This scientist has given thousands of children the chance to meet real experts over Skype

This scientist has given thousands of children the chance to meet real experts over Skype

A US scientist is bringing her colleagues into classrooms across the world by matching scientists with schools for Skype sessions.

Sarah McAnulty, 29, a PhD candidate and squid biologist at the University of Connecticut, put her anxiety about the election of Donald Trump in 2016 to good use by starting Skype A Scientist.

“I thought that all that anxious energy provided a real opportunity to harness it to do something good,” said McAnulty.

“I thought hard about what we could do as a scientific community to connect with non-scientists and while talking to other scientists interested in science communication on Twitter, decided that communication with classrooms would be a good place to start.”

The idea started small, with two forms, one for teachers and one for scientists. McAnulty would match them manually. However, the project quickly grew.

Since the Skype A Scientist programme was set up in 2017, 6,800 classrooms have signed up from over 40 countries. It is completely free and matching of classrooms and scientists is now automated, thanks to McAnulty’s friend David Jenkins, a bioinformatician at Boston University, who wrote a specific program for the task.

All teachers have to do is go to the project’s website, fill in a form and wait to be matched with a scientist in the field of study they have requested.

Once matched, the scientist and teacher communicate to pick a date to have their session. The scientist will likely give the teacher some material to have the students review before the session, and then children will be encouraged to ask questions of the scientist.

“We have scientists that speak many languages so if there’s a classroom that can’t conduct the session in English, we can probably accommodate them,” says McAnulty.

McAnulty is particularly focused on changing the stereotypical view of scientists in media as “these cold, calculating, often white males with a complete lack of social skills”, like the men in sitcom The Big Bang Theory.

“Scientists come in every shape, colour, gender, and sexual orientation out there,” she said.

“It’s great for kids interested in science to connect with scientists who look like them, especially those that are from groups that are under-representing in science.”

McAnulty also sees the project as an important way to combat a seemingly growing mistrust in science, for example, anti-vaccination messaging.

“I feel like a big reason a lot of this misinformation is generated and spreads so easily is just a general lack of trust between scientists and non-scientists,” she said.

“I believe that getting kids and adults talking with real scientists will show them that scientists are just normal people who happen to spend their lives in a lab instead of an office.

“We scuba dive, we rock climb, we paint, love sports, we write creative fiction, we have interests just as varied as everyone else.”

More in this Section

One of Britain’s worst paedophiles stabbed to death in prisonOne of Britain’s worst paedophiles stabbed to death in prison

The Queen’s Speech at a glanceThe Queen’s Speech at a glance

In Pictures: Pomp and pageantry at State Opening of UK ParliamentIn Pictures: Pomp and pageantry at State Opening of UK Parliament

What does Catalonia secession trial mean for Spain?What does Catalonia secession trial mean for Spain?


Helen O’Callaghan says we are the least strict in all of Europe.Praise over punishment: Irish parents least strict in Europe - study

Kya deLongchamps detects a hint of rebellion behind the ritual of afternoon tea.Vintage View: English tradition of afternoon tea won't exit with Brexit

Friends and Young Offenders actors Shane Casey and Dominic MacHale speak to Pat Fitzpatrick about struggling to make it but why they are not seeking out fame.‘I was down to a euro’ - The Young Offenders actors tell of struggle to make it in acting

Gerry Fitzgerald runs Bandon Books Plus in Riverview Shopping Centre, Bandon, Co Cork.We Sell Books: Turning over a new leaf from bank to bookshop in Bandon

More From The Irish Examiner