Wednesday, 10 December 2014

FameLab academy part two - first school visit

As part of my FameLab academy mentoring, I planned to visit my allocated school at least once. My first visit to Pates was in late November and started with an assembly to the whole of year 9. With no introduction, only the FameLab banners, I gave my 3 minute presentation on my research topic (very similar to this one:). I could see that a number of the students were very intrigued as to why I was there! Once I had finished, Janet began the introduction with “Could you explain a science or engineering topic in 3 minutes?” before giving some more information about the competition. We only had 10 minutes, but it seemed to prompt some interest amongst the students. It was also really encouraging to hear the enthusiasm of the staff involved. The head of Year 9 even suggested that he should do his own FameLab presentation on a topic suggested by the students to show them that anyone can do it.
It was interesting to hear why the school was so keen to take on the project. It seems that, even at this early stage, presentations by the students usually are just reading from a script or a powerpoint slide. It is good that this project gives them the opportunity to see that it’s not actually that bad to present outside of your comfort zone!

I then went into some year 9 lessons, where the teacher was introducing the competition and going through the first workshop. This was mainly looking at good science communicators (Alice Roberts and the winner of FameLab UK) and discussing what made them good and easy to understand. The students then had a chance to think about what kind of topic they would talk about, and how they would hook the audience for this topic. Some of them were a bit stuck for ideas, so we discussed the idea of answering questions that everyone wants to know the answer to (e.g. Why is the sky blue?) or starting with a topic they had studied recently and thinking about how it could be applied in the real world.

I then spoke to some students about engineering and interviews in general. There was a mixture of age groups, with the older ones engaging more than the 15/16 year-olds. I think that they found it helpful – it did at least put engineering on their radar as something they might consider.

So one successful school visit down - the next stage is for the school to begin going through the workshops and see where they think I can be of most help. A lot of the students seemed keen, so there should be a good competition at the end of it! 

FameLab Academy

As an alumna of FameLab engineering, I was asked to take part in FameLab Academy. For those of you who don’t know what FameLab is: it’s a competition for scientists and engineers to explain a science/engineering/technology topic of their choice in 3 minutes with no powerpoint slides or any props that they cannot carry on stage. Competitors are judged on content, clarity and charisma and tend to have a lot of fun! FameLab academy is the same competition, but for Year 9 students (13/14 year olds). There are 8 schools in Gloucestershire competing this year, and the Royal Academy of Engineering and edf are helping to provide engineering mentors for each of the schools to help train and inspire the students. I am one of those mentors and have been lucky enough to be paired with Pates Grammar School.

The first stage in the process was a two day course where both engineers and the link teachers from the schools were given details on how the competition would work, and the structure of the training workshops for the students. The first day involved lots of FameLab pitches and feedback with Elin Roberts @elinoroberts training the engineers, and Nick Harrigan @sparrigan with the teachers. We learnt how to catch our audience’s attention, hold it and then reveal our key point. We looked at using storytelling to our advantage and tried selling imaginary products to each other.

As each school has planned different ways of running the workshops and the competition, we were given an opportunity to discuss with our link teacher how we could best help the school we were placed with. At Pates, they were planning on involving the whole of year 9, with each of the 5 groups in the year selecting 2 students to go trough to a school final. After talking to Janet, we thought it would be best if I go in when they launch the competition, to give my FameLab piece and a bit of an introduction. She also thought it might be useful for me to speak to some of the older students about engineering, and the variety of careers that can come from it. As an Oxford graduate, I was also happy to speak to nervous Oxbridge applications about interviews if that was needed.

On the second day, the teachers went back into the schools full of enthusiasm and we were given Nick and cameraman Jonathon Sanderson @jjsanderson to direct some instructional videos to support the workshops. This was very challenging but also a lot of fun. We were in pairs, and managed to get 7 video clips produced by the end of the day. My topic was rehearsal, and so involved Nick talking to himself, a fencing mask, and his friends. After some speedy editing, we got to see the videos and were all very impressed with how they came out. The final version is now online - take a look, they are very funny!

I can’t wait to start getting involved and watch the project progress throughout the year. FameLab was such a confidence booster for me that I hope it can do the same for the students!

Thursday, 27 November 2014

Hydrogen in Parliament 2014

Almost exactly a year after my interview for my parliamentary internship, I was back in Westminster, but for an event unrelated to POST. The event was introduced by Peter Aldous MP from the All PartyParliamentary Group for Intelligent Energy as an opportunity to see hear case studies on the implementation of hydrogen technologies across the globe, before discussing how the same ideas could be applied to the UK.

Celia Greaves gave an update on the work done by the UKHFCA, who focus on promoting the benefits of hydrogen and fuel cells. An example of this is their work with DECC, increasing the role of hydrogen technologies in their 2050 calculator, a tool used for public engagement with climate change issues (it’s a great tool – check it out!).

Marieke Reijalt from the European Hydrogen Agency, who were sponsoring the networking drinks, spoke about how the first EU article mentioning hydrogen had been approved in the last fortnight.

Up first to present was Robin Hayles from Hyundai, the company that brought the first hydrogen fuel cell vehicle into mass production in 2013. To them, the hydrogen fuel cell brings the best of both worlds of diesel and electric vehicles: long range but no pollutants coming out of the exhaust. The challenges they face are a lack of refuelling infrastructure, public awareness of the technology and that their target market will be a small number of “early adopters” to start off with. Easily able to get 300 miles out of a tank of his ix35, Robin encouraged us to place an order – we’d get our own fuel cell car delivered in the next 4 months!

Chris White from the Californian fuel cell partnership was up next, having travelled all the way from the USA. The progress in California is amazing – they have 10 hydrogen filling stations that are used already, with another 41 coming online by 2016. Their challenge was knowing who should make the first commitment: vehicle owners or filling station owners. They initially made a deployment plan, and then looked at how they could fund this. This was followed by an integrated policy plan, which had two strands: vehicles and stations. It also included other community integration, such as fire service training, building regulation and maintenance training. They still face challenges with public perception (is a kilogram too weird for the Americans?) but the Governor’s executive order (look up) for 1.5 million zero emission vehicles is spreading to other states. The use of “zero emission vehicles” is important, as it enable fuel cells to be used (rather than stating battery vehicles explicitly).

Bob Kelly from AFC energy then spoke about the progress in South Korea. Having been there earlier this year for a conference, I knew that they were pretty far ahead of the UK in terms of the application of the technology. This is due to the Korean “Renewable portfolio standard”, which forces energy companies to source a certain percentage of their power from renewable sources. These goals must be met, with severe financial penalties if not. It proves that the economics of hydrogen fuel cells is compelling once the government gets involved. (Korean priority is energy security – they import 97%: Independence, Sustainability, Economic, Environmental: ISEE).

The discussion that followed was chaired by Alex Stuart, and brought Diana Raine from Air Products onto the panel. The initial discussions were about the relative position of the UK and Europe when compared to the USA and South Korea. There was agreement that there is a need for government intervention as has been done in both of the case studies discussed. In California, initially there was a need to push industry with zero emission vehicle regulations, but now companies can see a market emerging. The main tipping point for Hyundai and its UK relationship will be in 2017, when they make the decision whether to mass produce a right hand drive fuel cell vehicle, or delay until a later date.

Another question asked was about filling stations: is it better to have smaller ones in more locations or larger stations further apart? Should they dispense hydrogen at both 350 and 700 bar? The lesson from California is that you need to ask the consumer. Research into how people use their vehicles should be done to determine what would be acceptable. For example, do people want to fill at the same stations as large trucks?

The “greenness” of the hydrogen (whether it comes from renewable sources) was brought up and it became apparent that it is very difficult to define what “green hydrogen” actually is. The consensus amongst the panel was that, because green hydrogen is not widespread yet, we will need to implement the technology with a “darker shade of green” to get the ball rolling, and then make the transition later when it becomes more available. Cue lots of jokes about “50 shades of green”…!

To finish the discussion, each of the panellists were asked what the UK could do to help drive the implementation. Greater recognition came up as a key point: both the public and regulators need to know about the technology and that it works. Rob Kelly believes we should take responsibility for this and spread the word. Chris White spoke of Californian officials being invited to drive a hydrogen car, or even just to touch it because “if you touch it, then it must be real”.

I managed to catch Chris during the networking, and spoke to her about any challenges they had faced with public perception. The impression I got was that as soon as people understand the technology, they are very accepting. She also mentioned vehicles that had been in service for much longer than they were designed to be that were still working remarkably well. The key barrier to implementation at the moment is cost, with the cost of carbon fibre compressed gas tanks being more important that the cost of the fuel cell itself.

Having attended a similar event last year (and the yearbefore!) and it was really good to see that actually progress seems to be being made! The fact that hydrogen cars are now available to the public in the UK is a massive step forward. Although we are still well behind California and Korea, I hope that the UK can learn from these areas when considering how to drive forward the implementation.

Friday, 7 November 2014

POST Big Data seminar and annual reception

Yesterday I went back to parliament for the POST Big Data and Governance seminar followed by their 'Information Age' annual reception.  It was great to be back, although a shame not to have my all access pass! It was good to see all the fellows that I had worked with, and catch up with the rest of the staff. The event itself was really interesting, and was definitely a #throwbackthursday for me, reminding me of all the research into big data I had done while I was working with POST to create my POSTnote. This combined with Tim Berners-Lee speaking at the reception and the science museum was showing off some pieces from their 'Information Age' exhibit made for a great afternoon!

Adam Afriyie MP opened the seminar, emphasising the importance of POST and the potential opportunities of Big Data. The POST director Chris Tyler was chairing the session, and directed a question towards each of the panel before opening the discussion up to the floor. 

Chris Fleming, from the Government Office for Science, thinks the government has a role to play in maximising the opportunities that can be gained from big data whilst minimising the risk by building skills and infrastructure and enabling debate. He reminded the audience that technology (e.g. the car) has driven social norms in the past, and the same can be expected from big data. 

Dr Susan Grant-Muller has experience in the transport sector of the benefits that use of data can bring, and also about how the public feel about their data being used. As I found when writing my note, people are willing to share their data if they can see personal value from doing so, but are uncomfortable if companies benefit financially. 

The Information Commissioner, Christopher Graham, agreed that the data protection directive was very out of date, but that the principles remain valid. The future important regulation is likely to come through the EU, but it is proving difficult to get agreement at a European level. He later reminded us that a country's history may greatly influence their views on data sharing and governance. 

However, with many companies operating globally, there is a need for harmonisation across national borders. Matthew Rice from Privacy International agreed that better business practices will come from harmonisation of regulation. 

Professor Carol Dezateux gave lots of great examples of the use of linked datasets in healthcare but explained that it is not always evident to a patient what is for the public benefit. It is also important that all demographics in society have the same level of education about how their data is used. 

Professor Amanda Chessell (Master Inventor - best job title ever!!) spoke about data security, and how important it is for no damage to occur, so that data can be thought of as trustworthy and misinterpretation reduced. 

The concept of people offering up their data for free was discussed by Carl Miller from Demos, who had strong views on the need for increased transparency and control by the public vs the internet giants. 

Dr Emma Uprichard made an interesting point that when delivering education to the public on the subject of big data, it is not just important to focus on the those who are usually considered 'vulnerable', as we are all vulnerable if we do not have the correct information. 

When the discussion was opened to the floor, a common view was that 'Big Data' is not just about technology, but also communication of this technology with the public. However, there is nothing cheap about public engagement! Privacy is likely to become more important, with companies showing a higher level of care for customer data likely to take the lead.

The seminar was followed by the POST annual reception, this year with links to the Science Museum's 'Information Age' exhibition. Opened by Adam Afriyie, who warned that science is often used by politicians as a lamp-post: not to illuminate but to lean against, but that the work of POST was helping to change that. 

The speaker at the reception was Tim Berners-Lee (of www fame) and he was very engaging and entertaining. It was interesting to hear how the web was developed and how it got used just because "people thought it was a good idea, so they used it". He said his next aim was to de-centralise the web, and that search engines and social media sites were just the latest in a long line of monopolies that have dominated the web. 

The formal part of the event finished with speakers from Cubic Transportation and the Science Museum introducing their exhibitions. During the rest of the reception, I caught up with the other POST fellows whilst playing with the exhibits the science museum had brought along. 

The event was a great opportunity to hear the views of a variety of experts on Big Data and highlighted the challenges faced when trying to govern such large and complex data sets. It will be very interesting to see what happens to data use in the future. 

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

Birmingham Cafe Scientifique - Science in the Media

On the first Tuesday of every month, the Gin Parlour at the Jekyll and Hyde in Birmingham is home to the Birmingham branch of Cafe Scientifique. This is a global group that describes its activities as follows:
"Cafe Scientifique is a place where, for the price of a cup of coffee or a glass of wine, anyone can come to explore the latest ideas in science and technology. Meetings take place in cafes, bars, restaurants and even theatres, but always outside a traditional academic context."
cafe scientifique logo with orange borderThe Birmingham branch has been organised for 5 years by Kenny Webster - the learning manager @thinktankmuseum. The October cafe was Kenny's last before he heads down to the Science Museum in London to start a new adventure and the topic was science in the media. The speaker was Dr David Gregory-Kumar (@DrDavidGK) who is the BBC Midlands science, environment and rural affairs correspondent. 

The format of the Birmingham cafes is that the speaker talks for about 20 minutes and then takes a couple of questions before a gin-refuelling break followed by about an hour of discussion. It is very informal and can prompt some very interesting and lively conversations. 

David spoke about how he got into science journalism and some of his exciting trips. As he works for regional news, his stories always have to have a link to the local area, although this can be more exciting than it sounds! For example, a local company Brandauer manufacture pen nibs, but they also make precision parts for CERN in Geneva. 

It was interesting to hear the challenges associated with David's work. Getting every story into a maximum 2 minute slot sounded very challenging, especially as the audience's level of technical knowledge of scientific topics is usually pretty low when compared to sport or health. Surprise challenges such as accents and talkative academics who speak in lists also need to be overcome. His aim is to present a radio programme that is so engaging that people will stay sitting in the car to hear the end of it, even when they have arrived at the office. 

It was a fun and interesting night, and I learnt about some more routes into work in science communication. I hope the cafes continue after Kenny has left!

Wednesday, 10 September 2014


As part of the British Science Festival, there were two events held at the University of Birmingham (UoB) encouraging the involvement of women in science. The first was a networking event and the second was a panel discussion on the topic of women in science on TV. I attended both and had a really great evening. 

On the way into the networking event, I spotted Jon Wood (@jonwoodscience) with his "I'm a Science Grrl - talk to me!" badge from Saturday's event, and immediately pinned one to my dress! I managed to meet a lot of new people at the event both from UoB and from other universities and companies. The event was also linked to it's own Padlet site, which enabled attendees to scroll through an online pinboard to see who else was there. 

After the networking, there was a mass re-location to the panel discussion. The panel of Elizabeth McIntyre, Alice Roberts, Lucy Pilkington and Gia Milinovich were initially asked questions by the chair Caroline van de Bruf before the discussion was opened to the audience. 

It was really interesting to hear from both the production/direction side and also the presenter side. 
The presenter needs to be a knowledgeable specialist who can bring the passion for their subject across to a mainstream audience. New technological advances such as green screening and remote filming have enabled a wider range of experts to get involved, as there is no longer the need to to abandon your home and family for long filming hours for months at a time.

The number of women vs men on scientific TV programmes was also discussed in detail. Alice Roberts argued that there are a number of prominent female scientific presenters, but for some reason they don't get remembered! Figures have shown that the percentage of presenter led programmes with a "lead woman" are comparable to the percentage of female professors, so TV is not mis-representing society. However, all the panel agreed that TV has an important role, almost a responsibility, to provide role models that can encourage more women into science. 

It was interesting to hear how scientific presenters don't arrive ready made! Some programme budgets now include a pre-production period for training in presentation skills for those who need it. However, we learnt that it takes a lot of time to develop the skills to become a good presenter, and those with experience found that teaching was a great help. The consensus was that, if you can teach a subject to a first year undergraduate whilst keeping them awake at 9am, you can present it to anyone!

The discussion then moved on to whether universities and employers could do more to help. The fact that the UK is the worst country in Europe for mat(/pat)ernity leave was shocking, as this means that there is less choice of who stays at home to look after children.

Once the discussion was opened to the audience, we heard more experiences of interaction with TV - both good and bad. As a student on a Doctoral Training Centre (with 4 years of funding and time for public engagement), I have had the opportunity for more training and experience compared to colleagues on more standard PhD programs. 

The evening finished on an optimistic note, with the encouraging words that more science on TV is the future, and that women can (and will!) be a large part of that future. 

I found both events really interesting, and the latter made me think about the wide range of opportunities available in scientific TV: not just being in front of the camera. It also gave me the chance to share tips and encouragement with other early career researchers who are in a similar position to me trying to balance a PhD with science communication. 

Monday, 8 September 2014

I'm a ScienceGrrl - talk to me!

On Saturday, I was lucky enough to be involved with an activity for the British Science Festival (BSF). It was organised by the Birmingham chapter of Science Grrl: an organisation which celebrates and supports women in science. The description in the BSF booklet was:
"ScienceGrrls will be invading the city, each wearing a badge inviting you to talk to them. Try to guess what they do by studying their props and find out why they love to work in science as they take to the purple soapbox. Pick up a postcard and collect as many stamps as you can."
A simple idea, but it worked brilliantly! Initially, the area outside the library was a bit quiet, but the science busking events in the square were quick to kick off and soon the area became quite busy. We all had postcards with us to give out, and had some pretty impressive badges made by Jon Wood to identify us. I went down to the area by the science busking gazebos and quickly discovered how much fun you can have talking to families! 

The aim of the day was to get the kids (especially girls) to learn more about the range of different things a "scientist" can involve. An opening line that went down well with the girls was "Do you want to hear about all the different kinds of science girls can do?". I then went on to use my beaker necklace and conical flask earrings to help them guess that I was a chemist, and the fuel cell membrane in my pocket to talk about hydrogen. I had some really great conversations, including one extremely enthusiastic girl who exclaimed "That's so cool!!" when I told her about using hydrogen and oxygen to make electricity. This made my day! 

The best comment that I had all day was from a parent of a girl who was about to go into secondary school. She said (and I'm not making this up!)
"I always thought of science as being a 'boy' thing, but now we've come here and spoken to all of you today, we know that's not the case"
 And it's comments like that that make you realise how worthwhile these activities really are - I'm proud of being a Science Grrl, and just slightly disappointed that I can't wear the badge all the time...

View from the top of the new library 

Friday, 29 August 2014

Think Corner

Today I did my first session volunteering at the University of Birmingham's research pop-up shop Think Corner. It is a shop in the Pavillions shopping centre in Birmingham city centre that is full of different activities showcasing the research that happens at the university. It is running from the 25th August to the 13th September 10-6 and is free for anyone to pop in and have a look round. The idea is based on a think corner from the University of Helsinki where the same thing is done permanently.

This morning there were activities involving Bob the robot (@BobStrands, right), gravitational space, proteins, the brain and many more! @jonwoodscience was also doing some science busking (below). All the activities were really engaging for the public - especially the kids, and it was great to see so many people getting involved. @DrAliceRoberts's tree of life is a great activity - this involves painting an image of an animal, which then gets put onto the tree of life on the wall of the shop. 

My job was to go out and encourage people to come inside (Bob took a photo of me while I was flyering which you can see below).  The phrases "free activities for kids" and "robots" usually went down pretty well at drawing attention!

I have another few shifts coming up during the period that the shop is open, and I'm looking forward to seeing the range of research being showcased in different activities and the tree of life becoming more populated. I would encourage everyone to come down and have a look - most activities are for a limited time only. 
It's next to H&M in the Pavillions shopping centre, just off the High Street: see you there!!


Thursday, 7 August 2014

A visit from Climate KIC's "The Journey"

Last night I went to an event held at the Birmingham Innovation campus organised by Climate KIC. Before then, I had never come across the organisation or what it did. they are currently in the middle of running a summer school for PhD and Masters students across Europe called "The Journey" (#Journey2014). This involves them travelling around Europe for 5 weeks: first learning about the challenges faced by going low carbon, then about business and economics with the aim to come up with a business idea at the end. 

The event last night was a networking session followed by some talks for the students on "The Journey" to meet with local entrepreneurs and those working in low carbon technologies, as part of the beginning of their summer school. 

During the networking, I spoke to a few of the students on the scheme about what they were doing and what they are studying outside of the programme. One of them was very keen on hearing about my placement with POST (see previous blog posts) and so I happily gave her one of my POST business cards so she could find out some more information. I also spoke to another researcher from the University of Birmingham who was just starting a project working on smart cities. 

The first talk was from Clifford Hill, the regeneration manager for Birmingham city council. He spoke about how the city is trying to deal with the 3.2 million tonnes of waste it produces each year, as currently a large portion of it is incinerated. The city's Total Waste Strategy aims to work towards a zero waste economy, where waste is recycled for a productive economic use. He stressed the importance of looking not only locally, but regionally and nationally when considering planning. There are a number of challenges preventing a zero waste economy including were imperfect information (cause by a lack of communication between those producing the waste and those who could use it) and product design (making products that cannot be easily fixed, but easily replaced). If a zero waste economy is to actually happen, there is a need for a societal re-think on how we deal with and perceive waste, combined with a strong political will. However, I believe this is possible - I always think about how if you had told people a few years ago that they would be sorting their rubbish into different bins, they would have said that would never happen, but yet now almost everyone does. The presence of the Birmingham Green Commission is evidence that there is the political will in the city, although in the questions afterwards someone questioned whether this was enough to influence business will. 

The second speaker was David Cole from Smart Innovations Grid. He spoke about the process of developing a new product, getting funding and taking it to market. He built up the back story before revealing the product: a device for controlling and monitoring the consumption of energy. When I was working at POST,  there was another fellow writing a note on Smart Meters and so we had discussed them a few times. It seems to me like the kind of technology that will be taken on board as soon as people realise how useful they can be! Although a Daily Mail headline that I spotted almost two years ago ("They can turn your fridges off!") always reminds me of the need to be careful when dealing with public perception. 

It was a really interesting evening, and I have come away wanting to learn more about the city's low carbon aims (and how they plan to meet them!) and also about Climate KIC. Who knows, maybe next year I'll apply for "The Journey"... 

Monday, 28 July 2014

MH2014 Part 2: Hydrogen storage celebrities, my presentation and dinner at Old Trafford.

Wednesday was the day of my presentation and the most relevant to me in terms of the other talks taking place as well. There was only a morning session: so a short day but very informative. The "celebrity" of my field (Ping Chen), who was the first to discover the system reversibility was also speaking, which was exciting! My talk went well once I got over initial nervousness, and I had no difficult questions, so all was well :-)

The afternoon had a planned excursion to a country house. Having worked in one for 5 years I decided to take the opportunity to go out on the bike. I plotted a 70 mile route on Google and headed out into the sunshine. 5 and a half hours later, I got back after climbing over 4,500ft, having wished I'd also plotted the elevation! I just about had enough time to turn myself around for the conference dinner at Old Trafford, the Manchester United football stadium. This was exciting for a lot of people, but not me! The dinner was good, although a bit late coming... 

Thursday was less well attended, probably due to the number of people out until gone 2am the night before! The plenaries were interesting reports from the US Department of Energy and a group using metal hydrides in satellites. I spent the rest of the morning working up my experimental data from the previous week whilst watching the Commonwealth womens triathlon race. After a trilogy of cheesecakes at lunch, I went to some interesting afternoon technical sessions on a range of topics: including one from someone who had waited so long for a UK visa that their flight landed 30 mins before their presentation! 

Again, before the poster session I went to the quays, swimming one more lap than on Tuesday! The poster session was more relevant to my work today and therefore more interesting and productive. 

Friday was just a morning session, but with some interesting presentations. It seemed a shame for the presenters that the programme was quite bare, but the attendance during the sessions was reasonably good. 

Overall: a well organised and productive week. It has definitely given me and my supervisor some things to think about for the future and provided a great opportunity to meet and talk with other researchers from around the world in this area.  

Thursday, 24 July 2014

MH2014: Metal hydrides conference part 1: networking at MOSI and freezing on the hottest day of the year!

My second international conference of the year was the Metal Hydrides conference, this time at a more local venue of The Lowry on the Quays in Salford, Manchester. Not exactly exotic, but going to a conference near home does have its benefits (mainly that I was able to bring my bike in the boot of the car!). 

The week began with an early start (even for me!) to be at the Lowry for 9 via dropping cars and luggage at the hotel. The first session began with a plenary lecture that set the scene for the rest of the conference: a discussion of the current energy system and the potential for application of hydrogen technologies, notably metal hydrides. 

This conference was much more focussed than WHEC in South Korea (see other posts) and so many of the technical sessions were very relevant and interesting. All the "big names" in my research area were there, and so it was great to hear what they are doing and also to speak with them during the breaks. 

The welcome reception was held at the Museum of Science and Industry (MOSI) and was a good opportunity for me to catch up with some of the researchers I had met a year ago at the Gordon conference in tuscany. I also discovered some areas of the museum I had missed on my previous visits this year. 

Tuesday began with plenary lectures reporting back on the status of hydrogen technologies in the UK and Japan. It is promising to see how close the Japanese car manufacturers are to commercialisation of the technologies. Most of the UK progress is in research at an earlier stage of development. 

I then took a break from the sessions to finish off my presentation before attending some more interesting technical sessions in the afternoon. Before the poster session, I then went swimming in the quay! I had left my wetsuit at home, but decided to risk it (it was the hottest day of the year!) - I managed 45 minutes before turning blue and heading back to the greenhouse-like conference room on top of the Lowry (below) to look at the posters.


Tuesday, 22 July 2014

WHEC day 4: exploring Gwangju and karaoke!

There were no sessions in the morning today that were relevant to my research, so I decided to only go along to the conference centre in the afternoon. I planned to go hiking, but woke up to some very low lying cloud and so decided against it. I ran to the outside gym where I was joined by a few locals before heading back to the hotel and then out into the centre of Gwangju. 

The subway was very friendly to English-speaking foreigners and I easily navigated myself into the centre. There were no obvious tourist sites, so I just wandered around - including going up a tall building to see the view of the city, and seeing the memorial to the massacre that took place in the 1980s. 

After my exploration of the city I went back to the hotel and then went to the conference centre. Annoyingly the presentation that I had gone in specifically to see was cancelled and so I stayed for the closing ceremony. A lot of prizes were presented for oral and poster presentations (none to anybody that I knew), although a lot of recipients had left already. Before leaving the centre, I went to the Kim-Dae-Jung exhibition. He won the Nobel Peace Prize, and it was interesting to see what work he had done on North/South Korea relations and see what the medal looks like. 

Once the conference had finished, I went out for dinner with some of the other members from the DTC and some others we had met during the conference. We had traditional Korean barbeque and then went out for another Korean tradition: karaoke! 

WHEC day 3:

Today was the day of my talk, so I was glad that I had finally managed to get a good nights sleep! I woke up with enough time to go for a run along one of the beautifully well maintained river cycle paths. This put me in a great mood :-)

The plenary session today was about using liquids such as toluene to store hydrogen: a hydrogen storage method that would reduce the changes needed to infrastructure. We then heard about the current state of electrolysis and filling stations in Korea. When this session finished at 11am they decided it was lunchtime and served up some sweet potato noodles and vegetables. 

The afternoon session for me was manic - there were two parallel sessions which I wanted to go to, so I ended up running between the two at every speaker change to try and see everything. This worked out quite well, and I ended up in the room I was presenting in with enough time to watch the speaker before me. My presentation went well, although it was a bit short. That was due to the content though, and not because I spoke at the speed of light, so that was re-assuring! I had a few questions afterwards that prompted a discussion that I continued over coffee. 

In the afternoon I went to the metal hydrides session, although annoyingly missed the talk I had been hoping to see as it had been rescheduled at the last minute. 

Tonight was the gala dinner night - a rather bizarre evening which began with an awards presentation. However, no explanation was given as to what the awards were for, so it was a bit hard to follow. We then had a buffet accompanied by a tribute to the president of the IAHE who was celebrating his 90th birthday this year. Once we had eaten, there was entertainment of an opera quartet and a traditional dance which were both very good. 

WHEC Day 2: fuel cell cars

I successfully managed to use my alarm this morning and did some strength training and yoga before setting off for the conference centre. 

The morning session today was made up of presentations from car manufacturers who are all working on fuel cell cars. It was pretty impressive seeing the progress from the companies, and also seeing the different approaches they have taken. For example, Toyota have a focus on hybrid vehicles, with fuel cells being a sideline development, whereas Hyundai have taken on the initiative to develop fuel cell cars independently. 

Lunch was another Korean speciality of beef with rice. This is one country where I am not finding wheat-intolerance to be a problem! They seem to find vegetarianism much harder to comprehend... 

There were very few sessions in the afternoon that were relevant, so I spent the time looking at the posters and the exhibition. After the last talks had finished, I went off into Gwangju to (successfully!) locate a swimming pool. On my way back to the hotel I discovered the Korean exercise trend: power-walking through the parks with portable speakers blaring out "K-pop"!

World Hydrogen Energy Conference, Day 1 Gwangju, South Korea,

The day after finishing off at POST, I flew out to Gwangju in South Korea for the World Hydrogen Energy Conference (WHEC). I had prepared my presentation before leaving Birmingham, but that was now 3 months ago, and my brain was full of information about big data rather than hydrogen storage. Luckily my talk wasn't scheduled until the Wednesday, giving me 2-3 days to listen to others and remember what it was I did! 

I arrived on Sunday evening after over 24 hours travelling (plus 8 hours time difference) and went to the conference centre to register. Luckily I had my photo ID (driving license) and business cards in my purse as I needed both to register. I then had a look through the programme and the abstract booklet before going back to the hotel for dinner and sleep. 

The Monday of the conference did not start well! I failed at using the alarm on my borrowed phone and not only missed my morning run, but also breakfast and only just made it to the conference on time after some epic powerwalking... The morning sessions were  a number of different countries reporting back on the progress of their hydrogen technology progress. There was also a welcoming address from the mayor of Gwangju and the president of the IAHE. We then had lunch - a Korean special of bibimbap: a rice and vegetables dish that is mixed together with sesame oil and red pepper paste. There was another session after lunch about the development in different countries. I found the Californian presentation interesting, as they do a lot of work on communication. A possible job for the future...?!

In the tea break I discovered that all the snacks were made with rice flour and not wheat, which was a treat for me and my wheat free diet! I then attended some interesting technical sessions. Some of the presentations were reporting back on the European Project HyUnder that is researching the potential of storing hydrogen underground. I had done my industrial placement with a UK company working on this project, so it was interesting to see how the feasibility studies have progressed. 

In the evening there was a welcome reception. This consisted of a welcome address, a laser show, a 3 course meal and some traditional Korean music and dancers. 

Friday, 18 July 2014

Reflections on a POST fellowship

When I finished my time at POST, I told myself I would write a blog post reflecting on my time there. Now I have been back in Birmingham for a few weeks, and my POSTnote is now online, I feel like I have sufficiently gathered my thoughts enough to write something that makes sense! 

Overall, it was an amazing experience and I thank the EPSRC for the opportunity. I hadn't realised at the start just how much I needed a break from the bubble of research that I was in whilst working towards my PhD. Getting the chance to continue research, but in a different field and in a different environment acted as a perfect interlude. 

There were a number of things that I was surprised at. To write the note, I carried out a lot of interviews. When I first started I had no idea just how useful these would be, as all previous literature reviews (which is essentially what a POSTnote is) had just involved reading. However, so much is gained from speaking to an expert that I wonder whether this should be carried through into the academic world, with researchers encouraged to go to conferences just to hear from and speak to other researchers when they are just beginning their PhD. Currently, the norm is for a PhD student to wait until they have something to present before attending a conference. I guess that the budget is the limiting factor, as conferences can be expensive. 

The importance of every word in every sentence was a bit of a shock: as the published note becomes "the voice of POST", you have to make sure you don't say anything at all that you cannot back up with supporting information. Going over every word to ensure you can provide evidence for what you are saying was a way of writing that I was new to, but quickly got used to!

I also discovered just how bad my grammar was... I learnt a lot from Lydia (Harriss) and Chris (Tyler) but was still needing correction at the end! 

My favourite thing about the fellowship was the people. Not only the permanent staff, but the other fellows, the cyclists from the Kingston Wheelers and Twickenham CC, the regular early morning swimmers at the Queen Mother Leisure Centre and all the friends I realised I had in London. They ensured I had an excellent time during my stay!

Although I don't miss the commute, living in London was a great experience. Now I'm back, I realise just how refreshing it was to work with adults after 7 years at university. Another benefit for me was that, as most of the other fellows were nearing the end of their PhDs, most of our discussions were about "What next?". This was great, as it has prompted me to start thinking about life post-PhD when I still have 18 months left, rather than waiting until hand-in day to contemplate my options. 

I have come back with renewed motivation to finish my PhD - I have spent a lot of the last 2 weeks in the lab and have taken a different approach to getting things done. I am hoping this will give me a strong advantage when it comes to finishing next year. 

My time at POST not only gave me an insight into how science is communicated in parliament, but also improved my writing, communication and confidence. A massive thank-you to POST, the EPSRC for the fellowship, and to the University of Birmingham for welcoming me back.
Photo courtesy of James Courtney