I’ve had a brainwave...

Weird Science. Post graduate students  Tacita Nye and Martin Turner with thier Weird Science  cocktail mixes.
Weird Science. Post graduate students Tacita Nye and Martin Turner with thier Weird Science cocktail mixes.
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GIN, glow sticks and high class call girls?

Welcome to a science syllabus like you have never known before.

These are Sheffield’s very own mad boffins – and they are determined to take physics, chemistry and biology to the masses.

They call themselves Science Brainwaves, and they have spent the last 12 months visiting music festivals, nightclubs, parks and schools (though, the latter without the gin and call girls) in a bid to prove the discipline is not just about dusty men in dustier lab coats.

“Science is incredibly exciting and it impacts on everything we do, and I think it’s our job, as scientists, to get out there and communicate that to people,” says Martin Turner, director of the seven-strong group and a Sheffield University PhD student in the not-quite-so-glamorous-sounding yeast genetics

Getting out there has meant setting up an experiment area at the Green Man Music Festival in the Brecon Beacons, explaining how glow sticks and optical illusions work to nightclubbers at the student union and hosting lectures about alcohol.

It’s guerilla science, in a manner of speaking.

They have held debates in The Bowery pub in Devonshire Street and a lecture on superstition by research scientist Dr Brooke Magnanti - perhaps better known as Belle de Jour, the real-life inspiration behind Billie Piper’s secret call girl.

“What we do is get people interested by showing them something cool,” says Martin, aged 26, of Walkley.

“Then we sneak in a bit of science. Our thinking is that the public pay for our research so we should be giving them something back.”

It’s a noble ambition, and one which started some 15 months ago when Martin and a group of fellow students found themselves increasingly annoyed by pesky journalist-types writing about the MMR vaccine.

He reckons ninety per cent of what he read was inaccurate and it was causing unnecessary anxiety among parents. So the group organised a public lecture to debunk the myths.

“It was more popular than we ever thought,” says Tacita Nye, secretary of the group and a 24-year-old PhD student of Owlthorpe.

“The lecture hall held 380 and it was pretty much sold out. After that, we thought we should build on this.”

And build on it they have.

Since then they have shown schoolchildren how to extract the DNA from a strawberry, shown drinkers why dark-coloured alcohol will give them more of a hang over than clear booze like gin and shown anyone who will listen why a cat can be both dead and alive at the same time. It’s complicated.

And now the Science Brainwaves name has earned such a good reputation schools from across Yorkshire have been asking them to give demonstrations – “I think kids respond to us because we’re not old and grey” says Martin – and are regularly consulted by professors on how to make lectures more accessible.

It’s science like you have never known it before, and it might just catch on.

Find what Science Brainwaves are up to next at www.sciencebrainwaves.com