Butterfly Crafternoon at the Williamson

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.

 

 

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Empowering girls from Holly Lodge Girls’ College and inspiring them to pursue scientific careers – 19th June 2019

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!

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Bringing the natural world to Alder Hey Children’s Hospital

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.

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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.

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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.

 

 

Liverpool LightNight – The Antimicrobial Avengers

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!

Acknowledgements

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

 

Meet The Scientists: Engaging the next generation of researchers

‘Meet The Scientists’ celebrates the inter-disciplinary and collaborative approach that the IIB takes in conducting their research activities. The annual event showcases a selection of projects being undertaken across departments, and transforms complex subjects into interactive and engaging tasks for children. More than 1000 children and their parents from across Liverpool attended the event at World Museum on Saturday 27th April.

“As a vet, and PhD student examining Histoplasmosis at the human-animal interface, my interests in infectious disease and global health, influenced the subject of my stand. Different disease scenarios based on IIB research activities were presented to my audience. Children then decided which team of scientists, clinicians and community members were needed to stop the spread of disease (in the more engaging form of a puzzle). This activity highlighted the importance of inter-disciplinary teamwork to obtain a complete picture of infectious disease transmission dynamics, and the impacts of disease on affected communities worldwide. Children were particularly engaged when understanding their role in the global health picture, as students and as the future generation of scientists.

This was a fantastic opportunity for public engagement with an energetic and enthusiastic audience! Thank you to the organisers of this event and for the scientists who gave me permission to showcase their research.”

Tessa Cornell (Functional and Comparative Genomics)

“Despite being incredibly messy, making hundreds of pine cone bird feeders with the families was a lot of fun! At ‘Making a Home for Nature’, families could create bird feeders, bee houses and do some colouring. They could also take home various handouts, for other wildlife-friendly activities or to tick off which birds come to their feeders. I really enjoyed talking to lots of different people, ranging from young children to grandparents. I hope many have continued to enjoy the activity through watching the wildlife attracted to their gardens and the things they made.”

Emma Cartledge (Mammalian Behaviour & Evolution Group)

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“It was so much fun to interact with children with all that enthusiasm and curiosity about learning and getting involved in what we did! They have all got very creative while making their viruses by putting a smiley face and a couple of googly eyes to make them less harmful than they are. At the end of the day, they brought their creation of a happy virus home with a little more awareness on what viruses are and what they may cause into.”

Dilem Shakir (Biochemistry)

“What a day! It was raining buckets outside and this seemed to drive a sheer endless stream of visitors to our ‘Skull Detective’ stand at the Liverpool World Museum, which felt a bit like Noah’s ark at times and kept me and volunteer helpers Kelly Ross and Dan busy for hours on end, with hardly time to catch our breath. Our hope was to inspire the current and next generation among the public to understand the needs of, and ultimately help preserve, the local wildlife around us in a friendly and fun environment. So it was encouraging and satisfying to experience the great curiosity and enthusiasm of children and adults alike about some of the wonders of the animal world. Our display of tracks and remains of common mammalian wildlife in Britain was greatly enhanced by exhibits provided by the friendly staff of the World Museum, including an enormous lower jaw of a juvenile sperm whale that attracted great attention. So would we do it again? I think so!”

Michael Berenbrink (Evolution, Ecology and Behaviour)

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“It was a great experience participating in this year’s Meet the Scientist event. I enjoyed engaging with children about how bacteria can become superbugs by acquiring antimicrobial resistance genes from the environment. It was really rewarding to see how engaged both the children and their parents were to learn about the rising problem of antimicrobial resistant due to over use of antibiotics.”

Rebecca Bengtsson (Functional and Comparative Genomics)

We had a fantastic day at the museum. As always, it was great to see so many enthusiastic young people and their families enjoying science! The ball pit ‘discovery tank’ was hugely popular with young and old and really helped explain the challenges of drug discovery! It was challenging seeing so many people and explaining the concept properly, but I think everyone enjoyed it! A great team effort on a very busy Saturday!

Hannah Davies, James Torpey, Alana Maerivoet (Biochemistry)

Thanks also to Laura Winters for organising the event and undergraduate and visiting students for their help on the day.

Speed Dating Scientists

Convincing school pupils that scientists are actually ordinary people is no small feat, but scientists from the IIB, along with the social enterprise Farm Urban have been doing just that.

Farm Urban, in conjunction with the University of Liverpool and funded by Shaping Futures, have developed a 12 week STEM club called the Future Food Challenge, where pupils form their own social enterprise to try and help fix the world’s food production problems using high-tech growing technologies such as aquaponics and hydroponics. Before starting the program, the pupils were invited to an introductory day at the Department of Engineering on Wednesday 6th February, where they were built their own mini aquaponics system and were given talks and advice by local business leaders about how to set up their own business. Matt Murphy from the Engineering Department, who helped to organise the day, also gave a talk to help the pupils understand the design and engineering problems they might face.

As part of the day, pupils took part in a Scientist Speed Dating session, where groups of 6-10 pupils got to sit down with a real life scientist and ask them questions about their work, and how they’d ended up in their job. The idea was to break down some of the barriers preventing the pupils seeing themselves as capable of being scientists and show them that some of the scientists had similar life experiences to their own.

Laurence Anderson, Hannah Davies, Jens Thomas and James Torpey from the IIB all took part. At first, students and academics were eyeing each other with some trepidation, but by the end of each session, the groups always had to be forcibly moved on as everyone was getting on so well and didn’t want to stop the conversation. The scientists had to contend with a bewildering array of questions, from what their most important experiment was, to what their favourite food or colour was, and although they were sometimes stuck for answers (I’m still not sure what my favourite colour is) the day went incredibly well.

We hope that the day and the program will broaden the horizons of the pupils and show them that they too could be scientists and entrepreneurs, just like the people they met on the Future Food Challenge.

IIB’s Iain Young, who helped to develop the programme and is now at the Institute of Clinical Sciences, was shortlisted for a public engagement award for his part in creating the Future Food Challenge.

 

Plant Power at the VGM

On Thursday 21 February 2019, during school half term the Walley group were at the Victoria Gallery and Museum (VGM).  We took with us a display of cultivated brassica crops, and their crop wild relatives to demonstrate how over many years the weedy Brassica oleracea crop wild relatives have been domesticated and bred into so many different vegetables through selection.

Visitors had a go at performing crosses between different brassica crops by transferring pollen between flowers using paint brushes and, inspired by how new vegetables can created, such as flower sprouts or ‘Kalettes’ (crossing a sprout with a kale plant), designed their ideal or fantasy brassica plants for us to display.

The methods of modern plant breeding that we are using within the BRESOV project (Breeding for Resilient, Efficient and Sustainable Organic Vegetable production) were discussed and compared to conventional plant breeding.

Visitors had the opportunity to taste many of the different vegetables derived from wild Brassica oleracea, including cauliflower, sprouts, kale, kalettes, red cabbage, pak choi, chinese cabbage and broccoli- they were very popular!