We can be superheroes

“Did you know that scientists could be superheroes?” This was the challenge set to primary aged children who came to the Discovery Day at the Aberdeen Satrosphere.

Discovery Day is a family event held as part of National Science and Engineering Week and the Aberdeen ScienceGrrls hosted a Science Superhero Day as part of this.

Superheroes can save the planet

Many of us must have had dreams of being a superhero and the aim of this event was to show children that ordinary people can gain extra-ordinary powers through STEM subjects. Superheroes can save the planet and so can scientists by researching ways to fix the planets problems.

Superheo profileWho needs x-ray vision? Scientists can enhance their vision in many different ways. Geologists can see into the past, Climatologists can see into the future and Marine Scientists can use acoustic technology to see underwater. And of course medical physicists can see inside the human body with technology such as X-ray machines and other sophisticated scanners.

We needed profiles – and capes!

The first step in preparing for this event was to get each ScienceGrrl to complete a superhero profile, you can download them all here: SuperHeroProfiles.

On 22 March 2014, 20 volunteers from Aberdeen worked in two shifts to deliver the superhero day. In each session, six scientists from different disciplines attempted to blend into the crowd, not an easy task when wearing a bright red superhero cape and a T-shirt shouting “Talk to me, I’m a scientist”.

Superheroes wear capesThe children were instructed to find four superheroes and question them until they discovered their super powers. Once they had collected 4 signatures, they could come back to claim a small prize.

Getting the conversation started

Each superhero had a busy time, and most spent the 3-hour shift surrounded by a gang of wide-eyed children. Each superhero had the chance to take a small science demo to help the interaction and get the conversation started.

Some however, took a different approach. Katy had a riddle to get her questioners thinking, and Tara broke the ice by eating a cod ovary (I missed that off the risk assessment!) Louise had dug some interesting creatures from her compost heap to help her discuss the cleaning power of these insects.

4 superhero scientists in action

Take the science pledge

Back at the stand, when the children returned with their challenge completed the next task was to make a science pledge. Here we wanted to encourage them to see themselves as scientists of the future and say what super power they would like to develop.

Board full of pledgesThe youngest could barely write their own names, and one small boy just drew a picture of DNA (wow) and his Mum wrote his name next to it. Another young girl wrote her name, still writing in mirror image as lots of very young children do, but with a flourish declared her super power to be Maths – go girl!

Super Strength was the most popular power and chosen fairly evenly by both boys and girls. Aberdeen is a city of engineers so this is probably not too surprising. Most children were enchanted with the super power idea, but a number were already set on a science career and told us so. Archaeologist, Mathematician, Engineer and Biologist were all on the list.

One child was so delighted by the demo she was shown that she declared she wanted to be a super potato (Lou had been showing how with a little confidence and a firm hand she could get a straw straight through a potato).

After a full on day, with the total footfall through Satrosphere of around 935, we managed to gather 132 science pledges. 75% of the challenges we gave out were returned completed, which is an excellent rate given the large number of different events in the same room that could take the children’s attention.

Slightly more girls than boys completed the challenge (69/62) but not enough for us to be worried that the ScienceGrrl branding might be turning boys away. This is nice to know, as the message that ‘Science is for everyone‘ needs to be made to both boys and girls.

What next?

Now, buoyed up by the success of our first event, Aberdeen ScienceGrrls are already thinking about what to do next. We have already been invited to take part in Techfest, another celebration of science that will happen in September. There is just the small matter of securing some funding and we are ready for that one.

The materials that were prepared for the superhero day can be used again and they are also are available to share with other groups who might want to run a similar event.  Send me a message on twitter if you would like to borrow them.

Thanks to…

As the organiser of this event I want to thank the funders and supporters as well as the ScienceGrrl volunteers. The Science Superheroes event was hosted at Satrosphere and funded through National Science and Engineering Week with additional support from Marine Scotland Science who kindly lent the display boards and helped out with printing of some posters and materials.

Aberdeen ScienceGrrl's superheroes standOur ScienceGrrls Gillian and Katherine helped develop the superhero images that made our stand so eye catching. Finally, thanks again to all of the Aberdeen ScienceGrrls who worked so hard to engage the children and their parents and showcase the amazing variety of interesting STEM careers available to women.

Sarah Hughes @muddyshoes66
Aberdeen ScienceGrrl chapter co-ordinator