There is a plethora of benefits in having industry partners involved. The vast amounts of knowledge and hands on experience that can be accessed during the duration of the project.
Working with the Science Museum Group means that our ESRs have access not just to the wealth of knowledge at their secondment institutions but the ability to visit other museums across the UK. Ellen De Korte, currently doing her secondment at the Science and Media Museum in Bradford, visited the Science and Industry Museum in Manchester.
The museum, opened in 1983, is dedicated to the development of science, technology and industry with emphasis on the city’s achievements in these fields.
It is roughly one week until the Lates and
Science Festival. I am collecting final bits for my stall and testing
things out. The big challenge of it all is finding ways to draw people in and
keep them long enough in order to get them interested in my research. This is
not only about designing my stall, but also how I will take visitors through my
Cameras from the National Science and Media Museum’s handling
collection were a major challenge, because they appeared to be more
attractive to visitors than the other ordinary objects on my table. It is
interesting to see people’s responses to the cameras. Visitors seemed to find cameras
from around 1900 strange (and they are), because taking a picture with it is
very different from how we take pictures nowadays. On the other hand, the more
recent ones (1980’s) were more familiar to older visitors, so the cameras draw
people in for two entirely opposing reasons.
Either way, this meant that I had to find a way to get the
handling collections objects in, without entirely losing the visitors to them. As
soon as visitors were allowed to handle the old cameras, it was hard to get
them back on track. Therefore, I tried introducing the cameras later on as a
surprise for visitors who lingered a bit longer, which seemed to work much
This is one of the many things I am learning on my way to
the Lates and the Bradford Science Festival. I think I will learn a lot during
the events themselves as well. For now, I will get ready for the big days and
enjoy a visit to the museum’s partner in Manchester: the National Science and
It is two more weeks until the Bradford
Science Festival. My collection of objects is now complete and the
preparation of my text and study material is almost done. In the meantime, I
have also become a STEM-ambassador.
STEM is an acronym for the combined subjects of Science Technology Engineering
and Mathematics. A STEM-ambassador is a volunteer who promotes those subjects
in various ways. This can include demonstrations at schools, but it means you
can also work with teachers in promoting STEM in schools.
As my research topic is part of psychology, it may seem a
bit odd that I have become a STEM-ambassador. Yet, there is quite a bit of STEM
involved in my job. For example, if I set up a typical experiment, I have to
display the materials I want to show on a computer. Not only is the computer itself
an obvious piece of STEM, but the images of materials involve quite a bit of
mathematics. For a computer an image is a big table of numbers that represent
image colours. Unfortunately, computer monitors do not always display the right
colour if you give them a specific number. This means that I have to check the
colours that my monitor displays with a special device. On top of that, I have
to pay attention to the lighting of the materials I use, because this
influences the look of materials as well. These little things involve physics
and mathematics (light and the transformation of numbers in light to get
colours) and this is not even the data collection and analysis yet (there is a
lot of mathematics involved in the latter).
I will not bother you any further with the biology that is
involved in my subject, because I have to understand the workings of the eye
and the brain as well. Or how our research findings might be used for design of
materials (engineering). All I hope, is that it has become clear that STEM is a
big part of my job and our daily lives.
“One’s ideas must be as broad as Nature if they are to interpret Nature” ― Arthur Conan Doyle
the chronicles of my adventures during my secondment at the Department of
Psychology, University of Southampton, under the supervision of Prof. Wendy Adams
and Prof. Marc Ernst.
Objectives of the trip:
Gain an understanding
of the interaction between illumination and material perception, including
analysis of spherical high dynamic range natural illumination environments.
Gain experience of
working in a Psychology department in another EU country.
To begin at the beginning, I was excited to
work with Wendy and to be exposed to the cool research she does on material
perception, illumination environments and rendering virtual objects. I had also never been to the UK, and was eager
to get a glimpse of that part of the world.
The plan was twofold; first, I would conduct a
pilot study on the interaction between illumination and gloss and how gloss
might affect the way we manipulate a physical object. At the same time, I would
try to learn as much as possible on rendering virtual objects in natural illumination
environments and learn the statistics involved.
After a short trip to a metal supermarket, we got
some nice aluminum box pipes which we would use as our physical stimuli. The
main question we were seeking to address with these physical objects is whether
their glossiness affects the way people handle them. This is in line with
previous studies looking at the relationship between gloss and touch (Kerrigan,
Adams, & Graf, 2010 ; Adams, Kerrigan & Graf, 2016).
Once the objects were cleaned and nicely
polished, we started testing out a suitable experimental setup. This proved
more challenging than expected due to the unpredictable nature of natural
lighting. In order to get the desired outcome, we really had to control the
angle and intensity of illumination so using natural lighting was out of the
question. We also tested various coatings to get the objects to be as glossy as
possible. Currently, we have made some tweaks to the set up and we are in the
process of data collection; so more info coming soon.
On the side and as a secondary objective, I
began learning the basics of Blender to generate
virtual objects and to import them as .obj files into Octane Render.
Octane is fast rendering engine which allows for easy manipulation of minute elements
which make up a scene, e.g. material qualities an object might possess and how those
certain qualities (e.g. surface reflectance) interact with light. Once we had
set those parameters, we placed them in a natural illumination environment and
got something that looked like this:
conclude, I’d like to thank Wendy, Marc and Erich for their continuous support
during my stay and also Davide and Paul for helping me with the setup. I’d also
like to say a big thanks to everyone I had the good fortune of meeting at the
Department of Psychology in Soton; for showing me around town and volunteering
to participate in the experiment. Looking forward to seeing you all again soon.
It has been four weeks since I started my museum secondment at the National Science and Media Museum and there are three more weeks to go until the Bradford Science Festival. I am busy preparing all text and materials for my study. However, the most exciting bit is that I am now testing objects that I have collected from charity shops and colleagues. This resulted in interesting responses. Also, the visitors are happy to try the task that is part of my activity. The next stage is to get everything ready, test the entire activity and pilot data collection.
How do I feel about public engagement? I found that it is
one thing to learn to do science and an entirely different thing to communicate
about it. Explainers in the museum seem to do it with ease. However, when I
tried to do it myself, I found that it is a lot harder than it looks. For
example, you have to learn how to get people interested in what you are doing.
Moreover, you need to constantly switch gears, because you encounter people
from different backgrounds.
Nevertheless, if you manage to draw people in and interact
with them, it is a rewarding experience. People are willing to listen and take
a little piece of information with them. Also, the skills you learn when doing
science communication can be transferred to communicating your work to a
specialist audience. Communication to a non-specialist audience teaches you how
to quickly pitch and sell your work in simple wording. The pitching and selling
skills are very useful for presentations, for example at a conference, too,
because this also requires you to shortly pitch your work to people passing by.
All in all, my museum secondment is an entirely different
experience. However, it is also an interesting challenge, from which I will
have learnt a lot at the end.