Science teaching resource

Life scientific review in ITM
The Life Scientific, BBC Radio 4

Meet some inspirational scientists on line

If you want to encourage your students to take up science at a higher level, BBC Radio 4’s Life Scientific might just provide the inspiration. Presented by Professor Jim Al-Khalili, it is a rich resource for teachers and students of science in Grades 10, 11 and 12 (UK Years 11, 12 & 13).  Teachers of ToK (Theory of Knowledge) will also find the series extremely useful.  Professor Al-Khalili interviews some of the world’s leading scientists. How did they choose their branch of science? Did it choose them? What influenced them at school? Did family members encourage them? What difficulties did they overcome? 

Scientific Disciplines

Al-Khalili and his interviewees explore what it means to be the scientist that they are – whether a theoretical physicist, a palaeontologist, bio-medical engineer and so on. There are some big names here – Brian Cox, Richard Dawkins and Robert Winston among them, but all Al-Khalili’s guests have something interesting to say and offer great insight into their life as a scientist. My favourites include Jackie Akhavan, Professor of Explosive Chemistry at Cranfield University (if you want a female scientist role model, look no further) and Chris Toumazou, Chief Scientist at the Institute of Biomedical Engineering at Imperial College, London, inventor of the cochlear implant, which has done so much to enable many profoundly deaf people to hear.

Using the Life Scientific as a resource

During the interviews, MYP and Diploma IB teachers especially will pick up the importance of collaborative research – which is really collaborative learning at the highest level. For example Toumazou shows how he had to break down the barriers between a range of scientific disciplines to get different scientists to work together collaboratively to develop the cochlear implant.

Episodes are available at the BBC i-player. Click belwo the image for access to all episodes.

Suggested Science enrichment or ToK activity for Grades 10, 11 & 12 (UK Years 11, 12 & 13)

Ask students to choose one of the scientists featured in the Life Scientific, and get them to download the podcast of the interview. Students then prepare a 5 minute presentation about the work  of “their” scientist which answers the following questions

  1. What is their scientific area of expertise?
  2. Explain what this is and how it relates to other areas of science.
  3. Are they theoretical or empirical scientists? What does this mean?
  4. What practical applications has their work had?
  5. What difficulties did they have to overcome in order to succeed in their work?
  6. What sort of person do you think this scientist is? (Someone who will . . . ?)

Jim Al-Khalili and Desert Island Discs

Al-Khalili’s life is also inspirational – growing up in Baghdad in the 1960s and 70s, he fled with his family his family to the UK before the Iran – Iraq war broke out. A first language user of English, he learned Arabic and formed a deep appreciation of the early Muslim scientists. For a most enjoyable insight into his life see his Desert Island Discs interview with the BBC’s Kirsty Young.

. . . . . and if you don’t know BBC Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs, you are in for a treat.

Andy Homden