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Soapbox challenge for female scientists to get their message across

4 June 2015

Karen Holford with formula 1 car

Five Cardiff University scientists are stepping on a soapbox in Swansea to enthuse the passing public about their research

Soapbox Science, which travels around the UK, showcases role models of successful women in science at all stages of their careers and from various backgrounds.

Thescientists are given an upturned crate in a busy urban street and told to get their message across to passers-by.

The five scientists taking part from the University are: Professor Karen Holford, School of Engineering and Pro Vice-Chancellor for the College of Physical Sciences and Engineering; Dr Rebecca Price-Davies, School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences; Dr Alison Paul, School of Chemistry; Dr Caroline Lear, School of Earth and Environmental Sciences; and Dr Lovleen Tina Joshi, School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences.

Professor Holford, whose research aims to improve techniques for damage detection in structures such as bridges, wind turbines and aircraft components, was the first member of her family to go to university.

She said: "It's important to show the public the diversity in the STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) workforce – times are changing and we are certainly not all conforming to the old stereotype of bearded, fuzzy haired old men in lab coats.

"I had always been fascinated by technology. But the thing that really sparked my interest was watching the moon landing with my family when I was six years old.

"But now discovery is what drives me. I find it fascinating to work with brilliant people who are full of ideas; the process of working in a team to solve a problem and the sense of achievement when you find something new that no-one has discovered before are both important to me."

The five scientists will take it in turns on the soapbox, which will be overlooking Swansea Bay on Saturday, 6 June.

Freed from PowerPoint slides and lecture theatres, they are aiming to inspire others about their work.

Dr Price-Davies, who will explain how intravenous nutrition is a lifeline for those who cannot physically eat food, said: "I'm taking part in Soapbox Science because I really enjoy science, whether it's hearing about it or talking about it, and I want other people to get excited too.

"I'm also looking forward to the challenge of talking to an audience who will walk away if you don't grab their attention. It's quite different to students held captive in the lecture theatre!"

Dr Lear will be explaining how she uses the chemical make-up of fossils to determine how the Antarctic ice sheet has behaved in the past.

She said: "I think it's important that we try to break down common stereotypes about scientists and scientific research.

"I hope that visitors to the Soapbox Science event will realise that science is for everyone, and that science is fun."

Dr Joshi's research combines DNA microbiology and electromagnetic engineering to develop rapid point of care diagnostics for patients suffering with antibiotic resistant infections, either in healthcare (Clostridium difficile/MRSA) or for security purposes (anthrax).

She said: "I wanted to partake in Soapbox Science as it's a fantastic platform to talk to the public about science in a fun, engaging and light-hearted way.

"The public who visit our soapboxes should come away with a new sense of excitement, awe and wonder surrounding science.

"This hopefully will inspire and encourage more women to take a greater interest in science and join science in the future."

Dr Paul will be talking about stealth delivery of drugs and how they can be targeted specifically to sites of disease.

A total of 16 scientists from Cardiff, Bangor University, Swansea University and Aberystwyth University will take part in the Swansea event.