Wendy Sadler, from the School of Physics and Astronomy talks science and funk music…
I have been in the field of science communication for almost 15 years now. I began as an exhibition helper for Techniquest (Wales’s hands on educational science centre) whilst I was in my final year as a Physics and Music undergraduate at Cardiff University. The University was one of only a handful of places where you could combine these two topics at degree level and as soon as I visited the university I fell in love with Cardiff as a place to live and study. The people in the physics department were so much more friendly than the other universities I had visited and as I grew up in the Midlands, I had always wanted to live nearer to the sea!
Part of the appeal in studying Physics at degree level was that it was unusual for a girl to be interested in the topic and I liked that. In addition the fact that I studied Physics and Music was, and still is, something that people find quite curious. For me it was the chance to study two of the things I love most in life – science and sound!
I had never considered a career in science communication (in fact I am not sure such an area really existed at that time) but I felt this might be something I could be good at doing, and – most importantly -something I could do with my career that might make a difference.
When I graduated from Cardiff in 1994 I set about doing as much as I could in that field. I was lucky enough to work at Techniquest during the exciting time that they moved from a small tin shed to the wonderful purpose built centre it is now. I was very proud to be involved with establishing a range of new science theatre shows for family visitors during my 5 years as Education Manager.
Wendy taking part in Scrapheap Challenge
Since then my interest in science communication has grown enormously. I’ve been a science writer for children’s books, worked with research scientists at Cardiff University and as a mentor for public engagement projects with the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council. I was also part of the first ever all-female team of scientists and engineers on Channel 4s Scrapheap Challenge!
In 2002 I joined the University as a Schools Liaison Officer in the School of Physics and Astronomy, which gave me the opportunity to combine my creative and scientific skills. This is something I have always done throughout life with my love of science and music, and I took that a stage further when, just after joining the University, I set up my own science communication company ‘science made simple’.
Launched as a spin-out company from the School of Physics and Astronomy, science made simple’ is about translating the complexities of cutting edge science into something that is accessible and interesting to a wide range of people.
Wendy at a Science Made Simple event
The general public is generally wary of science and I work all the time to try and overcome preconceptions about science through ‘science made simple’. I try to spark in people the wonder of understanding how things work. From the colour of a beautiful sunset to the way we can now store thousands of songs on something the size of a matchbox - I think the enjoyment is finding out what is going on in all these things that we take for granted.
Often my friends and family get dragged into to try out new demonstrations for science made simple, and the work done at the School - they all know that I love gadgets and scientific toys!
My house is full of weird and wonderful science props and gadgets and I have a very understanding husband who puts up with it all. I am fortunate that he makes an excellent ‘glamourous assistant’ in some of my shows and that he has a childlike curiosity about science so I can be sure that anything he enjoys the audience will enjoy too.
My friends usually humour me when I start explaining the physics of sound on a night out! I try and keep an active music interest going and play saxophone occasionally with the funk band Doctor Lewney when I get the time. I've also recently joined the 'Cardiff City Voices' choir and am trying to learn the guitar (without much success!).
Wendy Sadler was recently named a Woman of Outstanding Achievement by the UK Resource Centre for Women in Science, Engineering and Technology. In 2007 Wendy won the European Descartes Prize for Innovation and Science Communication which was previously awarded to Bill Bryson and David Attenborough. Wendy is also former Welsh Woman of the Year (science and technology), and is chair of WISE in Wales (Women Into Science, Engineering and Construction).