Category: Presenting

Problem-Based Learning (PBL) workshops

© Cheltenham Ladies’ College

I offer PBL workshops to challenge your most able students, scholars, or Oxbridge candidates (and also works very well with an inquisitive group of GCSE students). The aim is not to test the group on what they have already learned in class, but to apply their background understanding and work-out solutions from first principles. This replicates the ‘thinking out loud’ solution-finding process of university entrance interviews. The workshop is a combination of working in small groups to brain storm for suggestions, and round-table discussions amongst the whole class to arrive at final solutions, all coordinated and prompted by me.

These PBL workshops work best with a group size of 15-20 students. No Powerpoint or computer display is required, but we would need a classroom where the students can work together in tables of 4 or 5, and then also turn around to see the front. We also need a white board or large flip chart that the whole class can see as we progress through the workshop. Each workshop is tuned to the year group and capabilities of the students, and can be timetabled for anything between 30 mins and one hour long.

I offer two PBL workshops, themed within different areas of cutting-edge science research, but equally applicable to non-scientists. (Indeed, I find that often it is the non science-specialist students who are less constrained by trying to remember what they have been taught, and instead work things out by thinking out of the box).

How to define life and detect it (Biology/Chemistry)
We all know life when we see it on Earth — a tiger is obviously alive whereas a skeleton or rock are not — but how could you actually define what life is? What features or functions must something possess in order to be alive? And therefore, how could you design an experiment that will test for life on another planet? In this workshop, we’ll explore how astrobiologists think about life in fundamental terms and so know what we’re looking for with our scientific instruments aboard space probes.

Exoplanets and how to find them (Physics)
We’ve now discovered over 5,000 extrasolar planets — worlds orbiting other suns in our galaxy. But on the whole we’ve never actually been able to see these exoplanets; we have to infer indirectly that they are there. So what tricks do astronomers use to discover incredibly remote planets? What information can we gather from our telescopes, and therefore what can we tell about what an exoplanet is actually like? How can we tell if certain worlds are Earth-like and so potentially able to harbour life? In this workshop, we’ll explore the science behind how you can discover and then characterise exoplanets.

Leicester podcasts

On the run-up to the BBC Stargazing Live event at the University of Leicester, I recorded two podcasts, discussing the latest discoveries within astrobiology, and what we might reasonably expect an alien to look like if we ever do encounter complex life. You can listen to these both on SoundCloud, below:

Media Gallery

If you want images to illustrate posters or flyers of events please feel free to use any of these below, provided picture credits are given as indicated.

Radio and Podcasts

I have also been interviewed on numerous radio shows and podcasts, including the BBC World Service and the Guardian Science Weekly Podcast, as well as talkSPORT and chatting with Lauren Laverne on BBC Radio 6 Music. Downloadable recordings coming soon.

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Film and TV

I have appeared in a number of TV documentaries like BBC Horizon, Wonders of the Universe, Stargazing Live, and Sky at Night, as well as on the DVD extras for the sci-fi film ‘Monsters‘. I have also acted as scientific consultant and script-writer for films including a full-dome planetarium show ‘We Are Aliens‘ and documentaries with Brian Cox. Many of these appearances and contributions are listed in my entry on the Internet Movie Database (IMDB).  I also appear regularly on TV news as a space expert.

There is a selection of  videos and showreels available on my YouTube playlist


A few other videos are (scrollable list here):



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Live Events & Lectures

I’m regularly invited to deliver public events on all aspects of science and technology (which has been partly supported by my Science in Society fellowship) and have spoken at over 300 venues around the world:

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I’ve performed at prestigious venues including TED, the Royal Albert Hall, the Royal Institution, the Natural History Museum, the Wellcome Collection and the National Space Centre, as well as festivals including the Hay Literary FestivalCheltenham Science Festival and the British Science Festival. I’ve also designed and delivered full-dome planetarium shows at the Royal Observatory Greenwich, and worked with outfits like Guerilla Science. The most outlandish places I’ve spoken at include music festivals, Disneyland Paris, cinema premieres and even aboard a Cunard cruise ship on a transatlantic crossing and touring the Mediterranean coastline. Some of these lectures are available as videos on my YouTube playlist.

The titles of talks I deliver most often at schools and science festivals are:

…with descriptions of each of these given here. If you would like me to speak at your event or venue please get in touch.

I also offer tailored Problem-Based Learning (PBL) workshops to challenge your most able students.

My up-coming events are posted here.

For a selection of images that are available for use on posters and flyers for an event, please see the Media Gallery


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Jobs with the Stars

BBC Stargazing Live
Lewis Dartnell – Astrobiologist
Each week more planets are being discovered orbiting distant stars and some of them could be capable of supporting life. If they do, what would it be like? That’s what Lewis hopes to discover.

BBC Sky at Night

The Sky at Night annual special show in 2010 was on the search for life beyond the Earth, and I was invited to head the programme to talk about my research and introduce all the diverse topics within astrobiology. I chatted with Sir Patrick Moore about everything from the origins of life on our world, to the possibility of aliens swarming deep beneath the rusty surface of Mars or high in the cloud decks of Venus, to humaity’s chances of ever meeting intelligent life in our galaxy. Watch the Sky at Night clip, originally televised in March 2010 [6 mins]:

I was invited back on to Sky at Night when Patrick was celebrating his milestone episode ‘700 Not Out’, along with special guests Brian Cox and Jon Culshaw. Watch a short clip of one of the questions I was asked:

I  also feel honoured to have appeared on the final episode of Sky at Night that Patrick himself presented, before sadly passing away in December 2012. I talked with Chris Lintott about the latest exoplanet discoveries.