FameLab Masterclasses

•November 12, 2018 • Leave a Comment

My aim is to combine giving the talented scientists who reach the Famelab final an idea of why and how they could communicate science to the public. To do this I draw them into discussing what are the channels that are available to them

Free download of “Why and how to communicate your research”

My reason for doing this is that it has become clear that it is very often FameLab Alumni who go on to create a science communication culture both within and outside their own country

I then add into the mix tips and hints about the most effective ways of taking science to a family audience in a public space before getting the participants to think about how they might take their own research topic to a public audience and the challenges they might have to overcome.

The next sessions are designed to get the participant to develop their story telling skills as well as some stage craft that they need to make high impact presentations

The final sessions of the event are focussed on each finalists preparation for the Final with feedback from myself and their peers




What are Discarded Dreams?

•December 14, 2017 • Leave a Comment

Camelot, the company that runs the National Lottery in the UK, uses the by-line Serving Nations’ Dreams but the reality is a little different.

Scratch cards are the second most popular form of gambling in the UK. The heaviest users amongst the employed are manual workers and their families [30% of this group] and the heaviest users of all are the unemployed [32% of this group][1]. Anyone over the age of 16 can buy cards

One disabled man spent his life savings £60,000 0n scratch cards over six months.

Scratch cards are bought at a retail outlet along with other purchases and quickly discarded if they are not a winner

What are the purchasers imagining as they scratch off the thin film that conceals their fate? Do they conjure up something that they have always wanted or just hope they will at least get their money back?

For most players their card will be a loser. I became interested in whether how they felt at that moment was reflected in what they did with the card so I began collecting discarded cards in about a 100 yard radius of my local scratch card sales point, which happened to be a Londis Supermarket. I  have over the last year picked up over 500 cards with a potential face value of over 100 million pounds.  Some of these cards have been torn very systematically into fragments, some have been just been torn in half, others have been crumpled, but most are just discarded intact.

I have come to see my collection as bundles of discarded dreams.

I have now used some of the cards as part of the building materials for an imagined Camelot [renamed Looselot]. Torn up cards form an insurmountable curtain wall around a golden castle. Outside these walls is a shanty town of make shift shelters.

The piece has already been displayed at an event in the studio in which I created it and at the University of Kent in  both venues it generated lively discussion of amongst other things:

  • Is the National Lottery a stealth tax?
  • Do “Players” understand the real odds of winning? These appear to be exaggerated on the reverse side of the cards which state:


  • Should the poorest people in the UK be subsidising the leisure activities of the richest through the National Heritage Fund?
  • Is it ethical for the State to draw people into a potentially addictive and expensive activity?

Looselot also featured this year at the Edinburgh Festival in a show called the Castle Builders.

I am now in the process of developing other pieces made from discarded scratchcards, including models of luxury items which people crave, like sports cars, speed boats and trips to Disneyland.




[1] Gambling Commission Report 2010 and 2014

•June 9, 2016 • Leave a Comment





Chaos Casino: Sofia Science Festival 2016

•May 10, 2016 • 1 Comment

Its always great to perform at this Festival. I increase the average age of the contributors substantially just by taking part. Many of them entered science communication through Famelab, a talent contest that challenges scientists to take some aspect of science to a public audience in under three minutes which I played a part in launching back in 2005.

The programme note about my show at the Festival this year  is here

Blasts from the Past

•January 20, 2016 • Leave a Comment

Had a reason to trawl back through my Archives and came across some articles written before the www took hold and published in The Biochemist which I edited from 1992 to 2001.

I thought some of them might make you smile in the most depressing season of the year.

The first “Impressions of a Meeting”was published in 1992 and featured some brilliant cartoons by Daniel Postgate  [Bagpuss’ father’s son] that poked a little fun at some of the characters I had encountered at Conferences. I would be very interested to know if they are all alive and well, and also whether any new characters have joined the menagerie


American Showman 2

The American Showman



Dress cool and casual. Research group credits took two slides to complete. Talked with studied ease, whilst drinking mineral water from a bottle. Science awesome costing somewhere in the range of the Gross National Products of the countries of several of participants. Communicated a strong sense of being part of a small international band of experts who spend high percents of their time in each other’s  company starring at exotic locations around the world. Trailed parts of the talks that  members of this in-crowd would give with asides like “David has some great new data on this

Everything he talked about was either in press or being prepared for submission to THE journal; tended to be coy about these pieces of  information. Presentation was a full performance often including a few joke slides or puns.

Strategy for answering questions was to label any question however crass as very interesting and then refer to a string of papers published in the last few days that showed conclusively that their interrogator was a complete clown



The Colonel

The Air Commodore




Dress: lounge suit. Manner: that of headmaster addressing morning assembly. Often worked in a clinical area. Presentational style adapted from that used to brief bomber pilots during the War. Always referred to colleagues by their correct titles and tended to convey the impression that he was not in the least surprised that his data failed to agree with that of his overseas colleagues. Treated with great deference by the Chair, answered questions crisply, and from a great height.



The Insomniacs dream

The Insomniacs Dream


Dress : Tidy. Manner: deferential. Read in a monologue from a script. Tendency to mutter “Next slide please”, even though they were holding the remote control. Avoided eye contact with the audience at all costs. Paused from time to time to wave the laser pointer at slides that would have taken Einstein a quarter of an hour to understand whilst mumbling things like”as is obvious from the seven columns on the extreme right” Audience too dazed and baffled to ask questions.


New Age Plant Expert 2

New Age Plant Expert



Dress: Ideal for Hiking. Beard of nature reserve proportions. Eyes of great intensity. Worked in a well equipped shed. Audio-visuals various including unexpected single words on the blackboard and wordy slides interspersed with multi-coloured, animation packed moments when he reached the bit that had attracted commercial sponsors. Tended to respond to questions after a long pause, often answered an entirely different one.

Dr Jargon

Dr Jargon


Dress: Jeans and button down shirt. Manner, someone who was a good deal older than they looked. Subject invariably Molecular Biology. Presentation appeared to consist of a random recitation of acronyms laced with the odd pronoun and a very rare verb which had been a noun in an earlier and less confusing incarnation. Some phrases seemed to have been deliberately invented because they combined a pun with a particularly bizarre image. The award winner talked casually about “Walking off the end of a YAC” Questions tended to be even less comprehensible since they came from the only other person on the planet who knew what the talk had been about.







Back to the classroom

•November 23, 2014 • Leave a Comment

Once upon a time I dreamt of teaching in Italian. It has never quite happened although stumbling conversations with long pauses while I try to engage  my neuro-language gear are possible

Fortunately, I can work with young kids in the guise of them teaching me Italian whilst I brush up their English. Italian primary schools have next to no science in the curriculum so you get a big welcome if you can fill in a little of that gap.

For more got to


Jelly Brains in Bulgaria

•May 25, 2014 • Leave a Comment

Recently featured in the Sofia Science Festival with Meet your Brain an event I developed for the Arts Festival of my home town Canterbury. The venue was a 300 capacity tent in one of central Sofia’s very beautiful parks and the show stoppers were jelly brains.

The next morning I took one of the brains, the lemon and yoghurt flavoured one, along to a chat show on Bulgarian TV’s Channel 1 and used it to take the viewers on a guided tour of the brain, and persuaded the host to amongst other things eat the Cerebellum.

To see the clip go to : http://bnt.bg/part-of-show/frank-ba-rnet-razkriva-tajnite-na-moza-ka

One of my weirder TV appearances. Right up there with winning the Loudest Voice in Britain competition on the BBC thirty years ago.

Science Communication Conference 2013

•May 7, 2013 • 2 Comments

Working with Arts Festivals

Arts festivals are targeted principally at adults, expect punters to pay for tickets and take place in public venues. They are constantly on the lookout for new lines of programming that will broaden their audience and attract funding.

They are also one of the primordial forms from which science festivals like Gothenburg and Cheltenham evolved.

It seemed like the right time, in an era when there is intense pressure to maximise the dissemination of research, to put together a session about how science might more often find a place in the programmes of arts festivals. In fact, it seems odd that the conversation has not been more animated to this point given over a decade’s investment in the creation of a large body of work at the science: art boundary of which I guess only a small fraction has gone on to feature in the programmes of arts festivals [Cue plea for research on the subject].

So what will there be to talk about?

What models might be appropriate? What about an equivalent of Einstein’s Garden, a satellite science festival that co-exists with and draws inspiration from the Green Man Festival? Or a science strand woven into the programme like Canterbury’s?  Or the staging of installations, demonstrations and experiments at arts events and music festivals like Guerilla Science. Or science performers, like Andrea Sella, working with artists to create intense experiences for new audiences?

What types of Arts Festival might make the best platforms?

Maybe ones with a broad programming base who already, for example, feature authors of science books? Or ones positioned close to a science hot spot which has no local science festival? Or ones that are themselves based in the birthplace or workplace of a famous scientist? Or ones that have gaps in their audience profile that need filling? Or ones that have sponsorship candidates who might be wooed by a science scented proposition?

And that’s before discussion of exactly what forms might these science additions take?

Need they be specifically positioned at the science: art boundary in a form like performance? Or might they simply be an opportunity to broaden the audience for more traditional science events like presentations and debates. Or should the aim be to innovate by  drawing inspiration from a particular Festival’s ethos and audience.

That is just a taste of what might arise at a session designed for discussion which is why each speaker is getting a measly 6 minutes to make their points leaving 45 minutes for the audience to get involved and also why the session will use a “fishbowl” room layout with the audience arranged in a circle around the speakers.

FameLab Italia

•April 14, 2013 • 1 Comment

Just spent a fantastic two days contributing to the Masterclass stage of FameLab Italia. Hard to believe that it will soon be ten years since the first FameLab competition and that it continues to create a platform for what has turned out to be and extraordinary number of gifted young scientist communicators worldwide. Can’t wait for the Italian Final in Perugia on May 3rd

Unforgettables 2012

•January 2, 2013 • 2 Comments

For the second consecutive year,  charcoal-grilling part of my wife’s pet hedge at our mid-summer barbecue party, which turned out to be an epic scorched meat and succulent salad fest that will be long remembered by all who had to listen to it across the valley.

My  young grandson Ethan’s absolute obsession with vacuum cleaners, and waking to the sound of a haunting cry of Hooverrr, Hooooverrr spoken in the same tone as a Jane Austen heroine pining for a lost love

Returning to the Cheltenham Science Festival after three years to find it in rude health and double the size and to meet Barry Marshall the man who won the Nobel Prize for proving that Helicobacter cause peptic ulcers and who did it by, amongst other things, serving himself a stiff helicobacter-packed cocktail and waiting to see what happened.

Spending three days in Puglia seriously sampling at 10 in the morning wines that were candidates to feature at my daughter Maija’s wedding.  Dave, her fiancé, joined me in some epicurean, charcoal-centred activity that ensured the non-wine drinking wedding guests had their needs considered with equal selflessness