A couple of weeks back I took over @RealScientists for 7 days. It was awesome! I thought that, while some of you might have caught my full week, it might be nice to put together a summary (along with some behind-the-scenes stuff) into a final blog post. @RealScientists’ mods write a kind of mini summary on their site RealScientists.org which I’ll also link to when it’s up…. which probably won’t be till I’ve sent them my questionnaire *cough*

First day

This is meant to be the gentle ‘feed-in, introduce yourself’ day on @RealScientists. Twitter is noticeably quieter on Sundays and less of the followers are reading the feed and replying. My original plan for Sunday was to plug the various “this is me” stuff I’d already written, and just say hi to the followers.

However, the previous week’s curator was @alomshaha from the Royal Institution and he had been plugging lots of at-home science experiments under their #ExpeRimental brand. So given how fun those looked, I decided to spend the afternoon trying a few with my 5 year old son, and share them on Twitter.

In the end we managed to try jumping flames and washing up liquid powered boats with varying success, all of which were helpfully recorded on Vine!

Honestly, being a RoCur was tons of fun, although getting used to having my phone light up with notifications every few seconds took a while. It’s strange going from having just a few replies, to people replying multiple times to every tweet you post. CAyDZcxWYAAd5d5


So I started off introducing lasers gently with a few explanations of my laser and what I was doing with it.

For the #laser people among you its a 10hz frequency quadrupled YAG circa 1996 For the non-laser people, it’s a UV laser that goes #PewPew (pulsed) instead of #Zzzzt (continuous)

While also dealing with some requests for modifications to my laser, as there was no little disappointment that it wasn’t attached to a shark… CAxMINeW8AAeFz5 But it was during the introduction to the laser that I made a throw-away comment about the power it…

My #laser outputs about 1.2J per second, which is roughly enough energy to lift a small potato 1m off the ground

…which led to what would be a week-long series of discussions about the application of lasers to potatoes. Quickly this descended into complex discussion about (XXXX) I’m not sure why but I started to think that the followers of @RealScientists really had a thing for burning potatoes! Thankfully one follower was more excited by other possibilities:

@yesiampotato: I will fly and return to my people with the power of this “laser”

I did eventually bring in a potato and try to answer some of the demands of potato destruction. In the end the most I managed with my laser was to give it a little suntan!

I also showed off my lab, and explained how our sensors worked, but people seemed a lot less interested in that and were more critical of how clean my lab was!

Suspiciosly tidy


The chemistry I focused on discussing was a technique called ‘Langmuir Blodgett’ coatings – which involved cool, floating monolayers of purple stuff. I tried to show how I can use these floating layers to coat the fiber sensor I had made with the laser, with calm detached professionalism.

*does a little dance* I have a monolayer! Now I have to wait for it to spread!

I also shared a load of figures, and a video animation I made some years ago that showed off the chemistry behind the technique. As well as sharing a few chemistry secrets on the sourcing of some materials when I can’t be bothered to wait for the suppliers delivery…

Next day delivery

Towards the end of the week I even got to show off the results of my chemical experiments, with the use of a big glowing green laser to excite my very excitable purple coatings.

Here’s the photo of my set up with some explanations & showing how the green laser beam changes shape with each step


CBA1pAJWYAAYuJlAlthough NOT triggering my photosensitive chemistry by photograph was a step I had actually over-looked in all my planning, so had to come up with something on the fly to give myself a light source that wasn’t going to activate the coating.

I even got results that looked almost sensible!

First results; there’s definitely a reaction to the green light but also lots of noise & drift. Back to the lab!


3D printing

Seeing as I was giving away 3D printed dice during my week, it seemed only appropriate that I showed off the printer and the things it can do.

Colleague: “Oh you’re using the 3D printer today. What complex thing are you making?”

Me: “A featureless cube!”

CA7zEjAWYAATdv6Which I did improve on by enhancing my original featureless cube to a featureless other thing. All of this was to both demo the machine and to prepare a block to mount fibers on for SEM work in the afternoon of the same day.

I also introduced one of the PhD students I help with, who is working on transparent plastics for microfluidic applications. I didn’t share too many photos of his work as he’s still working on it and not quite ready for the limelight yet.

I also took some time to show off how we embed fiber optic sensors in 3D printed plastic for a load of sensor applications.

Print paused half way with the fiber laid across the middle, un pausing includes saying dontmove dontmove dontmove

IT MOVED! @&£*
I mean it’s fine I just now have to correct for angular strain…. *%#%


SEM is still a pretty new technique to me but I figured that sharing some images and some tweets from my training session would be a good way to show off the chemistry I had done earlier in the week. I hadn’t actually looked at any of the surfaces before so it was a massive gamble that we’d see anything at all!

Bacteriorhodopsin coating capillary tube


I also took a moment to do some very serious manipulation of the electron beam to delicately alter a surface.

I absolutely did not just use a very expensive SEM to burn a 100um “HI” into something



Yeah there was also data analysis.

So you know all those experiments I did this week, yeah I’ve analysed none of that data…. guess what I’m doing this afternoon!

This triggered a lovely discussion – mostly about how terrible labview is and how not to over-analyse data.



In addition to all the work-based science things I did, I also spent some time doing science experiments at home.

It’s about 14:00 Sunday my time so not much science today. But instead of dead air I’m going to do some kitchen science with my son 🙂

This was mostly awesome because everything we did was accompanied by a call of “Show the Internet, Daddy – and see what it thinks!”.

Bedtime stories were also a big favourite topic! I asked for science-y bedtime stories to share with people and the followers delivered 🙂 The best suggestions were:

It’s certainly give me a long Amazon wish list!

Final notes

You can read all my tweets in this cool timeline -> @MCeeP on RealScientists.

You can also see a summary of all the science experiments I did in this handy infographic of what I discovered.

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Categories: ErrantWritings


Michelle Reeve · 22 April 2015 at 13:30

Looks like you had a fun week!! Thanks for sharing this, lots of good ideas for when I take over the Biotweeps RoCur account at the beginning of June 🙂 Really enjoyed your discussions on Real Scientist, when I had the time to follow them!

    Matthew (@MCeeP) · 22 April 2015 at 14:39

    Thanks Michelle, I had so much fun!

    I also wrote a load of stuff about all the prep I did but it didn’t really fit the blog post. I’ll try and do a followup to this post with some tips for people running a Rocur account based on my experience as a participant and experience as a moderator.

      Michelle Reeve · 22 April 2015 at 14:44

      Oh that would be brilliant, if you get the time!
      I’ve got some ideas, and obviously it’s different for everyone, but it’s good to hear from someone who’s done it 🙂

        Matthew (@MCeeP) · 22 April 2015 at 14:49

        I think everyone has a different style. It would be hard to pin down any ‘bad’ ideas really. What I think people should do on Rocur is probably quite different from everyone else’s. Although I think those that don’t reply and discuss things with the followers are missing a major part of the experience.

          Michelle Reeve · 22 April 2015 at 14:51

          Yes definitely agree – the main reason I signed up was so I could have conversations with people about my work!

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