Oxford Sparks: Get Involved
Oxford Sparks is the University's digital engagement platform for sciences, and produces high quality media such as podcasts and animations, as well as managing social media channels. Find out how you can get involved.
Oxford Sparks is a public-facing online project that aims to bring alive the University's science research for wider public audiences. Through a diverse range of digital content and activities we:
- Showcase and explain research
- Show who researchers are and what they do
- Provide a space to discuss and engage with research
We make six high-quality animations each year in collaboration with researchers, to showcase and explain their research. Alongside the animation we produce a pack of teaching resources intended to support teachers to enrich their lessons. Our process is simple, tried-and-tested, and involves minimum time commitment over a three month period; final sign-off and approval is always in the hands of the researchers involved.
Once complete, we manage social media campaigns to ensure that it reaches the most relevant audiences.
100% of those who have worked with Oxford Sparks would recommend it to a colleague.
What is it?
A two-minute animation that presents and explains the research. Exactly how, depends on the project itself, what results are available and what the intended use of the animation is. For example, the 'Power People' animation describes the research question of interest and how research intends to find the answer - whilst inviting people to take part in the study. We endeavour to make our animations as accessible and appealing as possible. Our target audience is 11 up, and we aim at a level where little background science knowledge is required to be inspired. The idea is that these short 'primers' inspire people to explore and discover more.
I like the Oxford references of the animation, in particular the link to Alice in Wonderland. It is accurate scientifically without dumbing down but makes MRI easy to understand. More importantly it explains how we do our science - all in 2 minutes!
- Prof. Kate Watkins, A Spin Around the Brain
[The] animation for the Meter project is an incredibly beautiful piece of work. Everybody loves it and it has been super successful in recruiting participants for the study.
- Dr Phil Grunewald, Power People
You can see all previous animations on the website.
What's the time commitment?
Our process ensures that our animations explain the science accurately, are appealing and meet your needs - however it won't take up too much of your time, and the schedule is planned around your availability. The initial phase involves writing a short brief and discussing this with the animators via Skype at a time to suit. Following this is the production phase; each step is done via email correspondence, managed by us - meaning it's efficient, and you're supported all along the way. As each animation is just two minutes long, it means that there's never a huge amount of things to look at - so even with careful consideration, this isn't time-consuming. We also ask you to help draft the 'Science Behind' web page, fill in a 'Meet the Scientist' profile, and take a look over the teaching resources to check that the science is right. The typical length from start to finish is around three months.
How much do they cost?
They are funded through a mixture of Divisional funds and support and research funding (e.g., as an activity that you can request resource for through Pathways to Impact, Provision for Public Engagement). This usually costs £9,500. If you are interested in including an animation as part of a research proposal then please get in touch for more details, or if you would like more information about funding.
Can I use them for my engagement and outreach work?
Yes - both the animation and the associated teaching resources are yours to use. There are no limits to how you can use your animation: online, in talks, in schools - wherever! However, by default our license does not include television broadcast, but this can be discussed.
"The Sparks’ resources have been sent to schools to build on activities we have done in person. As well as this the visuals have inspired a couple of researchers to begin building an interactive clock. Having a place that provides an accessible summary of our work accompanied with a more in depth explanation and resources for further learning feels more like you are engaging with people; offering them something."
- Dr Christopher-James Harvey, 'What Makes You Tick'
We're also happy to provide guidance on commissioning animations from external suppliers, just get in touch.
Sound good? Drop us an email to discuss more and get things started.
Win an animation
Back by popular demand, Oxford Sparks are offering one research group the chance to make an animation with them - for free.
You'll get the full Oxford Sparks treatment, which includes: a two minute animation produced on your research in the Oxford Sparks style, a teaching resources pack designed for secondary science teachers related to the animation, and promotion of the animation via social media channels (which could also include doing a Facebook live interview/event) plus it will be featured on the Big Screen Network – all fully managed according to our tried and tested process.
Last year’s competition saw two winners:
- Brooke Johnson, Earth Sciences: Ancient Mysteries in Marvellous Mud
- Keely Johnson, Hazel Hall-Roberts and John Davies, Nuffield Department of Clinical Medicine: Discovering life-changing dementia treatments (animation available soon).
The winning animation will be produced between March and July, and released in July 2019.
You can read more about the process of producing an animation above, but don't take our word for it, here's some testimonials from others who have worked with Oxford Sparks.
“You were very patient in accommodating all our requests for changes and getting it just right for us. We are all very pleased with it! What I particularly appreciated was how generous you were with your time and expertise in working with my DPhil student and RA … I found the process very smooth and not at all burdensome!”
- Prof E.J. Milner-Gulland, Conserving Nature
How to Apply
To apply, simply fill in the application form by 5pm on Friday 16 November.
One winner will be selected by a panel representing Oxford Sparks and other relevant areas of the University based on the following criteria:
- How well the research topic is explained: engaging and accessible
- Your enthusiasm for making an animation and why animation would particularly suit your research topic
- Your plans on how you would use your animation
Researchers whose work is science or science-related are eligible to apply – that means all researchers in MPLS and Medical Science Divisions, plus many researchers in Humanities and Social Sciences.
Applicants from last year's competition are welcome to apply again. Previous winners, sorry but you can't apply again this year.
Make sure you've read and understood the above section on what Oxford Sparks does and how it works.
All applicants will be notified of the outcome of the competition by 21 December.
Contribute to a podcast
We work with a very talented podcast producer and journalist, Emily Elias, to produce 18 episodes of our 'Big Questions' podcast series. Every fortnight we talk to researchers about what their 'big questions' are. We've covered everything from the origins of the Universe the mating behaviour of fruit flies - and everything in between.
What is it?
Each episode is a standalone, audio-documentary style format, which is between 10 and 15 minutes long. They try to take a more narrative-lead approach and features the voice of the researcher(s) with narration.
Listen to our podcasts here
What's the time commitment?
All that's required is an initial conversation with the producer, Emily, over the telephone, for approx. 20 minutes so that she can find out more about your research and plan the episode, and where you will also arrange a mutually convenient time and place to meet the record an interview, which will last no more than an hour. From this point, Emily will edit the episode. The episode is then sent to you for approval. From here you can fill out a 'Meet the Scientist' profile and we work to promote and share the episode.
How much do they cost?
They are funded through a mixture of Divisional funds and support and research funding (e.g., as an activity that you can request resource for through Pathways to Impact). If you are interested in including an animation as part of a research proposal then please get in touch for more details.
Make your own podcast
We provide training and equipment to support you to make your own podcast in four easy steps.
Step 1: attend the free 'Podcast your Science' training session
Step 2: write up a short podcast plan for a four-part series and send it to us
Step 3: borrow the equipment and make your podcast (with support and guidance along the way)
Step 4: send us the final podcast and episode information to be uploaded and shared.
You can read about a researchers' previous experience here.
If you're interested but cannot attend the initial training session, please get in touch.
We can also provide guidance on comissioning podcasts from external suppliers, and services available in the University, just get in touch.
Take-over our Twitter
This is the perfect opportunity if you want to engage with a new audience. You decide on a day that you want to take over the @OxfordSparks twitter account and then you tweet about you and research for the day.
Take a look at some of the highlights from our Twitter Takeover's from our Digital Discovery Festival https://storify.com/Khebersmith/digitaldiscoveryfestival
This is a great opportunity for members of the public to ask you about your research and for you to share your knowledge.
For more information email firstname.lastname@example.org
Feature in our 'Life in a Day of' mini video series
Fancy letting us follow you around for a day? Each video is aimed to last between 1-2 minutes and is a highlight of your life. This will include footage that you will have shot yourself intertwined with the Oxford Sparks footage.
The point of this video series is to give an insight into a life of a researcher / scientist to those who may not know what it is like (i.e. those with low ‘science capital’). We want to use this video series to engage with a new public audience and give them an insight into who researchers are and what they do.
The tone of the videos will be positive, welcoming and informative. We will interview you (researcher / scientist ) as the underlying narrative of the video, with cut away video footage and images of your everyday life. In addition to show where you work and what you do (particularly the variety) is to show your interests beyond work. Many young people have an image of a scientist that is mutually exclusive with ‘sporty’ and ‘creative/arty’ individuals – and we know that’s not true!
We will send you a list of questions before the filming date so you can plan your answers – which should be concise and using accessible language (we can provide guidance if you’d like). We ask however, that when you are filmed you reply in a relaxed and informative manner – like you’re having a conversation, not presenting or reading from a script (there’s nothing worse than watching someone trying to remember a script). We would also ask that you expand on your answer but remember we are trying to keep the video short and precise with an upbeat tempo.
To find out more email email@example.com
Livestream your events
Facebook LIVE has become extremely popular. We would arrange to come and film you at your event or about your research which would be streamed live from the @OxSparks Facebook account.
This allows you to engage with a new audience live with viewers able to ask you questions.
To find out more email firstname.lastname@example.org
Add your resources to the Discover Database
If you've already created videos, podcasts, resources, etc, about your research, then we can add these to the 'Discover Database'. All we need is a link to the material, an image, and a short paragraph about what people will see/do/find out. Once in the database we may then share it through various social media campaigns.
Tell us about your upcoming Events
If you're planning an event, we can help share it! Get in touch with a link, and possible and image. We'll add it to the website, and share it via social media.