Successful Soapbox Science event teaches beachgoers a little more about themselves

Around 2,000 beachgoers were in attendance at Soapbox Science on Brighton and Hove seafront

Around 2,000 beachgoers learned a little more about themselves as university academics took to their soapboxes on Brighton and Hove seafront this weekend.

A dozen female scientists donned their white coats to deliver inspiring talks on their areas of research expertise for the second ever Soapbox Science event in Brighton on Saturday.

Academics from the University of Sussex - alongside counterparts from six other institutions including the University of Brighton and Brighton and Sussex Medical School (BSMS) - explained to crowds gathered under the shadow of the i360 how they were all made of star dust and how their bodies regenerated themselves.

During the three-hour event, passers-by also learnt how to build their own particle accelerator, how fruit flies can benefit dementia patients and how maths could help curb one of the world’s deadliest killers.

Dr Oyinkan Adesakin, lecturer in Pharmacology at the University of Sussex, said: “I had really lovely interactions and had brilliant questions. I think my favourite was when a young girl, probably in her early teens, asked how far off we were from finding a cure for Alzheimer’s Disease; it was a great moment seeing her interested and engaged. This is one of the reasons why I took part in Soapbox Science, to hopefully inspire future female scientists.”

Raysa Khan, research fellow in Chemistry at the University of Sussex, said: “The science we do is an incredible force for doing great things. I believe it is fundamentally important to communicate our work to the general public and convince them that our work truly matters.

"Given the underrepresentation of women in the STEMM, I believe initiatives such as this can certainly be a very effective tool for showcasing our work to the general public and raise a communal awareness of the great things being done by powerful women.

"I personally found the experience immensely satisfying. I was pleased to receive multiple follow-up emails about my talk, asking questions about my work with cancer research.”

Soapbox Science launched in London in 2011 and is inspired by the concept of Speaker’s Corner in Hyde Park. It aims to celebrate women in STEMM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Maths, Medicine), break down barriers and challenge the image of a stereotypical STEMM researcher.

In its first seven years, it has spread to more than a dozen UK towns and cities and even reached halfway round the world to Australia.

Dr Elizabeth Rendon-Morales, lecturer in Electrical and Electronic Engineering, said: “It was a really inspiring day for me. The adults in the audience really liked it when I demonstrated the robotic arm as we simulated surgery on a baby, while the children liked the humanoid NAO robot and all wanted their photo taken with it.

"I really enjoyed seeing the children’s faces and also hearing their many questions. I was amazed when a six-year-old girl answered what she thinks robots are designed for and how they can help humans.”

The University of Sussex helped bring Soapbox Science to Brighton for the first time last July.

This year’s event also featured academics from the University of Southampton, King’s College London, Brighton and Sussex Medical School, the University College London, the University of Brighton and Royal Holloway, University of London.

Dr Tara Salter, research fellow in Chemistry at the University of Sussex, said: “It was a fun event to take part in and there was a great lively atmosphere at the whole event, with some people staying for the whole three hours.

"I started out asking my audience what they knew about space and leading on from there, which eventually turned into discussing the possibilities of alien life. They were really interested in how I recreate deep space in the lab.”

Dr Katy Petherick, public engagement coordinator at the University of Sussex and one of the Soapbox Science Brighton organisers, said: “We had a brilliant time on Brighton seafront and a really diverse audience of parents, children, dog walkers and even a hen do wearing flower crowns, who really got stuck into the activities and asked lots of challenging questions for our speakers.

" We had a much increased turnout from our first year, thanks in part because of some lovely sunshine, and we will certainly want to come back again next year to hopefully even bigger crowds."

By: Neil Vowles
Last updated: Tuesday, 3 July 2018