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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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 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.
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.
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!
Guest post by Jo Griffin, PhD student in Evolution, Ecology and Behaviour at the Institute of Integrative Biology
Amy Eacock and I enjoyed a great day at the Family Science Fair at Ness Botanic Gardens celebrating British Science Week. The theme was ‘feed the world’, and what is more topical at the moment than entomophagy! Entomophagy is the consumption of insects and despite being regarded rather contemptuously in the developed world; it is common in certain cultures and has been practiced since prehistoric times. Due to a growing global population there has been an increased demand for farmable land, fresh water and animal protein. Around 70% of farmable land is used to produce livestock, either directly or for the production of feed. The environmental costs surrounding intensive farming require urgent attention. There are also issues surrounding feed conversion rate, which is a measure of an animal’s efficiency in converting feed mass into animal protein. Although feed conversion rates differ between livestock species, around 6kg of plant protein are required to produce 1kg of animal protein.
A simple answer could be to remove livestock from our human diet and eat an entirely arable based diet, much like our hunter gatherer ancestors did. However, meat is culturally important in some societies and to eliminate it would simply not go down well. So, what are the alternatives? We could eat less meat, to reduce our need for land to grow high-energy cereals to feed livestock. An increasingly attractive alternative is to use insects to provide protein for our projected global population of 9 billion. We could do this by raising livestock on insect diets such as mealworms and fly larvae, or by consuming insects directly. Insects have a much higher feed conversion rate, require less water and space and produce lower quantities of toxic waste and greenhouse gases. For crickets, around 1.7kg of feed is required to produce 1kg of live animal weight. The graphs below compare the edible weight of crickets with different livestock species and highlight the advantages of consuming insects.
Other benefits to eating insects include the range of high quality nutrients they provide, which are comparable or superior to other sources of animal protein. Furthermore, insects have few animal welfare issues which make them ideal to farm.
Amy and I were equipped with live mealworms, crickets and locusts (for display and handling only) and processed insects for eating. These included sago worms, queen weaver ants, crickets, locusts, mealworms, buffalo worms, which are all considered delicacies in countries across the globe. My vote on the tastiest critter had to go to the barbeque flavoured bamboo worms followed by the garlic flavoured chapulines. So how did the crunchy critters go down? Well, overall we received a lot of interest from the general public and had whole families daring each other to eat certain critters. One man decided he liked locusts so much he came back for seconds, and even thirds. Overall, the day was a roaring success. Amy and I attempted to convince the public that insects can be quite tasty after all and should be considered as a food alternative to livestock protein.
Iain Young and Simon Maher, PhD students Rudi Verspoor, Vincent Keenan from IIB and colleagues from Q-technologies and FarmUrban spent an enjoyable weekend telling “fish tales” at the “Eat the Atlantic” Food Festival 4th and 5th of July.
Eat the Atlantic was part of the Transatlantic 175 celebration commemorating 175 years since the first cruise liner crossed the Atlantic to Manhattan from Liverpool. Cruise liners, vintage vehicles and classic cars, catwalk models, dancers, bands, celebrity chefs, urban growers, about 500,000 visitors and even a few scientists from the IIB all gathered on Liverpool’s Historic Waterfront for the celebration.
We took along some of our projects that we’ve been working on in partnership with collaborators from industry: AQUAMMS – an EU framework project in partnership with the University of Liverpool spin-out company Q-Technologies (http://q-technologies.co.uk) developing new miniature mass spectrometry based sensors for aquaculture (www.Aquamms.com), BiffiO – working with agriculture and aquaculture to look for new ways to gain value from their waste (www.BiFFiO.com), and various projects we have running with FarmUrban (www.FarmUrban.co.uk) focusing on sustainable urban food production.
With its high efficiency pink LED grow lights reminiscent of an 80’s theme cocktail bar hovering over lush green plants, our “Vydrofarm” vertical nutrient-film hydroponics unit built for us by hydrogarden (www.hydrogarden.co.uk) was certainly eye-catching. We soon became a crowd-puller in the atrium of the Mann Island Buildings (especially during Sunday’s downpours) attracting a lot of interest in aquaculture and urban farming.