Current stuff I'm doing
Galaxy Zoo Forum
Since July 2007 I've moderated the discussion forum for Galaxy Zoo, which subsequently underwent inflation and became part of the larger Zooniverse. Galaxy Zoo is an online astronomy project in which anyone, regardless of their astronomy knowledge, can take a quick tutorial then learn to classify galaxies by shape. There are millions of galaxies in the Universe, too many for professionals to sort alone; but the human eye is very good at picking out shapes and galaxy features. I keep the discussion forum in order and answer a lot of astronomy questions. I hope you'll come along - everyone is welcome!
Galaxy Zoo has now grown into The Zooniverse and the Citizen Science Alliance, and has (as of late December 2011) half a million citizen scientists on board. Citizen science is the public getting actively involved in science projects, collaborating with experts and, I hope, taking more ownership of science, discovery, and perhaps one day more independence of thought and action on a large scale.
I was invited on board by the wonderful astrophysicist and science communicator Chris Lintott, and it's been the best thing I ever did. I give talks about Galaxy Zoo to both lay and professional audiences, and have written about it for the Society for Popular Astronomy and Astronomy Now magazines.
Hashtags: Galaxy Zoo; Galaxies; Galaxy morphology & colour; Galaxy physics; Citizen Science; Outreach; Astronomy News
Starting in October 2012, I'm giving a monthly astronomy talk series to raise funds to fight female genital mutilation. The talks are on various astronomical topics - things I've found out a lot about, for one reason or another, such as Galaxy Zoo (obviously!), Saturn, women in astronomy, space chemistry, the search for life, etc. They take place at Newington Green Unitarian Church, Stoke Newington, London, on the second Wednesday of each month at 7pm.
Female genital mutilation is a horrific human rights abuse with long term psychological and medical harm. It is not required by any religion and there are no health benefits. It largely takes place in Africa, but also parts of Asia and now in many parts of Europe. At present, around 20,000 girls mostly of primary school age are cut each summer, with unsterelized equipment and no anaesthetic. It is against the law in the UK, but there has not been a single prosecution. I gathered the courage to tackle it after many women from ethnic minorities pointed out that it was more racist to turn a blind eye than to interfere. Lacking in the slightest idea of how to tackle it myself, I picked astronomy talks as my "weapon of choice". Talks are £3 each and the proceeds after expenses will go to the Orchid Project and Daughters of Eve.
As of September 2011, I am enrolled on a part-time Masters in Astrophysics course at Queen Mary University of London. This came about after I realised that I had been moderating the Galaxy Zoo forum for over three years and that I knew astronomy and science communication were for me. My irritation with knowing so much amateur stuff and so little of the nuts and bolts - the maths, the methods, the journal articles and so on - planted the seed, and then attending the AAS conference in Boston in May 2011 made me seriously start thinking about it as a career. The course takes place in the evenings and is spread over two years. It involves lectures and a large research project. An MSc (or Masters) is a higher level than an undergraduate degree, but lower than a PhD. If it goes well, I may go on to do a PhD - I don't know yet.
Because so many people on the Galaxy Zoo Forum wished me well and remarked that they longed to do the course too, I decided to write up the lecture notes for them all to read (not as much as I should, unfortunately). You can find them and more about the course here in the Galaxy Zoo Forum Library.
Hackney Skeptics, on the other hand, takes place in the Hackney Attic - not quite a pub, but with all the fun and a touch of glamour - and is the SITP with a science twist, bringing science into our talks and hopefully some fun experiments to do during the interval!
This was founded by James Robson who asked me to join in, helped along by Laura Mills from the Hackney Picturehouse. If you're thinking of starting up a Skeptics in the Pub, it's very worthwhile - you need a venue, a weeknight, a laptop, a projector, a mike and an audience! There is a list of speakers here (and you'll find a lot more by browsing Skeptics sites generally).
We meet on the last Monday of every month at 7.30 pm - details on the venue here.
I have my own Skeptics in the Pub talk, on Galaxy Zoo and how citizen science has taught non-scientists the scientific method and how to make their own discoveries - and could, hopefully, revolutionise the public's understanding of science and ability to assess evidence.
Hashtags: Skeptics in the Pub, Health/Science/Medicine versus Nonsense; Bogus Pythonising, Simon Singh Case
Occasionally - not often enough! - I contribute to part of this lovely website whose slogan is "Inspiring Future Astronomers". This is a page run by teenagers to communicate astronomy science and news to fellow young people; they have a new post every day.
Hashtags: Young Astronomers
Sadly I had to give this up when I moved to London, leaving it in Dean's exceptionally capable hands. Much missed!
Hashtags: Skeptics in the Pub, Cardiff Skeptics, Health/Science/Medicine versus Nonsense; Bogus Pythonising, Simon Singh Case
She is an Astronomer
As part of the International Year of Astronomy (2009), an international cornerstone project was set up to encourage more women to participate in astronomy, and to examine the reasons for low participation in some countries and the high dropout rate at professional levels. I moderated the discussion forum while it ran and helped organise a great conference in April.
Although my formal work for She is an Astronomer is done, it generated a lot of interest and enthusiasm so do get in touch with them if you are still interested in this important issue!
Hashtags: She is an Astronomer
Tea with the Stars
Pembrokeshire Tea Company started an astronomy lecture series for people in Pembrokeshire, where we both lived. They fundraised for local charities and subjects included Galaxy Zoo; black holes; Cassini and Saturn's moons and non-standard cosmology. We also had plans to cover telescope history and design; astronomy and art; and the discovery of spectra. They were aimed at a beginner audience and have been taking place on alternate Thursday nights, but were interrupted when Pembrokeshire Tea had to relocate.
Tony and I have both since moved away from Pembrokeshire. But if anyone in Pembrokeshire wants me to talk during the holidays, I would love to do so.
Hashtags: Tea with the Stars, Outreach