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Wikipedia Editing Day #msf13

29 Oct

Wikipedia-logoWhen I think of Wikipedia I think of my go to place for information. Sure, if I want in depth data on cell biology matters I’ll go to a journal, but if I want to know what years Elizabeth I reigned or who Vanilla Ice is, I go to Wikipedia.

What I don’t ever think about doing is editing Wikipedia. Why would I? Wikipedia is just a place I go to find stuff out.  But on Friday I got chatting to one of the organisers of the Manchester Girl Geeks Wikipedia editing day, which was part of the Manchester Science Festival. As we chatted I realised there were loads of pages on Wikipedia relating to aspects of my PhD that were sadly lacking. It suddenly occurred to me that if they needed changing I should do it myself, instead of waiting for someone else to come along and do it for me. So, I paid the bargainous  £3 and rocked up to Mad Lab to learn all about how to edit Wikipedia. Here’s what I learned:

  1. BE BOLD – one of the main reasons I never thought to edit Wikipedia is because I don’t feel qualified to. I’m not sure why this is – I can fact check as well as the next person and  there are areas that I am, dare I say it, an expert in (mainly pugs in clothes..but still). Despite this I was still I worried I might write something that wasn’t good enough.  It turns out, that’s not worth worrying about because if that does happen, someone will correct it, which brings  us back to the Wikipedia mantra: be bold. Add to the knowledge, if it needs refining someone will do that, leading us perfectly onto the next point…
  2. Wikipedia is a collaboration – I’m used to academia, where nearly everything you write is read, criticised, reread, re-criticised and ultimately improved. Adding info onto everyone’s favourite encyclopaedia seems very final. But it’s not. Wikipedia is a collaboration and actually incorporates the same reviewing tactics of academia but on a much wider scale. Anyone can contribute, edit and add to an article. All you need to do is share knowledge and it will be reviewed by others. You don’t own the article you have written, people will change it. It’s very egalitarian and a very good thing.
  3. Editing Wikipedia is really easy – there is mark up for Wikipedia but it’s extremely simple and makes HTML look like the enigma code. There are loads of features in the editing interface that makes things easy too.  I found the referencing tool really useful.
  4. Not many women edit Wikipedia – I think it was around 10%. This gives Wikipedia a slight gender bias in its tone. This isn’t because all the men got together and thought ‘Let’s all be dead misogynistic in a bid to insidiously undermine women by being in-perceivably macho in our writing style.’ I mean… I presume that didn’t happen, but if you’re a man and that memo did go round do let me know. What it does mean is that over the billions of contributions that make up Wikipedia, around 90% are written by men, so there could be a very slight gender bias, especially in areas relating to men or women specifically. For instance very few female scientists or technologist throughout history have decent pages. So there are two options: either 89% of the male Wikipedia editors stop editing to balance it out or women take to the keyboards and start contributing. I wonder which makes more sense….
  5. There can be beef* on Wikipedia – sometimes people on Wikipedia disagree about stuff. This can lead to editing wars. The constant changing of an article is a really bad thing and compromises the integrity of the encyclopaedia as a whole. To get round this every entry has a ‘Talk’ page, where editors can discuss issues surrounding the article and come to a mutually agreeable edit.  So that’s nice.
  6. You need to be impartial on Wikipedia – it’s not really a place for personal opinions. I guess this is pretty obvious, but I didn’t really think about referencing before. If you create a page, or edit a page, you have to make sure what you write is neutral but also try to incorporate references that are neutral. I created a page for the Manchester Science Festival (which will hopefully be added to) and I realised (i.e. someone explained to me) I couldn’t just use the MSF website for references as it’s not neutral. Instead I used press coverage of previous festivals and websites that weren’t linked to the festival in any way. The one caveat to the ‘no opinions’ rule is that you can state the opinions of others on a matter if it’s referenced to a reliable source.
  7. You need to use common sense when referencing – it’s pretty straight forward if you’re referencing an article about something academic, just use a peer reviewed paper or review. If however, you’re going to write about something that might involve referencing websites and blogs as a source, you need to use your common sense. It’s probably OK to reference the BBC or a blog from a distinguished expert in a given field, but probably not the best idea to reference the gossip column from a red top or some nutter’s personal blog who thinks there’s an overlord race of reptilians controlling us.  So, like I say – it’s just common sense.

Overall I would say the take home message is just get stuck in. Most of us rely on Wikipedia for knowledge, but how many people think about contributing? Why shouldn’t it be you that helps out and contributes? Be bold!

Also there was cake.

Best quote of the day: 'Unlike Wikipedia editing, cutting the cake cannot be undone'

Best quote of the day: ‘Unlike Wikipedia editing, cutting the cake cannot be undone’

*Arguments not meat.


Chroma: Art Meets Science

28 Oct

This weekend was the first of the Science Festival and it didn’t disappoint.  I performed in Science Showoff at MOSI on Friday night, which was an awesome night with a huge turnout. It was really fun, the Science Showoff people were ace and I thought all the other performers were amazing. If you’re ever in a town where there’s a showoff happening I would highly recommend attending or getting involved. On Saturday I went to see science meets art lecture, Chroma, which was a nice way to spend a Saturday afternoon and on Sunday I attended the Manchester Girl Geek Wikipedia editing day. I learned a lot in the latter, so much so I’m going to put it in a separate post (coming soon).

Chroma, the arts meets science lecture was a brilliant show. It explored some of the themes in the late Derek Jarman’s book, which he wrote as a homage to colour. The tragic twist in this narrative is that Derek wrote the book as he was going blind due to AIDs related complications. Jenna Ashton discussed the book and talked about the evocative and emotive effects of colour as well as their intrinsic meaning to us. She took us through black into white via each colour in the spectrum.

2013_10_27_22_32_17 (1)Dr. Frank Mair explained the science of colour, from the light spectrum to the production of pigment. For each colour Jenna discussed, Frank had a very cool flash bang-esque demonstration to show how we perceive colour. This was aided by a machine that split the different wavelengths of light like a prism. The resulting different colours were captured using a webcam and fed into a computer with some specialised software that showed the light spectrum being captured. Frank explained that our eyes can detect light with certain wavelengths and when all these wavelengths reach our eyes together they appear white. WP_001652

Different molecules absorb certain wavelengths and reflect others. For instance, chlorophyll is the molecule in plants that is responsible for photosynthesis. It harnesses the energy from most light wavelengths during photosynthesis, but not green light. The wavelengths of green light are therefore reflected and leaves look green to us. The demonstrations for each colour really were something else, here’s an example (please excuse my poor camera skills):

I really liked it when Frank discussed the use of white pigment to depict light in some of his favourite paintings and would have liked to have heard more about that. The show has definitely made me want to read Derek’s book and I feel like I have a better understanding of 2013_10_27_22_34_57the science of colour and light now. This is the second time (possibly even third….I’m not sure!) this show has been run so if it is put on again next year I would definitely recommend going along. Whether art, science or both are of interest to you, I think you’ll enjoy the show. Just be prepared to jump out of your seat when the flash and bangs come into play.

For a sneak peak behind the scenes check out MelancholyScientist‘s post here.

Manchester Science Festival 2013 Launch #msf13

24 Oct

Normally I use this blog to share outreach activities but for the next 10 days I’m going to write about the amazing things going on during the Manchester Science Festival.

Photo by @McrSciFest

A rather lovely binary bracelet.
Photo by @McrSciFest

Last night was the launch of the festival and I went along to help out on a Manchester Girl Geek activity and also donned a rather snazzy badge saying ‘I’m a scientist, chat to me!’

There were a lot of people at the launch and it was a great atmosphere. The Manchester Girl Geek activity was really fun and involved writing a message, converting it to binary and then making a bracelet using beads with either two colours or ‘0’s and ‘1’s. A lot of people left the event sporting new, very stylish, bracelets.

The speeches at the event were great and I particularly enjoyed the speech from the festival partner, Siemens, who stressed the importance of encouraging young people to think about STEM careers and apprenticeships.

A few of us enjoying the event. Photo by @lisamarieke

A few of us enjoying the event.
Photo by @lisamarieke

The highlight of the evening for me was the preview of ‘The Ood Cast: The complete works of Dr. Who’. The actual event is sold out so I was really lucky to get to see it. The show was really good and all the cast were hilarious. Laura was particularly fab – she had an amazing singing voice, was really funny AND did a bongo solo. What more do you want?

I’ll be posting more about the festival over the next week, so let me know about things you’re involved with or really enjoyed in the comments below or tweet me (@bio_fluff) and I’ll give them a mention in my posts. I’m particularly excited about tomorrow, as Science ShowOff is taking place in MOSI. It’s £5 on the door (which goes to charity) and should be an ace night. I’ll be talking about the science of a hangover and you can see the full fabulous line up here. Come along, it should be a great night!

The brilliant Ood Cast Photo by @McrSciFest

The brilliant Ood Cast
Photo by @McrSciFest

Going for a mosey around MOSI

15 Mar

Lab coat on, pipette in hand and food colouring at the ready – last Saturday I was sporting a giant badge saying ‘I’m a scientist, talk to me!’ and ready to speak to the good people of Manchester about what it’s like to be a Cell Biologist. The event I was taking part in was run by fabulous Science Grrl in collaboration with Manchester Girl Geeks and it involved several female scientists descending on MOSI to chat to the visitors about what they do for a living. The rather awesome group included archaeologists, chemists, biologists, palaeontologists, geophysicists, material scientists, mathematicians and physicists. I think we definitely showed the scope and variety within science!

The lovely Science Grrls Image from @lisamarieke

The lovely Science Grrls
Image from @lisamarieke

Pikachu! gets the pointy end of a needle in the name of science.

Pikachu! gets the pointy end of a needle in the name of science.

I kicked off the day by helping out in a Manchester Girl Geek workshop called soft electronics. I‘d never come across this before but it turns out you can buy conductive tread that allows you to sew circuits into material. There was some ace customisation going on in the workshop including indicators sewn onto cycling gear, T-shirt designs and some ScienceGrrl/Manchester Science Festival bag personalisation. Katie Stecks (@Stecks) provided some adorable stuff toys to act as pin cushions but pointed out we shouldn’t feel too bad about sticking needles in them. She revealed photographic evidence showing several had been caught up to no good, including tax evasion and using the last of her ketchup. Shocking behaviour. I still felt bad for Pikachu though.

My trusty pipette!

My trusty pipette!

Next up I did some rounds walking through MOSI. Whilst trying not to get distracted by the exhibits and activities I got chatting to a lot of people of all ages. All the Science Grrls had brought along pieces of gear from their research and I brought my trusty micro-pipette.  Six to 60 years olds – everyone seemed quite keen to have a go pipetting my blue and yellow food colouring. I got smaller children to guess what colour blue and yellow would make if we mixed them together by pipetting. With older children and adults we compared 20μl to 5μl, which showed how accurate the micropipettes are.

After wondering into the main hall it was time to do a stint on the science soap box, telling passers by what my research is all about. I must admit I was a little nervous – I don’t mind public speaking but getting up on a soap box and just starting to talk seemed a quite daunting. With some encouragement from the other Science Grrls I got up and did my bit. I’m so glad I did – people sitting near genuinely seem interested!

With a few more laps round the museum the day was drawing to a close. By the time MOSI was about to shut I had to be nearly dragged from a conversation with two teenage girls. They were thinking of doing triple science at GCSE. They weren’t sure because they didn’t know if they were good enough at physics and they’d been moved down to set 2. I told them about my experiences at school studying triple science (generally good!) and  how I know people who were in set 3 for science at school and went on to study Biology at The University of Manchester. Hopefully the girls will make the decision that is best for them but it was a great way to end the day, especially as organisations like Science Grrl and Manchester Girl Geeks are all about building young girls confidence in their ability to do science. To be part of day where we could go out and show people that science is for everyone was a fantastic experience.

Images from Science Grrl and Manchester Girl Geek websites (see below)

Images from Science Grrl and Manchester Girl Geek websites (see below)

Check out the sites for Manchester Girl Geeks and Science Grrl and or follow them on twitter/facebook:

Science Grrl

Twiter: @Science_Grrl


Manchester Girl Geeks

Twitter: @mcrgirlgeeks


x-change podcast

29 Aug

Next week is the British Science Festival in Aberdeen. I’m really excited to be going as there’s some absolutely awesome stuff going on. Hopefully you’ll be able to come along to one of the many events taking place. If however Aberdeen is a bit too far afield to visit, you should check out all the highlights on the British Science Association x-change podcast and blog.

There’s a daily podcast (Tuesday-Saturday) will be a recording of the live show, presented by Richard Hollingham and held in the Spiegeltent  (swing by if you’re around!). It rounds up the most exciting, interesting and intriguing things happening at the festival. There’s also the x-tra podcast, which will include some really exciting guests from the festival and there’ll be loads of updates on the blog from me and the rest of the fab x-change team.

You can listen to the podcast and read the blog on the podbean site ( or follow us on twitter (#thexchange and tweets from @TheSiSTeam).

FLS Open Day

26 Jun

This Saturday 30th there is going to be a Community Open Day in the University of Manchester Michael Smith Building.  This happens to be the building where I spend most of my waking life attempting to get my experiments to work and my cells that grow in dishes  to behave (they rarely do). On Saturday, the atmosphere is going to be very different in here though*, as the Faculty of Life Sciences is opening the doors to the lab and inviting everyone to come in and have a look around. If you’re interested in science, what scientists get up to or just fancy a day out doing something different – come on down, the price is right (it’s totally FREE)!
Along side a chance to look round the labs and get a feel for the cutting edge research that is done here at The University of Manchester, there will be loads of fun activities including:

  •    Painting with maggots
  •    Making edible cells out of cookies
  •    Meeting live amphibians
  •    Learning how leeches are used in medicine
  •    Finding out how the heart works

There’ll also be a tent for the lit’uns with creepy crawly crafts and face painting. The Michael Smith Building is number 71 on this map, or you can follow the footprints on the pavement from the Manchester Museum.

Hope to see you there…

*more fun

National Science and Engineering Week – Invasion! Workshop

13 Mar

Captain Science Reporting for duty: Leading the White Blood Cells is a tough job but someone's got to do it. Photo by @Mark_K_Quinn

National Science and Engineering Week is in full swing and the Manchester Science Fair kicked off today. Nick Johnson (Follow him on twitter: @Nick_A_Johnson) and I have designed a workshop called Invasion! The main portion of the workshop revolves around a quiz game in which the group is split up into 4 teams; B-Cells, T-Cells, E.Coli and Flu Virus. A member of each team is nominated to play on a giant game board set out in the middle of the room. The aim is for the other members of the team to answer quiz questions by buzzing in. If they answer questions correctly the team earns points which allows their player to move around the board. The white blood cells (B and T-cells) are dressed up as soldiers in the game – defending the body. The pathogens wear brightly coloured wigs, obviously because if E.coli was 5 foot tall it would definitely have a green curly hair.

The E.coli outfit: This is an actual microscope image of an E.coli

The players move around the ‘blood stream’  whenever their team gets a question right. The E.coli, which start at the mouth are aiming to get to the gut to infect it. The Flu start at the nose and are aiming to infect the lungs.  The aim of the B-cells is to intercept the invaders with antibodies and the T-cells aim to kill them outright.  The full rules are in the power point (pdf) which you can download here or on the resources page. Based on the first two workshops Nick ran this morning the game works really well with the white blood cells ganging up together to drive the invaders back to the mouth/nose. We used laminated red paper and posters to make the game board, if you want to print some out yourself they can be downloaded from the resources page.

We use an icebreaker of Antigen vs. Antibody, which is basically rock paper scissors – if the White blood cell wins that represents an antibody recognising an antigen, if the pathogen wins that represents the pathogen evading the host defences. It’s just a quick game to get them up and moving – again, there’s a better description in the power point.

We finish the session with a ‘Modify my Microbe‘ exercise that Nick designed. It was a great way to finish of the session and involves the students customising a microbe of their choice – picking antigens, genomes and specialisations like flagella.

I’m really looking forward to the next couple of days delivering more of the sessions and having a go at playing Captain Science!