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Year in review 2019: One giant leap for Science Oxford…

Friday 13th December 2019

In a year which saw the 50th  anniversary of the 1969 Apollo moon landing celebrated globally, Science Oxford took a giant leap of its own and launched the brand-new Science Oxford Centre in Headington. From hands-on schools exploration and family visits, to woodland walks and expert talks, we’ve welcomed over 2700 pupils from 37 schools and over two thousand parents and children to our new centre and stunning 15-acre woodland. Touchdown – the SOC has landed!

Our super team have found time for lots of other amazing things in 2019 with the help of our partners and supporters, and you! A BIG thanks to each and every one of you for the support, read on to find out what we got up to this year.

We started the year as we meant to go on, tackling topical issues in talks and film screenings, such as NHS reform and emergency response ‘Beds to Brexit’, with top NHS expert Keith Willett CBE; we tuned into to a debate on the role of magic mushrooms in treating depression in the New Science of Psychedelics with clinical trial expert Dr Carhart Harris, got to grips with The Gendered Brain with neurologist Gina Rippon, and asked what geology had to do with Trump’s election win with astrobiologist Lewis Dartnell in Origins- How the Earth Made Us. NHS ageing expert Sir Muir Gray challenged our audience to run up Shotover Hill (questioning how many would return…), we got sweet on bees and the environment with Honeyland screening, quizzing bee experts at the UPP, and we covered 10 things you should know about Space, with Oxford Astrophysicist Becky Smethurst. Big thanks to Events Manager Luiza for such thought provoking evenings – next February find out what part You play in climate change at ‘Disaster by Choice’ with Professor of Disaster and Health, Ian Kelman (book here).

More hot topics were the talk of the town as the nation’s favourite science competition – FameLab UK – took centre stage in February and March, with a record number of contestants applying to take part in our Oxford heats. Highlights included ‘Big Bertha’, a 1.3 billion years old and never seen before bacterial ball of snot and poo; celebrating the Year of the Periodic Table with an ode to Sulphur – and Oxford University’s Sam Hatfield ‘storming’ the final in June to become the UK runner up with his climate change talk. That’s not all; our resident bard-chemist, Rowena Fletcher-Woods penned the first ever FameLab poem for the nationals, which practically went ‘viral’!  Find out more and sign up for FameLab 2020 here.

FameLab Judges Rennée Watson,  Georgina Ferry and Dr Lucy Rogers on International Women and Girl’s in Science Day!

A strong year for sci-comm, we also hosted 2017’s FameLab winner, musical maths teacher Kyle Evans’ comedy show at Oxford’s Old Fire Station as a warm up for his stint at the Edinburgh Fringe and summer festival tour; we took our bespoke CSI Forensic challenge to Cogges farm in Witney and the Agatha Christie Festival in Wallingford; we ran Science Cabaret and interactive events, provided digital filming training for 20 local communication professionals, where, making a short film about cake, our Digital Comms officer Autumn was hilariously taken over by the spirit of Nigella (moist)– and took on the Oxfordshire Hub for the Presenter Network, where over 100 local presenters from all kinds of backgrounds signed up and benefited from free training and networking. The Network rounded off the year with a trip to see JET – a fusion energy reactor! Our next networking session is in January.

In March our schools outreach team packed up the Science Oxford van and set out for our biggest British Science Week tour ever. They reached over 2000 children and young people across the region, and hopefully inspired a few to become scientists, engineers or even astronauts in the future. We also hosted our 11thBig Science Event for primary schools with 80+ participating, and reached thousands of children through our outreach shows, workshops and science clubs – one of which included real moon rocks to celebrate Apollo50. Science Rocks! Thanks to Libby, our behind the scenes schools outreach organiser!

In April we becameone of eight science centres to take part in Explore Your Universe, a project run by the UK Association for Science and Discovery Centres to engage with families living in areas of socio-deprivation and communities who may not currently engage with science centres. Our education outreach manager Sophie Batin has since been working with young people in Banbury and this brilliant project continues into 2020.

We went wild in May, with our Children’s Wildlife Photography competition, run in partnership with Headington Action. Entries featured all kinds of wildlife like snails, slugs and a Banksy-esque urban poppy, the judging was tough but we managed to choose 12 finalists aged 5-12 for the final exhibition and prizegiving at Headington Festival in June. Look out for an even wilder competition next summer!

On the scent of success –  award-winning citizen science badger project led by WildCRU PHD student Tanesha Allen worked with local schools and Abingdon Science Partnership over the summer, capturing hundreds of hours of footage in our Stansfeld Park woodland, to find out the nocturnal movements of our urban furry friends and how they react to the scent of other creatures, including humans. The project involved a smelly Tee competition, and a fridge full of Team Science Oxford wee samples!! We’re not even extracting the urine.


As mini-Greta-Thunberg’s got involved with climate protests in Oxford and all over the country and waved their amazing hand-made banners, we celebrated Oxford’s Green Week in June with a series of  environmentally-themed kid’s clubs and open days with Oxford Conservation Volunteers. Thanks to Jen for putting this lovely film of Maker Club Juniors No Planet B together!


Thanks to funding from a West Oxfordshire company who prefer to remain anonymous, our head ‘Magic-Ian’ took to the road in August to entertain over 250 children and their families with the Science of Magic, appearing at twelve free library shows in Witney, Bampton, Carterton, Charlbury, North Leigh and Oxford city. Now that’s magic.

We got the official thumbs up from local children when we formally opened the Science Oxford Centre to schools in September, following a 3-month trial period. Our schools programme is built on an approach called Thinking, Doing, Talking Science – led by Bridget Holligan, with centre staff superstars Mike, Kat and Emily on board – which encourages children to experiment, ask questions and test their ideas and so develop their higher-order thinking skills. Check out a short Teacher Taster film here.

Children from Oakley Church of England Combined School give the Thumbs Up

AI to Z of science – October was all about IF – Oxford’s Science and Ideas Festival, for which we were again associate partners in 2019. IF engaged over 15,000 families, children and adults from all backgrounds and communities, at events from shopping centres to street and stage. We particularly enjoyed hosting a free Planetarium experience for families in Blackbird Leys, running robotics workshops for young people, and going stellar at our sold out ‘Science Cabaret’ in a pub, where Professor of Astrophysics and BBC Sky at Night presenter Chris Lintott entertained the crowd with ‘Why It’s Never Aliens.’ Read our blog on the history-making Ethics of AI talk with the Bishop of Oxford to over 250 people. Thanks to ‘cool kids’, Team IF Dane and Cathy for their achievements and hard work!

Prof Chris Lintott talks why it’s Never aliens

In October & November we applauded 122 outstanding young scientists at our Young Scientists Of The Year celebration, with canapes and tiaras under the T Rex in the stunning University of Oxford Natural History Museum and fizz and fanfare at New Bucks University. 27 students took work experience placements over the summer, and our STEM Insight weeks took 45 students from a range of schools on tour to cutting edge tech and engineering organisations such as Abbot Diabetes in Witney to Network Rail in Oxford, even adding a touch of Bond glamour at Aston Martin, with over 30 businesses participating in all. Thanks to Andy and new dad Chris for (staying awake) and delivering a cracking programme!

Young Scientists of the Year pose for pictures under the T rex

Stand up for trees!! They give us oxygen, store carbon, improve air quality, conserve water, preserve soil, support wildlife and are a key solution to climate change. With the help of local Headington school children,  Outdoor Learning and Ecology Manager Roger Baker planted over 300 trees for November’s National Tree Week. Hawthorn, Hazel, Rowan, Blackthorn, Dogwood and Roses were donated by the Woodland Trust and planted around the Science Oxford Centre, adding to 13 trees planted by the team in rather muddy conditions last November.The conservation project is ongoing, and the woodland is home to a variety of badgers, foxes, muntjac, Great crested Newts, ducklings and squirrels and mini-beasts (including our new Forest School area). Dr Roger (the Ranger?) keeps a watchful eye over all. Read here.

In late November we also welcomed a full house of robot wars fans from across the country to the Science Oxford Centre for the 20thanniversary of the Antweight World Series competition – a tournament for combat robots that weigh no more than 150gms – that’s about the same as a cheeseburger. Big up to our resident tech guru Sarah for organising!

We also got a buzz from electric vehicle mavericks buzzEV, who loaning one of their fleet of electric vans to our outreach team to assist in the delivery of our STEM outreach programme to primary schools across the region. The new Science Oxford centre at Stansfeld Park has plenty of green credentials of its own, including solar PV, air-source heat pumps, a green roof, solar shading and, of course, electric charging points in the car park. Perfect for our new buzzEV electric van, which is already plugged in and ready to GO! Read more here.

December saw the installation of our beautiful Christmas tree in the centre, (decorated by Cerys at the Welcome Desk) and we received a heart warming letter in Braille from a young visitor, which made all the hard work worthwhile! We hope to see you soon for a festive visit – we’re open for Family Open Days on  21st, drop in on 27thand 30thof December and open for booking again on 4thJanuary (Book here). So we wish you a merry Christmas and a peaceful New Year, as we all get ready to launch into a new decade. Take care of yourself, eachother and the planet in 2020 –  and come and visit, we’ll be over the moon to see you.

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