Kanti and Bicho at the Wolf Park


Meeting the Grey Foxes at the Wolf Park


This is by far our favourite picture, hugs and kisses from a Sea Lion at the Marine Mammal Research for the University of British Columbia! Wonder if she had fishy breath?

ynp day-5-mammoth

Natural beauty! Mammoth Hot Springs at Yellowstone

ynp bison-jam-20th-oct-2013

Not your usual traffic jam on the M8. Bison holding up Jo on her journey.


This is the Butterscotch Brothers and their sister Fiona at the Wolf Park who were a bit too excited to see Jo. Below is an extract from Jo’s blog about how her usual tricks of tickling wolf gums and Karate Kid ‘wax on, wax off’ didnt work this time:

“All three members of the pack had decided that I was their new “squeeze toy” and they wanted to see how to make me squeak. It was the first time I had to leave because they were just so wound up their excitement was turning in to growls and redirections of aggression. Like young children who start by playing nice but then push it until someone ends up in tears.

The boys may look like butter-wouldn’t-melt but that sweet looking greeting from Bicho (right) to Kanti (left) in the top photo quickly turned in to some ritualised aggression as Kanti desperately tries to keep his obnoxious brother in place.

You see, Kanti thinks he is in charge and for the most part he is. But this means constantly micromanaging his brother Bicho, who doesn’t take him seriously a lot of the time. At the moment, Bicho has taken a liking to jumping on people. Often this means that Bicho jumps and while you’re trying to deflect him in a Karate Kid Wax On Wax Off motion, Kanti runs up to give his brother in to trouble for stepping out of line. Ritualised aggression is all teeth baring and noise and very little else, but knowing that doesn’t stop your own flight/fight reaction from kicking up a gear.

The key is to stay on top of it. If you get it right, deflecting the wolves means they get bored of you quickly. I however, wasn’t quite fast enough to deflect them all. I’d wax off Bicho, be patting Fiona lightly over her eyes to prevent her from jumping and then suddenly have Kanti grab my top with no spare hand to tickle his gums and pick him off. You could almost see them thinking “Brilliant! Game on!”. And while all this was happening, the complex social structure of the pack was coming in to place and Kanti was having disagreements with Bicho over his behaviour while Fiona was bouncing about.”

Thank you to Jo for your amazing photographs and account of your travels so far. Enjoy the rest of your trip and safe travels back to Glasgow!

Earlier this year, we awarded Cineworld the contract to manage the day-to-day running of the IMAX. Our partnership with Cineworld is continuing to deliver great educational film programming. IMAX education films engage pupils with an unforgettable, larger than life learning experience! They are designed to educate and enlighten as much as they are to entertain. They present new, relevant knowledge in a powerful, popular medium and inspire thoughtful, lively classroom discussion.

The Cineworld IMAX at Glasgow Science Centre is currently showing six education films that explore topics that complement the Curriculum for Excellence.

polar bears

To the Arctic 3D

An unprecedented journey into the lives of a mother polar bear and her two seven month old cubs as they navigate the changing Arctic wilderness they call home. Captivating, adventurous and intimate footage brings you up close and personal with this family’s struggle to survive and thrive in an ever-changing environment.

Pupils will learn about:

  • The diversity of living things and how physical or behavioural characteristics contribute to their survival or extinction.
  • How living things are adapted for survival and understand the impacts of natural hazards on biodiversity.
  • The interactions and energy flow between plants and animals in ecosystems, food chains and webs.

Curriculum Links: Science / Planet Earth / Biodiversity and interdependence

Under The Sea 3D

Under the Sea 3D, narrated by Jim Carrey, transports you to the depths of the ocean and offers a unique opportunity to swim with the fascinating animals found below.

Pupils will learn about:

  • The diversity of creatures in the ocean and how they are adapted to their environment.
  • The interdependence of different marine species.
  • The impact of global climate change upon marine ecosystems.

Curriculum Links: Science / Planet Earth / Biodiversity and interdependence


Hubble 3D

Narrated by Leonardo DiCaprio, Hubble 3D will enable you and your pupils to journey through distant galaxies to explore the grandeur and mysteries of our celestial surroundings. Accompany space-walking astronauts as they attempt the most difficult and important tasks in NASA’s history. The film will offer an inspiring and unique look into into the Hubble Space Telescope’s legacy and highlight its profound impact on the way we view the universe.

Curriculum Links: Science/Planet Earth/Space

Space Station 3D

Space Station 3D, narrated by Tom Cruise, blasts you off into space with the actual astronauts and cosmonauts that live and work there. Three hundred and fifty kilometres above Earth, you will witness zero gravity and find out how this affects the way humans sleep, eat and live. Join the astronauts as they carry out scientific experiments and perform feats of engineering.

Pupils will be challenged to think about science and engineering at the current limits of human knowledge and ability.

Curriculum Links: Science / Planet Earth / Space

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Born To Be Wild 3D

Born to be Wild 3D, narrated by academy award winner Morgan Freeman, documents the lives of orphaned orangutans and elephants and the extraordinary people who rescue and raise them. Be transported to the lush rainforests of Borneo and the rugged savannah of Kenya as we meet these incredible creatures that are being rescued, rehabilitated and returned to the wild one animal at a time.

Pupils will learn about:

  • The diversity of living things and how they are adapted to their environment.
  • The impact of changing habitats on survival or extinction.
  • The interdependence of living creatures.

Curriculum Links: Science / Planet Earth / Biodiversity and interdependence

Galapagos 3D

Presented by the Smithsonian Institution, Galapagos vividly documents an eight-week expedition to the islands and surrounding waters. This documentary film follows marine biologist Dr. Carole Baldwin on her first trip to the famed Galapagos islands. Delve deep into the largely unknown waters surrounding the volcanic archipelago to explore the natural wonders of a realm that is truly a living natural science laboratory.

Pupils will learn about:

  • The animals that have adapted to life in the Galapagos islands and their continued fight for survival.
  • The evolution and biodiversity of the creatures living on this chain of 19 islands.
  • The violent physical forces that shaped and continue to change the islands.

Curriculum Links : Science / Planet Earth / Biodiversity and interdependence

Schools can book visit to the Cineworld IMAX as part of their day at Glasgow Science Centre. Call 0141 420 5000 to find out more information. 

Our blog has moved to our website, we will be posting there and on tumblr for the moment. You can view the blog here:

Knock, knock who’s there?

Richard Hall is one of a band of ‘Colourful Thinkers’ whose experience lets them take a broad view of marketing and communications.  He’s been an occasional contributor to our GSC blog and I’m very pleased that he’s given us this latest piece as a follow-up to the recent “Question of Science” evening.

"I once heard a market researcher say rather grimly: “science is regarded by many people as a bit dull….” a bit like food, travel and sunshine no doubt. Like life itself perhaps.

But people are smarter than that researcher, as increases in visitor numbers at the Science Museum in London and the Glasgow Science Centre show. The Science Museum states:

“the UK’s interest in popular science is going from strength to strength”

Which, for something people allegedly find a bit dull, is rather surprising.But the fact is science and its perception is changing and the key word of course is “popular.”

I think the explanation that this is the “Brian Cox effect” is disingenuous.Long before Brian one of the greatest scientists we’ve ever had was to put it bluntly a hoot as well as being rather clever. He shares with Mark Twain the ability to slip out one liners that live forever.

Here’s an example.

And having fun is what popular scientists do but they also do much more. It’s the job of a half decent educator to do what Dr Johnson described as “instruct by pleasing”.And that’s what scientists are doing from Dara O Briain’s “Science Club on BBC2 to Brian Cox and Robin Ince’s the “Infinite Monkey Cage” on Channel 4 to (Cox again) “Science Britannica” BBC2, to QI on Channel 4 – with Stephen Fry et al – a lot of science on this, to David Attenborough who has arguably done more for the cause of science than say Michael Faraday.

All very creative; all very intelligent and all absolutely a lot of fun.

And I loved this (I think it was from Robin Ince describing scientists at work.) Most of them, as we know, have systemising minds; many of them are very serious and some of them are able to do this:

i) Write down the problem

ii) Think very hard

iii) Write down the answer

People seem have clocked that science is about storytelling not theorems and textbooks and that the more of us who become SciFans the bigger the budgets for research will get.

In the 21st century we’ve come to realise everything is about people, what they want, how they behave, why they change their minds. Science sadly can tell us virtually nothing about any of this. The human brain pretty well remains a mystery.

But here it is craving for entertainment.

Because what we do know is that box office has a very loud vice. Hence 20:20 cricket, the Olympics, modern football, tennis and golf circuits. “Entertain me” people cry and we deny them at our peril.

Science is a talking point…”it seems sharks blood might help cure cancer” “did you know helium escapes from your balloon up and out of atmosphere?”, “did you know urine could power machines?” As Michael Caine said “not many people know that” and for sure exciting facts get attention.

There’s never been a better time to be in the entertainment business.

There’s never been a better time to be in science.

Science is what counts today.

Which brings us back to Einstein.”

Thank you to Richard for blog contribution. You can read Richard’s own blog here:   

Celebrate Biology


It is National Biology Week, an opportunity to give people of all ages and backgrounds the chance to learn about the biosciences. To celebrate, biology experts working in academia and industry have been at Glasgow Science Centre this week. Almost eight thousand people have taken part in hands on activities working alongside neuroscientists, parasitologists, anatomists, epilepsy and arthritis researchers and bionanoengineers.

Interestingly biology is the most favoured science subject by female students. Today, Dr Mhairi Stewart from the Wellcome Trust Centre for Molecular Parasitology, and newly appointed coordinator of ScienceGrrl Glasgow, talks about her experiences of encouraging girls into science and the need to show them science is relevant. 


"I recently became the co-ordinator for ScienceGrrl Glasgow, part of a network that celebrates and supports women in their scientific careers as well as communicating our love of science to everyone, especially girls. Women are under-represented in science today, and we need our young girls to think of science as a realistic career option to help balance the scales.

With this in mind, my pickled parasites and I (see my previous blog post) recently took part in an event exclusively for girls. I found we were competing for the girls’ attention with glitter tattoos, hair straightening demos and ‘I LOVE JUSTIN BIEBER’ paintings. The only other science demo was a stall from the Glasgow Science Festival team where the girls could make bath bombs out of kitchen ingredients – a great and popular activity!

I, however, was definitely a curiosity. I got a lot of attention, but mainly of the grossed out variety. Only 2 girls actually stopped to talk about the science before going off to see if their JB pictures were dry enough to take home. It got me wondering why fewer girls than boys are taking science subjects, and I think that many girls don’t see science as relevant. Perhaps we need to think carefully about how we communicate science to our young girls.


Communicating science is a balancing act. We need to create wonder and astonishment, but we also need to show that, no matter how wonderful and seemingly magical the science appears to be, it is actually very simple to understand. After all, to wilfully misquote Arthur C. Clarke, ‘Today’s science is yesterday’s magic’.

Maybe we should start to think of our girls as a community of their own and show them that science is relevant to them. If they are interested in glitter tattoos, bath bombs, hair and teenage pop idols, then let’s tell them how the glue in the glitter tattoo sticks. Let’s show them how to make bath bombs out of ingredients in their kitchen. Let’s explain how conditioner makes it easier to comb your hair. And let’s talk about how sound waves travel and get converted to electrical impulses so they can hear their favourite music.

What is really exciting is that we won’t be reinforcing those gender stereotypes we are trying to move away from. Where they do persist, we can in fact take those stereotypes and use them as a springboard to capture imaginations and say to young girls: This is SCIENCE! It is RELEVANT! You can understand it and make it work for YOU!”


Our blog is moving to our website so join us there to keep up to date with developments at the Centre and our guests blog spots. We will let you know more info when it goes live. 

Wanted: young scientists for the study of asteroids!!

It is World Space Week so our guest blogger today is Dr Paula Lindgren, Research Associate at the School of Geographical and Earth Sciences at Glasgow University. Paula took part Meet the Expert -Explore your Universe programme over September weekend. Here she talks about asteroids, meteorites and the NASA OSIRIS Rex mission.

Dr Paula during her Meet the Expert session at GSC

“Asteroids are bits and pieces left over from when Earth and the other planets in our solar system formed. They are rocky objects, and some have strange, irregular shapes. The biggest are up to hundreds of kilometres across, but most are much smaller. They are important because they tell us about the earliest processes in our solar system. One way of studying asteroids is to look at meteorites, and that is what I do at the University of Glasgow. Meteorites are rocks from space that have landed on Earth. Most meteorites have come from asteroids.

One difficulty with studying meteorites is that we do not know exactly from which asteroid, and from which part of the asteroid the meteorites came from. To solve this, we want to send robots to known asteroids to collect samples. Then we will know exactly where the samples come from! So far, there has been one successful sample return from an asteroid. It was the Hayabusa robotic mission sent out by JAXA (Japan) to the Asteroid Itokawa. It returned successfully to Earth in 2010. 

JAXA Hayabusa 

My research is about carbonaceous chondrite meteorites, which are meteorites that probably came from the so called C-type asteroids. These are very interesting because they represent the earliest and most primitive material in our whole solar system, and can give us clues about how the planets formed some 4.56 billion years ago. NASA (USA), ESA (Europe) and JAXA (Japan) are now in the process of planning future sample return missions to C-type asteroids. The NASA OSIRIS REx mission is to be launched in 2016, and the ESA Marco Polo-R and JAXA Hayabusa2 missions are to be launched sometime in the 2020s. Missions like this take many, many years to plan and to carry out, and by the time the samples are returned to Earth, many of the scientists that planned the missions may be retired, and so they would like to see young scientists taking over in this field!”

As part of our World Space Week celebrations, school pupils visiting Glasgow Science Centre today and tomorrow (Thursday 10th and Friday 11th) will be able to meet space scientists and find out about their fascinating and rewarding careers. Who knows, maybe one of the 900 school kids will go on to work on the NASA OSIRIS Rex mission?

University of Glasgow inducted into Dara O Briain’s science club


Comedian and scientist extraordinaire Dara O Briain hosted our annual Question of Science Dinner and Quiz last night where nearly 350 people competed to become Question of Science champions! After a well fought battle, University of Glasgow emerged as winners and lifted the coveted trophy.

The winners topped the leader board from the start and fought off stiff competition from second place attorney firm Marks and Clerk.

The highlight of the night was host Dara O Briain who brought an infusion of science and comedy to the event. Known most for his television and stand up career, Dara is an accomplished mathematical physicist. Using his experience from panel shows like Mock the Week, Dara compered the quiz element of the evening. Dara also took some time out from his quiz master duties, taking questions from guests ranging from what experiments he would most like to do on his science club programme to do science and comedy mix?

Dancing tongues of fire, liquid nitrogen explosions and electromagnetic radiation were amongst some of the some spectacular demonstrations alongside the taxing quiz questions. Guests were on the edge of their seats, racking their brains to try to predict just what would happen next!


It was amazing evening and we hope that all our guests had a great night too. Glasgow University certainly did as Neil Bowering got in touch with us this morning to say:

"The evening was a great opportunity for our team of passionate science communicators to celebrate the work we have been doing over the past year with the Glasgow Science Centre and other organisations. The fact that we won the quiz made the event that bit more enjoyable and we look forward to defending the title next year!"


To those who were not at the quiz last night, here is a little taster of the questions:

1. Which of these hard sums equates to the atomic number of Argon?

A. (92 + 92) / 3 = ?

B. (62 + 62) / 3 = ?

C. (32 + 32) / 3 = ?

D. (23 + 23) x 3 = ?

E. (33 + 33) / 3 = ?

2. What features directly flank either side of your glabella?

A. Eyes

B. Cheeks

C. Eyebrows

D. Nostrils

E. Shoulders

3.What happens if a Goldfish is kept in the dark?

A. It starts to turn pale

B. It goes blind

C. It falls asleep

D. It bumps into things

E. Nothing

4. Roughly how many folds would you need to make to an ordinary piece of A4 paper such that it was thick enough to reach from Earth to the Moon?

A. 43

B. 143

C. 1430

D. 14300

E. 143000

5. As Walter White will tell you, the thermite reaction between IRON OXIDE and ALUMINIUM powder will produce a temperature hot enough to burn out a security lock. Roughly, how hot can it get?

A. 25 °C

B. 250 °C

C. 2,500 °C

D. 25,000 °C

E. 250,000 °C

We will let you know the answers soon but get in touch with your guesses. 



Congratulations to the University of Glasgow, winners of Question of Science 2013. 

The representation of women in STEM

Dr Susie Mitchell joined Glasgow City of Science in the summer as its Programme Director. Here she talks about what inspired her to pursue a career in science and the representation of women in STEM. 

"I’m staring out of the windows of the iconic Glasgow Science Centre with two distinctive symbols of Glasgow’s scientific and maritime engineering heritage in my eye line – namely, the University of Glasgow’s iconic gothic spire and the imposing Finneston crane.

It’s widely accepted that women continue to be under-represented in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) careers, education and training.

So what were the factors that inspired me to study science and pursue a STEM-related career path?

  • My education? I was a generally self-motivated at school and university but did particularly well in subjects that I found interesting and seemed to have practical relevance including biology, psychology, maths and music. Like many young women, some STEM related subjects (like physics and computing) seemed dry and uninspiring to me.  
  • Inspiring role models? My father – decorated by Her Majesty – for his contributions to grain science and innovation within the brewing industry became Scotland’s first black professor. An incredible achievement for a boy branded by the system as ‘educationally subnormal’ at the age of 12. At 73 he’s still researching and inventing – a micro-centrifuge sits alongside the family toaster. He is also a recognised equality champion. My mother is a chartered child psychologist who worked tirelessly to support the most vulnerable children in society. My parents undoubtedly inspired me.
  • A passion for creativity from an early age? I love creativity and gravitate towards creative people. Music has always been a big part of my life - so is it true what they say about creativity linking science and music?
  • Media influences? Then there was my childhood obsession with TV programmes like Johnny Balls, Think of a Number and anything Attenborough.
  • And what about wider cultural and societal influences during my formative years? You know, back in the ‘good old days’ when a solid career was borne out of years of hard slog and there was less focus on celebrity culture, instant fame, and fortune.
  • Or was it just a dollop of good old fashioned luck? There was no career master plan. My philosophy has always been – as long as you enjoy what you’re doing you’ll do well at it. 

I’m not definitively sure, but I imagine it’s unlikely to be one single factor.

I completed a PhD in leukaemia research at Glasgow’s Beatson Institute for Cancer Research. There were lots of brilliant female scientists at the Beatson who managed to juggle family life and their science careers.  Flexible, family-friendly, working practices were essential in supporting and sustaining their careers. I would go on to win the Beatson institutes John Paul Award for research excellence which was a tremendous boost. I certainly wasn’t the most academic student in my year but the Beatson motivated me. It was a supportive and welcoming environment, I had wonderful mentors, a great research project and I was inspired by the talent that surrounded me. 

In 2000, I decided to hang up my lab coat for the last time, but used my acquired skills to work in STEM related roles including R&D management and commercialisation within the NHS and health improvement and equality within government.  I believe that having a science background gave me credibility within the NHS and in government.  It’s increasingly recognised that all industry sectors can benefit from a pipeline of talent with a good grounding in STEM subjects and at all attainment levels.

In 2013, I now find myself in an exciting new position as Programme Director for Glasgow City of Science. Glasgow City of Science is about government, industry, business, and education communities working smarter together to exploit our science and innovation at a regional and international level.  

I’m passionate about equality. Women currently represent a hugely valuable untapped talent pool in STEM. Whilst women constitute a fairly large proportion of undergraduate and postgraduate STEM students, many move on to work below their level of qualification, work in a non-STEM field, or become unemployed or economically inactive. If we are to compete on a global scale, we cannot afford to make inefficient use of our intellectual resources.

I very much look forward to working with partners to unlock the City Region’s scientific potential and make Glasgow a recognised city of science.”

“If we’re going to out-innovate and out-educate the rest of the world, we’ve got to open doors for everyone. We need all hands on deck, and that means clearing hurdles for women and girls as they navigate careers in science, technology, engineering, and math.”

First Lady Michelle Obama, September 26, 2011

For more information about Glasgow City of Science, visit 

What makes you unique?

In the words of that fuzzy blue monster Grover- you are special, there is no one else like you but just how unique are you? One of the exhibits in BodyWorks asks that exact question. The DNA Decider is a touch screen game that asks our visitors questions like what colour is your hair, are you left or right handed and is your ear wax sticky or flaky?


Since BodyWorks opened nearly 6 months ago, over 12 thousand people have recorded their information. We have taken all of their details and created a profile of a typical GSC Visitor. 

Sex- Female

Hair Colour- Brown

Eye Colour- Blue

Skin Colour- I (light, pale white skin)

Free hanging or attached ear lobes? - hanging

Left or right handed? - right

Does your hairline form a peak in the front of your forehead? - no peak

Is your ear wax sticky or flaky? - sticky


Are you a brown-haired, blued-eyed female with light skin, hanging ear lobes, right handed with no hair peak and sticky ear wax? According to the DNA decider that describes the average visitor to Glasgow Science Centre. Plus, just 6% of those who recorded their results were unique and did not share all their characteristics with any other visitor.

Although we share many characteristics with other people, Grover is right- there is no one just like you! It is your DNA though that contains the information that makes you truly unique.