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Volcano and environment specialists beat hot competition as science meets the X Factor

I'm a Scientist

Sarah Tesh, winner of the 'Extreme Clean Zone'

I'm a Scientist

James Hickey, winner of the 'Tellurium Zone'

Press release issued: 19 December 2013

University of Bristol PhD students James Hickey and Sarah Tesh have claimed victory in an X Factor style science competition.

Hundreds of pupils took part in the ‘I’m a Scientist Get me Out of Here’ competition, bombarding the scientists with questions via the internet.

The competition aims to get school children interested in science through quizzing scientists on their work, science, and their day-to-day lives. The initiative has seven ‘zones’ or categories and lasts two weeks. During the second week scientists are voted out until only one remains.

James was crowned the winner of the Tellurium Zone and Sarah the Extreme Clean Zone. They fielded thousands of questions via quick-fire web chats during pupils’ science lessons, and were impressed by the range of queries the youngsters had.

Questions ranged from: ‘How long can you last standing in lava without dying?’, ‘Do you think that if it wasn’t for Isaac Newton we would know about gravity?’ to ‘Why do women get cravings when they are pregnant?’, ‘Why is your science revolutionary’ and ‘Do you believe in evolution or that God created the world?’

James, a volcanology specialist, was able to cope with the quick-fire challenges posed by the 11 to 19 year-olds.

He said: “My mind was blown away by the huge variety of questions. I had to work pretty hard, but I’m glad I did. Some of the questions were so imaginative, I think we start to lose that sort of mental freedom as we get older and our curiosity is constrained by sense, so it was refreshing to see it again.”

Sarah was extremely happy to be voted the winner. Her research focuses on creating new materials to clean water using nano-particles, and she is interested in promoting science to school children.

She said “The whole experience definitely boosted my confidence when it comes to promoting science to schools, explaining my work and doing similar projects. I’ve already signed up for a Science in Broadcasting course and will definitely be doing more events like ‘I’m a Scientist’”

James plans to spend the £500 prize on ‘Volcano Days’ hosted at the University or in local schools. The days will teach pupils more about volcanoes through experiments and a role play experience of decision making in a developing volcano crisis. Sarah’s winnings will go to a school in Africa where students have no access to clean drinking water.

Both are PhD students in the University’s Faculty of Science.