Jetlag: the ultimate holiday blues

image12 150x150 Jetlag: the ultimate holiday bluesHolidays are coming… Holidays are coming… And for most of us this means a few festive weeks in cosy England. However an annoyingly smug few will be flying off on long journeys this Christmas. Despite living in an age where crossing multiple time zones can be done with ease, our bodies have yet to catch up,  leaving us unable to fully cope with long-distance flights. So this Christmas many jetsetters will be given an unwanted present … the dreaded jet lag.

Jetlag: a growing 21st century problem

Jetlag is when your body struggles to adjust to a new time zone, leaving you feeling tired and confused. While symptoms generally wear off after a couple of days, it has been suggested jetlag may have long term cognitive effects.

The condition is due to changes to your internal body clock, which is regulated by the circadian rhythm.  Set over a 24 hour period, a tiny collection of cells in the brain called the hypothalamic suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN) anticipate night and day. This master body clock co-ordinates with other body clocks within organs and tissues, controlling everything from our appetite to blood pressure.   Therefore, it is no surprise that when we disturb our circadian rhythm by crossing one of the world’s 24 different time zones, our bodies take a while to adjust to a new routine.

image2 Jetlag: the ultimate holiday blues

The simplicity of taking long flights has resulted in millions of people undertaking these journeys each year, with rates increasing annually. Currently, the longest commercial flight lasts around 16 hours and stretches 13,790km between Sydney and Dallas, longer than a non-stop bird migration.  Constant advances in aviation therefore mean that there is a developing need to overcome the detrimental effects of the so called “first world problem” that is jet lag.

Current treatment for jetlag

image31 Jetlag: the ultimate holiday bluesAt this time no direct treatment exists, with passengers undertaking several behavioural adjustments to minimise the effects. These include avoiding caffeine and alcohol during the trip and establishing a local routine immediately upon arrival by avoiding napping and spending time outdoors.  Personally, I can concur these tricks are often very inconvenient. Having to remain awake until a normal bedtime following landing in the UK at 7:30am from New York was not ideal the day before Leeds Festival!

However, treatment may soon be available. Evidence has suggested that the consumption of melatonin could be ideal in overcoming jet lag. The circadian rhythm works by the SCN interacting with other areas of the brain, influencing neurohumoral activity. This includes regulating the production of hormones – such as melatonin- by the pineal gland.

Is melatonin the solution for jetlag?

image41 150x150 Jetlag: the ultimate holiday bluesMelatonin is the most well-known chronobiotic, a class of time-shifting drugs that alter circadian rhythms.  Produced during the evening when it begins to get dark, with levels peaking during the night, melatonin helps you sleep by causing drowsiness as well as lowering body temperature, heart rate and blood pressure. While not licensed at the moment, short term melatonin treatment appears to be both safe and remarkably effective in reducing /preventing jetlag.

With melatonin having obvious therapeutic potential, drug companies are keen to overcome its restricted access through the development of substances which act in a similar manner: so-called melatonin agonists. Ramelteon is the first in this new class of drugs to be approved by the US Food and Drug Administration for long-term treatment of sleep disorders, with many others in various stages of clinical trials.

Future of flying

The severity of jetlag is dependent on many things, including the length of the flight, numbers of time zones crossed and even the direction (hint for your next holiday: avoid travelling west-to-east!).  So while more work is needed to figure out the correct treatment plans for the drugs highlighted above, it appears flying long distances may soon become a breeze.

Post by: Claire Wilson.

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Alcohol – The Biology behind the Buzz

Our relationship with alcohol is complicated – to say the least. Not everyone can hold their drink, some hold one way too often, and some don’t even get a buzz. Truth be told, we’re only just starting to get the gist of how alcohol “works”.

Alcohol: The stimulating depressant

image11 300x300 Alcohol   The Biology behind the BuzzAs you may already know, alcohol is classified as a ‘depressant’. This is based on the fact that when someone develops a tolerance to valium – the ultimate archetype of depressants – they simultaneously build up a tolerance to alcohol. Valium, like most depressants, targets receptors for GABA – the main inhibitory signalling molecule in the brain.

This is where things get shaky.  The concentration you’d need to activate these GABA receptors with alcohol (0.33mL/L) is just above the amount that makes you embarrassingly pass out in your own vomit (0.3mL/L). Why then, do we get tipsy from just one glass of wine (I know I’m not just speaking for myself here)? And is tipsiness even the same thing as being drunk?

Researchers took a closer look at GABA receptors. These are made of 5 building blocks, the combination of which differs from receptor to receptor. One particularly rare building block – the so-called delta receptor – happens to respond to very low levels of alcohol. The scientists who discovered it even call it the “one glass of wine” receptor (click the link if you don’t believe me).

Using a method called PET, researchers tracked which areas of the brain are more or less active when we are drunk. They injected volunteers with radioactive sugar (it’s not nearly as dangerous as it sounds) and tracked which parts of the brain use it. It was no surprise that the three areas responsible for coordinated movement, rational thought and memory (the cerebellum, prefrontal cortex and hippocampus, respectively) were ever so slightly tuned down after drinking. Also, it just so happens that the “one glass of wine” receptors are found in exactly these three brain areas. So, that would explain why we lumber from one bad decision to another (and forget the worst ones) when we’ve had a bottle or more.

The buzz part seems to be related to higher levels of noradrenaline when we drink. This only tends to happen when our blood alcohol content (BAC) is on the rise, leading to greater impulsivity. Once it tapers off, the effects are reversed: we feel confused, tired, restless and down – and alcohol starts acting like a depressant again.

Drinking Culture – of Monkeys and Men
image21 300x181 Alcohol   The Biology behind the BuzzScientists were lucky to stumble across the perfect model for human drinking culture – on St. Kitts in the Caribbean of all places (talk about serendipity).
The model specimens in question are vervet monkeys, who were brought to the Caribbean over 300 years ago and have developed a curious relationship with alcohol.
Back in the day, vervet monkeys would sample fermented sugar cane from the rum plantations; the modern day vervet prefers cocktails, sneakily stolen from sleeping tourists on the beach front.

image3 300x224 Alcohol   The Biology behind the BuzzMost vervet monkeys drink in moderation; so-called “social drinkers”. Roughly 5% -given the open bar that is the lab – will readily drink themselves into a coma. 12% are steady drinkers (unlike the alcoholics, they know their limits), while one in ten is a teetotaller – indulging in soft drinks only.
This distribution is strikingly similar to what we observe in humans. And the similarities run far deeper than that. Like humans, the social drinkers will avoid alcohol before noon and prefer their alcohol mixed in sweet drinks, while the heavy drinkers like to start their day with a drink – and prefer it straight.

image4 300x199 Alcohol   The Biology behind the BuzzVervets have helped researchers understand the genetics behind alcohol preference – it appears we inherit it directly from our parents. In fact, you can predict an animal’s future relationship with alcohol based on levels of neurotransmitter metabolites in its cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) before it’s had its very first cocktail.

Researchers have also noticed a two way relationship between personality and alcohol preference – anxious monkeys don’t drink and those who drink become more anxious.

Towards the end, the researchers pointed out one difference between vervet and human drinking culture: the social status attached to it. In vervets, steady and heavy bingers almost always outdrank the more responsible drinkers. Glancing at tabloid socialites, University sports clubs and most English public school students I’ve met – we may be more like monkeys than they think.

Post by: Isabel Hutchison

 

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Science Communication in Manchester

The British Science Association (BSA) 2015 Science Communication Conference will be held on the 18th and 19th June at Manchester Metropolitan University – the first time that the conference will have been held up t’North.

image1 150x150 Science Communication in Manchester

The ingenious Sir David Brewster, whose scientific achievements were matched only by his mutton chops.

The British Association for the Advancement of Science, as it was then known, was founded in York on 27 September 1831, following a suggestion by the great Scottish polymath Sir David Brewster, who chose York for the first meeting of the British Association “as the most central city in the three kingdoms”. This was the first of a series of annual meetings that has continued for over 150 years. The first meeting to take place in Manchester was in 1842, since then our glorious city has hosted another four, with the last one coming in 1962.

Perhaps the best remembered of all these meetings was at Oxford in 1860, where the English biologist Thomas Huxley debated Darwinism with the then Bishop of Oxford, Samuel Wilberforce. Huxley’s speech ended with him stating that he was not ashamed to have a monkey for his ancestor, but that he would be ashamed to be connected with a man who used great gifts to obscure the truth, a reference to the rhetoric skill, yet perhaps clouded judgement, of his opponent.

In many ways, Manchester is the perfect host city for the Science Communication

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A caricature of Thomas Huxley, from a 19th Century edition of Vanity Fair.

Conference, not only because of the astounding number of scientists* that it has produced and nurtured, but also because of its commitment to communicating science in all of its various forms and guises – from the Manchester Beacon Network to the Manchester Science Festival.

The 2015 Science Communication Conference will be a wonderful opportunity for all aspiring Brewsters and Huxleys to come and share new ideas from across culture and society, with sessions available for a range of experience levels; from those looking for an introduction to science communication, to experts who want to have in-depth discussions about issues facing the sector. The key topics for the 2015 conference are: communicating through play, science communication for the public good, crowdsourcing, and telling stories with complex science & big data.

image3 1024x290 Science Communication in Manchester

From Dalton to Novoselov and all in between, Manchester has been at the forefront of the science scene.

The call for proposals for sessions at the 2015 Science Communication Conference is now open, with an online form open to anyone who wants to propose a session that they would like to help organise. The deadline for proposals is 9th January 2015, so get submitting!

A handy set of FAQs to the conference can be found here; let’s all work together to ensure that Manchester is able to demonstrate why it is at the forefront of communicating science in this country.

Post by Sam Illingworth

* For my money the Oxford Road corridor must have hosted the highest number of aspirational scientists – from John Dalton & William Sturgeon to Andre Geim & Kostya Novoselov – per square mile in the UK.

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Why is Snake Venom so variable?

Based on a presentation by Dr. Wolfgang Wüster (Bangor University) – 12/03/13

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Saw-scaled Viper (Echis carinatus) (Photo credit: Frupus)

I hate snakes. I’m just going to say it from the start; they scare the living daylights out of me. I’d have been living with one if my girlfriend hadn’t noticed the colour drain from my face when she mentioned buying one. And yet, for reasons I cannot explain, I went along to a seminar yesterday all about venomous snakes! I’m glad I did though – Dr. Wolfgang Wüster talked about them with great energy and enthusiasm, getting quite a few laughs along the way, and, most importantly, piquing the entire lecture theatre’s interest. I found the talk so engaging that I’ve decided to share what I learned here.

Snake venoms are mixtures of toxins, usually consisting of tens to hundreds of the poisonous proteins. This obviously allows for a great degree of variation in nature as different venoms contain different combinations of toxins and quantities thereof. As you’d expect, lots of different species of snake have different toxins; however, the variation can go all the way down to differences between members of the same species. In fact, in some species, an adult’s venom can be different to its venom as an infant. This wide range of venoms has an equally diverse range of effects on prey, resulting in paralysis, haemorrhages, and massive cell death and tissue damage, amongst other things. Upon explaining this in the talk, Dr. Wüster took great pleasure in showing some truly disgusting images – remember; I go through the pains of Science so you don’t have to!

bite symptoms  Why is Snake Venom so variable?

Common symptoms of any kind of snake bite poisoning (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The main question of the talk was that of what causes this variation in venom composition. It’s probable that this all depends on what individual venoms are used for, which, in the majority of cases is overpowering and killing prey. Diet in snakes is an example of a ‘selective pressure’. This is where something affects the survival of a population, thus encouraging evolution of that population to overcome the stress.

Diet, as a selective pressure, acts upon many characteristics of venom. For example, the volume of venom stored in a snake’s glands is usually only enough to kill enough prey to survive. As such, snakes requiring a greater food intake or those that kill larger prey will produce more venom than those that consume less food. The overriding reason for this is that producing venom requires energy, so the minimal amount necessary is made and used.

Dr. Wüster’s group saw an interesting example of this in a model system of 4 species of Saw-scaled Vipers. Whilst most snakes eat vertebrates (animals with a backbone), these vipers also eat arthropods (invertebrates with exoskeletons and segmented bodies, such as scorpions and spiders). The 4 species differ greatly in the ratios of arthropods and vertebrates that they eat, yet all 4 species take 2 to 3 bites to kill scorpions, taking their time to see how much venom is necessary to subdue their prey. This may be evidence of economy of usage of venom, meaning that these model organisms have evolved to favour potent, rather than voluminous, venom to reduce the amount required.

snake venom  Why is Snake Venom so variable?

Anatomy of a venomous snake’s head (Photo Credit: How Stuff Works)

Prey resistance also plays a role in determining the volume of venom a snake produces, as well as the potency of that venom. For example, Moray Eels that live in the same regions as Sea Snakes have evolved resistance to the snakes’ venom. As a direct consequence of this the snakes have evolved to produce and release more of it to compensate.

In conclusion, Dr. Wüster presented compelling evidence that venom composition differs based on dietary requirements. Different combinations of toxins affect different preys, and different snakes need their venoms to have different harmful effects. The ‘arms race’ that develops from predator-prey relationships, whereby the prey evolves to resist the venom and the snake evolves to counteract this, also drives diversification. Finally, using venom economically seems to be a very important factor in these predators. Dr Wüster explained that future work would take a detailed look at the genetics behind venom variation, studying the genes encoding toxins and the variation that exists therein. I, for one, look forward to hearing about their findings, even if it does mean spending more time looking at pictures and videos of snakes…

This post, by author Ian Wilson, was kindly donated by the Scouse Science Alliance and the original text can be found here.

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Meditation – science versus spirituality?

image011 199x300 Meditation – science versus spirituality?

Image courtesy of tiverylucky at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The ancient eastern tradition of contemplation has slowly but steadily infiltrated the western world.  But what is it all about and why are so many people taking it up?

There are quite a few ways to meditate. Some of them, e.g.  yogic meditation called Kirtan Kriya, involve chanting of mantras: first aloud, then in a whisper, and then silently. This is sometimes followed by breathing and relaxing visualizations, e.g. forming mental images of light. Another popular type of meditation is mindfulness. Mindfulness means paying attention to the immediate experience with curiosity and acceptance. Do you know the feeling when you arrived home with no recollection of the route you have just driven because you have been thinking about the past or worrying about future? Mindful presence in the moment aims to teach us more conscious ways of living, as opposed to being on the ‘auto pilot’.

Contrary to what we might think, this type of meditation does not require controlling our thoughts or emptying our minds (although that would be nice, it is not going to happen straight away!). Rather, it involves observing your own experience (sensations, emotions and thoughts), noticing the thoughts and letting them go, just as you notice clouds in the sky.

image04 300x300 Meditation – science versus spirituality?

Image courtesy of iosphere at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Various forms of meditation appear to have a whole range of beneficial effects on our wellbeing. They reduce stress as well as symptoms of mental illness, especially depression and anxiety in a similar degree to medication. People suffering from chronic pain and stress-related physical illness also cope better. How exactly does meditation do that?

It seems that contemplative practice can change the functioning of our mind and body on several levels. Psychologically, switching off the automatic pilot helps us to pay more attention to our goals and values and act more in line with them.  Mindfulness also increases self-acceptance and the ability to regulate one’s mood and emotions. This in turn seems to be underpinned by beneficial changes in the brain: people who meditate have increased activity, more grey matter and better pathways connecting the areas responsible for regulating emotions and attention.

Finally, some research shows that meditation affects our body on a physiological level: it might lower the level of the stress hormone cortisol, improve the response of the immune system, and even increase the level of a substance that protects our cells from deterioration (telomerase), thus slowing down the ageing process.

This sounds very promising, but how easy is it to scientifically investigate an ancient contemplative practice concerned with spiritual growth and lifelong development?  One of the main problems is that many studies fail to use an appropriate comparison. For example, some studies compare people who have meditated for a long time with those who have no meditation experience. In such cases it is difficult to establish whether it is meditation that causes the changes in the brain and behaviour. It could be that certain personality features attract some people to meditation and could also be responsible for the differences in the brain.

image05 199x300 Meditation – science versus spirituality?

Image courtesy of Photokanok at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

More and more often randomized controlled trials are used by researchers when studying meditation. In such studies a randomly chosen group of people is taught to practice meditation, and another group of people serves as a control, e.g. is taught relaxation techniques. This way we can be more confident that the differences between the groups at the end of the practice are not due to personality or factors such as relaxation. However, these studies tend to be quite short (e.g. they last a few weeks), whereas meditation is a skill developed over long periods of time.

Thus, having taken apart the skill of contemplating the present moment, science found that it can help us with stress, mental illness and pain. We can measure changes in the brain, mood and behaviour, but the more metaphysical aspects of meditation are difficult to capture. Personally I found practicing mindfulness very helpful in dealing with daily stresses. The quiet mind is an elusive goal, but meditation is about immersing in ‘being’, rather than ‘doing’. As the father of the western mindfulness Kabat-Zinn said ‘After all we are called human beings, not human doings.’

So, have you found your nearest meditation class yet?

Post By: Jadwiga Nazimek

References:

Teasdale et al. (1995) How does cognitive therapy prevent depressive relapse and why should attentional control (mindfulness) training help? Behav. Res. Ther. 33 (1) 25-39
http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/0005796794E00117

Lavretsky, H. Et al. (2013) A pilot study of yogic meditation for family dementia caregivers with depressive symptoms: effects on mental health, cognition, and telomerase activity. Geriatric Psychiatry 28: 57-65.
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3423469/

Sahdra et al., (2011) Enhanced response inhibition during intensive meditation training predicts improvements in self-reported adaptive socioemotional functioning. Emotion 11(2): 299-312.
http://psycnet.apa.org/journals/emo/11/2/299/

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Droning On

Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), or drones, are remotely or autonomously piloted aircraft. Whilst UAVs have recently been most associated with military applications, their use in the field of atmospheric science and environmental monitoring is rapidly growing, from the monitoring of carbon dioxide (Watai et al., 2006) and ozone (Illingworth et al., 2013) concentrations, to studying emissions at active volcano sites (Diaz et al., 2010).

Ground-based monitoring sites such as the Automatic Urban and Rural Network (AURN) in the UK, operated by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), can provide measurements of surface level pollution concentrations. However, such fixed measurements are limited in their spatial coverage, as shown in Figure 1. Measurements from AURN are often used as validation datasets for regional air quality models such as the Met Office Air Quality Unified Model. Clearly, the inability of such sites to inform on a highly resolute scale can lead to a poor interpretation (and validation) of local environments.

image03 Droning On

Figure 1: Locations of AURN sites in the UK plotted on Google Earth. Pollution levels correspond to measurements taken on Friday 7th July 2013; data courtesy of Defra (http://uk-air.defra.gov.uk/).

An alternative to ground-based measurements is to use aircraft. However, such flight campaigns are not only expensive, but still also lack the required spatial resolution for many applications. Take  Manchester city centre as an example: this area has a diameter of approximately 2 km, while the UK’s atmospheric research aircraft is able to travel at ~ 100 ms–1. This means that a typical 1 Hz instrument (i.e. one that is able to take one measurement per second) would only be able to make approximately twenty measurements during an overpass of the city. Large research aircraft are also restricted by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), which often means they are unable to fly around urban centres or within the lower boundary layer.

UAVs offer an ideal alternative at such scales, bridging the gap between ground-based and traditional airborne methods, with the potential to deliver detailed, high-resolution and precise measurements at the local scale.

Low Altitude, Short Endurance (LASE) UAVs are relatively simple to operate, with simple ground-control stations and control mechanisms, requiring only a small crew. Their small size means that they can be hand-launched (i.e. thrown) from a variety of terrains, and in the UK, UAVs with an operating mass of 7 kg or less are exempt from the majority of the regulations that are normally applicable to large and manned aircraft.

image01 300x196 Droning On

Figure 2: An RQ-4 Global Hawk flying in 2007 (Photo credit: Wikipedia).

High Altitude, Long Endurance (HALE) UAVs can be larger than many general-aviation manned aircraft and may fly at altitudes of up to 20 km or more on missions that can extend for thousands of km. The NASA Global Hawk, a well-known example of a HALE UAV (shown in Figure 2), has a wingspan of almost 40 m, and a length of approximately 15 m.  The Global Hawk has been involved in a number of scientific campaigns since 2008 and has an operating altitude of 19,800 m and a flight endurance of over 30 hours, with a payload of ~750 kg.

Whilst UAVs undoubtedly get a bad rep because of their recent and well-documented use in military manoeuvres, with the continued miniaturization of highly accurate and precise sensors, the potential effectiveness of UAVs to make low-cost measurements, especially in remote, hazardous and politically unstable regions, continues to be the subject of much scientific and technological interest. And with Amazon recently getting in on the act, with Amazon Prime Air, their drone delivery service, it looks as though UAVs are here to stay.

Post by: Sam Illingworth

References:

DIAZ, J. A., PIERI, D., ARKIN, C. R., GORE, E., GRIFFIN, T. P., FLADELAND, M., BLAND, G., SOTO, C., MADRIGAL, Y. & CASTILLO, D. 2010. Utilization of in situ airborne MS-based instrumentation for the study of gaseous emissions at active volcanoes. International Journal of Mass Spectrometry, 295, 105–112.

ILLINGWORTH, S. M., ALLEN, G., PERCIVAL, C. J., HOLLINGSWORTH, P., GALLAGHER, M. W., RICKETTS, H., HAYES, H., LADOSZ, P., CRAWLEY, D. & ROBERTS, G. 2013. Measurement of boundary layer ozone concentrations on-board a skywalker unmanned aerial vehicle. Atmospheric Science Letters, 15, 252–258.

WATAI, T., MACHIDA, T., ISHIZAKI, N. & INOUE, G. 2006. A lightweight observation system for atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration using a small unmanned aerial vehicle. Journal of Atmospheric and Oceanic Technology, 23, 700–710.

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How to ‘get’ yourself some Science

1043205025 36fbaf8d69 z 150x150 How to ‘get’ yourself some ScienceRoll up! Roll up! The dawn of Open Access (OA) format has begun, thus making it possible (and indeed incentivised) for scientists to make their research freely accessible to all! This represents a  historical breakthrough; research will no longer be the sole captive of subscription-only journals as was traditionally the case, with new guidelines ensuring that everyone can now access more research than ever, for free.

The OA policy published by Research Councils UK, which governs seven research councils with an approximate annual investment in research of £3 billion, suggests that making publicly-funded research available to the “general tax-paying public” is a central objective of this reform.

However, one could argue that merely making research available is not enough; research needs to also be accessible, i.e. easily understandable. It is my hunch that in some scientific fields the general public (myself included) would need a translator to be able to digest this material.

“Member of general public WLTM accessible Science w/GSoH. Seeking the uncomplicated and reliable. Willing to relocate. Will answer all.”

6446476 57a1aa432c z 300x225 How to ‘get’ yourself some ScienceI could not illustrate this point more elegantly than to recall Marc Abrams’s speech (founder of the Ig Nobel Prize award for whacky research), at the British Neuroscience Association Festival of Neuroscience in 2012. In his talk he described a  paper co-authored by his friend and colleague, the late Jerome Lettvin, the purpose of which was to amass and combine random technical jargon and formulae with the express purpose of writing nonsense. The outcome of this publication  was a whirlwind of praise, invitations to speak and the receipt of many prestigious job offers: An illustration of the affliction of science. It seems that the more incomprehensible the content, the greater the acclaim – something that has contributed to the notion that to become a consumer of science one must be part of The Club. Happily though, this need not be the case as many researchers are now turning to blogging and the use of social media platforms to entice people back to the world of science in a friendly and, importantly, accessible way.

So how can we ‘get’ ourselves some science? Here’s just three of the ways I’ve found to be useful in finding and understanding new ideas outside of my field of interest, all of which require very little effort:

1. Read reliable blogs – if you’re already reading this then you’ve achieved point one on the list. Congratulations!

2. Follow scientists and science journalists on twitter – Science in 140 characters?! Yes Please! Perfect for those idol moments like standing in the lunch queue, or waiting for the bus; and often with links to more information if you want it. If you don’t know where to start, pick a scientist or science writer that covers broad topics, and see who they follow in turn. I saw a talk about science writing by Ed Yong (http://edyong.flavors.me/) whose blog is hosted by National Geographic (http://phenomena.nationalgeographic.com/blog/not-exactly-rocket-science/) and started following him. In turn I found similar writers whose style I liked. This method tends to cause your ‘Following’ list to grow exponentially, but fear not! You can use the ‘Lists’ option to organise the tweets you want to see at the appropriate times. I also comment on tweets and make sure to add my own hashtag such as #foodiegems or #neurogems. This effectively stamps the tweets I’m interested in for various reasons with my unique marker, and I can later retrieve all of these by searching for that hashtag. No, it’ll never be trending, but it’s a cool way to organise info you want to come back to. Remember to make sure it’s a very individual hashtag or else you’ll find yourself scrolling through unrelated tweets.

3. Go to events! There are a number of affordable or FREE public science events around Manchester, which are usually fairly informal and laid back. Combine a beer (or non-alcoholic beverage) with Science at Café Scientifique (http://www.cafescientifique.manchester.ac.uk/), or if you missed the Pint of Science Festival in May this year (http://www.pintofscience.com/) put it in your diary for 2015! Alternatively if you think that watching an awkward academic explain their topic and combine this with stand-up (and/or other performing arts), keep an eye out for Bright Club Manchester events (http://www.manchesterbeacon.org/members/172/Bright-Club-Manchester). And don’t forget SciBar on the last Monday of every month, held at The Salutation Pub, organised by Manchester Metropolitan University (https://www.theunionmmu.org/your-space/the-salutation/).

It’s clear that science can be somewhat out-of-reach at times, and that admirably, OA will provide a partial solution to this. However, in its current form it is still a little way off providing a fully viable solution to those of us from the general public who wish to engage with more science on a day-to-day basis. Access to science might be improving, but ‘getting’ it still needs a little work from all parties.

Post by Gemma Barnacle

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