Star quality at Soapbox Science MK 2018

Soapbox Science Milton Keynes 2018 – twelve clever, captivating speakers shared new science with a new audience in Centre:MK on Saturday. Their engaging, interactive presentations, delivered from their soapboxes on topics across physics, geology, agriculture, astrobiology and waste management, attracted and held the attention of about 1200 visitors.

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Simone Weber, from Canfield University, draws a crowd to learning about testing helicopter blades for damage and the blades behave during flying.

Speakers were from The Open University (Eleni Wood, Heidi Theimann, Dr Nisha Ramkissoon, Stacy Phillips), Cranfield University (Dr Sarah De Baets, Samuela Guida, Dr Adriana Encinas-OropesaSimone Weber, Dr Sofia KourmpetliSezsy Yusef, Dr Rachel Whitton) and Rothamsted Research (Dr Helen Metcalfe).

Some people in the audience had come especially to see the talks, but most were shoppers who, attracted by our new ‘meet a scientist’ signs, stopped for a minute and many stayed for a long time to listen, participate and ask questions. When Deputy Mayor Sam Crooks came by he commented not only on how much he enjoyed listening, but on the diversity of the crowds gathered – a testament the quality of science and communication from the presenters.

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Dr Helen Metcalf, from Rothamsted Research, and one of the brilliant volunteers poised to start drawing people in to learn about different ways to think about weeds in agricultural systems.

There was a constant buzz of excitement in the air as our team of volunteers collected data on how many people visited, and surveyed them to understand the impact of this event (97% rated it as quite to very enjoyable).  The volunteers also encouraged people to stop and learn more.  With a volunteer beside every speaker, ready to pass or show props at the perfect time, keep an eye on specimens circulated through the audience, and help people use them as necessary, each speaker gave all their attention to sharing their science with élan. The contribution of our volunteers was invaluable – thank you!

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Stacy Phillips, from The Open University, talking about the biography of a mountain.

The volunteers and surveys were expertly organised by Gill Hill (University of Buckingham) and Laura Crook (Rothamsted Research). Each hour there was a new set of four speakers, co-ordinated by Clare Humphries while Jack Hannam (both from Cranfield University) photographed the event and managed an impressive twitter feed. This marvellous, pragmatic and fun organising team, who put in much work in the lead up to the day, contributed to a big success with no stress, in terms of the magnitude and quality of outreach and the contribution to the career development of speakers. A special thanks too for the administrative support from Michelle Coleman, and the extra media training for speakers, provided by the STEM Faculty at the OU.

Someone from the audience sought me (Julia Cooke, Open University) out, as co-ordinator, to say how impressed they were with the speakers.  “Wonderful, wonderful talks, and the speaker I’ve just been listening too, really, she’s got star quality!”. Without knowing which speaker had captivated this person specifically, I confidently agreed.  Looking around, I could see the twelve speakers were inspiring a new generation of scientists, sharing their latest findings with the public and increasing the visibility of women in science – they were all science and science communication stars.

For more photos and to stay in touch, follow us at @SoapboxSciMK on twitter.

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One of the volunteers attracting more people to hear Sezsy Yusuf talking about testing aircrafts in wind tunnels, the Centre:MK shopping centre
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