3D-printed hearts for Valentine's Day

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.

Valentine’s Day: 3D-printed human hearts of different sizes: adult, child and baby

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!

Work Experience with Professor Prashant Jha

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 opportunity there are a number of schemes available such as Nuffield Research Placements and K+. Unfortunately, the School for Biomedical Engineering and Imaging Sciences is only able to provide work experience on an irregular basis.

“Hot stuff” on tour

‘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.

Maggie engaging community group members at local church, Wirral, Merseyside

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 banana 
  • 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 
  • An apple 
  • 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. 

Whole body fused PET and CT image of a patient with prostate cancer. This image shows multiple areas of abnormal 18F-fluoride uptake throughout the skeleton (red/yellow spots) indicating spread of the cancer to these sites. Whilst the extent of spread of cancer is large, the uptake would predict that this patient should respond well to targeted radionuclide treatment, such as 223-Radium Chloride

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.  

An introduction to the topic of radioactivity to Year 7 & 8 school students (12-14 years old)   

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. 

Year 7 & 8 school students use a Geiger Counter to try to detect which organ contains the small radioactive source (stitched inside) on the modified apron to help understand how radionuclide detectors work when imaging radioactivity in patients to detect disease   

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.

Coding for Girls

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.

Comments from the second workshop

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!