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.


Fish tales

Iain Young and Simon Maher, PhD students Rudi Verspoor, Vincent Keenan from IIB and colleagues from Q-technologies and FarmUrban spent an enjoyable weekend telling “fish tales” at the “Eat the Atlantic” Food Festival 4th and 5th of July.

Eat the Atlantic was part of the Transatlantic 175 celebration commemorating 175 years since the first cruise liner crossed the Atlantic to Manhattan from Liverpool. Cruise liners, vintage vehicles and classic cars, catwalk models, dancers, bands, celebrity chefs, urban growers, about 500,000 visitors and even a few scientists from the IIB all gathered on Liverpool’s Historic Waterfront for the celebration.

We took along some of our projects that we’ve been working on in partnership with collaborators from industry: AQUAMMS – an EU framework project in partnership with the University of Liverpool spin-out company Q-Technologies (http://q-technologies.co.uk) developing new miniature mass spectrometry based sensors for aquaculture (www.Aquamms.com), BiffiO – working with agriculture and aquaculture to look for new ways to gain value from their waste (www.BiFFiO.com), and various projects we have running with FarmUrban (www.FarmUrban.co.uk) focusing on sustainable urban food production.

fishtalesWith its high efficiency pink LED grow lights reminiscent of an 80’s theme cocktail bar hovering over lush green plants, our “Vydrofarm” vertical nutrient-film hydroponics unit built for us by hydrogarden (www.hydrogarden.co.uk) was certainly eye-catching. We soon became a crowd-puller in the atrium of the Mann Island Buildings (especially during Sunday’s downpours) attracting a lot of interest in aquaculture and urban farming.

Healthy Eating – Aquaponics for Alder Hey

Iain YoungIain Young is Senior Lecturer in the Institute of Integrative Biology.  Find out more about his research here.
Aquaponics combines aquaculture (growing fish) and hydroponics (growing plants without soil) to produce fish and vegetables in an efficient, sustainable way. We have been designing and testing small aquaponic systems that can be located practically anywhere from a classroom or playground, an unused roof-space, backyard or balcony. Harvesting our food from close to where we live and work can radically reduce food miles. While these small systems could potentially provide salad, vegetables or herbs for a family, they are particularly valuable as educational tools for use throughout the school curriculum from infant to college levels and beyond into applied further education and higher education programmes.
Alder Hey children’s hospital is a world leader in healthcare and research.  They are about to complete a new hospital “Alder Hey in the Park” with a design inspired by children at every stage of the process. After the NHS’s biggest ever public consultations it was decided that access to fresh air and nature were central themes to be included in the plans. Alder Hey in the Park, as its name suggests, is sited in a park environment – connecting with the natural environment. Farm Urban and the University of Liverpool are collaborating with Alder Hey on the design and testing of four outdoor aquaponics systems which, once they are shown to be safe in a delicate hospital environment, will be installed on the play decks of the new hospital. These systems will provide the children a close view of nature in the form of living fish and growing salad vegetables and herbs. The herbs and vegetables can be picked and  used in the kitchens on the wards to help inspire and educate the children, and their parents and visitors, to eat healthy vegetables and fruit, and to think about where food comes from.
Marma Test Image .jpg

Impression of one of a children’s aquaponics system (Adam Sadiq – Farm Urban 2015)