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!

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Science fun at the Gardener’s Question Time Anniversary Garden Party

The Mammalian Behaviour and Evolution Group (MBE) from the Institute of Integrative Biology was represented by four members (Paula Stockley, Holly Coombes, Callum Duffield and Stefan Fischer) at the Gardener’s Question Time Anniversary Garden Party in Ness Botanical Garden. The event saw more than 2000 guests visiting the garden and the live broadcasting of the BBC Radio 4 show. The whole day on Saturday 16th September was reserved for this massive event and the garden staff showed an immense effort to deal with all the visitors and exhibitors.

The MBE group secured a table in one of the huge exhibition marquees next to other exhibitors such as the Wirral Wildlife Trust, RSBP, and the Wirral Barn Owl Trust.

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We showed visitors the diversity of small mammals occurring in the UK with small posters, video clips and, as the highlight, two small rodents to observe. We chose two very different species for visitors to observe: a harvest mouse and a bank vole. Harvest mice are the smallest mouse species and are listed as a Biodiversity Action Plan Species because of their scarcity and the required conservation actions to stop their population decline. Bank voles are a very common rodent species occurring throughout Europe. The harvest mouse was definitely the star of our exhibition and every visitor left with a big smile after finding the little mouse inside the well-structured enclosure. It was particularly nice to see how every person visiting our stand, old or young, woman or man, reacted to the little rodents and how everyone was immediately interested in their behaviour and ecology and asked more facts about rodents in general. We had very nice conversations about topics as diverse as the work of the MBE group, conservation and general behaviour of rodents as well as pest control measurements. I think it was an extremely productive and well received exhibition and visitors of the stand left with a smile because they saw cute rodents and learned more about small mammals in the UK. Moreover visitors will remember that the MBE group of the University of Liverpool is engaged in diverse research areas to better understand and ultimately better conserve mammals in the UK and around the world.

Find out more about the Mammalian Behaviour and Evolution Group.