#StopAndAsk: Your Science Week questions answered

16 Nov 2018

Image: © MarekPhotoDesign.com/Stock.adobe.com

With the help of two amazing science communicators, did we answer your #StopAndAsk question for Science Week?

For Science Week, we asked our audience of science enthusiasts if they had any burning questions they’d like to #StopAndAsk a scientist.

We tasked Dr Shaun O’Boyle and Dr Fergus McAuliffe with giving us answers. Boyle is a science communicator who produces radio and podcasts (such as Inspirefest: The Podcast), while McAuliffe is also a science communicator who works as the education, public engagement and communications manager for iCRAG, a Science Foundation Ireland research centre. They both willingly took on the challenge and their answers are below.

Science Week 2018 continues to 18 November, so if you have more questions you’d like to ask a scientist, be sure to share them on Twitter using the #StopAndAsk hashtag.

Does the increasing level of natural disasters and extreme weather signify the world is coming to an end? How long have we got before there is no return for humanity when it comes to global warming change?

Big questions demand big answers! But, unfortunately, there really is no clear answer here. For some species such as the Sumatran rhino, their world is potentially coming to an end due to their critically low number and habitat loss. For humans, the important point to remember is that the planet has been around for much longer than we have been, and is likely to be around for much longer after we have gone too. A dose of Science Week perspective!


Is there any misconception in particular about scientists that you really wish TV shows would stop promoting? And what are some of the most scientifically accurate shows on TV right now?

I would like to see an end to the misconception that scientists all have the same personality, or that we all look or behave the same way. It’s why you will never (ever) catch me watching The Big Bang Theory.

For scientifically accurate shows you can watch right now, I’m going to focus on science-fiction. I think sci-fi should always break a few science rules (otherwise, it’s all sci and no fi), but I’m really appreciating the science in these shows lately (all available on Netflix).

  • Orphan Black: It wrapped up last year, but all 5 seasons are still on Netflix. It’s a great show about clones with some decent genetics, but the real accuracy is in the character of Cosima (played by Tatiana Maslany) who is doing her PhD in experimental evolutionary developmental biology.

Moving image of a scientist as depicted in Orphan Black.

  • Star Trek: Discovery: It breaks some physics rules (as it should do!), but it’s also filled with so much interesting science – from tardigrades to the multiverse – and my favourite thing about the show is the science officer, Paul Stamets (played by Anthony Rapp).

  • Lost in Space: This reboot is a lot of fun. There’s some great physics and engineering throughout the series, but it also looks at the philosophical side of robotics and artificial intelligence, which is very interesting.


What do you think is the best way to bridge science in media and the classroom?

Science in the media is usually about new discoveries or changes in our understanding. In the classroom, we focus on what we already know for sure(-ish) about the universe. You could bring stories from the news to class to show that science is a process of discovery, but we can only make those discoveries by understanding.


Why don’t we have a science museum in Ireland?

We don’t have a science museum (I don’t know why), but we’re very lucky to have Science Gallery Dublin. Even though it doesn’t house a permanent collection, it does a lot of the things a contemporary science museum would do. The team at Science Gallery Dublin create free exhibitions and events about the role of science in society – critiquing science, celebrating it, and exploring its relationship with culture and the arts. I think that’s what good science museums do.


When will I next be able to see a supernova?

Looks like this will take place in 2022 or 2023 when two stars merge. It will be in the northern wing of the constellation Cygnus and become about 10,000 times brighter than it is now. So it should be easy to spot!


Which scientific career would be easiest to get into, in your opinion, with a general arts degree?

Probably science communication. A lot of my science museum and science centre colleagues have arts degrees. Many science journalists and broadcasters have arts degrees too. You don’t need a science degree to talk about science.