Nearly 300 primary school pupils from across Merseyside visited campus on Wednesday 23rd October 2019 to take part in some ‘spooky science’ activities led by Institute of Integrative Biology and School of Life Sciences in collaboration with World Museum Liverpool, the event used the Halloween theme to capture the imagination of the pupils and introduce them to some different areas of life sciences research.
During the workshops, pupils learnt about how animals adapt to their environment, communicate with each other and protect themselves from prey. Activities included exploring the anatomy of creepy-crawlies under microscopes, examining animal skulls from different species, discovering how bats see in the dark and understanding how the human body reacts to fear.
Zoology staff from the World Museum also brought along some taxidermy specimens, including a raven, for the pupils to interact with.
It was amazing to hear the enthusiasm from the pupils from the minute they entered the lab exclaiming wow this is what a real science lab is like! Followed by comments like science is great, I now want to be a scientist when I grow up.
The primary schools that took part were Banks Road, Litherland Moss, Pleasant Street, St Cuthbert’s, St Sebastian’s, Croxteth, St Nicholas and St Anne’s. Academic staff, PDRAs, PhD, masters and undergraduate students helped with running activities throughout the day.
A-level students at the School of Medicine at West Lancashire College were inspired by talks from three biochemists Dr Jill Madine, Dr Nigel Jones and Professor Sonia Rocha during November and December 2019. Students learnt about the research carried out within our research groups relating to diseases and their underpinning mechanisms and the career paths each of us followed to reach our current positions. The students were some of the most attentive audience members we have ever spoken to asking questions that wouldn’t be out of place at large International Scientific Conferences. We hope to welcome some of the students for summer work experience placements in IIB.
46 year 12 pupils and 4 teachers from Shrewsbury School visited IIB on Wednesday 8th January to discover the amazing technology and facilities we have within the institute. The day organised by Dr Jill Madine began with an unmissable opportunity to promote UG courses at Liverpool from Dr Andy Bates, School of Life Sciences. The pupils then learnt about a wide range of applications using the available technologies from Dr Marie Phelan, Dr Linda D’Amore, Dr Gareth Wright and Professor Pat Eyers. In the afternoon the students got to see the facilities up close and ask questions during tours of Barkla X-Ray laboratory of Biophysics, NMR Centre for Structural Biology and Centre for Genomic Research from PhD students Liam McCormick and Kangsa Amporndanai.
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.