Wednesday, September 16, 2015

This is an old blog

I've started posting new stuff at so feel free to check out old posts here or head over there for the latest

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Science Gallery London is launching a peripatetic seminar series

Science Gallery London is launching a peripatetic seminar series, working alongside an existing set of seminars to do so.


We want to build relationships with the academic community, especially those in the social studies of science, and museums/ cultural studies. We’re not just aiming to build a science/ art gallery, but one that engages with 15-25 year olds both at Kings College London and the local community.

We think we can offer some interesting social interactions with science which academics could study (and challenge us on). In the short term, we think we’ll have some interesting conversations. More long term, we want to forge the sort of relationships we can build collaborative research funding bids with. We think seminars are a good place to start these sorts of dialogues.


We want to bring something of the Science Gallery ethos — our core values of connection, participation and surprise — to a range of existing seminar series.

We can help you structure the event, and find speakers, and offer some expertise in developing discussion in seminar-style events, with Dr Daniel Glaser, Director of the Science Gallery London, available as a facilitator. We can also offer a chance to raise the impact of your seminar series, with the young people we work with available as interrogators (e.g. to make a video diary of the event).

We're working with the brilliant Alice Bell to put all this together.

What do we want from you?

Simply open your doors and offer us a date in your seminar series to be co-run by the Science Gallery London.

Together, we’ll pick a topic and two speakers. They'll be asked to talk for no longer than 15 minutes each, on complementary topics, with the rest of the time being focused on group discussion. Initially, we are looking at the London area, but are open to interest elsewhere.

What will you get in exchange?

A momentary pause in the usual business of academic debate, a chance to discuss your work with new people, and in new ways, find new potential research collaborators, new ideas and new audiences. We are, however, keen that any collaboration will be developed by all parties together, so what we can offer exactly is partly up to you.

Interested? Email sciencegallery at kcl dot ac dot uk ASAP and we can have a chat.

Tuesday, November 04, 2014

This year, I became the first scientist to judge the Man Booker

This year, I became the first scientist to judge the Man Booker

By Daniel Glaser, King's College London

I found it odd that there had never been a scientist as a Man Booker judge. There have been many non-literary types amongst the judges: a former spy, a former dancer, a Downton Abbey actor – but science, apparently, was a step too far. Until this year, when I joined the judging panel.

This step was greeted with some anxiety. The chasm between science and the arts seems, to some, to be unbridgeable. Although Richard Dawkins argues that science enhances rather than destroying the beauty of the world (and I agree), unfairly or not, Dawkins has become associated with a kind of extreme scientism – the notion that only a scientific account of the world is valid. This view has also characterised some of the recent incursions of, for example, neuroscience into aesthetics where, at its worst, the knowledge and practice of thousands of years of culture and hundreds of years of critical thought can be swept away by a “killer experiment” that reduces beauty, love or memory to an activity pattern on a brain scan.

This parody view underlines a certain suspicion of what can happen when science enters new territory and I know that some of my fellow Man Booker judges this year had that anxiety. I hope I proved them wrong.

Admittedly, I do have some arty strings to my bow. During and since my neuroscience research career I’ve been exploring the spaces and connections between the arts and sciences: at the Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA), in my work at Wellcome Trust and now as Director of Science Gallery at King’s College London.

156 books

This was the year that the prize opened up to authors from any country writing in English. As a scientist, I found it difficult to be as exercised about the change as others. It’s only within the past 100 years that English has replaced German as the dominant language of science but throughout my career the national origin of the author has been irrelevant. After a hard day in the lab I’d often look round the table in the pub and find no two people from the same country.

In this sense, science often seems less parochial than other pursuits. And in any case the threatened American invasion failed to materialise. There was no formal “blinding” to the origin of the author (although as a literary outsider I did resist reading the biographies and blurbs). But in any case, once you find yourself submerged in the novel – that delicious loss of self which magically occurs, even when ploughing though book after book – any details outside the text fall away.

And yes, there were a lot of books (156). And yes we did read all of them. I have previously been a judge on the Aventis Prize (now the Royal Society Winton Prize for Science Books). There the submitted books were divided among the judges so we had many fewer to read. And also, I found that I could tell much sooner whether a non-fiction fact-based book was any good.

For Man Booker, looking back over my reading notes I found I had scribbled “plain terrible writing” early on one book that later was a long-list contender. And right up to the final meetings we argued about whether the writing in a given book was “great writing” or not.

Two cultures

Scientific papers rarely address the question of what science is, because scientists rarely discuss their own practice (in contrast with, say, art school, where learning to describe your own work seems almost at the heart of the enterprise). The peer-reviewed scientific literature is formulaic in the extreme. Novels engage much more radically and sometimes explicitly with the notion of what a novel is. That’s partly why it often took so long to work out whether, even subjectively, a book was any good or not.

There was a lot of science in the books we read (I can claim no credit for that). I don’t know if it’s a growing trend, but it’s noticeable that novels are a significant element of the Wellcome Trust book prize shortlist. Two of the shortlisted Man Booker novels had scientific or medical themes at their heart. But to judge or read the Joshua Ferris you no more need to be a scientist than a sports fan: it’s a book about dentistry but also revolves around the fortunes of the Boston Red Sox. I was delighted to see so much cognitive science in the Karen Joy Fowler and chuckled at the reference to the BRCA2 DNA cycle path in the Ali Smith. But my enjoyment of Richard Flanagan’s winning book was not undermined by lack of familiarity with the death railway in World War II.

The kind of mental exhaustion I feel from having read a novel a day for six months is no different than that of my fellow judges. I did draw on some psychological principles in choosing to read them in physical copies rather than electronically – your encoding of memory is richer if it’s multi-sensory. But in the end, science is part of culture and the scientist is a reader like any other. Finding the best novel of 2014 is not a scientific business, but different perspectives should always be encouraged. Next year, let’s get an astrophysicist discussing the best novel of 2015.

The Conversation

Daniel Glaser does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.

This article was originally published on The Conversation.
Read the original article.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Reach out for Healthcare Science

I'm doing a talk tomorrow at King's as part of an initiative in which pupils are "discovering the attractions and potential of healthcare science".

I'll be talking about communicating science and, partly for the benefit of any participants who want the links here are the main points I'll be making:

Firstly, Science Gallery London is a new initiative at King's where 15-25 year olds can set the agenda for conversations where science and art collide. I'm the director but actually the model is all about building a space where the audience control the content.

Then I'll be talking about the different ways you could communicate a recent study reported as 'ketchup with everything'. I was going to discuss the relation between menthol cigarettes and smoking amongst teens but wanted to get the tone right. I'll mostly be referring to the write-up in the excellent NHS Choices 'Behind the Headlines' site.

Finally I'll refer to the recent study of public attitudes to science conducted by Ipsos-MORI and written up by the always excellent Alice Bell in the Guardian.

We'll also be talking about our new 'Frequencies: Tune in to your life' initiative. Watch this space for more on that.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Some of the projects at Wellcome Trust

And again for one reason and another I thought I would pull together some of couple of the larger projects my team commissioned at Wellcome Trust over the seven years I was there.

We did a whole series of things to mark the Darwin bicentenary including a Darwin inspired experiment for every schoolchild in Britain. The primary school one was called the Great Plant Hunt and the secondary Survival Rivals and around three quarters of the schools in Britain used the kits.

We also commissioned with Channel 4 an online alternate reality game and associated collateral called Routes including the trivial and disgusting Sneeze game that had over 15 million plays online and was written up in the New York Times. There were some amazing young poets in Evolving Words and we were honored to collaborate with David Attenborough on the Tree of Life video and interactive.

For London 2012 we did another series of schools experiments, also taken up by around 75% of the schools in Britain, called In the Zone. This featured Sir Steve Redgrave and you can see a video and read the evaluation here.

Pulling together some videos

For one reason and another I thought would gather together some of the talks and discussions I've done that are available online.

Friday, December 06, 2013

Olympic legacy and 1851

Was invited to comment on the UCL V&A announcement for the olympic park at Stratford Waterfront by the Evening Standard, and here's the letter they published yesterday:

5 December 2013

BEFORE the 1851 Great Exhibition, as before the 2012 olympics, naysayers worried about foreign pickpockets flooding the city, finances that didn’t add up, construction delays and  whether anyone would actually come. Both events turned out to be dramatic successes. Now with plans for a new “Albertopolis” in the east, the legacy of the Games has the potential to  emulate 1851 in promoting Britain’s status as a country of innovation.

A series of TEDx talks I hosted at the Albert Hall this autumn updated Prince Albert’s vision for Britain. Ideas described and bounced around included novel uses for seaweed; the first musical keyboard that spans digital and analogue; the educational value of the crossword puzzle; the challenge of antibiotic resistance. The plans for Stratford Waterfront  place academic research alongside world-class culture in exactly the configuration required to advance thinking of this kind. In this space where science and the arts collide, enterprises such as computer games  design thrive and Britain can be a global leader.

Dr Daniel Glaser, director, Science Gallery London, King’s College London

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Meeting at Science Gallery

In my new role as Director of Science Gallery London at King's College London I often meet people at the site. The easiest place for this is at the bottom of the escalators at the base of the Shard. This is the exit from London Bridge Station for Guy's Hospital and is at the junction of St Thomas St and Great Maze Pond. Here's a map link (look for the green arrow). A reasonable postcode for searching would be SE1 9RL although it's a short distance from there.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Chrisopher Wren brain imaging

Here is a link to an image Christopher Wren made in the 1660s of the anatomy of the brain which beautifully illustrates the system of blood supply now know as the Circle of Willis after Thomas Willis who wrote the book Cerebri anatome of 1664.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Twin science

Looking at the story of the conjoined twins who have been successfully separated. You can read about the circle of Willis and Christopher Wren here and some of the stuff about how we use our own bodies to read out the movements of others on a thing I did at Nova as part of a sequence on mirror neurons. There's been an interesting show about the historical portrayal of conjoined twins. Finally there's a lot out there about music and culture and here's good starting point about children.