Brainiology Event

Brainiology Event

Guest Post : Tom Butts, University of Liverpool

The School of Life Sciences held a ‘making the brain’ workshop in the Liverpool World Museum on Saturday 21st January as part of the ‘Meet the Scientists: Brainiacs’ day. Members of the public (and more to the point, their kids) came along and had a go at a number of activities all designed to get people thinking about the brain, how it works, and how it has evolved.

The first activity was to ‘build a brain’, where people had to assemble a 3D life-size anatomical model of the human brain. The second was ‘evolving the brain’ and involved arranging a number of animal photographs on a large phylogeny (of vertebrates). The final part was to try and match up the pictures of the animals’ brains to the correct animal on the phylogeny as a way to think about how brains have evolved. I had some cracking volunteers, including postdocs, PhD students, Masters’ students, and undergrad students from across the biological diaspora in Liverpool, and it was a cracking day had by all. Though knackering. I now have even vaster levels of respect for primary school teachers.

Meet the Scientists – ‘Build-A-Body’

Guest post by Chris Clarke

On Saturday 1st October Dr Chris Clarke and Dr Dada Pisconti from the Institute of Integrative Biology took part in Meet the Scientists at the World Museum Liverpool. The aim of their stand was to convey to the visitors how muscle is made and repaired. There were two activities set up:
1.      Two microscopes displaying samples (from their lab) of muscle progenitor cells fixed at the start (day 0) and end (day 3) of a differentiation experiment where individual cells at the start of the experiment fuse into multinucleated muscle fibers, replicating in vivo muscle formation and regeneration. A laptop was also set up showing a time lapse video of the same process.
2.      The Muscle Regeneration game. To show guests the process of muscle regeneration in a more hands-on way, a game was set up here children were asked to repair broken Play-doh ‘muscle fibers’ using Play-doh ‘stem cells’. The aim of the game was to split the stem cell in half, turn one half into a new part of a muscle fiber (ie. A sausage) and fix the broken fiber by ‘fusing’ this new fiber with the broken one. 2-3 sets of broken fibers had to be repaired in this way, with children facing off against siblings/friends/parents to finish in the fastest time possible.

They were also assisted on the day by undergraduate students from the University of Liverpool.

Find out more about future events here.

Marvellous Medicine at Meet the Scientists

Guest post by Rorie Hather

Meet the Scientists” is a regular programme of events that takes place at the World Museum Liverpool and organised by the University of Liverpool’s Faculty of Health and Life Science with the support of the Wellcome Trust.  On Saturday 26th November the event drew again a large turnout of visitors. The overall theme was “Marvellous Medicines”. It focused on where our medicines come from, the different methods we use to treat diseases as well as the future of modern medicine. The day involved research teams from across the University of Liverpool lending their time and resources to run eight interactive stalls aimed at ensuring a fun and informative day for the whole family, regardless of age.

Two stalls out of the eight stemmed from different research teams within the Institute of Integrative Biology.  Dr. Raphaël Lévy’s team together with colleagues from the Institute of Translational Medicine (Toni Plagge and his student Joe Robertson) had a stall on “stem cells and nanoparticles”. Dr. Madine’s amyloid group utilised Lego pieces to show how proteins interact with one another and how this impacts their research into neurodegenerative and cardiovascular amyloid diseases.

gold

Golden? The beautiful colours of gold nanospheres and nanorods in water. The infrared absorption of some of these nanomaterials can be used to image cells in tissues.

The stem cells and nanoparticles stall attempted to translate the ongoing UK Regenerative Medicine Platform work into interactive games to help understand just how small nanoparticles are, as well as showing where stem cells are found within our body and the possible contributions they may be able to have to modern medical science.

A “pin the organ on the human” game was also run, involving visitors placing organ cutouts onto an outline of a human they drew onto a whiteboard, hopefully in the correct place. This game helped to show where exactly our organs are located, and how they each hold stem cells vital to our ongoing health and regeneration. (The freely available resources developed by Eurostemcells are available here if you wish to try this yourself.)  In total, 7 people help run the activity throughout the day: Sumaira Ashraf, Joe Robertson, Elizabeth Grimes, Joan Comenge, Rorie Hather, Angela Midgley and Raphaël Lévy

Dr. Madine’s group used a highly popular tactic among many of the younger visitors. Their game, invented by Kieran Hand and James Torpey, involved using Lego pieces to demonstrate how small molecules can dock to target proteins implicated in the diseases they research. Children were sent on a scavenger hunt around the different stalls to find the hidden complementary shape of Lego that would fit to their existing protein. On their stall, PhD student Kieran Hand said one of their aims was to raise awareness of light chain amyloidosis – a disease that is often left out of the limelight, yet impacts a similar number of people as motor neurone disease. The prizes that had been assembled to give to children who were successful in the drug discovery hunt ran out by 2 pm, showing just how busy the event was. Hammed Badmos also helped on the stall during the day.

The Meet the Scientists series continues into the new year, with the next event, “Brainiacs”, taking place on the 21st January 2017. It will explore the complexities, faults and cures that surround the human brain.

Find out more about future events here.

Meet the Scientists, How Plants See the World

Meet the Scientists, How Plants See the World

This month, a group of research students and postdocs developed an interactive workshop exploring the world of plants. This workshop was taken to two events: one with a local Brownie troop and then to a Meet the Scientists event at the World Museum in Liverpool. We came up with the activities by first identifying interesting facts about plants that we wanted to communicate, and built the activities up from there. The three key things that we highlighted were circadian rhythms, leaf adaptations, and the importance of soil pH.

Circadian rhythms are an internal mechanism that acts like a body clock, which plants use to survive. To introduce this complex concept to a young audience, we created a card pinwheel that showed the times at which different flowers open. This idea was based on the concept garden designed by Carolus Linnaeus in 1751. The pinwheel contained outlined drawings of flowers that could be coloured in by visitors whilst the demonstrator chatted to them about circadian rhythms. Our card Linnaeus clock is available to download here.

Linnaeus

To demonstrate that plants can recognise the pH of the soil that they are in, we brought some pH indicator that had been made using red cabbages. Red cabbage indicator is purple at a neutral pH, but can change to bright yellows and pinks on the addition of household substances such at lemon juice or washing powder. Visitors were encouraged to test the pH of a selection of different items, as well as testing soil samples. Photographs of hydrangeas were on display to show how drastic an effect soil pH can have on plants.

pH

To demonstrate leaf adaptations, we took a two pronged approach. For older children and adults, a microscope was available to look at details such as veins and stomata on leaves from a variety of plants including local deciduous trees, an ornamental conifer, and a Christmas cactus. While some of the visitors enjoyed looking at the leaf structures, it became clear that some aphid eggs found on a sycamore leaf was more interesting! For the younger visitors, materials for making leaf rubbings were provided. By making leaf rubbings, we were able to encourage the younger children to look at the leaves more closely and to examine their different shapes. We then cut their leaf rubbings out and attached them to headbands, something which helped draw more people to our table.

Headband

The BIG Little Event 2016

BIG is a community for individuals who are involved in science communication. They hold a variety of conferences and workshops throughout the year, including the Little Event. The Little Event is a one day workshop for early career science communicators which I was lucky enough to attend after winning the BIG Little bursary. This included registration for the event, travel expenses, and a years membership to BIG. This year’s event was held at Think Tank, a science centre in the heart of Birmingham.

After a very early start, I arrived in Birmingham and made my way across the city to Think Tank. Upon arrival, I was shown into a room with about 40 other budding scientists and science communicators. We came from a wide range of backgrounds (from engine designers to neuroscientists) and were at a variety of different stages in our careers. Some people were still studying (like me) whilst others had been working in science communication for a couple of years. Throughout the day, we were treated to presentations and workshops by people who work in different areas in science communication. In the morning session, we had talks by James Soper (www.thejugglingscientist.com) and Ashley Kent, director of Cheltenham science festival. James Soper taught us the three key questions for effective science presentations

  • What’s the story?
  • Who’s the audience?
  • Where’s the science?

Ashley Kent then described the key factors to consider when organising large events. The afternoon sessions included talks by Brian Mackenwells (Public Engagement Officer, University of Oxford), Toni Hamill (Centre of Life), and Bridget Holligan (Science Oxford). In these talks, we learnt the importance of higher order thinking, and that engagement needs to be Hand-On, Minds-On, and Hearts-On.

Lunch time was spent exploring the centre and chatting with the other participants. As well as allowing us to exchange ideas and resources, our varied backgrounds meant we could exchange interesting facts about the exhibits. A private tour of the science garden showed us that science doesn’t have to be an indoor activity.

A careers session allowed us chat with the organisers and speakers. I spent most of my time speaking to Lauren Deere (manager of Think Tank) who was able to give me some great advice on how to get a job as a content developer in a science museum (my dream job!).

Attending the Little Event was a brilliant opportunity for me to learn the skills needed to become a successful Science Communicator. The chance to meet other early career science communicators has provided me with invaluable advice, contacts, and ideas to help me make the leap into Science Communication when I graduate. It was a wonderful day and I look forward to (hopefully) attending the Big Event in July! The thing that I am most excited about however is my BIG membership, meaning I get free entry into Science Centres across the country!

Summer Science Club

Guest post by Prof Blair Grubb, Head of the School of Life Sciences

summer science club 2015 - Blair Grubb

Children aged 7-13, from Merseyside and the Wirral, attended a workshop aimed at discovering what different parts of the body do and how they work. The workshop took place at the Victoria Gallery and Museum. The budding scientists measured how big their lungs are and learned why we need oxygen to live. The youngsters then measured their own heart rate when sitting quietly (not easy!) and then jumped up and down vigorously to see how much their heart rate changed as a result of exercise. The activity ended with a discussion about the brain and what it does – they enthusiastically cut out and made brain hats which show which parts of the brain are involved in sight, sound, movement and sensation. Before leaving they were presented with special rulers, donated by The Physiological Society, which will allow them to measure the reaction times of their friends and families.

Professor Blair Grubb, who presented the workshop said, “I was amazed at the very high level of knowledge shown by the young scientists at the science workshop. They threw themselves into all of the activities with great enthusiasm and asked really good and probing questions. It was a fantastic day and I was really delighted to be asked to participate!”

Bringing science historical objects, research and imagination together

This is a guest post by Lu Vieira de Mello and Meriel Jones 

The Victoria Gallery and Museum (VGM) started in 2008 as the University’s contribution to Liverpool’s European Capital of Culture celebrations. As well as paintings, sculpture and ceramics it displays objects of historic, cultural or aesthetic value from the University’s science and engineering departments. It receives around 4000 visitors per month.
A few years ago, my search for insects for a school visit led me to the Heritage Curator, Leonie Sedman. I visited  the VGM stores with her and saw shelves of objects once used in the University’s zoology teaching and research.
From this chance meeting came a plan to bring some of them back to public display through collaboration between the VGM and B. Sc. Life Sciences degree students. Four students have worked on their final year projects using this material with Leonie, Lu Vieira de Mello and myself.
The team:  Luciane V Mello,  X, Y, Leonie Sedman, Meriel  G jones

The team: Luciane V Mello, Nicole Coombs, Sophie Banks, Leonie Sedman, Meriel G jones

The result is thought-provoking exhibits at the VGM about egg collecting, critically endangered pangolins and rhinos – and a witchitty grub embedded in resin for visitors to handle.

From the first two student projects with VGM; Witchetty grubs in acrylic. The students were Lewis Wade and Harriet Passey, both graduated B Sc Biological Sciences in summer 2014.

From the first two student projects with VGM; Witchetty grubs in acrylic. The students were Lewis Wade and Harriet Passey, both graduated B Sc Biological Sciences in summer 2014.

The museum materials are at the centre, but other objects like a 3D print of a rhino horn (thanks to the School of Architecture/Creative Workshop), molecular image of keratin and video of live pangolins put them into a twenty-first century context.
What do the students get from this? Project results that communicate science to visitors, an insider’s introduction to museum curation and the challenge of bringing objects, research and imagination together.