A CBeebies Christmas Carol in Sheffield.

If you are interested in children’s science outreach, then there is a great opportunity coming up. Volunteers are needed to assist at an event in Sheffield from the 8th – 10th November. Full details of the event are as follows:

“CBeebies and BBC Learning would live to invite you to an exciting, educational and engaging event running alongside A CBeebies Christmas Carol in Sheffield.

Outside The Crucible, Tudor Square will be transformed into a winter wonderland and there will be the chance to get involved in a whole host of activities ‘past’ ‘present’ and future, all created by BBC Learning to excite and inspire young audiences. The activities on offer will include everything from meeting cute reindeers to programming your own robot through to lighting up the CBeebies Christmas tree with ‘pedal power’ and plenty of learn through play-fun by shopping in the ye Olde CBeebies Christmas market.

Also joining this learning experience will be Rastamouse and Da Easy Crew who will be skating into Sheffield with co-creator Michael De Souza. They’ll be a chance to take part in ‘The Rocksteady Reggae School’ an interactive musical workshop and interactive storytelling.

No tickets are required for the event in Tudor Square. It is all free. The activities will run daily from 10.00-18.00 Friday 8th & Saturday 9th November. 10.00-17.00 Sunday 10th November.”

Volunteers are needed from 9am-6pm and ideally volunteers will be free for the whole day, but you do not have to volunteer for all 3 days, a free lunch will also be provided. Training will be given on the day, but the workshops should be easy to run as they are aimed at 0-7 year olds.

If you are interested in getting involved in this event, or would like further information, then please email ceri.saunders@bbc.co.uk.

Science in British Sign Language – Summer Lecture

Science Brainwaves is proud to announce the details of our first summer lecture:

Science in British Sign Language

We are delighted to welcome Brainy and Brawny, aka Dr Audrey Cameron and Gary Quinn, and their fantastic science show! Gary and Audrey will be producing explosions, illusions, and a little bit of science…suitable for all ages and hearing abilities! The show will be performed in British Sign Language with audio interpretation.

The lecture is on Friday August 3rd from 6pm – 8pm at the Richard Roberts Building, University of Sheffield, Western Bank. Doors will open from 5.30

This event is FREE. To reserve your tickets, go to http://www.amiando.com/sciencebrainwaves0812

If you have any questions or special requirements, please contact Holly at h.rogers@sciencebrainwaves.com. We hope to see you at the lecture!

Sir Walter Bodmer Award

Science Brainwaves are delighted to have been presented with the British Science Association’s ‘Sir Walter Bodmer Award’. The award is presented annually to recognise the achievement of volunteers within the British Science Association. A big thank you to all of our volunteers for their hard work and dedication! For more information please read the official press release from the British Science Association below:

Celebrating Volunteers’ Week 2012 with the Sir Walter Bodmer Award

Sheffield-based science group ‘Science Brainwaves’ has been presented with a national award, to recognise the outstanding contribution of their volunteers.

The British Science Association has presented the group with the 2012 Sir Walter Bodmer Award as part of national Volunteers’ Week, an annual campaign which celebrates the fantastic contribution that millions of volunteers make across the UK, which has been celebrated from 1-7 June this year.

Up and down the country, individuals and organisations hold special events to celebrate the contribution of volunteers, and inspire others to get involved in volunteering. The British Science Association works with an estimated 5700 volunteers every year. The Sir Walter Bodmer Award is given to celebrate the particularly outstanding efforts of a particular team or individual, in furthering the Association’s efforts to communicate science to the public.

This year the judging committee were very pleased to receive many nominations for the award. With so many examples of excellent volunteering it was difficult to choose just one winner.

Science Brainwaves ultimately stood out as a particularly excellent example of the commitment and dedication of our volunteers. Stemming from the Sheffield and South Yorkshire Branch in late 2009, Science Brainwaves has gone from strength to strength. It has successfully recruited new volunteers year on year, and has created some of the most innovative events in our Regional Programme. These have included highly engaging public events such as “Weird Physics”; “Better Looking, Better Loving – The Science of Beauty”; “The Botany of Gin”; flash mobs; hands on activities at music festivals; and a monthly science pub quiz.

In recognition of its success, Science Brainwaves became an independent Branch in 2011. The volunteers involved at the Branch have shown considerable enterprise and initiative, both in development of event themes and formats, and in building new partnerships and collaborations.

The Branch is noted to have added value and strength not just to the British Science Association but also to University of Sheffield; all the volunteers are students and researchers based at the University.

Also nominated this year was Tacita Nye who has led the Branch over the past year, and overseen its growth. The awarding committee would like to give a special mention to Tacita, for the huge amount of effort and dedication demonstrated over the past year, to ensure the success of the Branch.

An additional long service award was given this year, for the first time, to Dr Ian Chapman of the Tayside and Fife Branch, who has given more than 30 years of service to the branch.

To find out more about Science Brainwaves, visit http://www.sciencebrainwaves.com/ or for more information about how to get involved in volunteering, or just see what activities are on offer in your area, visit the British Science Association website www.britishscienceassociation.org/web/RegionsandBranches/index.htm

The Immune Cell, the Neutrophil – the Good, the Bad, or the Ugly?

By Kathryn Higgins

Throughout our lifetime our bodies sustain infections and injuries, and the body deals with them by mediating an inflammatory response. This happens by cells within our blood entering the site of infection or injury and carrying out multiple biological reactions. These reactions can kill the microorganism that has caused the infection, but also heal at the site of injury, and hence resolve inflammation. These blood cells are collectively called white blood cells or leukocytes, and there is one in particular, named the neutrophil, which not only helps to resolve inflammation but can also exacerbate the condition further. This has resulted in the neutrophil having a reputation for being both ‘good’ and ‘bad’ in inflammatory conditions.

The reputation of the neutrophil is influenced by many molecules that are released from other cell types during inflammation. These molecules influence the activity of the neutrophil in various ways, either stimulating the cell so inflammation can be resolved or inhibiting a particular function the cell has. The influence of these molecules determines whether the neutrophil is able to carry out its functions efficiently or whether the inflammatory condition will be aggravated further. The biological activities of neutrophils therefore need to be understood to comprehend how they function and how these roles can be modulated to determine what effect this has during an inflammatory response.

Neutrophils form part of the body’s innate immunity which involves a series of defence mechanisms that protect the host from infection and form the early barriers to infectious diseases without relying on the production and expansion of antibodies that form the adaptive immune response. When an infection occurs, the innate immune response is triggered to rapidly detect and destroy the infection. Neutrophils are one of the first blood cells to respond to infection and are recruited from the circulating blood into the tissue by molecules called chemoattractants1. These molecules, released from cells at the site of infection and also from the microorganism, also known as a pathogen, provide a chemical gradient for neutrophils to migrate along, with the highest concentration of these chemoattractants situated at the site of infection, so the cells are led directly to the infected site. Once in the tissue the lifespan of the cell is increased to approximately 1-2 days as opposed to 6-10 hours in the circulation. This is to lengthen the amount of time neutrophils have to carry out their functions and resolve inflammation.

A vital part of the innate immune response is the ability of the neutrophils to engulf pathogens and aid the resolution of infection. This process is called phagocytosis and classifies the neutrophil as a phagocyte, so called after the Greek for ‘devouring cells’. When the neutrophil has entered the infected site and detected the pathogen, the outer membrane of the neutrophil surrounds the pathogen to engulf it and so the pathogen becomes taken up into the cell. Neutrophils contain many granules and these are packed with lots of toxic reagents. Upon engulfment these granules fuse with the pathogen and release their toxic contents, by a process called degranulation, and these contents assist in the killing of the pathogen2.

In addition to degranulation, neutrophils can also kill pathogens by oxidative mechanisms, so called because molecular oxygen is required. This involves a process named the respiratory burst and it is the major mechanism by which neutrophils kill and digest pathogens. During the engulfment of a pathogen into the neutrophil, molecular oxygen is also rapidly taken up. The oxygen is then converted, by a series of chemical reactions, into several toxic compounds such as hydrogen peroxide. Further chemical reactions may occur producing even more potent substances3 and when the pathogen becomes exposed to these various toxic oxygen metabolites the pathogen is digested and destroyed within the cell.

Neutrophils have also been shown to kill pathogens outside of the cell, i.e. extracellularly, rather than engulfing them. This occurs by neutrophils releasing web-like structures of genetic material, called neutrophil extracellular traps (NETs)4. These NETs are composed of fibres that trap pathogens, and have been proposed to contain high concentrations of anti-microbial compounds, such as those contained within their granules, to kill pathogens and prevent the spread of infection. Some bacteria, however, have evolved to counteract being killed by NETs by producing substances that degrade the genetic material that make up NETs, such as Streptococcus pneumoniae5, which is known to be the common cause of pneumonia.

Once the pathogens have been dealt with, and to completely resolve inflammation, neutrophils need to be cleared from the tissue. If the cells do not become removed then all their toxic contents, such as the granule contents and oxygen metabolites that kill pathogens, may leak out of the cell and damage surrounding cells and tissues, which will only make the inflammatory condition worse. For removal, neutrophils firstly need to die. This is by a programmed type of cell death termed apoptosis6 which ensures that the cellular membrane remains intact so these toxic contents are retained within the cell and cannot be released. During this cell death a fatty (lipid) molecule called phosphatidylserine is flipped to the outer surface7. This lipid acts as a signal for tissue macrophages to target the dead neutrophil. Tissue macrophages are another class of white blood cell with a vital role of recognising apoptotic cells. Once the signal has been recognised, the neutrophil itself is then engulfed by the macrophage and cleared from the tissue. It is essential that these apoptotic cells are removed efficiently from the tissue because a delay in their clearance can also increase the chance of their intact membranes becoming leaky.

Apoptosis is therefore a process which needs to be tightly regulated to ensure inflammation is resolved efficiently. If cell death is stimulated too early then the number of functional neutrophils in the tissue is reduced. This would limit the hosts’ ability to fight infection and resolve inflammation. For example, some infections induce neutrophil apoptosis, such as the influenza A virus8 and the Pseudomonas aeruginosa bacterium9 to favour their own survival. In contrast to this, if apoptosis is delayed, as seen with the inflammatory joint disorder rheumatoid arthritis10, the number of circulating cells in the tissue increases, toxic contents may then be released from the cells, and surrounding tissue would be damaged potentiating inflammation further. This contrasting effect of the neutrophil is often referred to as the ‘double-edged sword’ effect, i.e. can be both ‘good’ and ‘bad’ during the inflammatory process, with the damaging effects of the neutrophil quickly out-weighing the benefits. Although neutrophils may often appear to be the ‘bad’ guy in certain inflammatory conditions this is typically due to the influence of other molecules released from surrounding cells. Without this influence the primary aim of the neutrophil is to resolve inflammation, making them overall the ‘good’ guys of the inflammatory process.


  1. Yoshimura, T., Matsushima, K., Tanaka, S., Robinson, E.A., Appella, E., Oppenheim, J.J. and Leonard, E.J. (1987) Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 84, 9233-9237
  2. Campanelli, D., Detmers, P.A., Nathan, C.F. and Gabay (1990) J. Clin. Invest. 85, 904-915
  3. Albrich, J.M. and Hurst, J.K (1982) FEBS Lett. 144, 157-161
  4. Brinkmann, V., Reichard, U., Goosmann, C., Fauler, B., Uhlemann, Y., Weiss, D.S., Weinrauch, Y. and Zychlinsky, A. (2004) Science 303, 1532-1535
  5. Beiter, K., Wartha, F., Albiger, B., Normark, S., Zychlinsky, A. and Henriques-Normark, B. (2006) Curr. Biol. 16, 401-407
  6. Kerr, J.F., Wyllie, A.H. and Currie, A.R. (1972) Br. J. Cancer 26, 239-257
  7. Fadok, V.A., Voelker, D.R., Campbell, P.A., Cohen, J.J., Bratton, D.L. and Henson, P.M. (1992) J. Immunol. 148, 2207-2216
  8. Colamussi, M.L., White, M.R., Crouch, E. and Hartshorn, K.L. (1999) Blood 93, 2395-2403
  9. Usher, L.R., Lawson, R.A., Geary, I., Taylor, C.J., Bingle, C.D., Taylor, G.W. and Whyte, M.K.B. (2002) J. Immunol. 168, 1861-1868
  10. Ottonelo, L., Cutolo, M., Frumento, G., Arduino, N., Bertolotto, M., Mancini, M., Sottofattori, E. and Dallegri, F. (2002) Rheumatol. 41, 1249-1260

Cholesterol treatment used in treatment of hepatitis C?

By Kathryn Higgins

A molecule that is known to take up cholesterol into a cell has recently been identified to allow entry of the hepatitis C virus (HCV) into liver cells. This may lead the way for new therapies to be developed.

Hepatitis C is a disease that primarily affects the liver. It is caused by HCV, which is spread by blood-to-blood contact. Once infected, HCV can persist in the liver causing scarring and ultimately leading to liver failure or cancer. The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that three per cent of the world’s population (about 170 million) have hepatitis C, and although treatment is available, more effective therapies are needed. Liver transplantation is one such treatment, but infected patients find the virus attacks the new liver.

Previous studies have shown the involvement of cholesterol in HCV infection, thus it was hypothesised by researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago that a cell surface molecule (a receptor) called Niemann-Pick C1-like 1 (NPC1L1), which is known to facilitate the uptake of cholesterol into the cell, may also be involved in trafficking the virus into the cell.

The research team headed by Susan Uprichard, assistant professor of Medicine, Microbiology and Immunology, conducted experiments to determine the role of NPC1L1 on viral uptake. Experiments involved blocking the receptor and reducing expression by using knock-out models. The results demonstrated that blockade or knock-out of NPC1L1 impaired liver cell infection with HCV.

To confirm these studies further, an inhibitor of NPC1L1 called ezetimibe, which is clinically used to lower cholesterol levels, was also tested. Results validate previous findings showing blockade of HCV uptake into the cells and preventing infection.

Current drugs used to treat hepatitis C are known to be toxic, and cannot be used by transplant patients, therefore ezetimibe may provide a solution as a new anti-hepatitis agent. Therapy with ezetimibe alone or in combination with current drugs may improve patient treatment by targeting the receptor NPC1L1 and preventing HCV entry into liver cells.

Sainz et al, (2012) Identification of the Niemann-Pick C1-like 1 cholesterol absorption receptor as a new hepatitis C virus entry factor. Nature Medicine. Ahead of print.

The paper can be found at: http://www.nature.com/nm/journal/vaop/ncurrent/pdf/nm.2581.pdf

Science Brainwaves Film Night


What happens when children conceived using donor sperm become inquisitive as to their biological origins? No, this isn’t a review of the recent Hollywood film ‘The Kids Are All Right’, but an invitation to find out for yourself with a showing of the exciting documentary ‘Donor Unknown’.

In collaboration with The Lantern Theatre, Science Brainwaves invite you to our first film night at 19:30 on 27th October 2011, at which we will be screening  ‘Donor Unknown’. This recent documentary follows JoEllen Marsh, a 20 year old from Pennsylvania who was raised by her two mothers. JoEllen sets off in search of her biological father, known to her only as ‘Donor 150’.  On her journey she discovers that she has 12 half-siblings all of whom are fathered by the same donor. Eventually she meets her biological father, Jeffrey Harrison, who is now aged 52 and living in a motorhome on Venice Beach, California – with his 4 dogs and a pigeon!

This fascinating documentary sheds light on the unorthodox family relationships which are created by sperm donation – something which was purely a philosophical debate only a generation ago. You can find out more about the film here at  http://www.donorunknown.com/. However, the best way to find out more is to come along to our special screening event and see it for yourself!

The excitement doesn’t end with the showing of the film – we are very delighted to have The University of Sheffield’s Dr Allan Pacey joining us for the evening. Dr Pacey was scientific advisor for the film and will be taking your questions after the showing.

Dr Pacey is the  Senior Lecturer in Andrology at the Academic Unit of Reproductive and Developmental Medicine within the University of Sheffield. He is also Head of Andrology for Sheffield Teaching Hospitals where he directs the clinical andrology laboratory and is in charge of the sperm banking service. Due to Dr Pacey’s expertise in the areas of sperm donation, and assisted reproduction, he has commented regularly in the media on these subjects. Donor Unknown is not the first television program he has been involved with; he previously worked on The Great Sperm Race (2009), The Truth About Food (2007), Make me a Baby (2007) and Lab Rats (2004). You can read more about Dr Pacey, his research, and his academic interests here http://www.shef.ac.uk/humanmetabolism/people/pacey. 

The opportunity to discuss these issues with a leading expert in this field is truly one not to be missed. We really hope you will join us on what will be a very exciting, enlightening and enjoyable evening. Tickets can be bought at a bargain price of £4.00 each from The Lantern Theatre at http://www.tickets.lanterntheatre.org.uk/shows/show_menu.php.

Does this sound like a good night out? Of course it does! Tickets are limited so please buy yours ASAP and we look forward to seeing you on the 27th October at 19:30.

The Science Brainwaves Team.

Science Brainwaves Intro Meeting

It’s the start of a new academic year and Science Brainwaves would like to invite you to our intro meeting at 6pm on Friday 30th September in Room F2 of Firth Court (see here for a map of the University, and here for detailed directions to room F2). As a student led organisation, and a charity, we are always looking for more volunteers and members for our ever expanding team.

This meeting is a great chance to find out more about the exciting work we do and the many ways that you can get involved. If you are passionate about any kind of science then we would love for you to come along. We welcome volunteers from all scientific disciplines – or any science related subject. It doesn’t matter if you are an undergraduate, postgraduate or a postdoctoral researcher; if you love science, and communicating that passion to others, then Science Brainwaves presents you with many opportunities to do just that.

We are involved with all kinds of public engagement, outreach for schools and youth groups, science media communication, scientific lectures – and much more. What’s more, we provide you with the opportunity to launch your own events – with our training and support. If you feel there is a gap in the activities we offer – then let us know and we can work with you to make it a reality.

To get a taste for some of the activities we are involved in then please have a look at our Events Calendar.

If you are embarking on any kind of scientific career, or planning to, then good science communication is a vital skill to have. We are a member of the British Science Association and involvement with us will bolster your CV, enhance your science communication skills and provide great experience. But most of all, being a part of Science Brainwaves is great fun and extremely rewarding. You will meet many like minded people and have an opportunity to engage with many interesting and stimulating activities.

If this sounds good to you, then please come along to Room F2 in Firth Court at 6pm on Friday 30th September. We look forward to seeing you!

Thank you. The Science Brainwaves Team.

Report Dodgy Science appeal

Hi all,

We would like to draw your attention to an appeal from Sense about Science, they are a great charitable organisation who aim to assist the public in understanding scientific and medical claims. They are launching a campaign to add new functionality to their site, this will allow anyone to report dodgy scientific claims at the click of a button. By doing so they hope to raise awareness even further of poor, or badly communicated, scientific information. 

To learn more about the ‘Report Dodgy Science’ campaign, please see the information below from Dr. Tabitha Innocent, the communications officer at Sense About Science.

Many thanks for reading, from the Brainwaves team.

Dear Friend

I am writing to ask for your help over the next week to get a campaign underway to tackle misleading science claims more systematically. As you know, one of the biggest frustrations with promoting science and evidence in public discussion is the limited number of issues we can deal with. We want to take up more situations where the evidence is missing – whether because of misleading claims, distortion, political pressure, or vested interests intimidating people who try to put forward evidence. And we want to make a more permanent change when we expose misleading claims rather than be constantly fire-fighting. 

Many of you have made good suggestions about a campaign alongside the formal launch of our new website this summer, so we’ve decided to act on that. We are going to run a ‘Report Dodgy Science’ campaign to encourage people to tell us about misleading claims. This reporting will enable us to do two things: we can help people who contact us to take things up themselves (providing advice, encouragement and assistance from our database of 5,000 specialists) and so increase the effort for good science and evidence; and we can use their reports to identify problems that need action from us.   

I urgently need the help of our supporters to raise an initial fund of £8,000 by 22nd July to get this campaign ready for our website launch. It’s a big ask but we know you can help us get there.  

A group of our supporters have got us started with donations, fundraising and publicity, so we’re starting with 7% of the target raised and some fundraising events already planned. I have set up a Just Giving page (http://www.justgiving.com/reportdodgyscience) which you can use for donations. You can also set up your own fundraising page for sponsored events and appeals to friends. Or you can sponsor Lauren Taylor in her roller skating marathon in August!

I will be posting updates about progress towards the £8,000 target and ways to be involved in the launch on the website (http://www.senseaboutscience.org/pages/report-dodgy-science-appeal.html). Please ask everyone you know to support this campaign.

Best wishes


Dr Tabitha Innocent
Communications Officer
Sense About Science
14A Clerkenwell Green
London EC1R 0DP
Registered Charity No. 1101114
Company No. 6771027
Tel: +44 (0) 20 7490 9590