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Volunteer positions open: Apply now!

There are currently two roles open at the BSA London Branch. We are looking for a Diversity Officer and a Partnership Operator.

Please find the duties of these roles below or visit our page.


Diversity Officer:

The BSA London Branch values a lot diversity and inclusivity. We would like to expand our horizons and develop on a regular basis Diversity Events. These events will be aimed to support, inspire and encourage minorities to get involved with Science as well as educating the general public about Scientific, Technological and Medical innovations.

The Diversity Officer will sit on our General Committee with the following duties:

  • Organise every 2 months a diversity event, aimed to promote (but not restricted to) Women, LGBTQ+, Ethnic Minorities, Differently Abled people.
  • Ensure that the groups above are regularly promoted on our online platforms (social medias and website)
  • Publish a monthly diversity article on our website.

If you are interested in this role, please email secretary@science-london.com with a short (200-300 word) description of why you would like to get involved as well as any experience that you have.


Partnership Operator:

We are looking to further expand our partnership team, hence for highly motivated and enthusiastic communicators. Partnership operators will be under the responsibility of our partnership officers. The role entails the following:

  • Contact potential partners and follow up with them.
  • Reviewing our sponsorship packages.
  • Liaise with the Partnership Officers.

This is an excellent entry level position to get you involved in volunteering with the London Branch. If you are interested in this role, please email secretary@science-london.com with a short (200-300 word) description of why you would like to get involved as well as any experience that you have.

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Let the Bacteria games begin…

Science London at the Lambeth Country Show

We couldn’t have asked for a nicer summer’s weekend for the debut Science London event at the Lambeth Country Show 2018! As the biggest free family festival in the UK there was plenty on offer to entertain people of all ages. We were very excited to be invited to pitch up a stall in the Discovery Tent, the festival’s science zone.

Our mission as usual was to spark an interest in science, with the theme for the weekend as “Bacteria: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly”. Armed with games and props (kindly donated by bacteriologists from Imperial College London) we enthusiastically delivered a well-rounded and informative experience for all the families and young people who visited us.

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Our amazing volunteers

When you hear the word bacteria, it’s natural that negative connotations spring to mind. Disease, dirty and deadly – these are just some of the words connected to them. With its bad reputation fuelled by the flurry of medical media reports, it’s not a surprise that we assume all bacteria are bad.  That’s why we wanted to change this perception, and emphasis how fascinating the bacterial world can be.

With the total count of bacteria on Earth at approximately 5 x 1030 (1), forming a biomass exceeding that of all plants and animals, there are millions of types of bacteria – and they can’t all be bad! From the cyanobacteria that provided earth with oxygen (and subsequently gave rise to complex life) (2), to the probiotic supplements we take for a healthy digestive tract, there are many weird and wonderful bacteria that have beneficial applications to us humans.

The Good

With a potential energy crisis looming in the near future, a hot topic of research at the moment is a means of producing clean renewable energy. Research has even been implying that some types of bacteria could potentially offer a solution! For our stall, we featured Shewanella oneidensis, a type of bacteria that can process metals like iron and manganese, and use it to create electrical currents across its membrane (3). It can still do this even under oxygen starved conditions. Because of this ability scientists are hoping that this could be applied and used on a larger scale, to make bacteria powered batteries – bio batteries!

We demonstrated this bacteria’s ability to generate electricity using a simple prop called a mudwatt. This was a pot of soil that contained Shewanella, moistened with water and nutrients. The electricity current produced by the bacteria was then harnessed via wires in the soil, to power an LED light attached to the top of the pot. The mudwatt we used had soil that was 9 months old, and it was still producing light.

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Mudwatt containing Shewanella

The Bad

A huge future bacterial concern is antibiotic resistance and increased use of antibiotics. Concern regarding this has grown substantially in recent years, with outbreaks of resistant strains of bacteria causing major problems in hospitals, especially for immunocompromised patients. A well-known example is MRSA, a strain of bacteria that is resistant to the penicillin group of antibiotics (4). We demonstrated this with our bacterial take on a common funfair game – throwing lots of antibiotics (velcro balls) to try and hit our board of bacteria, antibiotic resistant bacteria, viruses and bacteriophages. The goal was to visually convey that antibiotics only target bacteria (only these were covered in velcro), and that antibiotic resistance can occur with incorrect usage.

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Our board of bacteria

And The Ugly

There’s always time for a Snakes and Ladders game – especially with a twist! Interspersed with good and bad bacteria facts, families met some interesting characters as they played the game. The goal was to show that we encounter good and bad bacteria all the time. We wanted people to learn about the bacteria we should avoid, and the bacteria that have and continue to enhance our lives.

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Snakes and Ladders game

We at Science London thoroughly enjoyed our slot at the Lambeth Country Show and we hope everyone learnt a thing or two about bacteria! Make sure you keep up to date with what’s going on with Science London – follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram to find out about upcoming activities and events. We hope to see you next time!

  1. https://sciencing.com/how-many-bacteria-live-earth-4674401.html
  2. https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/origin-of-oxygen-in-atmosphere/
  3. https://www.livescience.com/28163-bio-batteries-one-step-closer.html
  4. http://mrsaactionuk.net/symptoms.html

 

Written by Anna Hoang

Photography by Charlotte Guyver

Top Science News

Getting closer to the Sun

NASA have successfully launched its mission to ‘touch the Sun’. The Parker Solar Probe, named after astrophysicist Eugene Parker who first described solar wind in 1958, aims to get closer to the Sun than any satellite has before. The probe will get as close as  6.12 million km to the sun, significantly nearer than the 43 million km Helios-2 reached in 1976. This distance allows the Parker Probe to dip into the corona, or outer atmosphere, of the Sun. To protect the instrument from the extreme temperatures – the corona is more than 300 times hotter than the Sun’s surface – a 11.5 cm thick carbon-composite barrier will shield the spacecraft, only exposing a small area of solar cells to power the probe.

The mission hopes to collect data on solar wind, which consists of a flow of charged particles. This causes the aurora polaris (in the northern hemisphere known as the aurora bolearis) that we can see on Earth, but also can affect the Earth’s magnetic field which can result in power surges and loss of communications as satellites are disrupted. Information collected by Parker could help to forecast solar storms.

After four weeks of instrument testing beginning in early September, the probe can begin scientific operations, and NASA hopes to resolve some of the mysteries of the Sun throughout the seven years of its mission.

sun 

A new insight into blue light

A recent study has investigated the impact of blue light from digital devices on the retina. Researchers from the University of Toledo (US) published in Scientific Reports, revealing that continued exposure to blue light triggers the generation of toxic molecules.

phone

Macular degeneration is caused by the death of photoreceptor cells in the retina. It is an incurable disease that typically starts around at the age of 50 or 60, and is the leading cause of blindness in the US and UK.

The eye’s cornea and lens cannot block blue light, and exposure causes retinal cells to initiate a reaction which generates toxic molecules leading to damage in the photoreceptor cell from which they are unable to regenerate. This effect was not seen when using green, yellow or red light. Blue light has a shorter wavelength and is of higher energy than other colours of light.

To minimise this effect, the researchers advised to wear sunglasses which filter UV and blue light, and to avoid using digital devices in the dark. They hope that by learning more about the pathways that lead to macular degeneration people’s vision can be protected in the future.

Pesticide Bans

The US government has been ordered to ban the organophosphate pesticide chlorpyrifos within 60 days. On the 9th of August a federal appeals court in the US ruled that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) must finalise a ban which was proposed under Obama but denied by Scott Pruitt under Trump. Pruitt was the formed EPA administrator, who resigned in July amid ethics scandals, and has denied a petition by environmental groups to ban the insecticide.

Chlorpyrifos was banned in the UK in 2016, and most home uses were banned in the US in 2001. However, evidence of neurodevelopmental damage in children due to residues of the insecticide on food warranted the recent further action by the court. The leading manufacturer of chlorpyrifos has stated their intention to challenge the ruling.

This news comes on the back of a ruling against the agrochemical giant Monsanto. Monsanto was ordered to pay $289 million in damages after a Californian jury found them liable in a lawsuit filed by Dewayne Johnson, a former school groundskeeper who alleged their glyphosate weed killers, including RoundUp, caused his cancer. Glyphosate is the world’s most widely used herbicide, and while Monsanto state that glyphosate does not cause cancer, the World Health Organisation classified it as a probable carcinogen in 2015.

tractor

 

Written by Izzy Tibbetts

Top Science News

Opt-out organ donation in the UK by 2020

This autumn parliament is going to vote whether an opt-out organ donation system is going to be adopted in England. The new legislation also called “Max’s law” after Max Johnson, a receiver of a heart donation, would follow the example set by Wales, where opt-out organ donation was implemented in 2015.

organ donation

Opt-out organ donor systems assume that a person is happy to be an organ donor unless they opt out of the donation via the NHS organ donor registry or an NHS app that will be introduced alongside the new legislation. The opt-out system that the English government is voting on is a so-called “soft opt-out”, meaning that the family of the deceased has the option to overrule the assumed organ donor status if they are convinced that their loved one would not want to be an organ donor. Currently, England relies on people actively opting in to be registered as an organ donor, but politicians argue that the new opt-out strategy will lead to an increase in organ donations.

In 2017 411 people died in England before receiving an organ and over 5000 people are currently on the waiting list for a transplant. It is not entirely clear if soft opt-out systems are the solution to low organ donor numbers. In the first two years since implementing the soft opt-out organ donor system, Wales has not seen an increase in organ donations, however experts point out that the transition might take a while. In Spain, where opt-out organ donation was implemented in 1979, donor rates only began to increase after 10 years when a new national transplant organisation was founded to coordinate the donation and transplantation process.

Sweden, where opt-out organ donation was implemented in 1996 still has one of the lowest organ donation rates in Europe, highlighting the need to not only change opt-out legislation but also implement structural changes, as well as raise public awareness. In countries like Austria or Singapore, a hard opt-out means that families can’t overrule an assumed organ donor status and, in these countries, a rise of up to 25% in organ donations has been reported.

Birds see just like us

birds

Researchers found that songbirds perceive colour in a similar way to humans by grouping similar shades into categories. The study by a team of researchers from Duke University in North Carolina was published in Nature and shows for the first time that birds are capable of something called “categorical perception”.

Categorical perception means that the birds were able to distinguish categories, in this case, whether a disk falls into the red or orange category along a continuous colour spectrum. The researchers trained female zebra finches to flip over two-coloured paper disks to reveal food. Single colour discs could also be flipped over but didn’t lead to a reward.

Eight colours on a spectrum from orange to red were used to mimic the colourations of male zebra finch beaks. In nature, female zebra finches prefer red coloured beaks, as they imply a higher amount of carotenoid. Carotenoid cannot be produced by the birds themselves but needs to be taken up via food, therefore indicating a superior foraging success. Increased carotenoids may also imply a potentially superior immune system. The female birds were especially respondent to two coloured disks containing colours from opposite end of the orange-red spectrum, and less responsive when the colours were closer together on the spectrum.

The birds demonstrated that they were able to lump colours together into either the red or orange category, implying that the male zebra finch’s beak does not necessarily have to be a perfect shade of red to be preferred by the females. Interestingly, the study also suggested that categorical perception is not dependent on how well the eye perceives colour, but how the signal is processed by the brain. Earlier studies have highlighted that language is not essential to study categorical perception, as primates and infants have shown to be capable of distinguishing colours.

Categorical perception has never been shown in non-primates before and continues to be far more widespread than previously thought, having been implicated, e.g. in facial identity recognition and frog and cricket calls.

Breathe in – bioengineered pig lung transplants

Researchers from the University of Texas Medical Branch (UTMB) in Galveston, US, have successfully transplanted a bioengineered lung into a pig. The lung was created using a donor scaffold and cells from the pig that was to receive the transplant and grown in a bioreactor before being transplanted into the animal. Most excitingly, the lung was not rejected and continued to develop within the animal, marking an important step towards potential use of bioengineered lungs in humans.

lungs

To create the bioengineered lung researchers removed all cells and blood vessels from a pig donor lung, leaving behind a protein scaffold onto which they planted cells from the pig that was about to receive the transplant. Using the pig’s own cells reduces the likelihood that the body rejects the organ. In this way, the lung was grown inside a bioreactor over 30 days and stem cells and growth factors were used to help the development of the blood vessel system within the lung tissue. After the transplant, CT and MRI scans, as well as gene expression measurements were used to confirm that the lung tissue and associated blood vessels continued their development within the recipient pig. At the predetermined endpoint of the study at 2 months, the lung had not been rejected and seemed to develop normally. The researchers cautioned that oxygenation of the animal couldn’t be evaluated as the lung tissue wasn’t fully matured at 2 months, but the procedure has been successful in four pigs.

Currently, the demand for lung transplants vastly outnumbers the supply and even when a suitable donor lung is found, it often cannot be matched for size. Bioengineered lungs would, therefore, offer an alternative for patients suffering from diseases such as cystic fibrosis, pulmonary hypertension, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis. While there are still issues with bioreactors for human use, experts are positive that the first bioengineered human lung might make an appearance within 5 to 10 years.

Written by Charlott Repschlager

Top Science News

HPV vaccine offered to teenage boys in England

The department of Health and Social Care has announced that adolescent boys, aged between 12 and 13, will be offered  a vaccination against the cancer-causing human papilloma virus (HPV).

HPV has emerged as the leading cause of throat cancers and is linked to 5% of all cancers worldwide including cervical, vaginal, vulvar, penile, anal and oral.

Mary Ramsay, Head of Immunisations at Public Health England, said: “This extended programme offers us the opportunity to make HPV related diseases a thing of the past and build on the success of the girls’ programme, which has already reduced the prevalence of HPV 16 and 18, the main cancer-causing types, by over 80%. We can now be even more confident that we will reduce cervical and other cancers in both men and women in the future.”

This decision follows new scientific evidence and advice from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) and was announced on the 24th of July 2018.

The protection offered by this recommendation is twofold, the vaccine not only protects men from oral, throat and anal cancer, it will also assist in the overall reduction of the number of cervical cancers in women through a process called ‘herd immunity’.

Herd immunity is the resistance to the spread of a contagious disease that results within a population if a sufficiently high proportion of individuals are immune to a disease, commonly through vaccination.

Steve Brine, Public Health Minister, explained: “Any vaccination programme must be firmly grounded in evidence to ensure that we can get the best outcomes for patients, but as a father to a son, I understand the relief that this will bring to parents.”

The programme is expected to vaccinate thousands of boys in England each year.

Lunar eclipse 2018 – the science explained

 Last week on Friday the 27th of July many people will have been aware that a total lunar eclipse have our moon a reddish hue. The total lunar eclipse was visible from almost all parts of the world, the only countries missing out were Greenland, Canada and the US.

The total lunar eclipse coincided with planet Mars reaching opposition. Mars and Earth both orbit the sun at different distances and therefore they orbit at different  speeds. Roughly every 2 years, Mars, Earth and the sun form a straight line, with the Earth in the middle, an event known as opposition. Last Friday this opposition meant Mars appeared to shine extra brightly in the sky. This July, Mars was also at its closest to Earth since 2003.

So why does the moon turn red?

A total lunar eclipse occurs when the sun, Earth and the moon perfectly line up. When the moon is fully in the Earth’s shadow it turns red, which is why it’s known as a ‘blood moon’.

The red colour occurs because sunlight is deflected through the Earth’s atmosphere, in a process called refraction. Red light from the sun is bent, as if through a lens , into the space behind the Earth and onto the surface of the eclipsed moon. The clearer the atmosphere during the lunar eclipse, the lighter and brighter the red colour appears. If the Earth had no atmosphere the light would not reach  the eclipsed moon and therefore it would be not visible from Earth.

The eclipse last Friday was the longest total lunar eclipse this century, lasting 1 hour 43 minutes and 35 seconds. It was the seventeenth total lunar eclipse this century and the next one will occur on the 21st of January 2019. According to NASA, there will be 230 lunar eclipses in the 21st century , but only 85 will be total lunar eclipses.

Chemicals that should be avoided in kids’ food

Last Monday the American Academy of Paediatrics published a report in Pediatrics that called on parents and paediatricians to avoid exposing children to eight different chemicals found in food and plastic packaging.

Data regarding the health effects of food additives on infants and children are limited or non-existent. However, infants and children are generally more vulnerable to chemical exposure, one of the reasons being that children have a lower body weight.

The chemicals that the report suggests to avoid include the following: nitrates and nitrites, a preservative often added to processed meats; bisphenols, used to make durable plastics; phthalates, used in plastic food wrap and containers; perfluoroalkyl chemicals, contained in grease-proof paper and paperboard; perchlorate, also found in packaging.

These chemicals are associated with health concerns such as endocrine disruption, neurodevelopmental disruption and cardiotoxicity.

The report suggests that to avoid these chemicals parents and carers should buy fresh or frozen produce and avoid processed meats packaged in plastic, as well as canned foods. Plastic containers should not be put in the dishwasher or microwave, which according to the research group can draw chemicals out of the plastic.

While the report highlights how important it is that we are aware of what chemicals we allow in our environment, further research is needed to establish the exact risk of each of these chemical compounds.

Written by Angharad  Baldwin

Top Science News

Mental Health Care – The New (Virtual) Reality

The use of virtual reality to treat mental health disorders has seen a recent surge in interest after a twenty-year slump. This has been helped by the widespread commercialisation of virtual reality hardware for video games, as it made the technology affordable enough for clinical services.

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The use of VR headsets is now being reviewed as a potential therapy for mental health disorders, including anxiety disorders, phobias, psychosis, and schizophrenia. The ability to convincingly simulate scenarios, whilst measuring a patient’s response, is a massive step forward in understanding how mental health issues can impact everyday interactions. The new technology can be used to develop new coping strategies and treatments that seem to have a lasting effect. Additionally, recent studies into the use of virtual reality to increase awareness of mental illness might enable members of the public to soon be able to share experiences with mental health patients, increasing empathy and contributing to reducing stigma around mental illnesses.

Gut Bacteria in Cancer Treatment

Recent studies into what role bacteria play in cancer have identified that up to one in five cancer cases are caused by microorganisms. Research into how this new knowledge can be used to possibly prevent cancer and improve treatments is particularly focusing on the complex microenvironment in our gut.

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Recent research suggested that the efficacy of immunotherapy drugs (drugs that use the immune system to kill cancer cells) can be boosted by altering the make-up of the bacterial habitat in the gut. This can be particularly useful in preventing and treating gastrointestinal, prostate and even breast cancers; all of which have been linked to bacterial diseases. For personalised cancer treatments to be efficient in the future, more research is required to understand how each patient’s gut microbiome differs, but it’s a promising step forward in the fight against cancer.

The Sun’s Not as Constant as We Thought

We see our sun as an unchanging constant, but new evidence shows that its size changes by about four kilometres in width every eleven years. Scientists have known for years about turbulences on its surface caused by sun spots and bursts known as flares, but this new discovery challenges preconceptions of its size and the impact this has on the solar system. Not only does its size change but the area of our local galactic neighbourhood that is affected by solar winds is not spherical like the sun itself, as previously assumed.

solar

Solar winds are the charged particles that the sun releases, creating a magnetic field that affects nearby planets (including our own). The field created fluctuates, over a period of 2-3 years, shorter than expected, due to the sun’s ever-changing size and temperature. Despite what some Hollywood productions would have you believe (looking at you 2012), solar fluctuations don’t spell the end of days. Increasing our knowledge of the sun’s cycles and the solar system in general, however, allows for improved planning of missions into space to further expand our current knowledge of the universe.

 

Written by Dave Ayland

BSA London Continues to Expand

The London branch of the British Science Association is proud to welcome two new committee members to its ranks, Viktoria Hristova and Hannah Burke. Viktoria will be filling the role of Partnership Officer, leading new collaborations with influential people and organisations. Hannah will be taking up the responsibilities of the Science Museum Lates Officer, bringing exciting ideas and demonstrations to the evenings hosted at the Science Museum.

Their impressive experience with scientific voluntary organisations will give them the tools to improve upon the already rapid growth of BSA London. Viktoria has co-founded an educational non-profit organisation in Bulgaria for students of all ages, and spoken at a TEDx talk at the University of Sofia. Hannah has previously volunteered with the Science Museum and has professional experience in educational programme and event management. We hope you’re as excited as we are to see the fresh insight they bring.

The British Science Association’s estimated impact on social media has increased by over a third in the past few months, and the dedicated committee and volunteers will continue to forge new connections between the public and scientific research. We look forward to the future and sharing the exciting new developments at the BSA with everyone.

Written by Dave Ayland