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A few weeks ago, at the end of January, I took part in Science Show-off. This is a fun event that’s sort of like a cross between stand up comedy and science. Basically, stand-up science. You get about 8 acts, each about 9 minutes long, covering anything and everything in science with an informal and ideally funny slant.

It’s the brainchild of Steve Cross, the Head of Public Engagement at University College London, and events take place all across the UK on a regular basis.

I’d been to a few before, several of my friends had performed at them, and I’d always fancied giving it a go. When the call went out for the Bristol event in January, I decided to take the plunge.

Was I nervous? I was bloody terrified, which is kind of funny because I used to present to a live audience on an almost daily basis when I worked as a Nature Live Host at the Natural History Museum. But that was 1. quite a long while ago now and 2. different, because then I was asking the questions – this time, I’d be providing the content.

As a Nature Live Host, I’d worked with the rather amazing scientists and curators who work behind the scenes to develop the events. We’d meet up, talk through content, work out the best way to tell the story or share the research, and decide on props, images, specimens, format and content. In the event, we’d both essentially know what we were going to cover, so all I needed to do really was ask the right questions in the right place.

Okay, there’s a little more to it than that, but I always thought it was the scientists who did the real hard work, sharing their work in an engaging, fascinating way with the general public.

But with Science Showoff, I’d be alone on that stage, in front of that audience. I’d need to present the information in a fun way, and more horrifyingly, I need to memorise it and attempt to make it funny.

I opted to talk about parasites, because I have to confess I love them (although obviously I wouldn’t love actually having them). They are an amazing range of organisms that have evolved a crazy lifestyle, not just living in or on another organism, but often ONLY being able to live in a particular organism. They just can’t complete their life cycle in any other animal.

What’s more, some have a crazily complex lifestyle, which they can only complete by passing through several specific hosts in a particular order, and they can sometimes control their hosts behaviour! See, I told you they were interesting.

And of course, there was plenty of opportunity for including gory images and descriptions. I decided to focus on parasites of humans because, well, YUCK! So tape worms, lice and bot flies all got a look in. Incidentally, if you really want to gross yourself out, google bot fly larvae extraction video. But make sure you haven’t eaten first, particularly if you are squeamish!

So how did it go? I absolutely LOVED it. I was so nervous I was almost sick but it went well, I feel, and I’d love to do it again. I got some good oohs, ahhs, and eurghs from the audience, which was really gratifying. The audience were great, the venue was perfect, and I was completely buzzing afterwards. I’d really recommend giving it a go if you’re even half tempted!

There were some other genius acts, with a definite insect/arachnid theme, who were all outstanding, but I have to give particular mention to one. Sarah Snell-Pym was a classmate of mine when we both studied Geology as undergraduates at the Royal School of Mines at Imperial College London. She is now an extremely talented writer, artist, and poet with a focus on science. She debuted her incredible Ada Lovelace puppet, who regaled us with the tempestuous story of her life. It was eye opening to say the least! Look out for future performances.

As it happens, you can actually hear some of my act because Antony Poveda who works on the Love & Science Show on BCfm (Bristol community radio station) popped along. My segment is at 40.00 minutes if you want to skip to my bit, but the whole program is great and well worth a listen! – 09/02/2015 is the show you are looking for.

If you have the chance to pop along to a Science Showoff event (or one of the linked events like Museums Showoff) I can guarantee a fun evening with beer, wine, science and fun.

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