On Thursday 24th October Hannah Davies and Jill Madine represented University of Liverpool alongside Salford Institute for Dementia and Manchester University at Museum of Science and Industry to promote the work funded by Alzheimer’s Research UK in the North West and enhance public understanding of dementia. The theme for the day was healthy heart=healthy brain and involved a range of activities to promote ways that people can keep their heart and brain healthy alongside demonstrations of some of the research that is ongoing to try and fight dementia in our local area. Participants included children and their families, carers, people with dementia and their relatives with nearly 1,000 people thought to have attended the event.
On Saturday 8th June the Williamson Art Gallery & Museum in Birkenhead was host to a special butterfly-themed family drop-in session. Louise Reynolds and Greg Hurst from the department of evolution, ecology and behaviour were on hand to discuss all things butterfly and also brought with them some butterflies, caterpillars and pupae to show the different parts of a butterfly life cycle. The butterflies were an excellent source of inspiration for the making of many beautiful crafts and drawings. Towards the end of the afternoon everyone was captivated when we were lucky enough to watch as some butterflies emerged from their chrysalides. Thank you to Pam Sullivan for helping with the crafts and for letting us bring our butterflies to visit.
As part of the volunteering undertaken by Dr Eva Caamano-Gutierrez with the charity The Girls’ Network we hosted a group of girls from Holly Lodge College and showed them how the real life of scientists looks like.
Our aim was to showcase the multidisciplinary and collaborative research that is undertaken in the institute while trying to encourage all the girls to pursue further education, especially in scientific fields.
Arriving just after 16:00 the groups of 19 girls and a few curious mentors arrived to the IIB and were greeted by Dr Jill Madine, Dr Marie Phelan and Dr Eva Caamano. They took all the girls to visit the Biochemistry labs, the NMR Centre for Metabolomics and the Bioinformatics office where both the CBF and the CGR are hosted. Our message was clear: we work on very cool projects, we only succeed working together as a team, our jobs are hard but flexible and overall science is really exciting!
The cherry on the cake was put on by our software developer Dr Tony McCabe who showcased a number of software solutions applied to life sciences that really brought the ‘wow’ factor into the conversation.
The girls were interested in multiple aspects discussed during the visit ranging from specifics of an academic career, including what is a PhD? Or do you get paid while doing one? To being surprised about the fact that Charities such as the British Heart Foundation fund many different research projects.
Following this visit we had our last mentoring session for the academic year. When the girls were asked what they think they can they achieve in their lives they all answer unison “Anything”.
We are doing something good here. Let’s keep them coming in future years!
Post by Dr Ian Wilson
On 12th and 13th June 2019, the natural world took over a corner of the atrium at Alder Hey Children’s Hospital. Nightingale song and the tinkling trickle of a running stream played out across the atrium as a spotlight drew the eye to our little collaborative corner of creativity. I had joined colleagues from the Department of English to host an outreach event encouraging better understanding of, and empathy with, ‘Nonhuman Species’ via a mixture of attention-grabbing science and imagination-sparking creativity.
Members of the Department of English helped children explore their creative sides by encouraging them to think about a number of different species and what their lives are like. Could they explain in an acrostic poem the nature of a tree? Whilst colouring in pictures of nightingales, could they stop and consider what emotions a nightingale’s song makes them feel? Or could they find their new favourite story in our stack of nature-themed books and lose themselves in a world away from the hustle and bustle of the hospital? Our empathy and fascination with the natural world and non-human species are key to our understanding and appreciating them so we hope that these activities will have sparked some curiosity in our young visitors.
At the same time, I paired with Creative Writing PhD student Bernadette McBride to show the public that science and creativity can belong hand-in-hand. I work in Dr Stew Plaistow’s lab group, investigating the effects of climate change on populations of Daphnia magna – so-called ‘water fleas’. Daphnia magna is a keystone species, meaning that, if it is affected by climate change, the impacts upon other species and factors within the ecosystems in which it resides will also be affected. As such, the importance of understanding temperature-induced effects on population diversity and genetic content in Daphnia cannot be understated.
I brought with me a model of the Plaistow lab group’s experimental pond set-up at Ness Gardens, Wirral. This allowed me to better explain our work to older participants but also gave the younger children the opportunity to catch Daphnia magna from our miniature ponds and see them up close and personal on a TV screen-equipped microscope. Children were shown the different body parts of the twitchy micro-crustaceans on the screen and were given Daphnia-themed word searches and colouring sheets, whilst older visitors were told all about the group’s research at Ness Gardens.
Bernadette, meanwhile, is writing a short story from the perspective of an individual Daphnia magna for a collection of tales concerning climate change. As such, children were given the opportunity to take what they’d learned about Daphnia magna and use their creativity and imagination to think about how Daphnia might feel and what they might notice about their environment as it changes through climate change.
We hope that our event made children think more about the natural world, as well as making the public aware that science and the arts don’t always have to be viewed as disparate entities – sometimes one can influence the other, leading to even greater insights. This is an event we intend to run again in future in different locations across the city as the Department of English looks to broaden its audience.
Each year Liverpool hosts a one-night only art festival where local companies and organisations open their doors to the public. The evenings consist of performances, talks, workshops and more with this year’s theme: Ritual. STEAMLab – a collection of researchers and artists who are interested in sharing scientific knowledge through art – hosted the Antimicrobial Avengers.
In modern society, it has become almost a ritual to reach for the antibiotics as soon as you start to feel unwell. Antimicrobial avengers aimed to engage children and adults with the idea that antimicrobials are not a magical cure-all, before showing them how nature is inspiring research into alternative antimicrobials. For example, the structure of shark and gecko skin prevents bacteria from attaching to their surface, and Komodo dragons have antimicrobial proteins in their blood which make them resistant to many bacteria – important when you have enough bacteria in your mouth to cause sepsis with one bite! Antimicrobial surfaces are being used to develop sterile medical equipment such as catheters, and komodo blood proteins are being researched for possible applications.
Our event had 3 main stalls: a mini interactive exhibition of komodo, gecko and shark skin rendered in clay by Helen Birnbaum; a make-your-own bacteria stall; and a complete the comic strip stand, featuring ‘Shark Girl’ and ‘Komodo Dragon’ versus the evil ‘Superbugs’ in a series of comic strips (see here) designed by our Artist in Residence, Jess Irwin. Jen Adcott from the Centre for Cell Imaging provided videos of bacteria in action which were played throughout the evening.
Families began filtering in from 5pm onwards. Their knowledge ranged from the level of doctors and researcher to almost nothing at all. It was a fantastic evening of engaging children in science (or in one case designing a friendly bacteria called shiny who apparently lived in its creators eyeball) and talking to adults who had genuine interest in the subject.
It was a wonderfully successful event and fun for all involved. Talking with adults and children about a topic of such great importance is always rewarding, especially when they learn something new. Everyone had a great time and we can’t wait to do it all again!
Special thanks to Mark Roughly, Jess, Raechelle and Louise for making this event possible and to the rest of the team for all the extra help on the day
Funding from the Centre for the Humanities and Social Sciences of Health, Medicine and Technology (CHSSHMT)
From the University of Liverpool: Raechelle D’Sa (Lecturer)– Louise Reynolds (Postdoc)- Nicola White (Research technician)- Jen Adcott (Technician)– Helen Davison (PhD student), Jess Irwin (MA Art in Science, Artist in Residence)
From Liverpool Jon Moores University: Mark Roughly (programme leader of MA Art in Science)
Others: Helen Birnbaum
Pint of Science is an international festival of science taking place over three days in bars and pubs across the world. In Liverpool, the event, coordinated by Faculty of Life Sciences public engagement officer Laura Winters, took place in three different pubs over three nights.
On Monday evening, Raphaël Lévy and Hannah Davies co-chaired “Deadly Viruses, Cheating Microbes, and Other Things Small!” in the Baltic Social featuring Siobhan O’Brien, Jen Adcott and Calum Semple with volunteer Emma Cartledge. Science is a collective enterprise that works thanks to people in different roles and that evening was a good reminder of that: Siobhan is a Tenure Track fellow in the Institute of Integrative (this means she is starting to establish herself as a group leader), Jen is a technician in the Centre for Cell imaging (i.e. she helps lots of other scientists with the microscopy needs) and Calum is a Professor of Child Health and Outbreak Medicine in the Institute for Translational Medicine.
Siobhan talked about the social life of microbes using examples from biology (e.g. black slime mould), sociology (the prisoners’ dilemma) and also from popular show the Golden Balls. She explained the mechanisms by which individuals in groups of people/microbes make decisions that affect the success/demise of the entire group. She concluded with some comments about the relevance of these considerations to the spread of bacterial infections.
Jen spoke next. She shared her enthusiasm for her toys: the multimillion pounds suit of microscopes in the Centre for Cell Imaging. She gave an introduction to light microscopy and the wide size range of objects they are looking at, from tiny bacteria to entire fruit flies. She explained her role as a technician. Microscopy is not just “getting a nice image”; microscopy is a scientific experiment that requires good understanding of the technique and of how to analyse the images. Jen is there to help other scientists getting access to these technologies and she shared some examples of recording the movement of cells with relevance to cancer biology.
After a break (including pints, looking at spider and some live aphids with a microscope, and feeling an awesome microscopy quiz prepared by Jen), we were not quite ready for Calum’s dramatic entrance in a full Ebola gear. He started by undressing (just the protective outfit) showing the extraordinary precautions necessary to prevent contamination. Even with such precautions, the epidemic took the life of a number of doctors and nurses. His talk was a moving tale weaving the gravity of his personal experience of working on the Ebola epidemics in West Africa (for which he and his team received the Queen’s Ebola Medal) with discussions of how outbreaks are described in Hollywood movies. It prompted a number of questions, including a final one about what is the best way to protect oneself and our family. In a country such as the UK where there is a functioning health system, his answer was unambiguous: keep calm and follow the instructions of the authorities.
On Tuesday evening, Chris Deputy, marketing and communications officer at IIB hosted “An Evening of Abnormal Eating, Pretend Drinking and Smelling Wee” in Oh Me Oh My, just opposite the famous Liver Building. The evening saw academics from psychology discuss their work and its impact on health and medicine. Unfortunately, one of our headline speakers, Elinor Chapman of Translational Medicine, was unable to attend and so our audience will have to wait until next year before they can learn about the history of urine in health and disease.
During the evening, two members of IIB took part in a “shots of science” competition, where they described their research in three minutes to an audience who then voted for their favourite talk. Ewan Harney, Post-doc research associate in the Department of Evolution, Ecology and Behaviour (DEEB) spoke about his research into “jumping genes” in fruit flies, and what these genes can tell us about our DNA. Holly Coombes, also from DEEB, then shared her research into mammalian scents and what secrets they reveal about the animal kingdom, as well as the insights they offer into how humans respond to smells
Pint of Science is an annual science festival, taking place towards the end of May every year, so make sure you look out for our Pint of Science talks next year!
Saturday 4th May – Sunday 5th May 2019
It is 8 am on a weekend when the alarm clock goes off and for a moment one might wonder “”why on Earth did I volunteer to help in a public engagement event on my day off?”. Shortly past 10 am we start to set up and any negative thought is simply out the window.
Greeted by amazing Dr Angela Midgely and her family, they are already setting up the small gazebo that will be our base for the next 6 hours. One minute in and we are already having fun. Our objective is to engage with all the wonderful pool of possible future scientists and introduce them to the wonderful Superhero Team in your Body project. Through 4 different activities suited for a wide range of ages our young participants will use games and craft to learn how cells in your immune system are superheroes that keep you safe.
It is 11 am and the community garden is already full with parents and kids ready to start engaging with the event. Together with the scientists from the Alder Hey team, we are ready to start the fun. The kids get to decorate superhero masks, create little microbes, learn about the immune cells of the body through games and even do a couple of experiments to separate cells and detect proteins (with a tailored lab coat of course!).
Superhero Scientist team and some of the participants
At around 17h, on our way home, though tired, we could not possibly be happier. We have spent our day with so many youngsters, full of energy, creativity and inspired to learn that it has really recharged my mood. We engaged with at least 100 children and they all left our stand proudly wearing a badge with the motto “Science rocks” or “Science is Awesome”, a superhero mask and a small lab-book for their future experiments.
What can we say? There are plenty of worthwhile Public Engagement opportunities around us, sometimes it takes a bit of a push to get involved but we can tell you, it is really rewarding and worth your time.
Guest post by Eva Caamano-Gutierrez (IIB) and Rachel Floyd (SoLS)