The history and inception of MicroScientists
Dr Daniel Morse created MicroScientists after receiving a public engagement proof of concept grant in January 2019. The funding, provided by the Wellcome Trust, was part of a larger Institutional Strategic Support Fund totalling £7 million, and aimed to support early career scientists and encourage public engagement and outreach.
Daniel had been involved in a number of other STEM-based promotional activities, including promotion of the Microbiology Society (as a Champion of the society), and the Institute of Biomedical Sciences. He wanted to create his own suite of activities to help promote microbiology to children in primary schools, to encourage STEM education choices as they move into secondary schools, and so the concept of an outreach group (later known as MicroScientists) was created.
Aiming for the stars
Our aim is to engage school children (and the general public) with Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) subjects to emphasise the achievability of pursuing a STEM-based career. Our primary focus lies with schools and pupils from more deprived socio-economic areas, using indicators such as levels of free school meals, and those that don’t typically associate with higher/further education, or STEM subjects. Many of us are STEM Ambassadors, having attended the nationally recognised training framework to promote education in these areas, and have gone on to have a wide range of experiences in delivering practical experiences to people of all ages.
We also attend more general public events such as science/food/music festivals, and will soon offer our services at open days and school events, after-school clubs and more as we develop the workshop.
Public engagement and our role
For the proof of concept project, our plan of action is to develop a suite of fun, hands-on scientific activities with roots in microbiology to enthuse pupils and the general public into science. Public engagement is described by the National Co-ordinating Centre for Public Engagement as a two-way interaction, where research and higher education can be shared with the public. It is a fantastic opportunity for scientific researchers to showcase their own expertise, promote higher education, and importantly, gain insights from the general public that can help to shape their own research questions or approaches.
Public engagement describes the myriad of ways in which the activity and benefits of higher education and research can be shared with the public. Engagement is by definition a two-way process, involving interaction and listening, with the goal of generating mutual benefit.National Co-ordinating Centre for Public Engagement
Our activities and what we offer
Our aim as outreach and public engagement facilitators is to deliver hands-on activities to showcase the breadth of research and academic expertise of those within the MicroScientist team. For this project, the activities we can deliver include:
- Meet The Microbes: using Giant Microbes to introduce microbiology at a basic level. This highlights the benefit of microorganisms as well as culprits involved in causing disease and infections.
- Building Biofilms: using plastic building blocks to demonstrate the process of biofilm formation (think dental plaque), implications in nature and healthcare and their specific characteristics. Then using balls to destroy the biofilm structure (which kids love!).
- How Clean Are Your Hands?: using fluorescent hand lotion, this activity demonstrates how to effectively clean your hands, and introduce the concept of cross contamination. Coupled with the Meet The Microbes activity, this is a useful context for the commensal microbiota.
- Diagnostics/healthcare: As we have a real-life healthcare scientist (Associate Practitioner) who works in oral pathology, this activity promotes the behind-the-scenes input of the laboratory staff in the healthcare system. This focuses on pathology, where normal and diseased tissues can be viewed under the microscope, and infected tissues. Also use of props for the content of the blood, and finding microorganisms that shouldn’t be there!
As we build upon the Wellcome Trust ISSF public engagement proof of concept grant, we will continue to develop hands-on activities and deliver them to primary schools, with a view to expand the geographical area that we cover, and increase the range of schools that we attend.