The Poetry of the Periodic Table – Thinktank, Birmingham, 9 November

What happens when you bring together a chemist researcher and a poet who has written pieces of work inspired by the periodic table?

Find out at The Poetry of the Periodic Table!

Little Atoms presents the second of our Two Cultures In Conversation evenings. Join award-winning poet Isobel Dixon and Dr Zoe Schnepp of the University of Birmingham to explore the elementary, from Arsenic to Zirconium. Birmingham’s Thinktank provide’s the perfect location for a night where we use poetry and science to examine the stuff that makes up our world.

Local poetry publisher the Emma Press will create specially commissioned illustration and poetry to mark what will be a truly unusual evening.




#TwitterTakeover: An Exercise in Brevity

GUEST POST: James Walker, PhD student (Centre for Doctoral Training in Fuel Cells and their Fuels):

If you ask any PhD student about their research topic, you’re likely to either get a response punctuated with “ums,” and “ahs,” and littered with discipline-specific buzzwords and jargon, or you can perhaps expect a three hour short course in Medieval Hungarian poetry or novel electron microscopy techniques. We aren’t really known for our capacities for distilling down our studies into concise, accessible nuggets of audience-appropriate engagement. Imagine my colleague Aimee’s horror, then, when I told her that I’d volunteered us to do a take-over of the @UoBEngage Twitter account for the day. We’ve been running the @FuelCellsCDT Twitter account for a couple of years now, and have used it to share snippets of our PhD experience, whether reviewing conference presentations or highlighting publications from our group. Realistically, though, we haven’t used Twitter to disseminate our research particularly frequently because, let’s be honest, the “Three Minute Thesis” idea is intimidating enough – how do you even begin to summarise your PhD in 140 characters?

It turns out that being forced to think about and justify the need for each and every letter can be immensely helpful in curating your message. When you have no choice but to be brief, you have every incentive to think really carefully about what you’re trying to communicate, and how best you can get the message across. Although this isn’t a particularly comfortable position to be in – when the word “nanoparticle” takes up 11% of the allowed space, the prospect of trying to explain my synthesis protocol seemed somewhat daunting – I found the perspective developed through the process quite helpful when approaching other public engagement ideas that I was having. Perhaps the next time you’re thinking about an activity you’d like to organise, imagining how you might capture the message in 140 characters might help you distil it down.

In terms of practicalities, we started our takeover by introducing ourselves and providing a broad overview of the research underway in our group. Within the Centre for Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Research we have plenty of “ins” available – we started with pictures of our fuel cell test vehicles and hydrogen refuelling station. Thereafter we covered some applied practical aspects of our day-to-day work, hoping to demystify the science involved and doing our best to avoid white-coat-mad-scientist scenes. I’ve no doubt that this would be a transferrable approach, although we are lucky that our work is quite hands-on.

I’d thoroughly encourage others to volunteer to have a go at a #TwitterTakeover of their own – it’s a great opportunity to try out new approaches to public engagement and is bound to change the way that you think about your message.


 A BIG thank you James (and Aimee!) for being our first #TwitterTakeover and for walking us through a day in the life of a PhD researcher in Chemical Engineering. If you are interested in having ago yourself, find out more here and get in touch!

It’s over to you…!

RCUK Catalyst Seed Fund – continuation funding for 2016-17

We are thrilled to announce University of Birmingham has been successful in securing continuation funding of the Research Council UK Catalyst Seed Fund (CSF). Funding has recently been confirmed for a further 12 month period from August 2016.

The RCUK CSF provides flexible funding directly to Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) to help create a culture where excellent public engagement with research is better embedded within the HEI and appropriately included within its policies, procedures and practices.

“The institutional-level funding complements the support provided to researchers via the project and grant-based approach of individual Research Councils and RCUK PER programmes, as well as policy mechanisms such as the Concordat for Engaging the Public with Research, the UK Charter for Science and Society and the Manifesto for Public Engagement. The inclusion of public engagement within Research Councils ‘Pathways to Impact’ and the Research Excellence Framework (REF) also provide drivers to encourage HEIs to value, recognise and support public engagement with research.”

We also look forward to working more closely with RCUK and fellow CSF institutions, as well as key players such as the National Coordinating Centre for Public Engagement (NCCPE) to share best practice and collectively champion for PER to be better rewarded, recognized and valued.

To read about our plans for year two visit this page.

Royal Society 1/2 price public engagement course until Oct 10th!

The Royal Society is now offering 50% off its ‘Introduction to public engagement’ course until Monday 10 October, so be quick!

This course is for scientists with little or no experience in public engagement and is designed to give you the confidence and skills required to get started.

This course fee is £150 + VAT (50% off until Monday 10 October) 

This course will enable you to take part in, or create, public engagement activities that are research-led and relevant to you.

Designed with early-mid career researchers in mind, the course includes sessions on the benefits of public engagement, what ‘good’ looks like and understanding audiences, as well as how to create public engagement activities that grow out of, and complement, your research.

The course will be delivered in an interactive and participatory style, combining discussion, reflection and activity based approaches.


Think Public Engagement!

A great article from Jim Bell – a longstanding member of the University’s Public Engagement with Research Committee.

UoB PGR Development

Regardless of the discipline that you study or your level of experience, there is a responsibility for researchers to ensure that they are engaging public audiences with their research, and today there are more opportunities than ever to get involved.

Public engagement is a phrase that has been pushing its way into the consciousness of UK research since the House of Lords Science and Technology – Third Report in 2000, but it is absolutely not limited to science. HEFCE, RCUK and Vitae are all signed up to a “strategic commitment to public engagement”, so it is clear that public engagement is important to all areas of research.

At its most simplistic, public engagement is a conversation with a public audience about research. The National Co-ordinating Centre for Public Engagement says: “Public engagement describes the myriad of ways in which the activity and benefits of higher education and…

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Don’t Leave Me Now: a free play focusing on the impact of dementia (Weds Sept 7th)

Don’t Leave Me Now: a play focusing on the impact of dementia

Dementia Play
Arthur Thomson Hall (ATH) in the Medical School Building at the University of Birmingham.
Wednesday 7th September 2016 
[Please note that there will be two performances of the play, one at 2.30pm and the other at 6pm. Let us know which you would like to attend!]

Inspired by real-life stories the play, written by Brian Daniels, explores with humour and insight the impact of early onset dementia on two very different Yorkshire families before and after diagnosis.

The play has been endorsed by all major dementia charities and has already received hundreds of positive reviews. Tickets are free, but please reserve a seat by contacting:

Mr. Jacob Bradbury
Tel: +44 (0)121 414 4516.

The performance lasts for 75 minutes with an additional 30 minutes for questions and discussion. Find out more at