Shotton Hall Academy – Where can my maths take me?

Last week I was asked to go into a Peterlee academy (Shotton Hall), and they asked me to give a talk about maths in the workplace. Obviously the field that we study in uses a LOT of maths that most other fields don’t so the school were keen for me to come along and impart some of my knowledge. During the day I spoke to about 100 students, giving a half hour talk and answering any questions they had. I covered some basics of maths in science, such as statistics that are needed, and how any scientific job (and in fact, pretty much any job) massively benefits from having a good mathematical grounding.

I then went into a bit more detail about my own specific research, showing the kids some of the David Attenborough 3D footage from micro monsters (the teacher was pretty scared of the 3D tarantula!) and talked the students through the different angles and geometries involved in creating 3D footage. The teachers said that the kids were all engaged and even talking about Maths in the break, so I must have done something right! I enjoyed myself as well, not very often I get to talk for half an hour about my work without interruptions!

Paul explaining 3D maths to children at SHS

Paul explaining 3D maths to children at SHS

The children paying attention as I go through the details of 3D angles

SHS thanking paul for his talk

SHS thanking paul for his talk

I even got tweeted my thanks!

British Science Festival

This has been an exceptionally good and fun week doing the British Science Festival. Lisa had set up a workshop all on camouflage and mimicry and during all the lab helped out (although kudos to Lisa who managed to do every session with a big smile on her face!). There were lots of different activities to do during the workshop including a load of real life creepy crawlies that were all experts at camouflage. My task was to take the children through some posters and do some questions on a quiz sheet. The first question was to do with mimicry. I explained that a hoverfly pretends to be a wasp so that it doesn’t get eaten by birds and we had three example hoverflies from different species trying to mimic a wasp. The children had to rank them in order of ‘most waspishness’ and everybody agreed one was rubbish, one was good, and one was OK. They found it very interesting that birds actually saw our OK mimic as a good mimic and our good mimic as an OK one, and some even ventured a guess that it meant birds see things differently from ours.

Next up on the quiz was aposematism. For those that don’t know, aposematism is the act of being very bright and colourful to warn predators away from eating them, we had examples such as a bee (black and yellow, ‘I’ve got a stinger leave me alone’), a poison arrow frog (Black and yellow patterns ‘don’t eat me I’m poisonous’) and the bombardier beetle (red and black ‘don’t eat me or I’ll spray you with a horrible stink, the kids particularly loved this one!). As a group we then discussed other aposmatic creatures. I had some very interesting answers, of which most were brightly coloured but more to stay camouflaged (tiger, zebra and clown fish). I had some that were mimics or dangerous in their own way (milk snake and sea anemone) and some really good answers (ladybird, skunk, wasp, ringed octopus).

The final two questions involved matching the creature to the type of camouflage it was using, and then guessing which out of 14 butterflies were poisonous and tasty. After the quiz was finished the kids rotated and did something else in the room (which you will probably hear about in other blog posts) and I started again with the next group.

The entire workshop was a great success and I really think some kids took some real knowledge and interest away from the day, and I heard more than one say it had been the best one they had seen yet. Very pleased I volunteered to help out with the event!

Tying up some loose ends

While I wait to begin construction of my next experiment (assessment panel approval pending) I have been working hard on various different bits and pieces. My paper for the oblique angles study is almost ready for submission (bar the inevitable red pen from Jenny, and a results section that is still half-written as we finish analysing the results) and I am pleased with the progress. With the analysis we have constructed various models to try to map the data, with my personal favourite being a combination of two Gaussian curves, and others including absolute values (which means the magnitude of the number only, not the sign, for example the absolute value of -2 is just 2) and polynomials (terms with powers, such as squared and cubed etc.).

Jenny and I are discussing these later this week, to decide which is the best to model the data. We have assessed the significance using SPSS already so all we really want is a nice smooth model to represent the data well. I am thrilled to announce we do have significant results however, which is something scientists always like to hear! While I don’t agree with the practice it seems to me a trend in journals is that significant results get published much more. Probably because significance proves something, where a lack of significance, by definition, proves nothing.

For example if you spin a 5 coloured spinner and say ‘it is definitely red’ – then you have a result (red). However if you say ‘it is not definitely red’ you cannot say anything about the results. It may in fact be red. But even if it is not you have no idea what colour it really is.

I can see the argument for such papers (definitely red) getting preference but I do believe scientific research would develop much quicker were all the non-significant tests and results published, even somewhere open access like wikipedia. If only to check nobody has already tried what you’re thinking of and failing. Such a site may indeed exist but I haven’t heard of it. Some non-significant result papers do make it in if they are well written or have original methodology, but the habit of selecting significant papers is one I think sometimes hinders scientific development. Just my opinion.

Wow got a bit sidetracked there! So while waiting for my next experiment to be approved and set up I have also submitted my paper on oblique angles to IC3D to see if they would like me to present (still waiting to hear from them) and I am presenting a poster twice in the space of a week! Once at an internal ION event (postgraduate poster evening, should be fun) and NEPG2013 (6-university wide event where postgrads can submit, and I was selected. Much more formal and a bigger deal!) So I am looking forward to that.

Lastly I have assembled my team of supervisors properly for my PhD. Tom Smulders, who did animal behaviour with me in my MRES year, and Vivek Nityananda, a member of the lab, will join Jenny in making sure my PhD goes without a hiccup!