After the first successful edition of the life of a researcher, this time other four well-known researchers decided to join the café scientifique team to discuss what it means to undertake an academic career as a woman. First talk was by Ruth Gregory, a famous mathematician and recipient of the Maxwell Medal and Prize, just like Stephen Hawking. The audience was astonished when she showed us the picture of her at the University sitting next to Stephen, still unaware of the future that awaited her. Then it was the time of Lydia Heck, physician and computer manager. With the true grit of the navy pilot she told us about her interesting story, her staying in Australia and the way she managed to have both an amazing family and a brilliant career. Now she is responsible of the 114th most powerful computer in the world (located in Durham, by the way!). Next was Alexandra Cristea, famous computer scientist, which illustrated us some application of machine learning and artificial intelligence that can be applied to revolutionize the way of teaching at school. Finally, Azi Fattahi, our youngest little star and astrophysicist explained us what it means to simulate the universe using Lydia’s powerful supercomputers! After the talks, a great and constructive discussion followed about the role of women in science. It was a great, inspirational and motivational moment where everybody was able to share their opinion about how to improve this, sometimes weird, world.
On Thursday 7th of March, team Café Scientifique organized a competition about renewable energies where not just Ustinov College students were invited to participate, also from the Engineering Department.
The competition start with a small demo on how Wind Turbines work and how we can get energy from the wind. Engineering Department of Durham University provided with a Wind Tunnel for this demo. Participants understood more about the mechanism of the turbines and got a better idea on the importance to use them in UK.
The rules of the game and the dynamics where explained to the participants, everyone agree to use the table as a buzzer to reply the question. Questions were read until one participant hit the “buzzer” or finish it. The type of questions were common knowledge based on UK and we had two different types of questions, multiple choice and direct answer.
The competition turned out to be between Ustinov College and Grey College; we had two students from each college. Matthew Roberts (member of the GCP) helped by being the judge of the competition.
After a very hard-fought and fun competition, participants went to sudden death to determine the winner, surprisingly team Ustinov (lead by Shubham Shukla) won with the question: “What is the difference between renewable energy technologies and renewable energy resources?”
At the end of the competition, participants greeted each other, talk about their backgrounds, and discuss some of the questions. All contestants were happy participating in the competition and found out that renewable energy is playing a big role in the coming future.
On Monday 3rd of December, the team Café Scientifique invited Ustinov college students to participate in a discussion panel about recycling, followed by the result of the competition for the best Xmas tree with recycled materials.
The event was very productive, attendees discussed different methods of recycling and what are the side effects on different countries; environmental and social. Then, participants had the opportunity to talk about their point of view about recycling at the College, we had the pleasure to count with the presence of the Principal from Ustinov College: Professor Glenn McGregor. As a result of our discussion panel, we got a list of suggestions to make our College more sustainable, not just focussing on recycling.
At the end of the discussion panel, Kimberly Liu was rewarded with an Amazon voucher for her original idea of the Xmas tree, the design consisted of using a plastic bottle of water and her own hair! decorations used were recycled too. Congratulations to Kim!! We have the chance to try her design!!
It was a freezing night in December but the cold was not enough to stop the intrepid members of the Café Scientifique team and over 30 followers who decided to go and admire the amazing shiny “Stars of Durham”. The cloudy and rainy weather of the held off, leaving clear and dark skies as the adventurous students walked towards the nearby old observatory to unveil the secrets of the universe. Captained by our expert physicists and astronomers, Ross Knapman, David Tune and Giorgio Manzoni, and aided by their professional 8 x 40 inch Newtonian telescope, we observed four astronomical objects that can be observed only during the winter sky.
First, the Pleiades (M45), an open cluster of stars 443 light years far from us. Without a telescope it appears like a smooth cloud made of stars in the Taurus constellation but with a telescope we were able to distinguish the gas from which new extremely bright stars are currently forming. Then the Orion nebula arose from the horizon, making it possible for us to observe another bunch of very young stars enlightening the hydrogen gas surrounding them like a mother embracing her baby. The third object was really peculiar as it is produced by the end of life of a not that massive red giant star. It is a planetary nebula (nothing to do with planets…), the so-called Ring Nebula (M57), a ring of gas expanding from the remnant of the star that lay in the centre as a white dwarf, an object that does not collapse into a black hole just because of quantum effects (i.e. electron degeneracy pressure). Although this object is quite far from us (2,223 light years) it still belongs to our Galaxy. However, for the last one we decided to exit our Milky Way and observe an object that orbits around the Galaxy at a distance of 22,180 light years: M13. This is a globular cluster in Hercules’ constellation made of very old stars.
Finally succumbing to the chill of the winter, we headed back to the Sheraton Park Community Room for hot chocolate and cake, as we relaxed and warmed our toes. We look forward to seeing you all again soon!
According to Stuart Corbridge, the Vice-Chancellor of Durham University, he has “been constantly impressed by the outstanding quality of research produced at the University”. However, this research is often locked up in an “ivory tower” and isolated from the local community. Over the past few years, PhD student and Ustinov Global Citizenship Programme (GCP) scholar Pen-Yuan Hsing has tried to bridge this gap through a citizen science project (MammalWeb) involving local residents throughout North East England. With a grant from the British Ecological Society, Pen collaborated with Belmont Community School in Durham to get students involved. This planted the seed for further partnerships connecting research in different disciplines at Durham University with the local community and schools.
The first result was from early this year, when Mrs Julie Ryder and Mr Valentine Maduko invited Pen and other GCP scholars to bring science experiments to their science open day. This worked out really well and Julie asked if there’s a way to bring the cutting-edge research at the University into schools where teachers have been teaching the same things for years.
So on 5 December 2017, Café Scientifique of the GCP enlisted research students from across the University to meet with local teachers at Belmont School. During this meeting, we discussed how we can bring the University into the classroom. Many fields were represented.
For example, Emine Gurbuz will talk about how the brain works through several activities at Belmont School in January 2018. These activities include hands-on experiments with Year 9 students where they will be guided to ask their own research questions about brains.
Some other activities come from Naz – a psychology PhD student who can “read minds” by looking at people’s expressions and Giorgio who is an astronomer with lots of outreach experience.
Arts, humanities and social sciences are also well-represented. Martina is doing a PhD in English and will lead a series of creative writing poetry activities. Ben will run exercises on entrepreneurship and business. Vicki will reflect with students on the use and implications of social media.
On top of all of this, we also wanted to take full advantage of the diversity at Ustinov College. The College is not only the largest postgraduate community in the UK, it is also the most international, with more than 100 nationalities represented. Ayako of the GCP Ustinov Intercultural Forum showed the attending teachers the full range of cultural events they can organise, from calligraphy to language cafés.
This event wasn’t attended by just teachers from Belmont School. The aim is for any local school to get involved, and we were excited that they also came that evening. For example, the head teacher from Pittington Primary School was present and established a connection with the GCP.
These teachers are now in touch with us and are planning activities throughout 2018. We are excited to see how the first sessions – such as those with Emine – will go. So please watch this space for updates!
We are grateful to Jess Watters of Ustinov Café Scientifique for her help in making this happen. We are also thankful to Julie for her brilliant idea and hosting us, and all the teachers at Belmont School.
Don’t forget to look at this Flickr album of photos from the day and share them!
On Friday 1st of December (the start of the real Christmas countdown) local school children and their parents were invited to join the GCP to create Christmas crafts with LOTS of glitter. They came along to make Christmas cards and decorations provided with a bit of inspiration from festive tunes and pinterest crafts.
The event was really well attended despite the snow and very chilly weather; probably the sweets and biscuits on offer helped people to brave the artic conditions? For many of the local residents it was their first time in the community room and meeting the GCP team, an experience that was 100% positive for all involved and one that we hope has helped form relationships with the community forever.
Special thanks to the volunteers from the teams who turned up on the day, especially the ones who helped to clear up the epic amount of glitter that covered everything (we are very sorry, but not really who doesn’t love glitter?) and the Café des Arts team who helped to promote the event – you did a really good job! We hope this event will happen again, maybe for Easter as it was very popular with those who came along. Looking back it would be hard to tell who was having more fun with the Christmas crafts the children or the GCP scholars! All in all everyone had a really good time and got into the Christmas spirit. Success!
Have you ever wondered what those sparkly dots up there are?
Or rather, do you ever look at them?
There’s something to them. They charm us. They feature in poems and songs across the world. We dream of cruising through them. But still, when was the last time you looked at the stars?
A few weeks ago Café Scientifique teamed up with the Durham Astronomy Society to go stargazing. We met in Fisher House, and walked from there to the Durham Botanic Garden where we looked at the stars. Little by little people arrived, some alone, some with friends, quite a few families with kids. On the way, more people joined our group, and we walked through the darkness of the Botanic Garden together, towards the Garden’s café.
In the café, Dr. Jurgen Schmolltalked to us about something that has stuck in my mind ever since: electric light. Have you noticed how when the sun sets we’re flooded by electric lights? There is hardly darkness in the cities anymore. That’s a pity.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying we should go back to the dark ages and live by candlelight, but with the proliferation of blue electric lights, looking at the stars becomes nearly impossible without a telescope. When was the last time you saw the Milky Way, if you’ve ever seen it at all? I remember seeing the Milky Way four years ago, from a potato field in Peru. It is, I think, one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen. It may sound corny, but it is true. And I had to go all the way to a Peruvian potato chacra to see it! (Granted, I might have seen it before, but that’s where it was etched into my memory). All because of our overwhelming electric lights. We turn them on and point them at the sky without even realising we’re doing it, and we use way more than we need. Our lights are polluting the night sky, and that is bad not only for stargazing, but also for our sleeping patterns, and for nocturnal animals.
Now, one of the reasons we met the day we did was because it was Earth Hour. On Earth Hour, at least theoretically, the people of the world turn off their lights for an hour to give the Earth a break, and to try and make others conscious of the mess we’re making with our energy consumption and uncontrolled illumination. This would be a perfect hour for stargazing, wouldn’t it? Unfortunately some of the nearby colleges forgot to turn off the security lights on the outside of their buildings (yes Collingwood, I’m talking to you). Still, thanks to the telescopes we could take a good look at the stars.
Maybe it sounds a bit boring, looking at the stars; but the stars are full of stories. Take the Seven Sisters, also known as the Pleiades; they’re that tiny cluster of stars that look a bit like a little pot or a pan. Only six stars are clearly seen by the naked eye, that’s because –unlike her siblings –the seventh sister loved a mortal man; as a result she gave up her light. Out of shame or out of love? Who knows.
When you look at them from a telescope you can see many more than seven stars. What stories lie there?
Aiming his bow at the Seven Sisters is the Orion Nebula. This hunter has been chasing the Pleiades for a few thousand years, and apparently he’ll continue to do so for the foreseeable future. As time passed, some stars set and others rose; and like Orion with his bow, we chased them with our telescopes. The night was cold and after a few hours some people started leaving. Jupiter was supposed to rise from behind the trees in the horizon, so some of us stayed to take a look. It was an interesting end to an interesting night: looking at Jupiter’s four Galilean moons –Io, Europa, Ganymede, and Calisto–, and seeing the same thing Galileo must have seen with his telescope all those centuries ago.
In the end, like Ernesto Cardenal would say: “We are the star seeing itself. / Born in its fire / and cooled to be able to think and see”.
So, why not turn off the electric lights every now and then and try and see the stars? Perhaps from Howlands Farm with all the lights in the parking lot, on the walkways, and on the buildings you might not see much.
Pen-Yuan Hsing, Ustinov Global Citizenship Programme – Café Scientifique
Last Monday (19 June 2017), four members of the Ustinov Global Citizenship Programme helped lead science outreach activities at the Belmont Community School Science Evening. As a Café Scientifique team member, I’m happy to have been part of that group and we are all grateful to Ms Julie Ryder and Mr Valentine Maduko from the school for letting us participate.
We used material left from last year’s Ustinov Science Day, but brought them to an audience of kids and their parents from the Durham community. We played with slinkies, tried to identify animal skulls, poured colourless carbon dioxide onto a candle’s flame, and set water and a 20 pound note on fire!
What’s most important is that this is the first, small step we are taking to building up a working relationship with local schools. The Global Citizenship Programmes hopes that not only will everyone in Durham learn about our diverse and international background, but also that Ustinov postgraduates from across the world can learn from this community, too.
Monday’s event was just a small taste of what we’d like to do, and we hope you can join us on this journey. Here are some reflections from our wonderful Café Scientifique member Emine on what she did over the past year.
Emine Gurbuz, Volunteer in Ustinov Global Citizenship Program – Café Scientifique
What do we do? Ustinov Café Sci is a platform where anyone interested in science is welcome to participate – either as a speaker or audience. As a member of Café Sci at Ustinov, I have contributed to organizing several events including talks about current scientific issues (e.g. ageing and how society reacts to it, how we deal with information in a post-factual world) discussion panels (e.g. surveillance of privacy and technology behind it) and science outreach projects in local schools.
What I have gained from it? While doing so, I have met many inspiring people within the college and outside, I have been able to adapt my new environment in Durham easily and quickly, and gained valuable experience in organizing science events that are relevant for the current issues and at the same time they appeal to everyone with a personal or professional interest in science.
What is next? In the upcoming year, we aim to organize more interactive science events where the audience can actively participate and we hope to work with local schools in the science outreach projects. To be able to do all of these, we need more people in our team next year, so join us and be part of this amazing experience!