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Tag: oxfordshire

Ep 8 – Destination Detonation: Renee Watson and her journey to The Curiosity Box

I think, at a child’s birth, if a mother could ask a fairy godmother to endow it with the most useful gift, that gift should be curiosity.” – Eleanor Roosevelt

There are many people in life who are passionate about STEM, education and science, and who work hard to connect with children, to unlock a lifelong love of science. But outside mainstream education, it would be difficult to find anyone who has so consistently and brilliantly applied herself in the service of science and education as Renee Watson.

We have been excited to talk with Renee and share her story for a while. Partly this is because you cannot help but swept up in her revolutionary fervour – Renee and her team at The Curiosity Box are leading a bona fide Curiosity Revolution after all. But her own story is so utterly compelling and, well, unlikely.

(Listen now on SoundCloud – iTunes – Stitcher – for a comprehensive set of show notes, including links, analysis and organisation contact, consider becoming a supporter through Patreon – or email us for more details)

Growing up in rural Australia, with no obvious mentors or scientists to ignite her own spark (save one, which we learn about in this episode of Stories from Science) she is almost uniquely qualified to identify and connect to her diamonds in the rough. These are the smart, motivated, curious children who fall through the cracks of mainstream education and yet are exactly the kinds of young people who will see things differently, and provide the new ideas and creativity in science that will solve problems and move society forward.

After tremendous success in science – academically and commercially through her WATS.ON consultancy, Renee set up The Curiosity Box two years ago. She has built a team – and created an ethos – that has led to awards, recognition, and earlier this year she was called out by philanthropist Melinda Gates as one of eight women in STEM to watch worldwide.

The Curiosity Box allows children and their families to do science and experiment in their own homes through a subscription service which sees a regular box crammed full of science fizz through the letterbox (metaphorically), with the aim to make science as common a topic to discuss around the kitchen table as politics and TV shows.

She is ‘Head of Explosions’ at The Curiosity Box – but she is also motivated by social justice, untapped potential, entrepreneurship and a lot of love: for science, and for the families that share back what they do with the science they get sent.

It’s difficult not to get swept up in this enthusiasm for revolution. In this inspiring hour-long interview, we discover why science capital is like carrying a suitcase, we learn the constituent parts of Unicorn Poo, and go toe-to-toe with STEM Barbie.


(Listen now on SoundCloud – iTunes – Stitcher – for a comprehensive set of show notes, including links, analysis and organisation contact, consider becoming a supporter through Patreon – or email us for more details)

Ep 6 – Science in a Bottle: the science of winemaking with Richard and Sian Liwicki of Bothy Vineyard

The Stories from Science podcast has one goal – seek out the interesting, inspiring, quirky and compelling stories of people who work in science, and share those stories as widely as possible. Often those stories are where you might expect them to be: research facilities, science laboratories, businesses and classrooms. But what about stories in less obvious places.

Like…a vineyard?

(Listen now on SoundCloud – iTunes – Stitcher)

It turns out that there is a lot of science in winemaking. It even has its own name: oenology (pronounced ee-nology, as I discovered during my interview) and you don’t need to travel to France, California or Australia to learn about it. Here in Oxfordshire there is Bothy Vineyard, a small and rather wonderful creator of award-winning aromatic wines, a product of a surprising slice of British countryside with a singular geology and micro-climate.

In this episode of Stories from Science, I interviewed Richard and Sian Liwicki. They run Bothy Vineyard in Frilford Heath, just outside Abingdon. They are also both professional scientists, which made it doubly appropriate that we chat to them for the podcast.

Bothy Vineyard is special for many reasons. The land on which the vineyard sits has a very unusual geology (just how unusual is explained in the interview). There are challenges to growing vines on land that isn’t sloped (the traditional terrain of a vineyard).

But Bothy is a pioneer in striving for sustainability in its vineyard, experimenting and persevering with biodiversity areas, and soil enrichment techniques to improve the soil and bring it ‘back to life’ from previous farming methods. In doing so, they are tapping into a long and ancient tradition of winemaking in the Vale of the White Horse.

Bothy do not ship wine – the vast majority of wine produced is consumed locally. And they are profoundly embedded within that community, involving them in most aspects of vineyard management and some of the winemaking process. We learn about stripping parties and harvesting which are aided by a small army of local volunteers – and you can find out how to get involved (because it sounds a great deal of fun!)

This way of running a vineyard is not without risk, and the threat of a devastating frost always hovers (quite literally) over the vines every springtime. This means wine production varies, from approximately 5,500 bottles to none. In the episode we talk about the weird and wonderful techniques that can be used to protect your harvest shared amongst vineyard owners from around the world.

But the result is always worth it. In the final analysis, Bothy is special because of the quality of the aromatic wines they produce and the awards they have won. In that, they are offering a potential way forward for the development of English wines, which have a growing reputation around the world.

This episode was such a joy to record – not just because of Richard and Sian’s obvious passion and expertise shine through, or the fact that they were both so open and generous in guiding us through the process. We sat in a glorious part of the Oxfordshire countryside, and future episodes will have to go some way to beat that location in nature’s recording studio. There’s a bit of wind, and at one stage a stunt plane buzzes us from the nearby airfield – but apart from that, it really was an unexpected nirvana of science chat. Enjoy.

(Listen now on SoundCloud – iTunes – Stitcher)

You can learn more about Bothy Vineyard – including how to visit and get hold of wines – here.  And you can discover how to support Stories from Science, and get involved in future podcasts, by visiting our Patreon page here.

Naturally we had to check that the final product was just how Richard and Sian described it during the podcast…