Local programmes and initiatives
‘Public engagement’ is a relatively new concept which has developed over the past 15 - 20 years. After a number of scientific controversies in the 1990’s (e.g. the BSE / CJD crisis and the controversy surrounding genetically modified crops) there has been an increased focus on the importance of open and transparent communication between the scientific community and the wider population. There has also been an greater emphasis on dialogue in which the scientific community are receptive to the interests and concerns of non-scientists.
UK Research & Innovation state that:
“Involving more people in research – as participants, co-researchers or audiences – has many benefits for researchers and society. It disseminates knowledge, stimulates dialogue and provides insight.
Engaging with more diverse people can improve the quality of research and its impact by widening research horizons and surfacing new ideas.”
This is the approach we take at the WCIP and we also recognise that we have lots of different audiences so our public engagement activities are tailored to the interests and requirements of these different groups.
We run a number of different local programmes and activities - see below for more information. Any organisation or group interested in developing an activity with us, or hosting a workshop should contact the Centre’s public engagement manager Dr Vickie Curtis. You can read our public engagement strategy in more detail.
Parasites: a Battle for Survival
Creating an exhibition at the National Museum of Scotland
One of our biggest public engagement projects has been a collaboration with the Wellcome Centre for Anti-Infectives Research and the Infectious Diseases Group at the University of Edinburgh, to produce an exhibition on parasites at the National Museum of Scotland (NMS) in Edinburgh. The exhibition, Parasites: a Battle for Survival opened on December 6, 2019 and while it was due to run until April 19, 2020, it closed a month early because of the Covid-19 pandemic.
The exhibition focused on parasitology research carried out in Scotland at the three centres. Visitors to the exhibition learned how diseases are transmitted and how parasites can adapt to fight back against available treatments and other methods of control. They were able to gain an insight into the discovery of these diseases and explore how a modern laboratory works. Researchers from the centres were individually featured and Professor Annette MacLeod the featured scientist from the WCIP. The exhibition took place in the museum’s second largest exhibition space and we had nearly 40,000 visitors from all over the world.
The exhibition was aimed at secondary school children to support parasitology and infection biology on the Curriculum for Excellence. We also developed an educational programme with NMS team that ran in parallel. To ensure that the content of the exhibition was relevant and in an appealing format to this age-group, we worked with two secondary schools to co-create the content, Castlebrae School in Edinburgh and Hillhead School in Glasgow.
More information and some of the educational materials can be found here.
Glasgow Science Festival is held every June and staff from the WCIP have been involved in many differet types of activities including public lectures, hands-on practical demonstrations, craft activities, art-science exhibitions, and even a parasite tattoo parlour! We also participate in the Middle of Scotland Science Festival (MossFest -which moves to a different rural location every year), Midlothian Science Festival, Edinburgh Science Festival, the Strathearn Festival of Science in Crieff, and Explorathon (European Researcher's Night).
We have also taken part in festivals further afield and in 2018 we were part of 'Einstein's Garden' at the Green Man Festival in South Wales. This 3-day event attracts thousands of people from around the UK and Europe.
These festivals are importants opportunities to engage with local groups, and with communities outside of urban areas. They also give PGRs a chance to develop their engagement and communication skills.
Our researchers and technicians visit both primary and secondary schools in Glasgow and the West of Scotland and conduct practical-based workshops on topics such as microbial infections (including parasites) and immunology. Centre staff also speak to students about their life as a scientist with the aim of encouraging children of school age to consider a career in science, or to pursue STEM subjects at secondary school. Staff are encouraged to join the Scottish STEM ambassador network.
British Science Week
British Science Week takes place every March with hundreds of public engagement events organised throughout the country. The University of Glasgow opens its laboratories and researchers and technicians from across the life sciences, including the WCIP, take part in practical activities for visiting groups of students. Along with colleagues in the Institute of Infection, Immunity and Inflammation, we work with P6 and P7 students at local primary schools to introduce them to microbiology. We visit a number of schools each year and then invite them to the Boyd Orr teaching labs to take part in further activities. These workshops are very popular and we engage with over 200 students every year.
We are always looking for new opportunities to engage with sectors of the community that do not readily have access to festival or museum-based outreach events, particularly in areas of the city that are less privileged. We have been working with two local community groups in Glasgow: STEM in the Gorbals where we have been involved in community science festivals, and the weekly Homework Club at Govan Community Project, where we have been providing activities to introduce basic microbiology to children aged 6-11.
Another approach we have used in our public engagement work has involved incorporating arts and crafts to communicate about our research, and even working directly with visual artists. One of our earliest activities was Crafty Critters, an activity where children (and adults) made felt parasites with our researchers learning about the diseases they cause at the same time. As well as taking this activity to science festivals, we also engaged with local knitting and craft groups - usually of older women. This craft-based approach was recently revisited by post-doc Lauren Carruthers, who has developed a series of cross-stitch patterns based on the parasites we work with. This project, Parasites in Stitches has been very popular, and was featured in a national UK cross stitch magazine.
We have also worked with a local glass artist to produce a piece based on research into cerebral malaria. This collaboration between Dr Chris Moxon and artist Helen Davy was exhibited at a space at the St Enoch's Centre in Glasgow in 2019.
In 2014 we worked with costume designer Katie May Boyd who produced two pieces based on the Plasmodium (malaria) parasite. One costume represented infection (and eventual rupture) of a host liver cell (pictured here), while the other is based on the mature, sexually reproducing stage of the Plasmodium lifecycle. A short film was made to display these constumes.