Subject Advice


My life in Science

Dr Barbara Odell Science Advisor including Chemistry, Physics, Biology, Medicine and Technology.

I very much enjoy and have always been curious in science generally.  I have a BSc (Hons, First Class) and Ph.D. (University of Sussex), FRSC and PGCE in Chemistry. My career as a scientist has been multifaceted comprising many aspects of chemistry, ranging from inorganic, solid state, ceramics, organic, biochemistry, physicochemical, molecular computer modelling, analytical, X-ray crystallography and spectroscopy. 

Following my Ph.D.,   I completed a post-doctoral fellowship at the University of Leeds and then entered the world of the chemical industry. My first job was at the medical equipment company, Smith & Nephew Ltd, followed by my second job at Standard Telecommunications Laboratory as a research scientist in solid state electronic ceramics.

I then worked for Shell Research Laboratory in Sittingbourne, Kent as a Senior Research Chemist in the agricultural industry (organic chemistry, molecular modelling and spectroscopy), where I worked for 14 years amongst some very noteworthy prize-winning chemists. Due to a laboratory closure, I then obtained teacher’s training PGCE in 1993 in Worcester, but then moved to the British speciality chemicals company, Albright and Wilson in Birmingham for five years working on organophosphorus chemicals.

Thereafter, I re-entered academic life at the University of Oxford as the NMR Spectroscopy Service Manager in the Chemistry Research Laboratory from 1999-2016. During my career I managed to publish over 80 research publications as a research chemist.

I am now retired and have settled in Hove where I have kept myself busy with my local u3a activities, I run a Science, Medicine and Technology Group as well as an Exploring Art group. I am also active in Poetry for Pleasure group which operates through the Art’s Council. My hobbies include pottery, art, gardening and swimming. 

Dr Barbara Odell - Advice to start and run a u3a Science group

Below are a variety of approaches and advice on how to start and run a new u3a Science Group.  I have also attached the guidacne as a Science Group guidelines document for you to download and view at later date.  science_group_guidelines April2024.docx (356.78 KB)

First Steps
  • The first step is to enquire via your local u3a committee or Group co-ordinator if there is a need/interest to start the Group. You probably should have some basic knowledge in a scientific discipline. Consider the aims of your group, in particular what areas of science (chemistry, physics, biology, medicine etc) are of general interest? Are there scientists or science enthusiasts amongst your u3a membership who would be willing to contribute including scientifically trained people, retired mathematicians, teachers, dentists, nurses, doctors, technicians etc. Think of an attractive title for the group e.g. Science for Everyone, New Advances in Science

  • Think about the frequency of meetings, the venue, and the enabling facilities (e.g. zoom, pc, iPad, use of a projector; internet access, use of YouTube). A venue in someone’s house or communal hall may be suitable, but cafés are not really ideal.
  • Most groups start with discussions among a few interested parties. If the group size increases, discussions may be more difficult to run, so the group may move onto talks. Most groups use a mixture of talks and visits, but there are other formats. I find zoom the most useful medium as you can broaden the sessions to include external experts by emailing colleges, academies, universities, the Open University and various chemical, pharmaceutical, electronic, engineering industries without the need to travel.

  • One favoured mode is for the nominated representative Science Group leader and/or members to choose a topic and members are then asked to do some research prior to a meeting. Each member is asked to bring to a meeting an item from the media (e.g., newspaper cutting), an object or a question that has puzzled them as a prompt for a discussion.

  • You can  run a quiz where members work in small groups. Some topics, such as speculating on what the technology of the world will look like in say 20 years, do not need preparation. Members can be asked to discuss a specific topic (e.g. personalised medicine, colonisation of space, AI, climate change, electric cars, different forms of energy etc)  - each  selected member can present their group’s views to the whole meeting.
Sources of Information

  • YouTube videos can also provide a wide selection of topical subjects to choose from where University personnel even science celebrities such as Professor Brian Cox, Carl Sagan, Nobel Prize winners such as Jennifer Doudna and Sir Paul Nurse, (to name a few)  discuss recent advances in their research at a basic comprehensible level of understanding.  You must remember it is currently very fashionable to discuss scientific discoveries at an elementary level for funding bodies to comprehend their scientific notions!

  • Although the u3a ethos is for members to teach and to learn from each other, this can be very difficult when it comes to recent developments in science, medicine and technology because of the complexities and extremely fast advancements in the scientific arena.  Hence the need to seek people in the wider world who are very willing to talk to u3a groups. These specialists must be good communicators with great expertise and who will often speak freely especially on zoom. Your u3a can then avoid the need for paying travel expenses. External speakers, especially if you live in or near to a university town or city can be invited,  but if you are using zoom of course, you can seek speakers from all over the UK and beyond. Many academics will offer their services freely as representatives of their institutions for the advancement of science in their community.

  • Many u3a Science groups switched to delivering talks online during the COVID pandemic using video conferencing such as Zoom. Such technology considerably widened the pool of possible speakers to U3A members anywhere in the country as well as potentially speakers from anywhere in the world. Zoom enables members who have difficulty travelling to venues or have caring responsibilities to participate. However, online talks exclude members who do not have the internet or are not comfortable with the technologies. Some groups will conduct a hybrid of live and online meetings.

  • You may want to circulate lists of outside speakers with other u3a Science groups.

  • Try also to seek advice from other Science group leaders in other local u3as. Look at the websites for other local organizations such as Probus, Rotary.

  • Café Scientifique is a marvellous UK organisation which offers a place where, for the price of a cup of coffee or a glass of wine, anyone can come to have a conversation about the latest ideas in science and technology. Meetings have taken place in cafes, bars, restaurants, theatres, libraries and even out of doors, but always outside a traditional academic context.

  • The first Cafes Scientifiques in the UK were held in Leeds in 1998. From there, cafes gradually spread across the country. Currently, some seventy or so cafes (in the UK) meet regularly to hear scientists speak about their research. Cafe Scientifique is also a  forum for debating science issues, not a shop window for science. They are committed to promoting engagement with science and to making science accountable. Maybe this be a good venue to join in with your u3a, or to invite the speaker personally or via zoom for further discussion within your own science group
  • Zoom talks  is a searchable nation-wide database of people from universities and industry willing to give talks on a whole range of topics to groups. Members of local groups of professional bodies (such as Institute of Physics, The Royal Society of Chemistry,

  • In mid-May each year, Pint of Science organizes science talks across over 40 cities, and you can look at talks and speakers for ideas

  • Many groups can arrange a visit to a University Research Laboratory or an Industrial Research Laboratory such as in the pharmaceutical industry or the nuclear industry etc.  Again, this will involve a pre-arranged consultation with establishment in question and also dialogue with your u3a Treasurer as to costings and it may be wise to contact National Office about insurance. They will want to know about the relevant expertise of the Group Coordinator, the suitability of the venue and that a risk assessmentmay have to be carried out.

Other situations
  • Rejuvenating a Group maybe inevitable as some groups become ‘stale’ or lose membership. It may be best to close that group and restart after a rest period with a new group coordinator and/or a new aim. An alternative is to merge with a science group from another local u3a, whereby members from both u3as can attend.  Other u3a activities include the u3a Science Network organizes an annual 3-day meeting each August that has been running since 2003. For details go to  Here you have the opportunity to hear some dozen talks, see practical demonstrations, go on a visit to a place of scientific or technological interest and meet with u3a members from across the country interested in science. There are several other u3a Summer Schools, either organized by National Office or regionally, that usually have a science element. Details are posted on the National u3a website

  • The u3a Communities Science & Technology was established in 2021 and holds a monthly online talk via Zoom on a scientific topic. They are very interesting and well worth engaging in and are free. For details and to register go to;

Acknowledgements to my predecessors Leigh Edward and Mike Hollingworth, the previous National Science Subject Advisors.


Get in touch

My role and mission in the National u3a as your new Science Advisor is to facilitate the establishment of new science groups and help our members keep up-to-date with new and exciting developments in Science which are evolving  at a rapid rate.

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