Dr Shaihan Malik is a Reader in Medical Imaging and gave a talk to a large group of 3-5 year old children in nursery and reception class at a primary school in North London. He writes about his engagement experience here.
“[The] teacher invited me to speak to the class about ‘people with jobs that help others’
Dr Shaihan Malik, BMEIS
I visited my local primary school in North London and spoke to 54 nursery and reception class children (aged 3-5 years old). My son is in the nursery class, and his teacher invited me to speak to the class about “people with jobs that help others”, after he told his teacher that his dad works in a hospital.
Firstly, the children had to try to guess my ‘helping job’ but none of them correctly suggested “scientist”. After revealing my occupation to them, I asked what they thought a scientist does and received many interesting answers including:
“wears glasses” (true in my case)
“does experiments” (impressive!)
“goes into space” (if only)
Answers from 3-5 year old school children on ‘what a scientist does‘
I went on to explain to the children that science is about understanding things that nobody knows yet. This was something that genuinely surprised a lot of them, since in their worlds the adults already know everything.
To avoid showing them a slide show, I bought along some printed pictures of MRI scanners, and some MRI brain images (below), along with 3D-printed models of brains and different sized hearts, borrowed from the School’s public engagement resources. The children particularly liked the comparison between baby, child and adult hearts and brains. Since the visit was on Valentine’s Day, seeing a real heart as opposed to the cartoon version was also a bit of a surprise for them!
“One of the children went to collect all the toys in the classroom that contained magnets to show me the connection with the magnets in our MRI scanners”
After Dr Shaihan Malik’s talk to 3-5 year school children
Afterwards, there were some fun and interesting questions including, “how does a magnifying glass work?” and one of the children went to collect all the toys in the classroom that contained magnets to show me the connection with the magnets in our MRI scanners.
Overall, even though this was by far the youngest age group I have engaged with about my research area in Biomedical Engineering, I think the children were genuinely interested and enjoyed it – as did I!
Pint of Science is an international, annual science festival that takes place in pubs across 24 countries and nearly 400 cities. It aims to bring researchers into local establishments to share their scientific discoveries with public audiences. George Keeling is a PhD student from the Centre for Doctoral Training (CDT) based within the School of BMEIS who co-organised Pint of Science 2019. George writes about his experience here and shares a guide that he developed especially for the School’s members from his learning.
I have helped out in previous years at Pint of Science and taken part in smaller, less formally organised events. However, my main experience with public engagement prior to Pint of Science 2019 was helping out at the “Hot Stuff” event as part of the Royal Society Summer Science Exhibition 2018, in which we presented the medical uses of radiation to the public; families, school children, young people and adults.
Engaging with public groups is important and, I find, can often be an overlooked aspect of any sort of research, scientific, social or otherwise. I am aware that not many people understand the motivation behind my work in developing new imaging agents for detecting disease or the wider benefits and impact of our School’s research, but a lot of people do find interest in the media headlines about the latest medical technologies. As such, they may want to learn or understand a bit more, and we might want to address any misconceptions.
“It was an opportunity for me to work on my communication skills as I had never spoken about my work to a non-scientific crowd.”
For me personally, as a research scientist, Pint of Science is an excellent way to engage with people on a subject I feel is really important, and it can be fun to debate, whether people are in agreement with me or not. Pint of Science is a good way to encourage other researchers to follow this mantra and really try to inform and inspire the paying public – who have given up a weekday evening – in half an hour! The challenge of making it understandable, fun, engaging and informative to an audience of mixed scientific background can really test the speakers and, for me, it’s fun to see the different ways they approach the challenge.
Myself, Alex Rigby, Marina Strocchi and Peter Gawne (PhD students) led in the organisation of the event and helped recruit a group of 15 volunteers from across the School to help (five per evening). Alex and I, who were the Event Managers, applied for £500.00 of public engagement funds from the Wellcome EPSRC Centre for Medical Engineering Public Engagement Grant Scheme, which we were awarded to host the event. We organised three evenings, with three Speakers per night (30 minutes each including presentation and questions) under the theme: Tech Me Out. Speakers were chosen from across the School who were leaders in the field of biotechnology, robotics & computers and spoke on topics such as 3D-printing of organs (Professor Kawal Rhode), developing inexpensive healthcare technologies (Professor Prashant Jha) and creating tools for brain surgery (Dr Rachel Sparks): Medicine ex machina evening.
Our audience members were adults in a local Lambeth pub (Horse & Stables) on a weekday evening, who were likely a self-selecting group who had a prior interest in the scientific topic up for discussion on the evening and had paid £4.00/ticket for the event! This meant they broadly fell into three categories: firstly, people we work with, who know our work fairly well and wanted to be supportive and see how entertaining their colleagues could be. Secondly, our prime public groups who may be interested in science but don’t necessarily work within it and may come with fairly little knowledge of the current state of affairs within our area of research – these people may have been to a previous Pint of Science event, seen the event advertised and found it sparked their interest, or fancied a night in the pub with some friends. And finally, friends and family of the speakers and organisers. The latter often falling into one of the first two categories, however, sometimes forced to be there somewhat reluctantly (apologies to my parents) and therefore possibly the hardest group to win over!
“Great way to spend an evening. So interesting. Dinner & a show! Thank you Pint of Science”
Although it was such a mixed audience, it was good for Speakers to really expand the introduction to their fields, use everyday analogies to explain complex scientific concepts and leave the more cutting-edge or in-depth ideas until later in the talk, to make sure everyone could follow and enjoy. For example, one Speaker used an analogy about a flamethrower inside the heart to explain a treatment intervention. We also really tried to ensure there were some key take-away messages or soundbites from each talk that anyone can pass on to friends and family. Also, to entertain colleagues (who may know much of the talk already!), the speakers had to rely more on an entirely new set of skills – comedic, charisma and delivery – whilst still being informative. Both pitching at the right level and entertaining everyone go hand-in-hand at an event like this!
“When I need to prepare talks it always means that I will gain more knowledge as I get ready for it… I often look up the current state-of-the-art and it brings me up-to-date on my research topic.”
We asked for anonymous feedback from audience members each night by asking them to write short responses on post-it notes and stuck them to a graffiti wall. The feedback was largely positive, with lots of praise for the way speakers made their work accessible (by avoiding the use of scientific jargon or complex terminology) to “non-scientists” (as it was often phrased). Of course, some did this better than others and upon reflection, it is very important to send them a clear brief and checklist ahead of time, as they may be very busy people (more details are included in the guide I developed – link below) .
“Really great to be included in this level of scientific research in such an accessible way for a non-scientist”
Our aims of improving people’s knowledge and awareness on our research through the event were evident from the feedback collected and anecdotally, and as a result, the attitudes of a lot of members of the audience towards the sort of work we do, may have changed their perspective or attitude positively. Of the 150 tickets available across the three nights, nearly all shows were sold out (142 tickets sold), however, there were some no-shows on each nights. This is a learning point for us, as we had not anticipated a drop out percentage and in future, will be sure to account for this by increasing the number of ticket sales above the full capacity. Overall, our event (and research) reached 102 attendees, who told us they went away with some good information on the topics of medicine and health, for conversations in the future.
From the perspective of those taking part (research students, staff and School members), we all enjoyed it and have an improved attitude towards the value of public engagement. Many of our speakers and volunteers have already gone on to do more public engagement events, showing their confidence and skills have improved. They should all be very proud of themselves as they were fantastic in every single aspect!
“These types of events always empower individuals to be more confident and allow wider dissemination of scientific research and concepts.”
Taking part in Pint of Science increased my confidence and expanded other transferable skills. For example, encouraging me to take part in other events in a more direct role (leadership or main organiser) than I have done in the past. I also find myself thinking about the sort of research data I have and how I would go about communicating it. Taking some inspiration from some of the Speakers and feedback from audience members, I now think I have a better idea of the kind of ways I could go about making my work more accessible and engaging. I hope the other speakers and volunteers feel the same. Among my favourite examples were the live 3D-printing and the colour-changing chemical reactions, both of which would also work as engaging videos to put on social media platforms or blogs. Many speakers were also asked some insightful questions on various aspects of their work from the audience, which hopefully will help inform them on the sorts of priorities the wider public have about the type of research questions they should be investigating and how this information is communicated.
“Such events always leave me with a more positive attitude since members of the public always show so much appreciation for these talks.”
I have developed a bespoke Pint of Science Guide specifically for members of the School, with support from the Public Engagement team, to offer top tips and advice for the planning of future events based on my experience in 2019. I have also taken on more of a leading role for Pint of Science this year, which is taking place in May 11-15, 2020. I will be helping with recruitment, organisation and training for my personal development, to upskill others and to help build capacity.
You can take a look at photos from the evening by following #Pint19 @pintofscience @GeorgeKeeling93 and meet the other BMEIS Pint of Science team members here – we’ll hopefully see you for #Pint20!
In November 2019, Elaina, a Year 12 applied science student from Harrow College, joined Professor Prashant Jha for a one-week work experience placement.Professor Prashant Jha is Head of Affordable Medical Technologies at the School of Biomedical Engineering & Imaging Sciences. He and his team gave Elaina an insight into laparoscopic surgery, medical devices and methods of communication in the industry.
Why did you want to carry out work experience in the School for Biomedical Engineering and Imaging Sciences? I wanted to carry outwork experience in the School for Biomedical Engineering and Imaging Sciences as I believed it would help me gain skills and experience. In the future, I would like to work in the healthcare sector and I hoped this experience would help me to stand out to potential employers. I thought that it would help my work ethic to become stronger. The School itself is known for its excellence in research and helps to address some of the issues in healthcare today, which made the opportunity even better.
What did you do during your week? On my first day, I was introduced to the team and felt very welcome. My supervisor was Professor Prashant Jha, Head of Affordable Medical Technologies. I was given the list of tasks I was to complete for the week based off what I hoped to achieve; which was to increase my knowledge and understanding of the biomedical engineering and imaging sciences and to improve my communication skills, especially in terms of presenting and emailing. My first task was to research companies who provide medical devices. My second task was to research laparoscopy (keyhole surgery of the abdomen) including its history and development. The third task was to create an email template that could be sent to companies that specialise in medical devices. On the following day, I had to research the percentages of laparoscopies carried out in each hospital in the UK. My third day involved researching the number of laparoscopies carried out globally. On my fourth day my research topic was the role of robotics in laparoscopies.
What was the most interesting thing you learnt during your visit? The most interesting thing I learnt during my visit was how to create an email template that could be sent to companies specialized in medical devices. After creating a draft, I presented it to the group who gave me advice on how to improve.
What do you want to do after you finish school? Originally, I was unsure of what career I wanted to pursue. This experience has increased my interest in biomedical engineering, as it helps solve medical and biological problems that we face. In this field I could contribute to the progress of medicine and be able to improve lives which is something I always wanted to do.
If you are school pupil interested in a similar opportunitythere are a number of schemes available such as Nuffield Research Placementsand K+. Unfortunately, the School for Biomedical Engineering and Imaging Sciences is only able to provide work experience on an irregular basis.
‘Hot Stuff’ was a public engagement stand at the Royal Society Summer Science Exhibition 2018, led by a team of researchers from the School of Biomedical Engineering & Imaging Sciences, King’s College London, about how radioactivity can be used to detect, monitor or treat human diseases. Two years on, one of the team, Maggie Copper, shares how she has been taking elements of the successful stall around the country to continue engaging other public groups on how radioactivity is used for cancer care.
Our ‘hot stuff’ exhibition has been on tour ‘up north’ to Merseyside as I took the activities into the school my kids attend in Liverpool and also gave a presentation to a community group who meet in our local church on the Wirral.
I work part-time as a post-doctoral research fellow in the department of Biomedical Engineering and Imaging Sciences at King’s College London. My work involves getting exciting new radioactive drugs that are developed in the laboratories into real patients in the hospital.
I also already help with some science classes in the school with Year 8 and Year 10 students. The first topic I helped with happened to be radioactivity for GCSE students and I saw how some students struggled with the concepts of half-lives and types of radiation decay so I suggested bringing the ‘hot stuff’ activities to the school as a bit of an introduction to the topic of radioactivity for year 7 and 8 students.
Originally designed for the Royal Society Summer Science Exhibition 2018 in London by my colleagues (supported by the Wellcome EPSRC Centre for Medical Engineering), the ‘hot stuff’ activities show how radioactivity is all around us, how radiation is used in medical imaging and how we can use radioactivity to treat diseases such as cancer.
After the success of the presentation in the school, I decided to take it to a community group on the Wirral that my husband and I help with in our local church. Several of the people who attend the group have medical problems that have required imaging of one kind or another so the presentation was relevant and informative to them.
Radioactivity is all around us
People are often scared of radioactivity but actually radioactivity is all around us and it’s really about getting things into perspective. So, to demonstrate this we played a game. The idea is to put some common everyday objects in order of how radioactive they are. Actually, two of the items aren’t radioactive at all but the others are to a greater or lesser extent, radioactive. I’m not sure if the kids or the adults group enjoyed this more but it was pretty competitive even though the prize was just a slightly over-ripe banana! Just for fun, this is the list of items that they had to put in order.
A smoke alarm
An old watch – the type that has a glow in the dark dial (not needing light to make it glow)
A rubber duck
A packet of brazil nuts
A packet of Lo-Salt salt
A rock – demonstrating part of Cornwall
Nobody got them all in the right order – but then again neither did I when I had a go at this game as a guinea pig to test it out last summer!
However, what it does demonstrate is that radiation is all around us and, in fact, it might be more dangerous to be an airline pilot, exposed to cosmic rays on long haul flights, than to be a scientist working with radioactivity every day.
Radioactivity can be used to image disease
We talked about how we can attach a radioactive isotope to a drug so that the drug goes to the area of the body that we want to image so that we can work out whether there is a problem or not. Images taken this way have some advantage over other methods of imaging such as ultrasound, X-rays, CT and MRI in that they can give an idea of how well a particular part of the body is functioning rather than just giving a picture. We talked about how nowadays different ways of imaging were being combined so that we had really useful cameras that can take radionuclide images at the same time as CT or MRI images (PET/CT, SPECT and PET/MRI) and make it much easier for doctors to make a diagnosis.
In order to better demonstrate this, we used some aprons which have the different organs stuck onto them. I was particularly impressed that the children were able to correctly identify the different organs in the body like the lungs, the liver, the heart, the trachea etc. The aprons had been specially modified so that in one organ on each apron there was a small radioactive source inside.
When patients attend the clinic (in the Nuclear Medicine department) they are injected with a small amount of a radioactive drug and then they are imaged under either a gamma camera or a PET camera. We used radionuclide detectors to work out where the radioactivity was in the body in the same way as the doctor would look to see where the radioactive drug was in the patient. It was great fun trying to work out which organ was radioactive by scanning each other with the detectors.
Radioactivity is used to treat disease
We then talked a little bit about diseases such as cancer and how normal cells in the body could go bad but how we could use a different type of radioactivity to treat these diseases. We talked about how there were often markers on the surface of cancer cells that made them look slightly different from normal cells and how we could use drugs to specifically target these differences in the cells. We could then make these drugs radioactive with a radioisotope which could kill the cancer cells.
There were loads of questions especially from the children in the school but also some interesting questions from the community group, some of whom had had scans in the Nuclear Medicine department in the hospital. It was great that as a result of the talk and activities they seemed to have understood what the scan was about, how the radioactive drugs could detect the medical problem and what the images meant.
The children really engaged in the activities and I hope that it got some of them thinking about the field of Nuclear Medicine where a range of different professionals (doctors, nurses, physicists, technicians, radiographers, pharmacists) work side-by-side and where scientist in universities are working hard to try to develop new radiopharmaceuticals to diagnose and treat patients.
Feedback from parents was very positive with many telling me how much their children had enjoyed it although they had become a bit fed up with hearing for the millionth time that bananas are actually radioactive! The community group were also really appreciative and were keen to take away the information cards.
This was a great experience for me to take my work and talk to ‘real’ people about it. I would highly recommend others having a go at this and just getting out there and letting people know about the interesting work that we are doing. The enthusiasm of the children was amazing and so rewarding. I was overwhelmed by their questions and how interested they were in everything that I talked about.
The ‘Hot Stuff’ exhibition showcased at the Royal Society Summer Science Exhibition 2018 and the ‘Hot Stuff on Tour’ activities were both supported and funded by the Wellcome EPSRC Centre for Medical Engineering within the School of Biomedical Engineering & Imaging Sciences, King’s College London.
World Down Syndrome Day (21 March, 21/3) is a global, annual awareness day that was officially observed by the United Nations in 2012. For 2019, Ana Baburamani and team, from the Department of Perinatal Imaging & Health, King’s College London, hosted a special celebratory event at The Francis Crick Institute, London, to engage with children, young people and adults with Down syndrome (DS), and their families/carers.
Each of the cells in our body house 23 pairs of chromosomes (except our sex cells, which contain 23 single chromosomes). Chromosomes are formed of carefully folded DNA, which carries our genetic information. Down syndrome (DS) is a condition caused by the triplication of chromosome 21, from two copies (pair) to three. The annual DS awareness date (21/3) has been chosen to reflect this.
Myself (Ana Baburamani), Prachi Patkee, Olatz Ojinaga (from the Early Brain Imaging in Down Syndrome Study – eBiDS – at King’s College London), in collaboration with leading DS-related research groups from University College London (UCL), KCL-IoPPN and the Francis Crick Institute, coordinated and hosted a full-day programme of interactive activities around our DS research. In addition, we organised a series of talks to be delivered by different researchers related to their latest DS research with collaborators from the LonDownS Consortia. (The LonDownS Consortia are also experienced in running events to celebrate this international day, as they have done so for the past two years).
The main aim of the event was to engage with children, young people and adults with Down syndrome (DS), and their families/carers, who participated in the eBiDS study or the LonDowns study; both to inform them of the research progress to-date (seven years on) and to celebrate achievements with families and other researchers across London to date.
The event provided an opportunity for families to engage with DS researchers across London and meet other children and adults with DS, as well as their families who had been involved in the research. This was an important occasion for our researchers to participate in, and contribute to, as it enabled us to re-connect and build upon relationships with those involved in the eBiDS study (as early at 2012), by inviting all our past and present participants. For example, babies with DS whose brains we had imaged during pregnancy were now toddlers and it was important to share and celebrate their journey with us and inform them of the research progress.
…Babies with Down syndrome whose brains we had imaged during pregnancy were now toddlers and it was important to share and celebrate their journey with us…
Dr Ana Baburamani, King’s College London
Who did you engage with and what did you do?
This event engaged two participant groups from the eBiDS or LonDowns research studies – babies with DS and adults with DS, as well as their families and/or carers.
Volunteers for the event were researchers involved in these studies, all at various stages of their academic career and with a range of experience i.e., consisting of Masters and PhD students, post-doctoral researchers, clinicians, senior researchers, professors and principal investigators (PI).
Activities – A range of activities were run for
attendees, suitable for all abilities to maximise inclusion:
Looking at flies and plants through specialised microscopes (accessible) to demonstrate the tools scientists use in the laboratory and show how things invisible to the human eye can look very different when on small-scales (and how this can dictate function).
Modelling Play-doh brain cells as a fun way to show the structure of our brain cells and encourage discussion about how they communicate with each other.
Matching chromosome card game and Lego chromosomes exhibit to build models and talk about chromosomes, DNA and genetic material.
Colouring in brains and ‘lots of socks’ – a campaign that was started by Down Syndrome International to draw attention to March 21, as socks come in pairs, much like chromosomes when visualised through powerful microscopes (!), people are encouraged to wear bright, mismatched socks, as a fun way to allow people to start conversations about diversity, uniqueness, inclusion and acceptance. (*For more information, search #LotsOfSocks)
Crafting bespoke brain hats as a fun interactive activity to get creative and talk about different parts and functions of the brain.
Displaying 3D-printed heart and brain models to show how the brain and heart look in 3D from the stacked 2D-MRI scans we have taken.
Talks – Volunteers
gave talks about their DS-research:
Ms Claudia Cannavo (University College London) talked about cellular changes that occur in Down Syndrome
Dr Rifdat Aoidi (Francis Crick Institute) spoke about heart defects associated with Down Syndrome
Dr Ana Baburamani (King’s College London) and Ms Olatz Ojinaga (Birkbeck College) gave an overview about brain development, and cognitive development in babies and children with Down syndrome
Professor Andre Strydom (King’s College London) told the participants more about the LonDownS study and its results
Dr Sarah Pape (King’s College London) talked about the challenges of growing old with the condition
The highlight of the day, was the powerful talk given by James, a young man with Down syndrome who shared his personal experience of living with the condition. James shared valuable insights into his day-to-day life, positives on how he is able to live independently but also challenges, highlighting that although he has had many opportunities for work experience (including with local MPs), most of them have been unpaid. James also talked about the sadness and frustration of being seen only as his disability, rather than the person he is.
…The highlight of the day, was the powerful talk given by James, a young man with Down syndrome, who shared his personal experience of living with the condition…
What was the impact of your event?
(i) Provided an update on the progress/results of ongoing DS studies. We received feedback from attendees that the talks presented were useful, informative and interesting.
families the opportunity to meet, ask any questions 1: 1 with research
scientists and created a space for families to share their experiences. This
success of this networking opportunity was a fantastic outcome. It was
particularly well received, with families encouraging us to establish further
meetings to be able to continue this dialogue, and support network.
(i) Provided an opportunity for us to celebrate and thank our participants and for them to see how vital their contributions have been to our research.
How did it influence your research/you as a researcher?
Ana Baburamaniand team: It was incredibly rewarding to organise and be part of such a positive event that engages our participants, their families and carers. It also allowed us to present our future studies, and engage potential participants. Families were particularly glad to be invited, as it gave them an opportunity to interact with other parents, who had children of similar ages to theirs. Parents were keen to meet the eBiDS research team and each other again, and suggested that we create an online forum where parents can interact and share resources. Whilst an unexpected protest march in London coincided with the event and may have reduced the number of potential attendees, a positive outcome of this meant that researchers were able to spend more one-to-one time with the 5-6 families who attended, having more in-depth discussions, which was appreciated and potentially more valuable. Many of the resources which we created or purchased for the event (e.g., microscopes, posters, games, 3D-printed brains and hearts) are fully reusable and will be utilised at next year’s event and can be shared as engagement tools with other researchers in the School of BMEIS.
Evaluation: The team and I collected feedback throughout the day via comment boxes, verbally and following the event, through an online survey link that was sent to our attendees. This was to gain further insights on how to improve the event going forward (as the team aim to continue to run the event every year) and identify any unexpected outcomes. Families and participants, particularly those from the youngest cohort, were pleased to have had the opportunity to interact with researchers and many were eager to learn more about the various research pathways they could engage with. In particular, parents of the toddler cohort were happy to hear that the follow-up neurodevelopmental study had received funding and as a consequence we would be seeing children at school-attending age (five-years-old and above).
This year, Imperial College London will join forces with 18 other cultural institutions to host The Great Exhibition Road Festival, an event which aims to attract over 20,000 members of the public. The festival is a great opportunity for researchers to inspire new audiences, address misconceptions about medical imaging and bioengineering, to hone communication skills and to have fun. In preparation, a team of the School’s students and staff have been developing interactive exhibits for a stand in the Health and Wellbeing Zone. Samuel Vennin has been leading the organisation of the stall, which will be called “Peeking Inside the Human Body” and will showcase the researchers work around medical imaging. Three activities will be offered to the public to help them engage with our research:
Virtual reality – Elsa-Marie Otto has developed a game where visitors use virtual reality (VR) headsets to explore human organs and attempt to find hidden symbols against the clock. Gamers will be asked if they would trust surgeons to plan their operations using VR.
3D printed brains – Shu Wang has created an activity to showcase the potential of 3D printing technology for surgical planning. Visitors will be shown a range of 3D printed brains that have different diseases and will be asked what they would do if they had a 3D print of their own brain.
Theranostics – Jonathan Jackson and Aishwarya Mishra have built an exhibit which demonstrates how theranostics can be used to treat cancer. Visitors will be asked about their perceptions of radioactivity, before and after they have completed the activity.
The training session kicked off with an introduction to public engagement, with discussions about each researcher’s motivation for being involved. Comments ranged from feeling as though it is important for the public to understand their research, to its being a good opportunity to get out of the lab and regain perspective as to why they do their projects.
After this, Sam Furniss from the Science Museum ran a series of activities about how to best engage festival audiences. Sam explained the importance of making eye contact. To practice this, the researchers got up on their feet and told the group what they had for breakfast, while trying to look at each audience member every 3 seconds – easier said than done! After that dizzying activity, they split into groups and explained the use of mystery objects to each other. Sam gave great advice: ‘Hook, link, extend’.
Hook – Use questions or exciting facts to entice festival visitors to your activity.
Link – Explain how the science behind the activity is relevant to the visitor’s life.
Extend – Encourage and enable the visitor the think about the science beyond the duration of the interaction.
Before putting their new skills to the test, the group heard from Elsa-Marie, Shu, Jonathan and Aishwarya about their festival exhibits. Aishwarya said that presenting during the session was enjoyable, especially trying to get the group to understand and appreciate the science behind the setup. He also found it a useful opportunity to get their feedback on how to make the activity more attractive to visitors.
The training session was a great success and the feedback from researchers was really positive. Irina Grigorescu, a PhD student investigating novel imaging biomarkers for prognosis of developmental outcomes in babies born preterm, said that she learnt how to be engaging with a crowd. She also developed her ability to be encouraging when talking to a young audience.
Jonny Jackson is a student from the Centre for Doctoral Training (CDT) based within the School of Biomedical Engineering and Imaging Sciences. In February 2019, he ran a series of ‘Coding for Girls’ workshops for a local Lambeth Girl Guides. Jonny writes of his experiences here:
My PhD focuses on how artificial intelligence can be used in healthcare. My experiences to date have shown me both how valuable coding skills are to broaden career horizons, and that there is a lack of quality coding education in school. I didn’t learn any coding skills until university and I think that’s the same story for most people. To combat this, I decided to run Coding for Girls; a series of two coding workshops for local Girl Guides. My aim was to develop their interest, confidence and skills in coding.
Over two workshops we covered the basics of coding using ‘Scratch’- a building block version of coding language developed by Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), USA. I wanted to ensure that the girls developed the skills to create something independently and that they increased their understanding of what coding could be used for. I was surprised to find out that a lot of the girls already knew about artificial intelligence (AI), how it works and what it means. There was even a debate about whether replacing robots with doctors would ever happen and, if it did, whether it would be a good or a bad thing. It was really interesting to find out that these 10 year olds were familiar with such advanced technologies.
During the first workshop, the girls completed all the activities on the computer. However, the Girl Guide Leader noted in her feedback that some individuals struggled to concentrate and were distracted from the coding tasks. It was really valuable to hear this, and we took it on board to develop a hands-on activity for the second workshop. During this task, the girls rearranged printed instructions to code a human robot- aka. one of them! This helped them to develop coding skills, such as, how to use repetition and decision making when writing a programme. As this session fell on St Valentine’s Day, their task was to programme robots to pick flowers and write poetry. One of my favourite moments was watching the two teams act out the coding in a ‘robot-war’ style! It was great to see everyone get behind their team and realise how easy it is for instructions to be mistaken or misinterpreted. If instructions weren’t quite specific enough, their robot went a bit haywire – that was really fun to watch!
As there is currently a male dominance in the coding industry, I also wanted to demonstrate that women have been involved in coding throughout history. I told the girls about women such as Ada Lovelace, who developed the first computer programming language. We had asked the girls to draw what they thought a coder looked at the start of the first session and again at the end of the second session. It was fantastic to see that the drawings had changed from pictures of old men in glasses (!) to drawings of men and women in teams. That was a really rewarding moment, and made it feel like we’d achieved the aim of the programme.
This was such a great opportunity for me to explore how best to engage students and young people with coding. In the future I hope to run a longer and larger scale project to encourage more young people to take up coding. Stay tuned!
Dr Samantha Terry is a lecturer in Radiobiology and award winning public engagement leader.
What started with a rather naïve application to the Royal Society Summer Science Exhibition, finished at a fancy evening event at the Francis Crick Institute for being awarded with the Outreach and Engagement Award as Established Researcher by the Royal Society of Biology .
How could I say no to being lead exhibitor on the biggest event on the public engagement calendar, the Royal Society Summer Science Exhibition? (Especially if I could use the title “Hot Stuff” to explain our research at King’s College London and the Centre of Medical Engineering using radioactivity to image and treat disease).
I have to admit: I was naïve when I applied. My public engagements until that point had been fairly limited and basic; I had taken part in “I am a Scientist – Get me out of Here”, Pint of Science, Soapbox Science and a Royal Society of Chemistry Public Lecture, all with relatively small audiences and simple activities aimed at one audience. However, in 2017, the Summer Science Exhibition figures showed that over 12,000 people attended and that the audience varied across the spectrum in both age and experience in the sciences.
I started the 9-month planning process with getting funds. These were surprisingly easily obtained through the generous support of the EPSRC/Wellcome Centre of Medical Engineering, as well as the King’s College London Public Engagement Small Grant Scheme.
My 9 Step Plan – How to Produce an Amazing Event on Time and on Budget
Step 1: Consult many people in my network to discuss ideas around the key messages (1. Radioactivity is all around, 2. Radioactivity images disease, and 3. Radioactivity treats disease).
Step 2: Set up a core project planning team to collaboratively plan, design and produce the exhibit stand and activities. We had two public engagement managers, two lecturers, a PhD student, a preclinical imaging facilities manager, a postdoc, the University Radiation Protection Officer, and a design student.
Step 3: Set up workshops, talks and events to develop the stand (i.e. with primary schools and various patient and public involvement groups). We went to Brook House Primary School in Tottenham to engage with 2 classes, each with thirty 7-year olds and had sessions with both the BRC Patient and Public Involvement Advisory Group and Imaging Sciences Public and Patient Advisory Group, whose input was invaluable. For instance, an activity called ‘Be the Radiographer’ was scrapped as the groups felt it was too controversial: “[It was] too real and would remind me of the pain I went through” was one of the comments.
Step 4: Plan activities. Activities included “Hunt the Unwell Organ”, an LED-based radiotherapy game, radiation time trial and a rap on radioactivity in bananas by biochemist Alex Lathbridge (Thermoflynamics). The apron/organ game was well received at the primary school having been named ‘epic’.
Step 5: Promote our stand by any means possible. This included using Twitter accounts at the academic/departmental/school/faculty and King’s level as well as creating content on the King’s College London website. We also created a 2-minute introductory video of research from our Department that explains how our interdisciplinary research goes from synthesis of new imaging tracers and therapies (chemistry) to evaluation in cells and animals (biology) to finally clinical translation (clinicians, engineers, physicists).
Step 6: Get volunteers. We amassed 54 volunteers (undergraduate, Masters and PhD students, postdocs, lecturers, Professors, Heads of Department and School, clinicians, medical physicists) to man the stand across the week. Also included was an undergraduate student whose stipend was paid by the King’s Undergraduate Research Fellowship Programme.
Step 7: Train volunteers. Most participants attended our training on how to engage the public and tackle difficult topics as advised by representatives from Cancer Research UK and Understanding Animal Research. Also, a handbook was created with helpful information about the research we do in a larger context.
Step 8: Evaluate success by an external person who observed and interviewed not just people attending the stand, but also the people involved in manning the stand. In summary, it was clear those involved in Hot Stuff, from the visitors, the project team, and the researchers, enjoyed it immensely. Hot Stuff not only led to an encouraging level of awareness and interest in radioactivity, but also in engagement itself. Furthermore, this report provides evidence to: a) support such activities in promoting the communication of science; and b) indicates there is potential, and demand, for the development of further engagement activities.
Twitter engagements for key Twitter handles involved in promoting the stand saw on average over 40,000 impressions and between 700-1200 engagements over the course of the Summer Science Exhibition week. We were also interviewed on BBC Radio which further promoted not just our research, but King’ College London, too.
Step 9: Carry on. As activities are well defined and set up, anyone can take part in any event with little notice or effort. Several activities have been used since the Summer Science Exhibition, including at New Scientist Live, King’s Health Partners’ Summer School, and the RSC Chemistry at Work event in 2018. The activities continue to inspire academics and postdocs to include public engagement in their grant and fellowship applications.
For our hard work in public engagement over the last few years and for having created activities with longevity, I have recently won the Royal Society of Biology Public Engagement and Outreach Award, which is a great accolade for our School to receive. It also showcases that public engagement is valued by prestigious societies; my recent shortlisting for a King’s Award, for example, demonstrates that King’s celebrates our involvement in this arena. We’ll continue to work in this vein, and make every attempt to make public engagement a part of researchers’ every day life.
Dr Marta Varela is a Research Associate within the Department of Biomedical Engineering.
On a daily basis, we talk about our work almost exclusively with other researchers for whom the excitement and novelty of what we do is taken for granted. I was delighted to be awarded a Public Engagement Grant from the Institute of Physics in January 2018 to give me the opportunity to build a series of gadgets that would allow me to share the excitement of my research with the general public. The main aim of the project was to demonstrate how the laws of physics underlie biological processes, particularly the propagation of the electrical signal that triggers the contraction of the heart.
I was lucky enough to benefit from the invaluable hard work of Aditi Roy (PhD student) and Ali Tajabadi (BEng student) in this project. Together, we created a physical model of a cardiac arrhythmia: a 3D printed heart embedded with LEDs. The LEDs obediently lit up sequentially to demonstrate the activation of the heart in sinus rhythm, but at the flick of a switch, could light up in a complex and chaotic-looking pattern, as in a cardiac arrhythmia. As well as being illustrative of the complexity of an arrhythmia, this model was very visually appealing and we found it drew the attention of passers-by wherever we took it.
Apart from elucidating the mechanisms of arrhythmias, our research aims to help clinicians design optimal treatment plans and we wanted to convey that message in our display. Ali therefore created an Android app where users can interactively test different strategies to terminate arrhythmias, simulating a widely-used procedure called catheter ablation. Give it a go and test your skills as an electrophysiologist: Cardiac Ablation Simulator App (Android devices only).
We then took all these devices, together with a model of an electrical circuit that gives the same electrical output as a cardiac cell, to a few public events. The first was International Clinical Trials Day in the corridor of St Thomas’ Hospital, in the excellent company of other researchers working at King’s. I was impressed by the insight of some of the questions from the many patients and hospital visitors that stopped at our stall.
I also took the materials to a primary school, where a group overeager 6-year-olds managed to terminate arrhythmias using our app by having all five of them energetically press the screen at the same time! (Miraculously, the tablet where the app was being played survived.)
The next day, we visited the Camden New Town Festival. Sadly, there was not much interest on the part of festival goers on our experiment, whose interest was drawn to the neighbouring stalls selling shiny attractive jewellery. (It did not help that one of the electrical wires in the LED heart snapped in the beginning, preventing it from lighting up.) I realised that, in this setting, the stall would need to be more visually attractive to draw visitors in, particularly children. It was a good learning experience. I will never again set up a stall in a public festival without being suitably armed with balloons, pens, stickers and colourful fliers (and some spare electrical wires…).
By Peter Gawne. This post originally appeared on the Medical Imaging CDT Website
It’s Monday morning, 8:30am, 2nd July. I’m at the Royal Society, surrounded by books – some over 100 years old – dressed in a bright banana yellow shirt with shorts and tennis shoes. Behind me, attached to a large backdrop, are a pair of similarly yellow headphones which will play a rap song when a similarly-still yellow button beside it is pressed. I’m at the Royal Society, where some of the greatest scientists in the world are members, and occasionally pop by for tea. Suddenly, Brian Cox, OBE FRS walks in.
The story of how I got to be in that situation starts roughly six months earlier.
“It’s called Hot Stuff”, I’m in a meeting in my research department, I’ve volunteered to take part in the organisation of a public engagement stand all about radioactivity: Hot Stuff. ‘Hot’ meaning radioactive. I chuckle at the pun. This will be a week-long event at the Royal Society where thousands of people will visit during that time. We’ve been tasked to put together various activities to explain to members of public about the research we do with radioactivity. My part is all about how radiation is everywhere and not as scary as it first seems. The other aspects cover how we use radioactivity to detect disease and to then treat disease.
So over the coming months we all develop what becomes a really fun, interactive stand. I’ve put together a time trial in which participants rank everyday items (e.g. smoke alarm, bananas, Lo-Salt and brazil nuts) in order of how radioactive they think they are.
Other activities include finding a radioactive organ upon an apron you can wear using a radiation detector, and an interactive game to teach people about the various ways we treat cancer with radiation. We test them on patients, parents, school children and colleagues and get lovely feedback and improvements to make. We design bright yellow shirts, with bananas and the words ‘hot stuff’ on them. The irony of wearing these shirts is not lost on me.
Back to that Monday morning. Brian Cox is talking to another stand created by a charter school who won a competition. Their stand is all about ponds and the organisms that grow within them. They have a water tank containing various cool creatures – including a newt and an axolotl. Later in the week, the newt will escape and be found dried up and dead on the floor. He is picked up and becomes part of the exhibit.
The whole week is a blast. The response is overwhelming and heart-warming. Everyone seems to love what we’ve done. I have fun, hilarious chats with people and then suddenly I’m talking with people who have cancer or have lost others to it. It’s humbling and interesting all at once. One day I spend an hour chatting to a young kid. We’re both just sitting on the floor. I’m wearing one of the radioactive organ aprons, my small intestine is hanging off. Another day I discuss cancer treatments with someone who has just finished their therapy. She looks at the interactive radiotherapy game we just played together, and tells me she now wonders whether she was given the right treatment or not. The week is made up of experiences like this. Some short, some long. Some forgettable, some quite the opposite, and the whole time I’m at the Royal Society in a bright yellow T-shirt that says ‘Hot Stuff’.
It’s 8:45am on Monday morning. I never get to meet Brian Cox. He and his film crew have the footage they need of him with the schoolchildren and promptly leave without so much as a glance over at us at the other side of the room. My heart sinks ever so slightly, and I think about how weird Prof Cox’s hair looked: ‘were they blonde highlights?’ (in fairness he was quite faraway). By the end of the week, I’ve forgotten he was ever even there. I’m shattered, but the good sort of tired like you get after exercise. Euphoric pride. What a week.
Staff and students from the CDT who took part in the project were:
Dr Samantha Terry, Professor Alexander Hammers, Professor Andrew Reader, Dr Michelle Ma, Professor Phil Blower, Professor Seb Ourselin, Dr Tom Eykn, Professor Vicky Goh, Dr Samual Vennin, Alex Rigby, George Keeling, Giovanna Nordio, IB Hungnes, Joe Downey, Mads Iafrate, Megan Mitson, Peter Gawne, Rhiannon Evans, Saul Cooper.