Written by Suze Kundu

In The News

Ringing the changes

In British Science Week, Suze Kundu celebrates the theme of change and wonders how the science community will deal with what’s ahead.

glass flask and gas igniting
A couple of years ago, I wrote about why dedicated celebrations showcasing STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) are important. From free activities to events, and from the annual Demo Day to the poster competition open to all ages, there really is something in British Science Week for everyone to get involved with.

This year, I wanted to embrace the given theme for the poster competition, ‘Change’, and contemplate the UK science scene in this time of political uncertainty. They say that a change is as good as a rest, but science isn’t exactly known for its easy-going hours or laid-back attitude to discovery.

It is joyously relentless, it never sleeps, and it certainly doesn’t need a rest – even if perhaps those working in it do. Saying that, most scientists and engineers feel that change can be good – it shakes things up, ushers in a new way of thinking about a problem, or a novel methodological application of a solution.

We find ourselves facing the inevitability of Brexit, whatever that will eventually actually mean.

The Government’s decision to act upon the result of the EU referendum that took place in June 2016 was near-unanimously met with disappointment from the scientific community and other non-STEM faculties. The majority believe that belonging to a larger community is only ever going to be beneficial to the academic community, with more funding available and a much wider talent pool of people to choose to work with.

Universities are unsure how they will make up the deficit from the reduction in funds that they can apply for. Researchers are unsure of whether they will be able to stay in a different country if they are UK-born and working elsewhere, or EU-born and working in the UK. Students ponder an uncertain future of studying in the UK if they are from another EU country, when before the Brexit referendum result both UK and EU students were warmly welcomed through classification as ‘Home’ students.

“Science is joyously relentless, it never sleeps, and it certainly doesn’t need a rest – even if perhaps those working in it do.”

Change is not only happening on this side of the pond, with the US government taking swipes at vaccinations, climate change and science funding in general, even threatening to remove funding from one high profile university because of their handling of a student protest against the visit of a very damaging character.

It is easy for people to say that science isn’t for them, and therefore take no active part in defending it. However science and engineering underpin so many facets of our lives and our economy, from the pharmaceuticals that keep us working to the food and fuel that keep us moving, to the development of infrastructure that keeps us in the game of global trade with other countries.

And this is why I feel that we will always need events like British Science Week. Despite a history of being able to communicate science and cement its place alongside the arts in popular culture, STEM professionals have in recent decades kept their work to themselves. The public perception of science started being one of an unknown subject area, carried out by stereotypical visions of eccentric geniuses that perhaps people could not relate to.

Thankfully STEM professionals now provide many opportunities to engage with the public who are effectively funding their work through their taxes, and the creation of dialogue and discussion between the public and people working in STEM is encouraged and valued. The problem is in reaching pockets of the public that are so disengaged from science that these engagement opportunities simply do not register on their radar. And this is where British Science Week helps.

#BSW17 is permeating every key stage of every school across the UK. It is taking everyone on the citizen science journey through its amazing Penguin Watch project. It is providing parents with free and easy to use resources to encourage active learning through experiments that can be tried at home. And it does all of this through fun activities, with an important focus on engagement with STEM, because it has been a big part of everyone’s future, and because we need everyone to get involved in shaping its future, now more than ever.

www.britishscienceweek.org

@FunSizeSuze

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Written by Suze Kundu

Suze is a nanochemist, both literally and professionally, and a Teaching Fellow in the Department of Materials. Suze is also a science presenter, and loves dancing, live gigs, Muse and shoes. @FunSizeSuze