I’m a Scientist, Get me out of here! 2013

Sive Finlay

Staff Writer

I’m a scientist get me out of here 2013 was a highly enjoyable event and a clean sweep for College with Trinity scientists emerging as the winners of each zone.

The online competition is science communication and outreach designed for the X-factor generation; school students submitted their science (or otherwise!) –related questions to panels of scientists divided across different zones of research. There were two themed zones (space and nanotechnology) and two general science zones (helium and lithium) with five scientists assigned to each zone. Based on the scientists’ profiles pages and their answers to questions, the students cast votes to keep their favourite scientists in the competition. In each round, the person with the fewest votes was eliminated (minus the tense lighting and music which normally accompanies these things) until there was a final winner left standing in each zone of the scientific jungle – and it didn’t even involve eating bugs!

Shane McGuinness, a PhD student in the Geography department won the Helium zone with his answers to questions ranging from to “why do stars shine?” to “where does the wind come from?” In the Nanotechnology zone, CRANN PhD student Sinead Cullen’s answers on topics from biomedical sciences to the age old question of “which came first, the chicken or the egg?” put her in the top spot. Meanwhile, in the Space zone, the Science Gallery’s Research Projects Coordinator, Joseph Roche, beat the competition with his answers to questions on the laws of physics, how our universe works and, my personal favourite, “why are people so judgey?”

In the Lithium zone, I delved into the dusty recesses of my general scientific knowledge, honed my googling skills (thank you Wikipedia!) and, most importantly, developed the fine art-form of interspersing scientific explanation with liberal sprinklings of smiley faces and emoticons. Being in one of the general science zones left us open to an interesting and challenging array of questions; from “what is quantum mechanics?” (oh how I wish I had more than Junior Cert physics!) to “what is consciousness?” and, most importantly, “do you like cake?”

One of my favourite parts of the event was taking part in live chats; half-hour sessions with school classes where we were open to anything that the students cared to throw our way. They were great fun and quite intensive; classes of around 30 students all submitting questions at the same time which meant that they were a bit like a cross between the ultimate quick-fire quiz round and an exercise in typing speed! I loved the challenge of coming up with on the spot answers to questions ranging from “are we alone in the universe?” and “how did life begin?” to “what did you like about school?” Varied topics to say the least but my favourite live chat question was definitely “what’s the average trajectory of a swallow” to which I replied “an African swallow or one carrying coconuts?” (A reminder for Monty Python fans everywhere – you never know when an eclectic knowledge of classic comedy might come in handy!).

The main aim of the event is to encourage students to take an interest in science, not necessarily with the view towards choosing a science-related career but more to spark their curiosity in the world around them. A big part of this is trying to show scientists as “normal people” – a debatable description at the best of times but hopefully at least it’s a step away from the lab-bound, crazy-haired, mad-scientist stereotype. The online format for students to submit their questions also eliminates any worries about being cast as the nerdy science geek in the corner of the class.

While I hope that the students enjoyed taking part in the event, I know that it was definitely a hugely rewarding experience for all of the scientists. The variety of great, difficult questions and the students’ enthusiasm made it a pleasure to be involved and the challenge of losing all of the jargon while trying to explain scientific concepts and ideas is an important skill for any researcher to develop. I was delighted to win my zone; I hope that my answers had something to do with it although I have a feeling that the combination of an exotic study species, a background in studying animals and a cute puppy in my profile picture may have led to some unfair advantages in appealing to the teenage demographic…

This was the second year of the event in Ireland; a spinoff from the highly successful UK competition and the newly added version for engineers. It is a great event for scientists and students alike and I would highly recommend getting involved. Visit imascientist.ie for answers to some of the most burning questions from Irish teenagers, from theories about cosmic computer-programmer creators to the important distinction of whether you belong to team Jacob or Edward.