Chemical Defence SciBar talk

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Kevin Arbuckle is a fourth year PhD student in the Department of Evolution, Ecology and Behaviour. Find him on Twitter @phylophile 

I recently (3/3/15) gave a science communication talk at the Liverpool SciBar series, held in the upstairs room at the Ship and Mitre pub on the first Tuesday of every month. SciBar hosts a range of talks that provide an opportunity to engage the public in your field of research. The audience is varied but consists mostly of interested laypersons who have little background knowledge of your subject, forcing you to think carefully how to explain what might be technical aspects of your work. The challenge then is to give an enjoyable, understandable, but also accurate overview of your pet subject.

In my case, I spoke on the diversity of ways that animals use chemicals (such as venoms, poisons, and glues) to catch prey, avoid being eaten, or on members of their own species. My talk began with an easy-going introduction to the sheer variety of animals, types of chemical warfare, and uses of these chemicals illustrated with as many pretty pictures as possible. In the second half, I tried to introduce some slightly more ‘advanced’ concepts such as coevolution and how chemical arsenals influence the ecology, evolution, and conservation of animals. The event finishes with a wonderful opportunity to answer questions and chat with the audience about the subject of your talk.

The event seemed to go well, based on feedback received on the night and afterwards, and the audience appeared to be generally interested in my talk. Furthermore, I can honestly say that I personally found it a really rewarding experience and great fun to speak about all manner of venomous creatures in such a laid-back setting as a pub. The talk also led directly to additional opportunities for science communication and outreach as I have been invited to give it again to another branch of SciBar (in Widnes), and to give a similar talk at Reaseheath College. Finally, I would say that for researchers working on more basic (cf. applied) science, outreach activities are one way of increasing your impact and giving something back to society. They can also be a lot of fun, so I’d wholeheartedly advocate that people should do as much of this as they sensibly have time for, you won’t regret it.

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Healthy Eating – Aquaponics for Alder Hey

Iain YoungIain Young is Senior Lecturer in the Institute of Integrative Biology.  Find out more about his research here.
Aquaponics combines aquaculture (growing fish) and hydroponics (growing plants without soil) to produce fish and vegetables in an efficient, sustainable way. We have been designing and testing small aquaponic systems that can be located practically anywhere from a classroom or playground, an unused roof-space, backyard or balcony. Harvesting our food from close to where we live and work can radically reduce food miles. While these small systems could potentially provide salad, vegetables or herbs for a family, they are particularly valuable as educational tools for use throughout the school curriculum from infant to college levels and beyond into applied further education and higher education programmes.
Alder Hey children’s hospital is a world leader in healthcare and research.  They are about to complete a new hospital “Alder Hey in the Park” with a design inspired by children at every stage of the process. After the NHS’s biggest ever public consultations it was decided that access to fresh air and nature were central themes to be included in the plans. Alder Hey in the Park, as its name suggests, is sited in a park environment – connecting with the natural environment. Farm Urban and the University of Liverpool are collaborating with Alder Hey on the design and testing of four outdoor aquaponics systems which, once they are shown to be safe in a delicate hospital environment, will be installed on the play decks of the new hospital. These systems will provide the children a close view of nature in the form of living fish and growing salad vegetables and herbs. The herbs and vegetables can be picked and  used in the kitchens on the wards to help inspire and educate the children, and their parents and visitors, to eat healthy vegetables and fruit, and to think about where food comes from.
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Impression of one of a children’s aquaponics system (Adam Sadiq – Farm Urban 2015)

Ness Science Fair

On March 14tOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAh a group of DEEB students (Rebecca Jones, Amy Eacock, Bethany Levick, Sarah Trinder, Amanda Minter, Chris Corbin and Daria Pastok) attended Ness Science Fair as part of British Science Association Science Week at Ness Gardens on the Wirral.

The event was a whole day event aimed towards family groups with children ranging from 4-12 years and we had a wide range of events covering a number of disciplines. Sarah set up a microscope station to examine stomata on leaves which consisted of children painting nail varnish of different leaves.

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Our modellers Beth and Amanda set up a station examining population densities and carrying capacities. This consisted of children pinning aphids (with their resources) to different shaped leaves to examine how many aphids the leaves could support.

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Rebecca and Amy explored the world of camouflage whereby kids had to hunt for caterpillars on a background or camouflage different animals to their backgrounds.

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Chris ran a crafting event where children could create specimen jars and fill it with an animal of their choosing, some drew a T-Rex! Daria helped with all the events and was our resident photographer.
We all had a great day at the event and were asked a lot of interesting questions by both children and adults. Over 300 people attended and we had great feedback on all the activities saying they were aimed well towards the children.

Outreach by School of Life Sciences Undergraduates

Life Science students at Ness Gardens: On Saturday 14th March a group of undergraduates from the School of Life Sciences Undergraduate Outreach Group took part in the Family Science Discovery Fair at Ness Gardens.  Around 300 visitors attended the event, getting stuck in with Strawberry DNA extractions and making DNA models from sweets with the students. Our undergraduate team were met by many intrigued members of the public from young children to adults.  Genetics student Juhi Gupta who is president of the group said “This was a great opportunity for us as undergraduates to be involved in. We were honoured to represent the undergraduate student community from the School of Life Sciences”.

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About the Undergraduate Outreach Group: The Life Sciences Undergraduate Outreach Group was set up in May 2014 and consists of 30-40 School of Life Sciences Students from across our degree programs. They aim to take their love of science out to the public, whether that’s school children or interested adults, and to inform and inspire them to want to know more about Biology.

The group received a grant from The Friends of the University in Sept 2014 to develop activities of their own, but are also keen to get experience by helping with other people’s outreach activities. If you would like their help at your event please let Kate Hammond or Juhi know.

Over the past year or so they have exhibited at the Big Bang Fair Northwest, the University Pop-up Shop and the St Helen’s Skills Show, and have also helped with activities run by academics from the School of Life Sciences, the Institute of Integrative Biology and the Institute of Global Health.

Speaking at the AGM of the Neuroblastoma Society: a privilege and a challenge

wpdcbc3682_05_06Violaine Sée is Lecturer in the Institute of Integrative Biology and co-director of the Centre for Cell Imaging. Find out more about her research here.

Last Saturday (25/04/2015), I had the huge privilege but also the challenging task to present our research at the annual general meeting of the Neuroblastoma society in London. The society was founded in 1982 by a group of parents whose children were suffering from or had died from neuroblastoma, a very aggressive childhood cancer. Thirty years later, the society is still run in large by parents and grand-parents, who have experienced very difficult times because of this terrible pediatric cancer. It was a privilege to talk to the members of the society who are working so hard to fund medical research into improving diagnosis and treatment of the disease. It was also a challenge, talking to an audience that relies on you and your research to make a difference to the treatment of their children’s disease. It is a very difficult task because science is slow and does not translate immediately to the clinic, yet there are many hopes that it will. Not only scientists must convey their message in lay terms and make sure that they keep their audience with them at all time, but, just as importantly, the message has to be right, fair and humble, even though the audience might have high expectations. Fundamental research makes slow progress, new cures cannot be found within the timescale of a project and the worst message from such a presentation would be based hypes and false hopes, instead of rigorous and objective scientific facts. This is a huge responsibility for us as scientists and I had in my heart to keep this right.

The chick embryo as  a model for metastasis

The chick embryo as a model for metastasis; credit Anne Herrmann

So I explained my vision on one important aspect of the disease, which is its metastatic spread in the body. I presented how such spreading can be studied and the models that are available in laboratories. I introduced our chick embryo model, which for this developmental disease is particularly well suited and explained the metastatic spread using metaphors such as the ability of crawling in the jungle with the need to cut tall grass, bushes etc (invasion and metalloproteases) and the ability to escape the crocodiles in the stream of the river and grab something like a branch on the river bank to come out of the water (cell circulation in blood vessels and extravasation with the use of integrins). Because I work in the Centre for Cell Imaging, I had plenty of images and videos to show what the cells really do when they travel in the body.

I would like to thank the Neuroblastoma Society and their always welcoming members for the nice meeting. I have a great admiration for the society dedication and contribution to the scientific and clinical research, and I have no doubts, that it has contributed to many recent advances in the knowledge and management of the disease.

Proteome Research at Winstanley College

To inaugurate our outreach blog, let’s share again some good recent news. The press release below was originally published on the Institute website on 27 March 2015 (updated with hyperlinks). Note: The Royal Society Partnership Awardhelps schools to run exciting and innovative projects in partnership with a professional scientist or engineer.


Royal Society Funding Award for STEM Partnership

The partnership between Winstanley College and IIB’s Centre for Proteome Research (CPR) has received recognition with a Royal Society Partnership Award.

The grant was awarded to Winstanley College’s STEM Coordinator Dr Jen Platt-Skerry (a former IIB student) and CPR’s Prof Rob Beynon for their project entitled ‘Proteome Research at Winstanley College’.   The grant will allow students access to advanced instrumentation in CPR for their own projects. This is in addition to a recent Royal Society of Chemistry grant for gel equipment at Winstanley College.

The project is highly interdisciplinary, covering Biochemistry in particular, a subject that is not formally taught to students at this level.  It will highlight the advantage of linking Chemistry and Biology and also Physics and Mathematics. Students will be encouraged to understand a little of the physics behind a MALDI-TOF mass spectrometer and they will start to understand Maths and ICT behind the search engines that are used to identify previously unknown proteins.

The Centre for Proteome Research (www.liv.ac.uk/cpr) is very enthusiastic about being involved in widening awareness of our research, and in raising aspirations for young scientists to become the next generation of researchers.  Twelve members of CPR have now signed up as STEM ambassadors in order to take part in this worthwhile and important activity.