2019 saw the return of Cardiff Science festival and also the very first event that the MicroScientist team volunteered in. A fantastic opportunity to showcase a range of scientific activities; introducing microorganisms, fluorescing hands, and healthcare and diagnostics!
We had a huge space to use, which included a chalkboard wall and a sink so we had plenty of activities which could fully make use of the space we were given. We took with us two activities; Body Bugs (making use of fluorescent ‘germs’ and the hand washing activity) and Meet the Microbes (introducing people to microbiology). The team switched between these and the other general activities on offer, including the chalkboard wall and the IBMS stand which had a couple of activities to demonstrate what is analysed in a blood test.
Jabur expertly ran the hand washing station which proved to be incredibly popular, and was also the highlighted activity in pre-event promotion on social media. It was a very busy activity; something visual to help demonstrate and explain the importance of hand hygiene and infection control. Our favourite comment of the day for this activity was “I liked doing the handwashing thing. I learnt that bacteria is everywhere.” The general feeling in the team was that this activity is something we can take elsewhere as we branch out more into public engagement.
Daniel and Alex did a grand job looking after the Meet the Microbes activity, making good use of the Giant Microbes, and their expertise in a range of microorganisms. The giant microbes are great at drawing people in because they all look so cute (until you find out what disease they can cause!!!). This was also such a busy bench and extremely important to show and explain how not all microbes are bad, but how some are useful and actually important to our health. Another young visitor who came to see the MicroScientist activities said “I like cheese. Microbes are good”. The chalkboard wall was quite a hit as children were drawn around and then were able to stick organs on the outline of their body. It was a simple but effective way to look at anatomy and explain the function of some organs, children could use as many of the images to stick as they liked, whereas younger children used the brain, lungs, heart and kidneys. This was really good for engaging with parents of those children too, with good dialect between parent and child to discuss the correct positioning of the organs, but also the observed mutual benefit where the parents and children alike learned something from these activities, and even some of the scientists learnt a thing or two!
Lastly, Ed, in between spending time at the Body Bugs and Meet the Microbes activities, was working with me as I had a few things set up as part of the Institute of Biomedical Sciences (IBMS). As a laboratory worker in a clinical diagnostics lab, it was important for me to showcase the role of a diagnostic lab within the NHS to the general public. We’re very often underacknowledged in the grand scheme of healthcare, but do play an important role in the majority of clinical decisions. I had a small set up to showcase magnetic cereal (demonstrating the iron content of wholegrain cereals), and I think most people were quite shocked and a few were disgusted that there was metal in their food, until I explained the role of iron in the body and it’s importance as one of the tests carried out in a haematology lab. Another small activity was explaining how carbon dioxide can affect pH; using still and sparkling water then getting the visitors to use litmus paper and see the difference. Seeing is believing, and it is very often easier to describe, demonstrate and discuss complex things like this when there is even a simple activity or visual aid.
Overall it was a hugely successful first event for us and has got us excited about what is next as far as MicroScientists goes in public engagement events. We gave out free sheets of colouring in, cutting and sticking and ‘science at home’ experiments so everyone could continue their science discovery after visiting us. There was so much incredible feedback from the children and their family, and it was great to be able to share our knowledge and engage people in what we do.