Science fun at the Gardener’s Question Time Anniversary Garden Party

The Mammalian Behaviour and Evolution Group (MBE) from the Institute of Integrative Biology was represented by four members (Paula Stockley, Holly Coombes, Callum Duffield and Stefan Fischer) at the Gardener’s Question Time Anniversary Garden Party in Ness Botanical Garden. The event saw more than 2000 guests visiting the garden and the live broadcasting of the BBC Radio 4 show. The whole day on Saturday 16th September was reserved for this massive event and the garden staff showed an immense effort to deal with all the visitors and exhibitors.

The MBE group secured a table in one of the huge exhibition marquees next to other exhibitors such as the Wirral Wildlife Trust, RSBP, and the Wirral Barn Owl Trust.

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We showed visitors the diversity of small mammals occurring in the UK with small posters, video clips and, as the highlight, two small rodents to observe. We chose two very different species for visitors to observe: a harvest mouse and a bank vole. Harvest mice are the smallest mouse species and are listed as a Biodiversity Action Plan Species because of their scarcity and the required conservation actions to stop their population decline. Bank voles are a very common rodent species occurring throughout Europe. The harvest mouse was definitely the star of our exhibition and every visitor left with a big smile after finding the little mouse inside the well-structured enclosure. It was particularly nice to see how every person visiting our stand, old or young, woman or man, reacted to the little rodents and how everyone was immediately interested in their behaviour and ecology and asked more facts about rodents in general. We had very nice conversations about topics as diverse as the work of the MBE group, conservation and general behaviour of rodents as well as pest control measurements. I think it was an extremely productive and well received exhibition and visitors of the stand left with a smile because they saw cute rodents and learned more about small mammals in the UK. Moreover visitors will remember that the MBE group of the University of Liverpool is engaged in diverse research areas to better understand and ultimately better conserve mammals in the UK and around the world.

Find out more about the Mammalian Behaviour and Evolution Group.

 

 

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Meet the Scientists On Tour

Meet the Scientists On Tour

by Rebecca Jones

Meet the Scientists on Tour 

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 Meet the Scientists on Tour is an initiative that aims to bring science to the public in places they don’t expect it. Activities centre around magnetic whiteboards where the public can spot caterpillars or match parasite to their hosts. The founders, Klara Wanelik, Rebecca Jones, Gabriel Pedra and Beth Levick have been visiting a number of locations in Liverpool and a folk music festival in Newcastleton where events ran 11am to 3pm. Here’s what they had to say about the events:

 

St John’s Shopping Centre

The first event was held at St John’s Shopping Centre on the first Bank Holiday Monday (May 1st) and was a success. We engaged with about 40 people although it was so busy we had to work hard to get people to come over to play our activities. It also didn’t help that people thought we were trying to sell them something! We had some great interactions with people though, with comments from participants including: “I really enjoyed the session”, “Caterpillar game – Thank you!” There were also college students asking about studying biology at the University!

 

Central Station

Our second event was run on Saturday 6th May at Liverpool Central Station and was very well received. The public passing through the station got stuck in: spotting caterpillars, spreading infection and matching parasites to their animal hosts!

We engaged more people than our last even at St John’s Shopping Centre (approx. 50) and were pleasantly surprised by how positive people were about engaging with our science in such a busy place! The majority of our visitors were young children aged 2-10 years. However, parents seemed equally as interested and we also had a few questions about studying at the University.   Comments (from some of our younger participants) included: “I really liked the visit. I hope you come again”, “Really fun and interesting,” and “I liked the games because I learnt things”.

 

New Mersey Retail Park

Our final event in Liverpool was at the New Mersey Retail Park in Speke on the 29th May. The weather wasn’t great so we were very grateful for our gazebo! Due to the weather we engaged with slightly fewer people (approx. 25) but we had people actively coming over to the gazebo upon recognizing either the University of Liverpool or Meet the Scientists logo. We even had a small girl run into the gazebo exclaiming that she wanted play games in the science tent!

Overall we had a brilliant time across our three locations in Liverpool and are keen to go back and take along some new activities. However, we found that we were mostly engaging with families or the elderly and missed out on the middle age bracket.

 

Newcastleton Traditional Music Festival

Our most recent location was up in Newcastleton on the Scottish border, close to Kielder Water and Forest Park. We chose this location as Klara is part of a project sampling field voles in Kielder forest and so she was keen to inform the public about what the team was doing. Additionally, we were interested in taking our activities to a music festival as it was a completely new environment for us to do outreach.

We didn’t know what to expect at the festival but it turned out that we were the only stall there and so were able to monopolize the green in the village. On the Saturday (1st July) there were folk music competitions underway but we were able to engage with a large number of local villagers and visitors from further afield. Over both days (4 hours on the Saturday and 1.5 hours on the Sunday) we engaged with a total of 52 members of the public.

We had some great interactions with people, many of whom approached us out of curiosity about why the University of Liverpool was present in Kielder. We were also able to interact with people from a broader age range – particularly with people in their 20’s and 30’s. We had a few local farmers come over who were particularly interested in our ‘Where does the parasite live’ activity. Our competitive game where people spread infections in populations proved very popular again at this event. Furthermore, lots of people were interested in the work with the voles that Klara was describing. Overall, we thoroughly enjoyed carrying out our outreach at the folk music festival which was a very different challenge to the locations in Liverpool. Although, after ceilidh dancing into the morning and being attacked by midges in our tent, we were happy to return to Liverpool for some well-deserved rest!

 

Finally, we would like to say thank you to everyone who helped make ‘Meet the Scientists on Tour’ possible. We’d like to thank the Wellcome Trust for funding us and Laura Winters for her support. We’d also like to thank Vincent Keenan for assisting at the event at Central Station and Steve Paterson for his additional financial (and moral) support. Most importantly, we’d like to thank everyone at the various locations who made it possible (and so enjoyable!) for us to carry out our outreach.

We’re keen to extend our outreach beyond ecology-based activities and so on the 5th July we ran an activity design workshop with attendees from the Victoria Gallery and Museum, Engineering Department and Institute of Translational Medicine. This was a half-day workshop where people had a go at our activities before settling down to design their own. Attendees then had a chance to present their boards, with much discussion in the group. We look forward to welcoming some more activities soon. Watch this space!

 

If you’re interested in designing an activity or want some more information, contact us on twitter at @MTS_OnTour, or by emailing kwanelik@liv.ac.uk.

Sex & Bugs & Rock ‘n Roll 2017

What happened in June 2017? The GE, summer solstice, Lions vs New Zealand…. OK, so various big events occurred in the month of June, but the highlight for me was the creation of a pop-up city with a population of around 175,000 people. I am of course referring to Glastonbury Festival, where people congregate at Worthy Farm in Somerset to watch music, comedy, dance, circus and other arts. I formed part of team of 6 ecologists from around the UK, headed up by Lancaster University’s Emma Sayer, who took ecology to the Glastonbury. Why take ecology to Glastonbury? Aside from the music and vibrant atmosphere, we could engage with hundreds of members of the general public, over the course of just 5 days. This opportunity does not often occur. Based in the Green Futures field, we shared our pitch with campaigners, visionaries, environmentalists and artists with a passion for sustainability.

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Left to right: Nick Loughlin, Ali Birkett, Emma Sayer, me (Jo Griffin) and Nigel Fisher 

This was the third year the ‘Sex & Bugs & Rock ’n Roll’ tent exhibited at Glastonbury, albeit my first. This year we had a woodland ecology theme. In the tent we had a collection of new and old ecological activities to offer, including the infamous ‘Whose Poo?’ and ‘How gross is your festival kit?’ There were mixed reactions to the latter. When given the opportunity to have a swab taken from an item of their festival kit and have it spread it on an agar plate, some punters shrivelled up their nose in distaste and replied ‘no thank you’! But the vast majority revelled in the opportunity to see the microbes that were present on their wristbands.

We also teamed up with National Trust Scotland, and for every group/individual who participated in ‘Create you Ideal Woodland’, a native tree will be planted. In the tent, you could also learn about the various woodland invertebrate species that we had on display, including earthworms, dung beetles and orange ladybirds. Did you know we have around 60 species of dung beetles in the UK that are dependent on dung? Without them we would have had to wade through ankle-deep cow dung at Worthy Farm, eugh!

While engaging with punters is extreme fun, busking on what was simultaneously the hottest June day since 1976 and the longest day of the year was tough. But fortunately we didn’t have to negotiate the churned mud bath of the previous year. In total we engaged with over 1000 members of the public during the 5 days, and many of these were high level interactions, lasting over 30 minutes in length. What a success! Never before have I been asked so much about, and had so much interest in the research I carry out for my PhD.

None of this would have been possible without Emma, who organised and designed the tent with the aid of collaborators and funding from the British Ecological Society (BES), Bangor University, University of Kent, Wytham Woods (University of Oxford), Lancaster University and Wiley. Not forgetting the rest of the volunteers: Ali Birkett, Nick Loughlin, Hannah Griffiths and Nigel Fisher, who shared their enthusiasm and love of ecology with festival-goers, and provided fantastic company (and dancing) throughout the week. Finally, the biggest thanks goes to the 1000 punters who gave up their time to talk to us.  by Jo Griffin

You can find more information about ‘Sex & Bugs & Rock ‘n Roll’ at: www.festivalbugs.org

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Grasslands at Ness Family Science Fair

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Raj Whitlock and PhD student Di Yang took part in the Ness Family Science Fair for British Science Week in March. They manned a stall with model grassland communities, and talked with members of the public about the importance of plants, how plants work, grasslands, their conservation and threats to plants from climate change. Their installation at the science fair also included a grassland-inspired arts area, which became a popular relaxation point for parents and kids in the hustle and bustle of the event (which was attended by ~1500 people).

Judging at North West heat of the Big Bang Competition

This post has been written by Rob Beynon. If you are interested in the Big Bang North West, check also this other post detailing many contributions our students and post-doctoral researchers made to the event, including some more judging by Rebecca Jones and Beth Levick.

VictoriaHVictoria Harman, STEM Ambassador and member of the Centre for Proteome Research has completed another year as judge in the North West heat of the Big Bang Competition. Victoria has been a judge for four years, and has been acting as a head science judge for the last two.

What’s involved? Judge are allocated a judging partner and about five projects to assess in the morning being given about 20min to speak to each group/individual. The score is based on criteria such as planning, method design, analysis of results, whether the project is the student’s own idea, and how well it is presented.

There’s quite a lot of pressure on judges – the students have worked so hard over the last academic year on their projects and assessment in just 20 minutes is a big responsibility!

Students dedicate their spare time to produce a project – sometimes individuals, mostly teams. There are juniors, intermediates and seniors categories so there is quite an age span.  As with all competitions there is a range in the standard of projects but every single student or group puts in a lot of hard work. Victoria comments “It’s wonderful to see how proud they are of their work. Some students can be nervous to begin with but in the end they’re all so eager to tell you all about what they have achieved”.

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After the morning judging session, the head judges review the scores for the science projects from the morning, and select projects for the shortlist for the nationals. A smaller team of head judges and moderators then meets the students again to review the shortlisted projects before selecting those that will be put forward for the national final. A project is nominated for the Endeavour prize which recognizes exceptional hard work, determination and enthusiasm from a student or team.

Victoria says “The Endeavour prize is actually my favorite bit. Considering that science isn’t always about getting the perfect results it’s brilliant to be able to recognize a student or students who have really put their heart and soul into a project”.

If you’d be interested in engaging with the Big Bang Competition, feel free to get in touch with Victoria (vharman@liverpool.ac.uk). She’ll direct you to the right people.

 

Talking rodents at Liverpool Light Night and PubhD

Guest post by Nicola Davidson, PhD student in the Institute of Integrative Biology at the University of Liverpool

I recently took part in two, quite different, public engagement events. The first was PubhD on 12th May. PubhD is a new event for Liverpool organised by Kat Ford. PubhD takes place in The Vines pub near Lime Street station and runs for about an hour and a half once a month. There are three speakers each night talking on a variety of topics. Apart from my talk on rodent control there was a talk from IIB’s Rebecca Donnelly on mathematical biology and Samuel Mercer on social and political science. Each speaker is given 10 minutes to present their PhD without any slides, followed by 20 minutes of questions. I really enjoyed talking without having to rely on PowerPoint. It made me really think about how to get my research across to a non-academic audience. The question session afterwards was really interesting. As my PhD is on trying to solve a practical problem (stopping non-target rodents from getting poisoned by rat poison), there were lots of ideas on how the problem could be solved. I think PubhD could be a good forum to get some fresh ideas and perspective for your research. The audience was small (~15) as the weather was too good to tempt many people indoors. However, this gave the event a nice intimate feel and I think encouraged more people to ask questions. I would highly recommend this event, especially for PhD students who want to practice communicating the premise of their thesis. You can contact Kat on pubhdliverpool@gmail.com or have a look at the twitter page @PubhD_Liverpool.

The second event I took part in (on 13th May) was Liverpool Light Night. This was a much bigger event and was directed more towards families. Light Night is a one-night arts & culture festival. The University opened several venues for this event, and I was stationed in the Guild. The event ran from 5pm to 9pm. There were around 150 people coming through the Guild in that time. I was in charge of a stand based on my research group’s work on rodent control. I had two posters: one on rodent control and the other on rodent species in the UK. I also had videos of some wild rodents, a demonstration of a rat bait station and a make your own mouse book mark for children. I made plenty of bookmarks with children, and some adults too! As well as learning about rodents from my stand, attendees could visit other stands where they could have an ice cream made from liquid nitrogen, power a solar car with a lamp and learn how to fight cancer. It was a really good opportunity to talk to people about the realities of rodent control and try to convince them that rats aren’t that bad. Overall I really enjoyed taking part in this event, especially getting the chance to inspire children with the kind of research we are doing at Liverpool.

 

Edinburgh Science Festival

Edinburgh Science Festival

Edinburgh Science Festival is one of the largest public science festivals in Europe. Over a two week period, it provides events, workshops, and lectures for adults and children alike. Over Easter, I worked for Edinburgh Science Festival as a Science Communicator in their flagship children’s venue based in the City Arts Centre.

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The City Arts Centre, Edinburgh

The City Arts Centre is a large, 6 story art gallery located in the centre of Edinburgh. The building was taken over by the Festival to provide a space filled with workshops and activities for children of all ages, with each floor containing two or three workshops or activity spaces. Visitors could book into age appropriate workshops, or visit drop-in activity spaces. Due to my biology background, I was placed into the Carnival of the Mind, a drop-in area designed to teach children of all ages about how the brain works.

The Carnival had been assembled by a skilled team and contained a variety of activities that explored different parts of the brain. The most popular activities were a coconut shy that used prism goggles to teach how vision is processed in the occipital lobe and a life-sized, plastic clown named Brian who demonstrated how the peripheral nervous system is activated when his foot got hit by a hammer. A fortune teller tested the visitor’s frontal lobe with puzzles and games, and told the story of Phineas Gauge who lost part of his frontal lobe in an accident. A sound stall confused the temporal lobes with some auditory illusions and a sensory play area stimulated the brains of the young visitors. The highlight of the Carnival was the Big Top, where a show was run twice an hour that allowed the audience to explore the difference sections of the brain by holding and feeling a real sheep’s brain.

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A sheep’s brain used during the big top show

The Carnival was an extremely popular activity, with many families returning multiple times. As it was based in the family venue, my role mainly involved communicating with children and occasionally with interested parents. However, as part of the adults program, the City Arts Centre was opened one evening for adults only. Working at the adult event was an amazingly different experience to the normal day-to-day festival, in part due to the temporary bar that was opened for the visitors!

Working at Edinburgh Science Festival was utterly exhausting but fantastic experience. I learnt many valuable lessons such as the importance of comfortable footwear and how to look after my voice. As well as providing me with excellent work experience with a large science communication company, it allowed me to practise my communication skills with people of all ages from babies to (sometimes drunk!) adults and everyone in between!