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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A few Shots and Pints of Science from us all in IIB

Pint of Science is an international festival of science taking place over three days in bars and pubs across the world. In Liverpool, the event, coordinated by Faculty of Life Sciences public engagement officer Laura Winters, took place in three different pubs over three nights.

On Monday evening, Raphaël Lévy and Hannah Davies co-chaired “Deadly Viruses, Cheating Microbes, and Other Things Small!” in the Baltic Social featuring Siobhan O’Brien, Jen Adcott and Calum Semple with volunteer Emma Cartledge. Science is a collective enterprise that works thanks to people in different roles and that evening was a good reminder of that: Siobhan is a Tenure Track fellow in the Institute of Integrative (this means she is starting to establish herself as a group leader), Jen is a technician in the Centre for Cell imaging (i.e. she helps lots of other scientists with the microscopy needs) and Calum is a Professor of Child Health and Outbreak Medicine in the Institute for Translational Medicine.

Siobhan talked about the social life of microbes using examples from biology (e.g. black slime mould), sociology (the prisoners’ dilemma) and also from popular show the Golden Balls. She explained the mechanisms by which individuals in groups of people/microbes make decisions that affect the success/demise of the entire group. She concluded with some comments about the relevance of these considerations to the spread of bacterial infections.

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Jen spoke next. She shared her enthusiasm for her toys: the multimillion pounds suit of microscopes in the Centre for Cell Imaging. She gave an introduction to light microscopy and the wide size range of objects they are looking at, from tiny bacteria to entire fruit flies. She explained her role as a technician. Microscopy is not just “getting a nice image”; microscopy is a scientific experiment that requires good understanding of the technique and of how to analyse the images. Jen is there to help other scientists getting access to these technologies and she shared some examples of recording the movement of cells with relevance to cancer biology.pic2.jpg

After a break (including pints, looking at spider and some live aphids with a microscope, and feeling an awesome microscopy quiz prepared by Jen), we were not quite ready for Calum’s dramatic entrance in a full Ebola gear. He started by undressing (just the protective outfit) showing the extraordinary precautions necessary to prevent contamination. Even with such precautions, the epidemic took the life of a number of doctors and nurses. His talk was a moving tale weaving the gravity of his personal experience of working on the Ebola epidemics in West Africa (for which he and his team received the Queen’s Ebola Medal) with discussions of how outbreaks are described in Hollywood movies. It prompted a number of questions, including a final one about what is the best way to protect oneself and our family. In a country such as the UK where there is a functioning health system, his answer was unambiguous: keep calm and follow the instructions of the authorities. pic3

On Tuesday evening, Chris Deputy, marketing and communications officer at IIB hosted “An Evening of Abnormal Eating, Pretend Drinking and Smelling Wee” in Oh Me Oh My, just opposite the famous Liver Building. The evening saw academics from psychology discuss their work and its impact on health and medicine. Unfortunately, one of our headline speakers, Elinor Chapman of Translational Medicine, was unable to attend and so our audience will have to wait until next year before they can learn about the history of urine in health and disease.

During the evening, two members of IIB took part in a “shots of science” competition, where they described their research in three minutes to an audience who then voted for their favourite talk. Ewan Harney, Post-doc research associate in the Department of Evolution, Ecology and Behaviour (DEEB) spoke about his research into “jumping genes” in fruit flies, and what these genes can tell us about our DNA. Holly Coombes, also from DEEB, then shared her research into mammalian scents and what secrets they reveal about the animal kingdom, as well as the insights they offer into how humans respond to smells

Pint of Science is an annual science festival, taking place towards the end of May every year, so make sure you look out for our Pint of Science talks next year!

Pint of Science

The Pint of Science events around Liverpool ran for three nights (14-16 May 2018), all evenings were sold out!

The Centre for Cell Imaging’s technician, Jen Adcott, took to the stage at LEAF on Bold Street on the first evening of #Pint18 to present a two minute shot talk about ‘The science of imaging, a technician’s perspective’.

Jen took on the challenge, initially not realising that PowerPoint slides were not permitted for the shot talks, only small props that could be carried on stage… adding to the challenge of giving her first public talk, by discussing microscopy without being able to show any images!

The training provided by Steve Cross, organised by the University of Liverpool, was a huge help, and it was great to see how everyone’s talks progressed following the training.

Jen talked about how technicians support scientists in imaging. She demonstrated the use of different microscopes using a laser pointer to show the principle of the laser scanning confocal microscope, with the addition of a cylindrical lens (glass stirrer borrowed from lab B!) to turn the laser beam into a Lightsheet, as used in Lightsheet imaging.

 

Unfortunately due to broadcasting issues Jen’s talk was just missed off the live Facebook feed. The recording from the night started from the third talk in, and can be viewed here. Feedback from the event was very positive, with many people stating that ‘the shot talks were the highlight of the night!’

Jens advice for anyone thinking about taking part in the Pint of Science events is

“Do it! It’s great fun, although slightly nerve racking. It’s great to be a part of an event like Pint of Science, meeting new people, learning new things, and talking science. The support and training was fantastic! I was nervous that a technician giving a talk may not go down well with a room full of people wanting to hear science, but later at the bar I had people coming up to me wanting to learn more about the microscopes – it was great! And made me realise that anyone working in science, no matter at what level can take part in events like this.”