23 questions about the lives of scientists

A new website led by Professor Sarah-Jayne Blakemore.

Cognitive neuroscientist Sarah-Jayne Blakemore (University College London) has created a website aimed at inspiring young people to get involved with the sciences. The Scientific 23 poses 23 questions to a varied group of scientists about their work, background and what inspired them to become involved in their scientific pursuits.

Professor Blakemore’s lab focuses on the development of the teenage brain, and as such she spends much of her time in schools with teenagers. She said: ‘Something that surprises me when I visit schools is that the view still seems to prevail amongst students that professors of science must surely be men! This is surprising because there are now many women professors of science, but they are perhaps not as visible as the men, who have the advantage of centuries of scientific history behind them – it is mostly men whose findings make it into the textbooks. For a long time I have been thinking about how to raise the visibility of women scientists amongst school students.’

In 2013 Blakemore was given the Royal Society Rosalind Franklin Award, which supports the promotion of women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. She decided to use it in order to create the website exploring the lives of scientists, their inspirations, and how studying science at school or university can lead to many different careers.

The current interviewees include psychologists Essi Viding (UCL), Tim Dalgleish (Cambridge) and Tanya Byron, as well as eminent doctors, physicists and even science exhibit curators and journalists.

Each interview includes 23 questions submitted by teenagers and is aimed as a resource particularly for secondary school students. Why 23? The site explains that, amongst other things, we have 23 chromosomes, and in a room of 23 people, there’s 50 per cent chance that two will share a birthday (the birthday paradox). 'We’re not saying that there’s anything special about the number 23, but it’s certainly an interesting number!'

An interview will be added each month for the next year. Blakemore and her research assistant, Medical student Emily Garrett, have interviewed the scientists, while journalist Adam Rutherford has written them up.

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