Taking part in science festivals in one way to engage the public with your research. Last week, Dr Bernhard Kainz, Senior Research Fellow at King’s College London presented at Imperial Festival.
During the weekend of 8-10th of May we presented our work on fetal magnetic resonance imaging during Imperial Festival. I recently moved to King’s College London to work on the iFIND project. Since I have been working at Imperial College London on motion related fetal imaging problems and high-performance computing solutions for the last few years, Imperial Festival was an ideal opportunity to conclude and present this stage of my work.
The festival started with a VIP opening event on Friday evening, continued on Saturday with an exclusive session for Imperial Alumni, and was then open to the general public until Sunday evening. The organisers stated in their debriefing email that we had approximately 15,000 visitors this year, which are about 3,000 more than in the previous years. For the first time the festival ran over the whole weekend, which required us to form a team of four presenters. At this point I would like to thank Emma Robinson, Kerstin Pannek, and Amir Alansary for their input and their help coping with the many interested visitors and I hope the “Grab me, I’m a Geek” badges were not too embarrassing.
We started planning the event in February. Overall it did not involve too much preparation for us, since our marketing staff did most of the organisation and advertising. However, this also meant we lost control of things such as the title of our activity, being changed from “Automatic motion correction for fetal MRI” to “Baby’s first home video.” The new title was ok but also shows what and how outsiders predominantly perceive our work.
We also organised a model of a fetus in utero from a midwifery equipment online shop. Thanks to the Wellcome Trust and EPSRC for sponsoring it! This mode, in combination with a MRI cine sequence from a moving fetus, turned out to be great at attracting children since we let them take out the fetus and play with it. Children were also the best in asking questions, and examples include: “… so, how does the baby get in there?” usually followed by: “… and how does it come out when it is ready?”, which is again followed by unbelieving head-shaking if you explain them the cervix of the model. Sighing parents were not uncommon in these situations since we were careful not to pre-empt sex education. Other questions were about mind-reading, mind-programming, congenital heart conditions, down-syndrome, the safety of MRI, the price of a MRI device, and of course also about the unavoidable ethical issues when it comes to early diagnostics of untreatable conditions. Being a computer scientist is then sometimes a good excuse to avoid lengthy discussions or a potentially wrong answer at all. However, lengthy discussions were eventually unavoidable, especially when fellow high-performance computing geeks arrived at the booth. Showing some hardware helped to attract this audience as well, which completed our visitors’ age range from 0 to 99 years.
Overall the festival was a great success and everybody of the team enjoyed this scientifically, rather unusual, presentation setting. The aching back and feet from standing around all day and the sore throat from telling the same story 1000 times over are all forgotten by now. After all we got free lunch and water for the whole weekend and since not everybody used their food vouchers we even managed to grab a free pint from the Haemoglobin-Bar for each team member at the end of the event on Sunday evening.
Would I do it again? Probably. I am confident talking to the general public and as long as I am not approached by a dirty, smelly or aggressive person I am enjoying being admired as the scientist who made ‘that’ possible.
Would I recommend doing it? Yes, definitely. This is great training in giving public talks, especially for shy people. The audience give immediate feedback and future employers love proven outreach experience in a CV.