MicroScientists is a relatively new outfit when it comes to delivering our workshop. We’ve been running for about 8 months, but have made some substantial progress and impact int he local communities, particularly in schools. Another remit of ours is to promote STEM and microbiology to the more general public. We were fortunate to have taken part in the Cardiff Science Festival very early on in our conception, and as a result of that, we were approached by the wonderful team at Swansea University to deliver our interactive activities for the first ever Science Festival in Merthyr Tydfil, named Bitesize Science Fest. We were all very excited to have been asked to attend and were really looking forward to putting on activities to really engage as many people as we could, from the younger children to the not-so-young adults that came by too!
Located in St David’s Parish Church in the town centre of Merthyr Tydfil, an unlikely but beautiful location for such an event, exhibitors from all over attended to promote their own scientific fields. Exhibitors including Tenovus Cancer Care, The Open University, National Museum of Wales and another Cardiff University outreach team from the School of Dentistry: called Science Pirates, delivered their own range of activities to promote STEM and engage with the public.
We had the children corner, which, while out of the way of the main footfall into the church, was actually quite a good area to have for us to establish our own little STEM enclosure. There were some restrictions to what we could do during the event, so we opted with a condensed version of the entire workshop. That’s right, we managed to get the whole workshop onto two tables!
Our Building Biofilms activity seemed to draw the children into the area where we had set up. This was great fun as we pitted siblings against each other and on occasions children against parents to see who could build the most robust biofilm structure. This activity was quite challenging with toddlers but they were still able to take part without needing to understand the technical science behind the activity. This is what we really enjoy about public engagement, the fact that as a group, MicroScientists can still be all inclusive. We promised family friendly activities and we delivered this. The Building Biofilms activity is always popular and was great at drawing people over to us, where we were then able to introduce the other activities we had set up.
We bought along our Giant Microbes for everyone to learn more about the good, the bad, and the ugly microbes around us. We also had some mock-up agar culture plates so people can see how we culture microbes. These are used to talk about how we grow cultures to help clinicians and medics decide which antibiotic is suitable for the bacteria causing an infection.
We also had our popular hand hygiene activity ‘How Clean Are Your Hands’. This activity never ceases to surprise people. When you tell someone to wash their hands, people assume it’s really easy to get clean hands after hand washing and this station always shows that a correct hand washing technique is quite tricky to master. Another important aspect of this activity is discussions surrounding the good and bad microbes on our skin, and how it is important not to remove everything from the skin, but to clean it well enough to remove the dirt and the possibly harmful microbes. Many of the microbes on our skin are there for good reason!
For us to do this activity we had a brilliant mobile sink unit (rented from www.mobilesink.com) which made the whole activity so much easier for those involved rather than having to go elsewhere to wash their hands! The sink was a great addition to the activity in this public event, and served its purpose perfectly in showing how difficult it actually is to clean your hands well enough!
Overall, all the MicroScientists volunteers that attended Merthyr Bitesize Science Festival had an absolute blast in promoting STEM and engaging with the public of all ages. It has been incredible to see how MicroScientists has grown, how the volunteers have developed new skills, and have formed great bonds and friendships with people we may not have ordinarily crossed paths with in our normal working day. As our current Wellcome Trust funding comes to an end, this was the absolute perfect event to end the grant with and offered brilliant feedback for us to develop ideas further beyond the grant and onto future ventures. #WatchThisSpace
If you are interested in hosting MicroScientists for a public event, or would like a school visit, please get in touch and we would love to be involved.