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Psychologist emerges victorious in Olympic-themed competition

Dr Pete Etchells

Dr Pete Etchells

Press release issued: 24 July 2012

Bristol University psychologist Dr Pete Etchells has won the science world’s equivalent of X Factor by answering over 450 questions from school children across the country to win their vote.

His knowledge on a range of Olympic-related science topics was tested to the max by the youngsters, aged 11 to 19, who ultimately voted him the winner of I’m a Scientist: In the Zone – a national competition run by the Wellcome Trust.

The marathon competition, which lasted 12 weeks from April until July, saw Dr Etchells answer a raft of questions on anything from the nutritional needs of marathon runners to the psychology of teamwork.

Hundreds of pupils took part via live quick-fire web chats during their science lessons, asking thousands of questions before voting for their favourite scientist to win a prize of £500 to communicate their work with the public.

Dr Etchells, who works as a research assistant in the School of Experimental Psychology, said: “I was absolutely elated when I'd found out that I'd won.  I really think that I'm a Scientist is a fantastic project, and it meant a lot to me just to be a part of it, let alone take away the prize.  Having the opportunity to take part over such a long period really made the competition feel like part of my day-to-day life, and it’s actually a bit weird not having to do it anymore.

“It’s made me feel much more confident about communicating my work, and talking to kids about science. I’ve learned loads about other aspects of science that I would have otherwise never had considered reading up on.”

The competition was designed and funded by the Wellcome Trust to tie in with the Olympics. It was rolled out on a large scale, with every school in the UK receiving a free investigation kit to help bring the science of the human body to life in the classroom.

Dr Etchells’ PhD was in vision psychology, looking at how people track moving objects with their eyes. He’s now researching how a person’s personality can be deduced simply from studying the way they walk.

Dr Etchells added: “It was really nice to be involved in the Olympics in a small way. I think the Wellcome Trust’s In the Zone investigation kits have been a fantastic resource for schools to use.

“I can’t emphasise enough how important it is for scientists to get involved in projects like this, and would encourage as many other students and post-docs to take part as possible. It’s important to help people understand that scientists aren’t just stereotypical old men in white coats – anyone can be a scientist.”

Dr Etchells plans to spend his £500 prize money on developing a series of short, five minute videos in which top psychology researchers explain complicated concepts in an easy-to-understand and engaging way.

His win follows that of Psychology student Suzi Gage in last year’s competition.

Further information

In addition to the I’m a Scientist website, the In the Zone project also has an interactive touring exhibition to discover how your body works during sport, movement and rest. Designed and delivered by At-Bristol Science Centre, the exhibition is touring from March to September 2012 around the UK, visiting all four nations.

For further information, see

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