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

 

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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.

Talking PhDs and poster judging at St Michaels CoE School Science Fair

Talking PhDs and poster judging at St Michaels CoE School Science Fair

Guest post by Natalie Koch, PhD student in the Centre for Proteome Research

On Friday 15th March, Rosie Maher and I attended St Michaels Church of England High School for their yearly science fair. The morning session began with both of us giving presentations explaining our personal journeys towards a PhD to a group of year 9 female students. Rosie presented first and began by explaining what a PhD is as many of the students hadn’t heard of a PhD. Rosie followed by talking about her journey from leaving school to starting her PhD. Rosie also highlighted extracurricular activities and work experience that helped her obtain her PhD position and that this is something the students could start thinking about now for their future.  Rosie went on to talk about her current research as a PhD student and explained how she is helping to develop a diagnostic test for people with reflux aspiration using proteomics and mass spectrometry.

I presented next, describing my own journey from school to becoming a PhD student, including my time spent volunteering abroad. I explained what my PhD entails and how I am using a new technique to extract information from faeces to help with population monitoring of small mammals. I also highlighted what else we do as PhD students away from the lab including publishing papers, presenting posters and talks, attending conferences and developing new skills. I then went on to explain what potential careers paths other than academic research are available after studying a STEM degree, in particular studying biology. The students were then able to ask us questions. I believe they were particularly encouraged to know they did not have to excel in every scientific topic they covered in class to be able to pursue a career in science. They were also reassured that Rosie and I had experienced setbacks on our journeys towards a PhD. We emphasised that we did not know everything about our particular field of research before starting our respective PhDs. We explained that we are still constantly learning, and that this is the main theme of a PhD to learn new skills and techniques! We explained that both of us have followed our passions and that has taken us to where we are now and we would encourage them to do the same.

During the afternoon session, Rosie and I took part in judging poster presentations at the science fair along with the help of a previous winner. Around 20 students from year 8 to year 11 volunteered to present a poster on a scientific topic of their choosing. The posters were displayed around the school hall, as you would see at a scientific conference. The students’ parents also attended and were able to walk around the hall viewing the posters and asking the students questions about their chosen topic. As judges, we were asked to mark each student out of five on their presentation skills, knowledge of their topic and poster creativity. We viewed the posters separately, approaching each student who then presented their poster and answered any questions we had.

After all of the posters had been marked we collectively chose three winning students for 1st, 2nd and 3rd place. The winners were those who showed a high level of passion and knowledge for their respective topics. The winner’s topics included the effect of mobile phones on our brain and eyes, current advancements in biotechnology and how artificial intelligence works.

Natalie and Rosie with the poster winner

Overall, it was a very successful day and Rosie and I very much enjoyed encouraging and engaging with the next generation of scientists.                 

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.

 

Inspiring the next generation of NMR scientists during British Science Week

On Friday 15th March 10 chemistry A-Level students from Range High School visited the Institute for the annual Analytics Day held in the NMR Centre for Structural Biology organised by Dr Jill Madine and Dr Marie Phelan. This visit has been an annual event for the past several years which the students look forward to in order to gain enhanced understanding of NMR to help with their A-level courses and also provide an opportunity to chat with PhD students about what is involved in University life and academic research.  The students were given lectures on the basic applications of mass spectrometry and NMR from Stephen Moss (School of Physical Sciences) and Dr Marie Phelan. This was the followed by practical workshops where the students carried out chromatography and learnt to prepare and run NMR samples along with how to interpret the data.  Prior to their visit, as part of a school practical, they have made salicylic acid – a precursor for aspirin. We obtained these samples and collected NMR spectra of their products ready for analysis on the day.  This enabled them to establish how successful their synthesis had been and compare their results across the class, with previous years’ students (and to the teacher!). The pupils response at the end of the day was that they had learnt a lot and they can now ‘do’ NMR. Watch out for future budding NMR Nobel Prize Winners inspired during British Science Week in IIB!

Pupils were assisted on the day by Michelle Tan, Adika Sen (visiting interns in the NMR Centre), Zain Ghanameh (IACD), Jeremy Chazot (IACD) and James Torpey (IIB).

British Science Week at Eureka Science Museum

British Science Week at Eureka Science Museum

Guest post by Emma Cartledge, PhD student in the Mammalian Behaviour and Evolution Group at the Institute of Integrative Biology

Earlier in the year, I attended a public engagement training session at Eureka children’s science museum in Halifax. The training was focused on interacting with young children and families. It highlighted the importance of creating an interesting narrative for your work, as well as understanding its relevance to the target audience. Educational memories are lasting when the activity is unusual and fun – if you think of a time when you were little and learning about science, chances are you are thinking of an occasion where you were not simply sitting in class and filling out worksheets!

As part of British Science Week 2019, I had the opportunity to return to Eureka and put this training into practice. Volunteering alongside the British Ecological Society to run a selection of activities, we were mostly visited by pre-school aged children and their families. We had a stall where the children could view fossils, including a huge dinosaur footprint. They then thoroughly enjoyed making footprints in playdough with toy dinosaurs! Another area was about insects. This was where children spent a lot of their time and drew their favourite animal.

My attention was focused on a stall about small mammal tracks and signs. Here, the children (and parents!) could match up poo to their perpetrator, identify the animals based on camera trap images and then draw their own pawprint.

I really enjoyed the day and was particularly thrilled with the parents’ interest in my footprint tunnels. I have recently started using these to monitor small mammals, as part of my PhD project on dormouse conservation. Some even decided that they would try it at home with their kids! Overall, it was a fun and informative day for all involved.

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!