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Science Shoeoff


Summary version: I’m asking scientists to send pictures of their shoes, with a few words about them to be featured here, to

Image: Northampton Museum and Art Gallery (BY NC SA)


There’s an old joke about a pair of ecologists trekking through the jungle. Suddenly, they are faced with a tiger, which is clearly about to charge. The first scientist starts running away, whereas the other casually sits down, and starts to change from his boots into a pair of running shoes. The first, noticing his partner is not sprinting alongside him, turns and calls back

What are you doing that for? Those trainers won’t help you outrun a tiger!

To which the second replies…

No, but I only need to outrun you.

Kicks and giggles FOR SCIENCE

For some reason*, this tweet by Science Showoff** triggered me to suggest we should have a “science shoeoff”.

Originally meant to be a silly Twitter game, where people could stage shin-kicking battles between different scientific disciplines to claim superiority in the footwear department, the idea grew in my mind very quickly, becoming the project as follows:

I would like scientists to send me pictures of their shoes, with a short paragraph or two written about them. We shall use very broad definitions of “science” and “scientist” for this project. I have previously written about what scientists look like , and I see this idea as a similar initiative. So, if you are involved in asking a question about how the world works, or in bringing the answers to an audience, I want to hear from you. I will then publish people’s shoes on this website***.

An example

I can hardly expect the scientists of the world to send me pictures of their shoes and to write for me for free, without at least giving them some idea of what’s expected. So this is what my feet look like at work these days:

Plain shoes are plain.

At the moment, I have a desk job. Although many of the physicists at CERN go for the sock’n’sandal look, or the classic trainers-despite-stiff-jeans, the dress code on the administrative side is a bit smarter.

My shoes are comfortable enough to walk across campus to a meeting, unobtrusive enough to go unnoticed during those meetings, and tough enough for my daily cycling commute.

Of course, those aren’t particularly interesting, really. So, over the next few days, I will be posting stories about past science projects I have worked on and the shoes I was wearing at the time, including flip-flops in the snow and boot theft in Honduras.

How to submit a shoe-off

If you would like to feature your shoes and your science in the Science Shoeoff project, please send your pictures and text to

You can write whatever you like about your shoes, although if there is no science involved at all I might think twice about publishing them.

If you would like a bit of help in writing about your shoes****, you could start by answering some of these questions:

  •  What kind of science do you do?
  • What is it about your work which requires specific equipment and clothing?
  • Are there other items of clothing you have to wear for your work?
  • Do your shoes perform a specific function?
  • What is it about your shoes that makes them ideal for your job?
  • Could you do the same job with different shoes?
  • What other kinds of science could be done in these shoes?
  • What kind of shoes do you wear when not doing science? (Feel free to send pictures of those, too!)

Try to tell a story about how your footwear relates to your science. That’s what I’m really after.

UPDATE 2012-08-24: Science Shoeoff has been going for a day now, so here’s an update on how it’s going.


* Seriously, I really wish I knew how to tap into this stuff more often! Who knows how these things happen?!

** Science Showoff is a monthly open mic night for science communicators. I performed back in January 2012.

*** I may well give the project its own Tumblr, in a similar vein to “What Does a Scientist Look Like?”, which is part of where I got the idea from in the first place.

****Now, what if you don’t wear shoes in your science? Brilliant! That sounds fascinating! Send in a picture of your feet, or, if you prefer, where you put them.

From → science shoeoff

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