By Penny Carmichael, on 13 February 2014
-Article by Clair Chew
Walking into a Shoreditch bar on a Wednesday evening, the last thing you might be expecting is a CSI crime scene and lab ready for you to play detective. The free ‘SuperLAB!’ events were inspired by crime and superhero comics and ran over the course of two nights. Artists and scientists came together to organise activities and discussions for punters at the bar. On the first night, ‘Draw’, artists, psychologists and neurologists demonstrated the art of comic books, how art has come to influence science, investigate what makes a person have the ‘right’ brain for art and whether chemicals can expand the creativity of artists. ‘Crime’, the theme of the second night saw psychologists and scientists focusing on how the crime was performed, what makes a devious villain and most importantly, the modern forensic techniques used to catch them!
One half of the SuperLAB! bid team, Nadia Abdul Karim, has recently won the ‘Student Engager of the Year’ at the Provost’s ‘Public Engagement Awards’. During a break of unnecessary email checking at work, Nadia had decided to respond to an ad about the project. One thing led to another and she managed to successfully co-bid for a grant to fund the two evenings. As someone who has organised a few smaller events, I can appreciate the time and hard work that Nadia had put into not just the demonstrations, but also sourcing equipment and managing students for such an ambitious event.
Like most PhD students, Nadia is fuelled by a desire of answering questions of how’s and why’s. After completing a Forensic Science undergraduate degree, she decided to join UCL’s Crime and Security Science DTC program looking at explosives. Explosions might sound exciting but the slog of research can take its toll on even the most vivacious of students, losing sight of how and why we are doing a PhD. Research students experience this everywhere after looking at, as Nadia puts it “an endless list of negative results”. She is optimistic however, enthusing that engaging with the public can be powerful fuel, “it helps you realise that research goes beyond the lab and office, and it does affect and interest the wider public.”
The award of student engager wasn’t just received for the coordination of the ‘SuperLAB!’ event Nadia also participates in one-off events such as outreach at schools, open days at the Institute of Making and public taster lectures. She has also taken on roles of being a student and ‘Brilliant Club’ mentor. Even just thinking about this many commitments has made my head spin; I had to ask Nadia how she does it. It turns out she is just a ‘Yes’ girl; “I sign up to doing all of these things, then realise I have a ton of university work to do at the same time and then somehow manage to be super-efficient (usually with the help of caffeine) to get everything done”.
Showing signs of self-deprecation, Nadia admits to not having any great planning or time management skills, just being an effective worker under pressure. Perhaps it is more than just organisational skills, thinking back to one my first encounters with Nadia at a dinner, she strikes me as having a genuine interest in society and people. Combining her sense of social responsibility with a scientist’s curiosity certainly makes Nadia an ideal, exciting and valued science communicator.