Are students interested in science?


One of the pitfalls of being a lecturer is that you tend to assume that students are like you. Many of us who teach science and engineering are naturally curious about scientific matters and probably keep abreast of developments in science generally. But do science students let science ‘intrude’ on their daily lives? A few weeks ago I asked my class of 35 second-year biotechnology students if any of them had ever read a popular science book. One student had done so. So, last week, I gave my students a short 15-minute science quiz at the start of my lecture. Below are the questions – a little stream of consciousness I know and probably reflective of my own interests – and the number beside the question is the number of students out of 26 who gave me a correct answer. (I was a little flexible in my definition of ‘correct’.)

With what company would you associate the late Steve Jobs?    26

What is the closest star to planet Earth?    25

In what field of science is ‘string theory’ a major topic of research?    23

What was special about Dolly the sheep?    21

How old (roughly) is the universe?   17

Einstein’s general theory of relativity is a theory of what force of nature?   16

What was the purpose of the Manhattan Project?  11

What was discovered in CERN in 2013?  9

What does it mean if a medical condition is caused by a recessive gene?   9

William Rowan Hamilton is a famous Irish scientist but in what field?  7

With what scientific theory would you associate Richard Dawkins?    5

Give an example of a biometric.    2

With what chemical – a supposed ‘cure’ for the common cold – is Linus Pauling associated?    1

With what condition do you associate vaccinations and Andrew Wakefield?   0

If I make up a homeopathic solution of a herb, how much of the herb is in the solution?   0

What does SFI stand for?   0

In what topical and controversial field will you hear about the ‘hockey stick graph’?   0

For what book is Ben Goldacre best known?  0

Not sure if anything can be concluded from this but it’s interesting in an ‘all knowledge is useful’ sort of way! There might be an opportunity here for the science communication people to exploit.


About Greg Foley

A lecturer in Biotechnology in Dublin City University for more than 25 years. Trained as a Chemical Engineer in UCD (BE and PhD) and Cornell (MS). Does research on analysis and design of membrane filtration systems.
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One Response to Are students interested in science?

  1. Pingback: Ninth Level Ireland » Blog Archive » Are students interested in science?

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