Barts and Queen Mary Science Festival

On Wednesday 19th June 2019 NIHR Barts Biomedical Research Centre ran a science festival at the Octagon in Mile End. It was aimed at anyone interested in science from teenagers to adults of any age. The event saw a fantastic turn out with around 200 people from all over London of all ages coming to see the talks and stands.

Representing the UCL Institute of Ophthalmology and Moorfields Eye Hospital NHS Foundation Trust was Dr. Naomi D'souza, a post-doctoral researcher from Professor Pete Coffey’s lab and Vasilis Theofylaktopoulos, a research assistant working in adaptive optics. They went along for the day, armed with exciting interactive activities and posters showcasing their cutting edge research. We caught up with them and found out a little bit more about the day and their experience.

Naomi - I really wanted to be a part of the science festival as it was an opportunity to chat with young people about the exciting research that I carry out at the UCL Institute of Ophthalmology. This was my very first experience of taking part in public engagement so I was a bit nervous in the run up to the day as I didn’t know what to expect. I was concerned about whether anyone would be interested or if they might ask tricky questions.

Vasilis - I was looking forward to spending a pleasant day meeting lots of new people and chatting about science with them! I had modified a camera to detect infrared light and was looking forward to showing it.

Naomi - There were lots of different ages at the festival and we had quite a few activities between the two of us, we were aiming to have something for everyone! We both had very colourful posters with lots of interesting images, which initially attracted people to come over and then they were able to ask questions. I also took my microscope along, so people could see stem cells that had differentiated to neurons. People also really loved having a go at different lab techniques – such as pipetting with a Pipetboy. The Pipetboy is what we use to change the media (the liquid that the cells grow in). Some also really enjoyed using the 1ml pipettes to remove media without disturbing a cell pellet. For this I used centrifuged pepper in water instead of actual cells! I also had activities for everyone to take home and try like origami DNA.

Naomi demonstrates how to use the pipetBoy

Microscope showing differentiated stem cells.

Vasilis showing images from his research

Vasilis - There were several activities that I brought along – I tried to have something for all ages and interests! The most successful demo was a modified camera that could record near infrared light. People enjoyed seeing their black clothes turning to bright red or not depending on how reflective the material is to invisible light. I also saw some smiles when people made the connection between the different images of the retina and grasped the range of scales we use to look at the same part of the eye.

Naomi - At the end of the day I was very happy! It was fun talking about my work, answering questions on science and showing how we use different pieces of equipment to interested people. The young people were very inquisitive and they were all very polite. I got a number of questions about my career path and how to get into research.

Vasilis - In these events it is always worth walking around the other booths. I saw some great ideas about how to make centrifuged fake blood, a making molecules using craft pipe cleaners competition and had a very interesting discussion about reconstructing 3D models of tumours.

Vasilis - I thoroughly enjoyed the day I wish it had gone on for longer! My favourite moment was finding out about the students own interests and seeing their faces when they learnt something new!

Naomi - I would like to do more public engagement in the future. In fact there was a teacher who wanted me to go into their school and give a talk – hopefully they’ll be in touch! Public engagement is really worthwhile, it can give you some much needed motivation! You feel that you might be making a difference to young people, opening their eyes to different career paths and to new research.

Vasilis - I always enjoy engaging with the public about science. At UCL an excellent opportunity is to volunteer with the Institute of Making. They cover a large range of topics, you meet interesting people and get to learn something new. Apart from the constraints of time and balancing with your research there is really nothing to worry about! One tip I can offer is to always ask others what their interests are and use that as a bridge to a subject they might enjoy.