Archive for the ‘April 2015’ Category

My top 5 comms tips for scientists

In April 2015 on April 24, 2015 at 2:18 pm

watchparty 1

Sarah: Today I was delighted to be on a science journalism panel at a forum hosted by the Australian Academy of Science: Pathways 2015 – Effective Science Communication for EMCRs (#SciPath15). In the esteemed company of Niall Byrne, Reema Rattan, Nicky Phillips and Cassandra McIver, these are the 5 main points I tried to convey:

  1. Although you may not realise it, you have already learnt a whole lot of comms skills as a scientist. Be confident! And practise, practise, practise.
  2. Being ‘known’ in the broader population as someone with good comms skills can pay off for your science career – both in terms of being a better communicator, but also in terms of being a recognised expert, and someone who ‘gets’ the importance of talking outside of their niche field.
  3. The more you write, the better a writer you will be. Yes, publications and grant applications are top of the rung of course. But other writing will help you sort through what really matters in your research, and how to best explain it to different audiences in different styles. Writing articles for The Conversation, blogging, Facebook, twitter….all help you distill the essence of what it is that you do.
  4. Developing your capacity to talk outside of your field may help you find alternative careers in the future. Even within research.
  5. The world of research is changing, and will continue to do so. The way research is funded may be fundamentally different in 5, 10, 20 years. Imagine a world where most research is funded by private enterprise…are you going to be able to talk to those industry groups? investing in your science communication skills now will set you apart from others who only know how to talk to researchers.

Mental health: it’s messier than snot

In April 2015 on April 10, 2015 at 11:17 am


Sarah: Snot, hacking cough and vomiting. To most parents, these are very familiar occurrences and sure signs that an unwanted viral or bacterial passenger has hopped on board and created a physical health problem for our child.

But how do we know if our offspring are struggling with mental health? Sure, behavioural signals can be a clue. Tears, anxiety, anger and moodiness may crop up — and yet we all know these are all part of a normal childhood as well. How can we tell when children cross the line into the danger zone for mental health? And then what can we do to access appropriate help?

Recently — along with other parents and staff representatives — I was invited by managers at my children’s school to help bring a program of mental health awareness into play. It’s called Kids Matter, and is designed:

to provide schools with an over-arching but flexible approach to improving the mental health and wellbeing of students

Kids Matters has four partners: Principals Australia, The Australia Psychological Society, beyond blue: the national depression initiative and the Australian Government Department of Health and Ageing.

We’re still early on in the process, and working out how best to involve and educate our school community about the program. However, I think it’s worth sharing some of the resources that are available through Kids Matter. Fact sheets and case studies cover stuff like:

Other information covers bullying, depression, body image, cultural diversity….and more.

You don’t need your school to get on board to access these sheets – I know I’ll be reading through a few which seem relevant to my particular household at the moment.

[image thanks to]

Chemistry for ice cream addicts   

In April 2015 on April 7, 2015 at 11:25 am

Kirsty Nitrogenie2 copy

Kirsti: We’re in Noosa at the moment, enjoying some beach time, pool time, more beach time and lush green grass and forests. Having come from western NSW and QLD — where the heat and dry conditions were all consuming — this newfound subtropical environment is quite overwhelming!

The impact on our four year old is that he wants ice cream. Constantly.

Enter Nitrogenie.

We first encountered Nitrogenie as we strolled (read pushed) through Easter crowds on Hastings St, Noosa Heads. We spotted it a mile away, most likely a result of its cooler-than-cool marketing colours. But also because I saw liquid nitrogen clouds!

Even though the slogan is ‘Nitrogenie – ice cream from magic, the marketing genius is that it makes people feel like they are eating SCIENCE! A giant vat of liquid nitrogen is situated behind the counter, and staff access its contents every couple of minutes. During the making process, liquid nitrogen vapour oozes and wafts from food processors. All ice cream makers wear safety glasses.

Liquid nitrogen (N2), is a non-hazardous liquid, is extremely cold (it boils at −195.79 °C) and is stored under pressure. According to its MSDS, or scientific safety sheet, it can cause rapid suffocation in confined environments, and severe frostbite if it comes in contact with live tissue. But there are essentially no restrictions on using it. Just obtaining it.

It got me wondering about employees at such establishments: do they have to learn anything about liquid nitrogen, such as do a course in how to handle it safely? So I asked them. The answer was yes: staff complete an online safety course about chemicals and liquids in food preparation, then an in-store training course all about handling liquid nitrogen, clean-ups and other chemical aspects of the job.

They were pretty busy, so I couldn’t ask many more questions. But I would be very keen to know more. For example, would employees at Nitrogenie be more inclined to feel comfortable with the concept of elements, or chemicals, compared to a more general teen population? (the employees at the Noosa Nitrogenie were all young women). Do staff become more interested in how liquid nitrogen works once they complete the training? Do they wonder about other commercial applications of elements with particular properties?

And what about the customers: does this sort of venture make them more interested in the science in their life?

Maybe they are just happy enough to enjoy the ice cream. Which for the record, is sensational, especially the sticky date fudge toffee flavour…

[Sarah: Adelaide also has a liquid nitrogen ice-cream venue: see here for more details. I’m keen to try it!]