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Wednesday morning coffee and cakes



Researchers down insects for coffee and cakes

With the arrival of two new professors, Prof Dave Goulson and Prof Bill Hughes, specialising in social insects, the number of researchers studying solitary and social insects has grown quite considerable in the last year or so. We are scattered in various locations throughout the School of Life Sciences' John Maynard Smith (JMS) building, and getting to know one another isn't as straight forward as it could be. So, to help remedy this situation we decided to meet every Wednesday morning in the JMS tea room on the 4th floor, to have a civilised session of coffee, tea and cakes.

Halloween cupcakes

At the end of October it was LASI's turn to provide the delicacies to be savoured that morning. Much baking and buying took place as we prepared our offering to bring to the table. There were macaroons, a carrot cake, mini mince pies, chocolate chip cookies, halloween cupcakes and a chocolate cake too.

Tom preparing cakes




plate of halloween cupcakes


carrot cake


Choc chip cookies

As usual it was a good turn-out with around 30 participants. This included some of the Life Sciences' technicians who also sampled the baked goods. It is usually a stimulating and noisy half hour where the debates aren't necessarily focussed on our beloved insects.

Social Insect Coffee morning


Social Insect Coffee morning

The coffee mornings do, however, foster good relationships amongst the members of the various research groups, getting everyone to know what projects are taking place, and perhaps offering some food for thought and new ideas.

To find out more about who we are and what we study, take a look at the links below:

Laboratory of Apiculture and Social Insects

Prof Dave Goulson's research lab

Prof Bill Hughes' research lab

Prof Jeremy Field's research lab


Taking Science to the public - last minute planning



Preparing public engagement for the Brighton Science Festival Bright Sparks event

T minus 2 days.

Time to check that everything is in place.

 Last minute list:

1. Purchase of strawberries for the DNA extraction. This was a concern with the juxtaposition of the Bright Sparks Event and Valentine’s day – but there were plenty left in the shop.

 2. Packaging of the items for lab coat decoration, DNA extraction, and translating DNA.  The smart storage crates have not arrived! On to plan B, we have found some smaller recycled cardboard boxes to replace them.

3. Checking the researchers on the volunteer list. One had to drop out but another volunteered so we have enough researchers on board to run for the whole day.

4. Preparing for the run-through tomorrow. One person identified to lead each activity for the practice. We will run the events tomorrow with the other volunteers acting as the participants so that everyone knows what to expect the next day when 500 visitors arrive!

 5. Despite the clipboards and planning lists in hand, we know it will not be smooth sailing on the day so have a “don’t panic -  look in here” box of sellotape, string, blue tack, scissors and wet wipes for emergency repairs.



Professor Alison Sinclair's profile page

Sinclair Lab website

Short Burst Activities in Lectures Part 1. Herd Immunity



Short Burst Activities – Introduction.

My teaching philosophy is that the most effective teaching fosters an active participation in learning and in my roles as a University professor and as a leader of outreach activities I consider myself primarily as a learning facilitator.

A worked example makes it easier for others to understand how readily this can be achieved and so I am compiling a series of ‘how to’ guides for ‘Short Burst Activities’ within lecture theatre teaching teaching of Bio-Sciences. Some are very specific but others could be readily adapted to other topics.

I would be greatful for feedback and if you would like me to add your activities to the blog, or add a link to them please contact me.

Part 1. Herd Immunity

Learning Objectives: to illustrate the value of herd immunity (year 1 BSc)


In advance bring a method of identifying a set of students eg napkin on head.

  • Give a set (approx half the class) of napkins to some students in middle of the front row

  • Instructions are to take one and pass backwards (2 minutes)

  • If available give a toy to two students on left hand side to represent vunerable people

  • Set an infection going in one corner of the class (right hand corner in illustration)

  • Instructions are to stand up when infected and to pass the infection by shaking hands with anyone you can reach easily

  • After a couple of minutes you will see that the majority on the right hand side are infected and none on left hand side are

  • If your lecture/teaching space is not full then the immunization will be patchier and the results less clear (as in life)

  • Watch the spread of infection and pause transmission at an early stage to illustrate some herd protection then let it continue to show a poor outcome

  • Then either cluster the students together to re-run or show the diagram of the outcome with good coverage

  • for a pictorial account please see:

I would be greatful for feedback and if you would like me to add your activities to the blog, or add a link to them please contact me.

Taking Science To The Public Is Addictive -"DNA detectives" at the 2018 Brighton Science Festival.



My interest in science was fed by occasional documentaries and the hands-on activities at The Science Museum and Natural History museum.  Accessible information is now available on every platform, but where do the youth of Sussex get to join in with hands-on activities?

The Brighton Science Festival.


Just under three weeks to go until ‘Bright Sparks’ weekend full of hands-on activities at the Brighton Science Festival.

 And we get to join in!

 The ‘DNA Detectives’ - a group of researchers, students and faculty from the University of Sussex School of Life Sciences will be extracting DNA from strawberries and making models of viruses with 100’s of young people.

 Thank you to The Royal Society for Biology for sponsorship.

 Thank you to researchers, students and faculty for their time.

 Thank you to Brighton Science festival for giving us the opportunity to have fun undertaking this important outreach.