Brain Box event wows Manchester

Manchester Town City Hall was packed full of thousands of visitors when they dropped in on The Brain Box event on Sunday, as part of Manchester Day.

Over 5000 people of all ages explored the exciting science of the brain with scientists from across the region as well as experiencing brain-inspired arts in the form of images, poetry and dance.

The day was a unique collaboration between the city’s three universities: The University of Manchester, Manchester Metropolitan University and Salford University as well as Manchester City Council, MoSI, NHS Trusts, patient groups and artists, with even a float from Manchester Day parade joining the event.

The Manchester Day celebrations recognise the achievements of Manchester as a city every year and this year, to coincide with Manchester being European City of Science, the theme of the day was Eureka!

Professor Andreas Prokop from the University of Manchester and one of the main organisers of the event said:

“The Brain Box event is an important way for us, as scientists, to engage with our community, and to inspire young and old with the incredible science that happens in our city.”

An popular activity was a giant wooden sculpture of the brain, wired up by visitors throughout the day with thousands of pieces of string to reflect the complexity of the real brain’s many billions of connections.

A time-lapse film of the brain sculpture gaining it’s new connections over the course of the day will be posted soon on The Brain Box website.

The film will also be showcased at the British Pavilion in Rio at the Olympic Games illustrated the complexity of the brain’s electrical connections.

With more than 50 stands manned by over 200 volunteers, focussing on all different aspects of the brain – including the basics, vision, pain, history, learning, brain imaging and what happens when the brain goes wrong – the Brain Box provided a unique experience for the visitor.

In the historic city chambers, visitors to the event were treated to a series of talks on subjects ranging from history of our understanding of the brain to cutting edge brain-imaging technologies.

Professor Stuart Allan, another of the event’s main organisers added:

“We were delighted with how the Brain Box went: it was a huge success and everyone went home with a smile on their face.”

For a full story, check out the Storify.

Manchester Day’s BRAIN BOX will make you shout EUREKA

Manchester Town Hall will become the city’s largest laboratory as scientists from across the city join forces for Manchester Day’s Brain Box attraction.

During the town hall takeover, collaborators from the city’s universities, museums and other societies and associations, will take Manchester Day visitors on a fascinating journey through the brain.

This year’s Manchester Day theme – EUREKA! – celebrates the city’s history of scientific discovery in a year when Manchester is name European City of Science 2016.

The Brainbox scientists will perform lively experiments throughout Manchester Day on Sunday, 19 June, in a hands-on, participatory journey of discovery that will create countless EUREKA! moments.

The exhibitions, which will spread throughout the first floor of the historic town hall building, will cover eight themes from the basics of the brain, vision, pain and disease to brain imaging, how we learn, the history of brain research and the fascinating links between the arts and the brain.

Try your hand at brain surgery – on an egg! Observe how flies get tipsy… travel through the mind with modern brain mapping…and see the gruesome history of brain medicine, amongst many other fascinating activities for young and old alike.

Brain Box will run alongside the Manchester Day celebration from 10am until 6pm (Manchester Day itself begins at midday) – and look out for Albot², time travelling robot, who will be making regular visits throughout the day.

Be sure to follow her twitter page @manc_day as she travels to meet scientists throughout time and follow the conversation using #MCRday and #mcrbrainbox

The Brain Box has been curated by Professor Andreas Prokop and Professor Stuart Allan from The University of Manchester.

Professor Prokop said:

“Seeing so many scientists, clinicians, creative practitioners and artists joining forces to invite the public and celebrate and explore the fascination and wonders of the brain, on this unique day, in this unique year and in this unique location, is a dream come true – a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for everybody!”

Cllr Pat Karney, Chair of Manchester Day, said:

“Not content with taking over the whole of the city centre and transforming it into the UK’s biggest open air theatre, we’ve now taken over the town hall as well.

There will be something for all the family, so make sure to pop in. It will be a fascinating part of Manchester Day with some of the city’s best minds explaining how the minds work.”

The Brain Box is a collaboration between many contributors, including: Manchester City Council, The University of Manchester, Salford University, Manchester Metropolitan University, Museum of Science and Industry, Stroke Association, Alzheimer’s Research UK, Alzheimer’s Society, Parkinson’s UK, MND Association, National Autistic Society, Salford Royal NHS Foundation Trust, The University of Liverpool, The Walton Centre NHS Foundation Trust, University of York, Seal Medical, Seal Medical Supplies, b-neuro, Medtronic, Access Dance, Dance Company Combination and others artists. The Brain Box is also funded by the Wellcome Trust and the Physiological Society.

For more information about Brain Box visit:

Manchester Day will take place on Sunday, 19 June from midday until 6pm.

The parade begins from Liverpool Road at 1pm.

Manchester Day is created by Manchester People, commissioned by Manchester City Council and produced by Walk the Plank.

Behind-the-scenes at Cancer Research UK

We can send a man to the moon, so why can’t we beat cancer?

Just a few years ago, we at last reached the point where half of all people diagnosed with cancer could expect to survive it. Within 20 years, scientists hope that figure will rise even further to 3 in 4 people.

Reaching these milestones does not happen easily. It is the culmination of years of research by thousands of scientists around the world, working in fields as diverse as genetics, pharmacology and biochemistry – as well as medicine.

Much of this research takes place here in Manchester. In fact, cancer is one of The University of Manchester’s five main ‘research beacons’ – priority research areas in which we are world leaders – the others being industrial biotechnology, advanced materials, energy and addressing global inequalities.

Beyond the main university campus, we also have the Cancer Research UK Manchester Institute, situated over the road from the Christie Hospital in Withington, south Manchester. Their brand new £28.5 million building opened its doors last year, and is jointly funded by The University of Manchester, The Christie NHS Foundation Trust and Cancer Research UK.

Cancer Research UK is the world’s largest independent cancer research charity, and funds and conducts research into the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of the disease. Its work is almost entirely funded by donations from the public.

The Christie Hospital is one of Europe’s leading centres for cancer treatment and research, treating over 40,000 patients a year, and around 400 early phase clinical trials are taking place here at any one time. This makes The Christie an ideal next-door-neighbour for the new Cancer Research UK Institute.

Research in places like Manchester has vastly improved our knowledge of cancer and how we can treat it over the past decades. The discovery of epigenetics has shone a new light on the different ways this disease can arise, while genome sequencing has given us new and highly effective methods of diagnosis, allowing us to accurately tailor treatments to each individual’s needs.

There’s still such a long way to go however.

Cancer is not one disease nor one hundred diseases but many thousands, each unique and requiring a different response. Such a diverse assortment of diseases is only possible because the body itself is so diverse.

37 trillion cells, and 10,000,000 components per cell make the body 125 billion times more complicated than the Saturn Rockets that allowed humans to go to the Moon. It is only when we consider this staggering complexity that we can begin to appreciate the immense challenge we face in trying to treat the numerous different types of cancer.




Manchester gets the science bug

University scientists are celebrating their best ever annual community Open day which took place last weekend.

The team welcomed hundreds of people from across the city, keen to see where some of the country’s leading life scientists work.

Highlights included coding a Superhero, making DNA cookies, £1m robots, touring the labs, maggot painting and seed planting.

One family wrote to the University, thanking the team for an ‘amazing’ event, praising them for giving the opportunity to show children from local communities what the inside of a University looks like and hiow researchers work.

The free event was held in the Michael Smith Building at the heart of the University campus.

Also on display were creepy crawlies and microbes, insects and amphibians.

Organiser Natalie Liddle said:

“We were absolutely delighted with the turnout which made all the hard work worthwhile.

“It’s so special to be able to open our doors to the public, so they can see what we do and learn about the research we carry out.

“Our mission is to inspire- as well as entertain – to get the message across that a career in science is achievable for people in so many different walks of life.”

First Year Biologists Reach Out to the Community

A major part of the Semester 2 Biology tutorials involves a group project where our first year students work together on a project that brings biological science to the local community. This allows the students to engage actively in science-based activities within the local community while developing team-working, project-management and problem-solving skills. On May 9, 2016, a symposium was held where each first year biology tutorial group presented their projects to each other and to an elite panel of Faculty of Life Sciences judges – Professor Matthew Cobb (Professor of Zoology), Professor Cathy McCrohan (Professor of Comparative Neurobiology), Professor Liz Sheffield (Associate Dean for Teaching and Learning) and Mr Rory Beresford (Final year Biology Student Representative on the Student-Staff Liaison Committee).

More than 75 students took part in the 2 hour event which highlighted the scope, diligence and imagination involved in bringing biology to the local community.  Students worked as tutorial groups to raise funds and awareness through cake sales, informative leaflets, and by setting up information stands in the Stopford, the Student Union and at events like Just Fest 2016.  Through these activities they supported diverse topics such as Manchester’s bees, Food Waste, Blood Donation, and the Christie’s hospital.  Others laboured to improve the environment by clearing allotments, planting pumpkin patches and building composters with local/University organizations like Hulme Garden Centre.  Others work on upland restoration by planting sphagnum moss.  Groups also worked to raise awareness about the benefits or organic farming and the lack of composting on the University campus.

The overall winner of the day was a group of students from our Associate Dean for Social Responsibility, Prof Amanda Bamford’s tutorial group who raised awareness of the thermoregulatory issues neonates face (see photo).  Their campaign, ‘knit for neonates’ reached out to the wider community and encouraged people to knit hats to cover the heads of these tiny babies to prevent heat loss.  By engaging retired members of the public (who arguably had the best knitting skills) , they also helped reduce the social isolation felt by many seniors.  Together, with the help of Stopford Reception staff and other knitters,  they collected 917 knitted caps for St Mary’s hospital!  They plan to continue the initiative and encourage their world-wide team of knitters to make blankets as well as little hats.  Members of this winning team were each presented with an award (High Street Gift Certificates worth £20) by Professor Liz Sheffield.

An honourable mention went to Dr Ron Burke’s tutorial group who decided to tackle the disengagement many youngsters have for science.  They researched schools and curriculums and then developed an engaging and informative series of activities to enthuse students in Science.  They spent a day during National Science Week in a local school with students in the final year of primary.  Their aim was to make pupils consider science as a subject and also as a career when they moved schools next year.  Upon presenting the awards Professor Liz Sheffield remarked that “it was fantastic to see the resourceful and imaginative ways our students brought science to the community.  Many of the projects will have a lasting legacy”. The event was rounded off with a pizza party for the students, Advisors and Judges who deserved both praise and pizza for their hard work!

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Photo of the judges and the winning group ‘Knit for Neonate’.  From Left to Right: Cathy McCrohan, Rory Beresford, Matthew Cobb, back row: Cam Brough, Rowena Seaton Kelly, Kira Pattinson, Kath Bailey; front row: Jenny Capel, Lucy Helas, Amanda Bamford, Ffion Hall, Rachel Sparrow, Ben Williams and Liz Sheffield.

Article by Biology Programme Director Holly Shiels

What we’re doing right (and wrong) on autism

As World Autism Awareness Week goes into full swing Dr Emma Gowen, a University of Manchester expert in the condition explains what more needs to be done to make autistic people’s lives better.


“As a researcher, I’m struck by how much more we talk about autism nowadays – but also by how many misconceptions still predominate. World Autism Awareness Week is a fantastic opportunity to talk about these issues and that’s been helped no end by the excellent drama on BBC 1, the A Word. Our project at Manchester, also aims to make an important contribution.

“The A Word does seem to reflect the difficulties that parents face after diagnosis, as support is so patchy and often poor: they are often left in limbo – with little or no support over decisions such as whether to be home schooled or not, and are often spoken to in professional terms that mean little to ordinary working people.

“Our project runs in partnership with Salfordautism, a local peer-support and advocacy organisation. During three workshops, we met many people who live with autism to discuss how academics and autistic people might work together to learn more about autism, resulting in a series of honest and revealing short films The films highlight misconceptions autistic people face – as well pointing us researchers to those areas which are important to autistic people themselves.

“Many people think that autistic people have extraordinary talents, but in fact, only at most 1 or 2 in 200 individuals can be described like that. Everyone has their own strengths and weaknesses, and that includes all autistic people.

“And while many people think the condition just affects children, it is simply not true: less than 25% of all autistic people are children and all autistic children grow up to be autistic adults. While over 75% of autistic adults are capable of and wish to work, only 15% are in full-time paid employment. And at least one in three autistic adults experience severe mental health difficulties due to a lack of support.

“And yes, women can be and are autistic, too. Officially, five times as many men than women are diagnosed with autism but research shows that autism spectrum disorders are vastly under-diagnosed in women, so the balance between the sexes may be much closer than that.

“Societies awareness of autism has increased, so that’s a good thing. Sadly, this can lead to the misleading impression that it’s on the increase when there’s no indication that it is any more or less common now than at any time in the past. What we are seeing is actually a result of changes in how diagnosis was carried out up to the 1980s – when autism was defined very rigidly and perhaps inappropriately. The definition has now been much improved by greater awareness of newer discoveries.

“There is also a growing understanding of the inappropriateness of the ‘medical model’ of autism, which tends to look for a cure, and uptake of the ‘social model’ which seeks to understand and accept everyone’s individuality: many healthcare professionals and most autistic people now seek to create a supportive environment in which autistic people can flourish. And that, most of all, is what I hope this week will get across.”

Curator scheme for Life Science students

Manchester Museum and the Faculty of Life Sciences are currently piloting a ‘student curator’ scheme for a cohort of life sciences students. This initiative was developed to give students a great informal learning experience – gaining key curator skills- and to give them insights into a less obvious career for science graduates.

The scheme is based on themed two-hour hands-on workshops, which run monthly from November–May. These are on Saturdays (they’re keen!) to ensure all of the participating students can take part, and are led by the Museum curators who explain the rather esoteric practices involved in preparing, looking after, and making use of museum specimens.

Skills learnt on the Saturday workshops—from taxidermy to pressing plants on herbarium sheets—can then be applied by the students when they come into the Museum to volunteer throughout the rest of the week. Students acquire specific collections knowledge and an extensive range of curatorial and transferable skills. This is a very effective scheme for the Museum as it helps ensure students have the correct skills to work as a valuable addition to the volunteer programme.

The curator scheme is recognised through a ‘passport’ that records curator skills gained during the training. This is the first year of this scheme, and it is envisaged that it will build into a three level ‘bronze, silver, gold’ awards.

Prof. Amanda Bamford, Associate Dean for Social Responsibility, said

“this unique and exiting programme offers students the opportunity to develop their own curatorial expertise and a chance to put them into practice using the Museum’s valuable collections. Importantly, it gives them a real insight into the central role of Museum curators.”

Becoming the Best: Women in Science

Women have made great strides towards achieving equality in science, but there’s a still a long way to go – according to a leading scientist from The University of Manchester.

Dr Hema Radhakrishnan, one of the nation’s top sight researchers, today launched a programme of events at The University to encourage women to advance in their field.

Called ‘Becoming the Best’, women from across science spoke to an audience of female academics and students on International Women’s Day.

The event was organised by Dr Radhakrishnan, Deputy Associate Dean for Social Responsibility and Professor Amanda Bamford, Associate Dean for Social Responsibility – both at the Faculty of Life Sciences.

The move builds on the prestigious Athena Swan Silver Award given in October 2015, which recognised the Faculty’s commitment to tackling gender inequality in higher education.

The Equality Challenge Unit gave the award to just 87 departments in the whole of the UK.

The Athena SWAN charter was established in 2005 to encourage and recognise commitment to advancing the careers of women in science.

Dr Radhakrishnan said:

 “Even though we are a long way forward from even 10 years ago, women are still more likely to progress in their careers at a rate that is slower than their male counterparts.

“Men and women do things differently and offer different perspectives; it doesn’t make sense to lose the talents of half the population.

“Women often drop out of science in the period between getting their PhD and finding an academic position and it’s family life which can act as a barrier.

“Sometimes, though it’s simply a question of women not putting themselves forwards for promotion.

“So to break that barrier, we have implemented flexible working, coaching and mentoring schemes – as well as establishing a Women in Life Sciences Group.

“And this programme is part of that ethos.”

Professor Bamford added:

” We strive to develop a culture of fairness, opportunity, flexibility, and respect and want to be a beacon in gender equality.

“So there is no pausing in our efforts, especially as we are now working towards our Athena Swan Gold award”

The event included a keynote speech from Professor Teresa Anderson MBE, Director of the Jodrell Bank Discover Centre

Other speakers at the event included:

Lopa Patel MBE – digital entrepreneur and founder of inclusion think tank ‘Diversity UK’.

Dr. Heather Williams – Director of ‘ScienceGrrl’, which celebrates and supports women in science.

Dr. Narmeen Varawalla – Executive ice-president and chief scientific officer of Lambda Therapeutic Research.

Dr Santos Bhanot – Chair of Asian Circle, a charity which supports vulnerable and disadvantaged women in India.

Professor Susan Kimber – Co-director of NEWSCC.

Angela Saini – Science journalist, author and broadcaster.

Professor Amrita Ahluwalia – Deputy director, The William Harvey Research Institute.

Professor Aline Miller – Professor of biomolecular engineering, The University of Manchester


Famous Women Life Scientists

Women have shaped the history of life sciences. To celebrate UN International Day of Women and Girls in Science, we take a look at some of the famous and influential women life scientists from throughout history.


Rachel Carson: An American marine biologist, her iconic 1962 book ‘Silent Spring’ brought attention to the dangers of synthetic pesticides accumulating in the natural ecosystem, and kick-started the global environmental movement.


jane_goodall_gmJane Goodall: Perhaps the most famous primatologist ever, this British OBE spent many years of her life in Tanzania studying man’s close relatives, and is considered the world’s number one expert on chimpanzees


marie_curie_c1920Rosalind Franklin: It is often assumed that Watson and Crick were responsible for discovering the molecular structure of DNA, but in actual fact, much of their work was based on earlier research done by this English X-ray crystallographer, who successfully identified the double helix nature of DNA molecules.


nobel_prize_2009-press_conference_physiology_or_medicine-11Elizabeth Blackburn: This Australian-American Nobel Prize winner made incredible advances in our knowledge of the telomere – the structure that protects the ends of chromosomes, and co-discovered telomerase, the enzyme that replenishes telomeres.


barbara_mcclintock_281902-199229Barbara McClintock – This American geneticist made incredible advances in the field of genetics by studying maize crops, uncovering various processes such as genetic recombination, transposition, and gene regulation.


dorothy_hodgkin_nobelDorothy Hodgkin – An American biochemist, she developed the technique of protein crystallography, and was awarded the Nobel Prize for Chemistry, being only the third woman in history to have received this (the previous two being Marie Curie, and her daughter Irène).


mary_anning_paintingMary Anning – An English fossil collector; despite having no formal education in science, she discovered a huge variety of Jurassic fossils along the coast of Lyme Regis, including never-before-identified species such as ichthyosaurs and plesiosaurs, and became one of the foremost figures in palaeontology at the time.













LGBT History Month

This February it’s LGBT History Month: a month-long celebration of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender history, the history of gay rights and the struggle for equality.

LGBT History Month aims to increase the visibility of LGBT people both past and present, promote awareness of issues affecting the LGBT community and generally improve the welfare of LGBT people, who continue to face discrimination and inequality here in the UK, as well as internationally. It is held in February to coincide with the anniversary of the 2003 abolition of Section 28, a rule that forbade the promotion of homosexuality in the UK education system.

To mark LGBT History Month, we here at FLS take a look at some of the famous figures in the history of science who were gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender:

Alan Turing, aged 16

For example, Alan Turing, one of Manchester’s most famous alumni and a world-renowned computer scientist and mathematician, was a gay man. Famed for his work on cracking the Enigma code while working as a codebreaker at Bletchley Park during the Second World War, Turing was prosecuted for committing homosexual acts in 1952, which were then a crime in the UK. Despite his heroic contribution to the Allied war effort, he was found guilty and sentenced to chemical castration, which back then was regarded as a ‘treatment’ for homosexuality. This was a punishment that was sadly given to thousands of others like him at the time. Turing died of an apparent suicide two years after his conviction. Homosexual acts were not made legal in the UK until 1967. Turing was given a posthumous pardon by the Queen in 2013, and his life was recently dramatised on the big screen in ‘The Imitation Game’. A building and an institution at The University of Manchester are both named in his honour.

Possible self-portrait of Leonardo da Vinci, c. 1513

Looking further back, perhaps one of the most famous figures in the history of science (not to mention the arts, mathematics, architecture, literature etc.), Leonardo da Vinci, is thought by many historians to have been homosexual. The Italian polymath made incredible advances in fields such as anatomy and palaeontology, and invented early versions of modern day technologies such as the helicopter and the parachute. He also produced many of the most famous artworks of the Renaissance, such as the Mona Lisa, and The Last Supper. Court records of the time show that da Vinci and several others were charged with the crime of sodomy involving a male prostitute. However, the charges were ultimately dismissed, perhaps due to pressure from the accused parties’ powerful relatives.

Looking to recent history, many prominent scientists and mathematicians have identified as LGBT. These include Nate Silver, the American statistician who correctly predicted the winner of all 50 states during the 2012 US Presidential Election, who identifies as gay. Lynn Conway, a celebrated American engineer and computer scientist, came out as a trans woman in 1999, having undergone gender reassignment during the late 1960s. At the time of her reassignment, it had resulted in her being fired from her job at IBM. Today she is perhaps the most prominent transgender activist from the scientific community.

Lynn conway
Lynn Conway


Costa Rican Ambassador visits the Faculty of Life Sciences

costaricanambassadorvisittolifesciencesThe Costa Rican ambassador recently travelled to Manchester to help further the established links between the Faculty of Life Sciences and Costa Rica.

His Excellency J. Enrique Castillo officially launched ‘Learning with Lucy’, a University of Manchester campaign to save one of the world’s rarest frogs.

Lucy Marland, 9, joined forces with The University of Manchester after coming face to face with a Lemur Leaf Frog, kept at Manchester Museum and one of only a few hundred left anywhere in the world.

The campaign aims to educate primary age school children in the UK, Sweden, and in the Guayacan region of Costa Rica, where the frog still survives, about the amphibian and its threatened rainforest habitat.

The Faculty runs a second-year field course to Costa Rica every year where students are able to explore the breath-taking biodiversity of the country.

The Faculty has a long standing relationship with Costa Rica, with the field course running for many years. It is hoped the ambassador’s visit will strengthen the ties between the University and Costa Rica and will open up new doors of partnership.

After his tour of the Faculty’s facilities, the Ambassador said:

“My country is grateful for this contribution from the University of Manchester and the Museum to the protection of endangered species in Costa Rica and to the country’s efforts in environment protection in general.

I look forward to cementing the already very good relationship between The University of Manchester and Costa Rica.”

Professor Amanda Bamford, Associate Dean for Social Responsibility said:

“This University of Manchester project also supports environmental education in primary schools in Costa Rica, where these frogs occur in the wild, not only reflects a genuine commitment to helping conserve endangered species but also provides us with a wonderful opportunity for our undergraduates to exercise their global citizenship.”

Manchester: The European City of Science – ‘Science as Revolution’

2016 marks the year that Manchester becomes the European City of Science (ECOS). It builds upon the city’s already rich heritage and promises to put Manchester at the centre of science in the UK and Europe.

aerialviewFrom the discovery of the atom and the creation of the first stored-programme computer to cutting edge biotechnology and cancer research, Manchester has been at the forefront of science. 2016 celebrates our prestigious past and is a launching pad to the future where Manchester is surely going to play a central part of the next scientific revolution.

The European City of Science (ECOS) designation is awarded to the place which will be hosting the EuroScience Open Forum (ESOF). The forum has delegates from all over the world including people who have great influence in their spheres from business leaders and policy makers, to cutting edge scientists. The conference aims to discuss current events and to propose a vision for the future of European science. Manchester, being the home for the conference whose motto this year is ‘Science as Revolution’, will be best placed to lead Europe into a new era in science.

Manchester follows in the footsteps of Barcelona, Munich and Stockholm by holding ECOS and being the hub for scientific activity in Europe. Registration for the conference is now open.

The aim is also to inspire young people, engage with the local community in Greater Manchester and to provide a platform for exciting science engagement and involvement. Science can often be seen as inaccessible by many, but Manchester aims to remove barriers by offering a range of inspiring and interactive events as part of the ‘Science in the City Festival’ which will run alongside ESOF. This festival will run from 23rd – 29th July and will be an opportunity for everyone to see and maybe take part in the incredible science from the University of Manchester.

On this landmark year, Amanda Bamford, the ECOS lead for the FLS says:

“This is a unique opportunity for our scientists to not only engage with their peers from across the globe but also showcase their science to the world’s media and to engage with our citizens across Manchester. It will be a year of fabulous and exciting science!”

Have a look out for some amazing science events that are happening across the city in the coming year. Go to the Manchester: City of Science website to keep on top of the events.

School children experiment with science and art

It is often thought that science and art are two opposite ends of the spectrum; whilst science is a strict, results-driven discipline, art is a creative, free expression of beauty – but this isn’t actually the case and there is a growing effort to recognise the similarities between art and science.

This week, scientists Emma Gowen and Ellen Poliakoff from the BEAM lab teamed up with local artist Anthony Hall and Steven Roper from the Whitworth Art Gallery to teach 150 local primary school children about the values of both science and art.

During the day the children learnt about the science of vision and the reasons why we see some art as beautiful and others as creepy.

The day started off by asking children to draw what they thought a scientist looked like versus what an artist looked like. The children then had to guess who was an artist and who was a scientist, which they didn’t always get right. Emma and Ellen then led a workshop looking at why our brains perceive somethings to be creepy and looked at the idea of realism in art.

The afternoon session kicked off with artist, Anthony Hall teaching about the ideas of beauty and how they apply to realism in paintings. It built upon what the children had learnt previously about the science of vision and how our brains perceive what it sees. The group also went around the gallery and applied what they had learnt to real life paintings.

The children then had a chance to create their own art. They produced art which was a mixture of different facial features in order to make something that blurred the lines between reality to see how creepy the pictures made them feel. They then rated the picture on a graph which compared how real the picture looked and how creepy this made them feel.

The day ended with another chance to draw what they thought an artist and what they thought a scientist looked like. As you can see, not only did the day blur the lines between reality, it also blurred the lines between science and art.

images courtesy of Anthony Hall.

Manchester Science Festival Opening Night

Yesterday was the launch night of the Manchester Science Festival – an annual event that showcases the extraordinary science of the city. MSc Science Communication student, Emily Lambert was invited to the event and has written up what happened and what is going to happen in the coming week.

Manchester’s annual Science Festival opened on Thursday, with a diverse programme of events for all ages happening across the city.

81,000 white balls make up ‘Jump In!’, Manchester’s first ever adults-only ball pool at the Museum of Science and Industry. ‘Part lab, part playground’, the ball pool is strictly for ages 18+ and is designed to promote stress relief and creative thinking through play. Jump In! can be used as a workspace that is a bit different from the average desk and businesses can book the area for meetings. It is open until 1 November with an entry fee of £5. MOSI is also organising some evening events in the space, with tickets still available for a Silent Disco on 24 October.

Two new exhibitions are at MOSI for the festival. ‘Evaporation’ is a striking art installation by Tania Kovats, inspired by James Lovelock’s Gaia theory of the Earth as a single interconnected living system. Kovats focuses on the connectivity of water. The exhibition features large metal bowls in the shape of the largest oceans that all contain a saline solution that is slowly evaporating, leaving salt crystal traces. There is also an impressive collection of water samples from over 200 of Earth’s seas. A campaign to find the remaining 31 samples needed to complete this ‘All the Seas’ piece will be launched after the festival.

‘Cravings: Does your food control you’ is a culmination of research from North West Scientists investigating the relationship between sensory perception and food. The exhibition is a fusion of art, science and interactive activities, including a surprising smell test. MOSI will play host to Cravings: Late on 28 October, a free event where guests will be invited to explore their own tastes with an array of talks, games and activities.

For the full programme of over 150 Manchester Science Festival Events, please visit . Many events are free.

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How flies are making their way into classrooms

Scientists have a problem: they find it hard to convey their knowledge and the importance of their research to the general public and, making time for this, clearly adds to the challenge. Sure, programmes like Stargazing Live and Big Blue Live are helping lead a fresh wave of interest in science, but they often focus on popular events or topics which have already made it into the limelight of interest. Faculty researchers at the Manchester Fly Facility are coming up with novel strategies to reach the public aiming to enthuse about less known topics, in their case the importance of Drosophila research.

Drosophila is better known as the fruit fly. It has been used in the research for 5 Nobel Prizes in Physiology and Medicine and over 100,000 scientific papers have been written about it. Its importance to science cannot be overstated and yet it is hardly taught in schools and its significance is little known by the general public. The Manchester Fly Facility addresses this unfortunate shortcoming with a series of well-designed resources for teachers inspiring them to use the fly as a powerful modern teaching tool for curriculum-relevant topics in biology lessons, and in this way to reach broad young audiences.

Professor Andrea Prokop states:

Drosophila is the conceptually best understood animal we have, it is used by over ten thousand scientists worldwide for cutting edge research, and it is easy to keep in schools for captivating, memorable experiments that bring life into classrooms. In a nutshell, flies have all the ingredients to convey conceptual understanding of biology as well as the thrill and relevance of science as a subject and future career perspective.

The team so far have built an impressive portfolio of teaching resources including fully developed lessons with support information,  two animated YouTube videos explaining the history and importance of fly research (below), a computer game, a dedicated web page with support information for schools, and they have built a repository listing hundreds of further educational resources available online. All resources are explained in greater detail in a recent blog by Andreas Prokop, and they are clearly picking up in popularity as indicated by the many views and shares of the various internet pages.

The resources are built on long-standing experiences that the team has with school visits, where Drosophila is always a warmly greeted guest. This approach has now been taken to the next level with the “droso4schools” project. On this project, doctoral students went into two schools, Trinity CoE High School and Loreto Sixth Form College, to work as teaching assistance for months. This allowed the team to develop an understanding of the biology curriculum and school realities, to then use this knowledge and develop biology lessons in which Drosophila is being uses as a powerful modern teaching tool, made memorable through simple but telling experiments with living flies.

Flies are kept in small vials with a bit of food at the bottom: ideal for maintaining them even in schools.

Surita Lawes, Head of Science and Maths Faculty at Loreto College, said about a lesson on genetics and alcohol developed at her school:

By studying mutations in Drosophila, our students have been exploring how alcohol and human culture affects our genetic make-up. It’s an excellent way for teachers to meet the challenge of revising many areas of the new linear syllabus using a topic designed to spark an interest.

Also students loved the new way of teaching. After an experimental session using a simple climbing assay comparing the performance of old versus young flies, Tof Apampa from Trinity High said :

Having the flies in the classroom was good fun.  It was so clear to see how the old flies were less mobile then the young ones.  We then learnt how this can help us understand aging in humans.  It also showed in a really clear way how using a large sample size is important when we are looking for patterns in scientific data.

The Fly Facility is looking to pave the way to make science more relevant and accessible than ever before – and they’re doing it with the humble fruit fly.

A simple, 5-10 minute colour reaction experiment demonstrating the genetics behind enzyme activity. Click to enlarge.

Flies can make a buzz in schools

Professor Andreas Prokop and colleague Sanjai Patel say the fruit fly – or Drosophila –  can be used as a modern teaching tool to explain many biological concepts used in the school curriculum.

In a UK first, the scientists based at the University’s Manchester Fly Facility have launched droso4schools – a website with sample lessons and teaching resources for schools.

Professor Prokop said:

Fruit flies are a fantastic resource for schools as Drosophila is the conceptually best understood animal there is.

“It is used by over ten thousand scientists worldwide for cutting edge research, and it is easy to keep in schools for captivating, exciting experiments which bring life into the classroom.

According to the researchers, the flies are easy and cheap to breed;  the equivalent of London’s population can be kept on a handful of laboratory trays.

The project website contains supporting documents and additional information to engage students who want to know more about Drosophila and help teachers who want to use flies in their lessons.

He explained:

“Currently we have resources for teaching classical genetics, statistical analysis of experiments, concepts of nervous system function, the gene to protein concept, principles of enzyme function, genetic variation and Darwinian evolution. All with flies,” h

He has even created a computer game where flies develop from eggs and spawn against time and parasites. To play the game visit

To adapt resources to teachers’ needs, Prokop and Sanjai supervised two PhD students, funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, who worked as teaching assistants in two Manchester schools

The students then developed biology sample lessons in close collaboration with the teachers which can be downloaded from the droso4schools website

The lessons continue to be used in the two schools: Loretto college and Trinity Church of England High school

Professor Prokop added

Flies have all the ingredients to convey conceptual understanding of biology as well as the thrill and relevance of science as a subject and future career perspective.

Surita Lawes, Head of Faculty at Loreto Sixth Form College, who is also a biology teacher, said: “By studying mutations in Drosophila, our students have been exploring how alcohol and human culture affects our genetic make-up. It’s an excellent way for teachers to meet the challenge of revising many areas of the new linear syllabus using a topic designed to spark an interest.”

Tof Apampa, a student at Trinity Church of England High School said:

It was great having the PhD student working with us.  We learnt about what we can study at university and how fruit flys can help scientists explain how the human body works.

Having the flies in the classroom was good fun.  It was so clear to see how the old flies were less mobile then the young ones.

We then learnt how this can help us understand aging in humans.  It also showed in a really clear way how using a large sample size is important when we are looking for patterns in scientific data.

If you want know how and why fruit flies became so important for biology research, Prokop and Patel have even created two very entertaining educational YouTube videos.

For more information visit

To download the teaching packs and support information for teachers, visit the droso4schools website:

All school resources including computer game and YouTube videos are explained and summarised on this blog:

When fashion meets science.

Two scientists have launched a fashion blog which aims to break the stereotypical image of the dowdy middle aged scientist.

The Tumblr site, called Sartorial Science, asks scientists to send in fashionable pictures of themselves.

Visitors to the site can also learn about each contributor’s research and gain some style inspiration as well.

The site is the work of Sam Illingwortha 31-year-old science communication lecturer at Manchester Metropolitan University and Sophie Powell, a 24-year-old PhD student from the Faculty of Life Sciences.

Though the site has only been live for a few days, there has already been a lively response from all across the world, with entries ranging from clinical psychologists in Costa Rica to zoologists in Belgium.

Biochemistry student Sophie, who studies arthritis, also publishes a blog called The Scientific Beauty, where she explains the science behind the latest beauty products and writes about being a female researcher.

She said:

Sartorial Science is all about challenging the stereotype of what a scientist looks like in the eyes of the public and actually, other colleagues. It’s really because as a young woman, there’s a fear I won’t be taken seriously if I care about the way I look, which is kind of frustrating. As a 14-year-old school girl, I was good at science but I remember feeling unsure if it was for me, as it seemed that it was for dowdy, middle-aged ‘boffins’ .

She is hopeful that this will change:

But hopefully this blog will challenge that. And I hope it will encourage young people into science when they realise that actually, we are real people with real interests. It’s not at all about being beautiful: anyone can send us their photos and it doesn’t matter if you think you’re good looking or not. It’s just about taking science out if its pigeonhole and showing that scientists can be fashionable too.

FLT take part in Swimathon

SwimmerThe Faculty’s Leadership Team (FLT) are putting forward a team for this year’s Swimathon. They will be raising money for Marie Curie Cancer Care.

Swimathon is the UK’s biggest fundraising swim and there were many people in FLT keen to take part. The rules state that no more than five people can be in one team, though, and after much discussion it was decided that Professor Martin Humphries, Dr Caroline Bowsher, Professor Liz Sheffield, Nicola Smith, and Professor David Thornton would make up the team.

Dr Catherine Porter will cover for injuries or cold feet and Professor Amanda Bamford will be on the sidelines, waving the flag and cheering them on.

The team will be attempting the maximum distance of 5k. Their swim will take place on Saturday April 18 at 2pm in the Aquatics Centre, and you can sponsor them on their Just Giving page. They hope to raise £500. Professor Bamford says:

This is really good cause which is close to my heart and I am so proud that they have stepped up and put their swimsuits on to fund raise for Marie Curie. I will be there on the day cheering them all on, ready with the energy drinks. 5K is not a trivial distance but as Michael Phelps said “You can’t put a limit on anything. The more you dream, the farther you get”!

Playing God in Manchester

Playing God postcardA unique and fascinating film series kicks off in Manchester on March 5, bringing together the diverse themes of religion and science.

The Playing God Film Series will explore the portrayal of these subjects in six classic movies. Each screening, showing at the Anthony Burgess Foundation across March, April, and May, will be introduced by an expert speaker and followed by a panel discussion.

The events have been organised by the Science and Entertainment Laboratory, based in the Faculty’s Centre for the History of Science, Technology, and Medicine. Dr David Kirby explains the thinking behind the series:

“We wanted to look at all six films in a new and different way, asking fresh questions about the content and challenging audiences to consider the nature of, and connections between, science and religion.”

The films are free to attend and booking is not required. All screenings, listed below, start at 18:30:

Bride of Frankenstein5th March: The Bride of Frankenstein

The film will be introduced by the science studies scholar Dr David Kirby.

Exorcist_19th March19th March: The Exorcist

With an introduction by film scholar Professor Mark Jancovich.

Planet of the Apes_16h April16th April: Planet of the Apes

Introduced by sci-fi expert Dr Amy Chambers.

Solaris_30th April30th April: Solaris

With an introduction by filmmaker Sean Martin.

Creation_14th May14th May: Creation

Introduced by theologian Professor Peter Scott and historian Professor Joe Cain.

altered_states_198021st May: Altered States

With an introduction by historian Dr William Macauley.

With a list of such controversial and at times genre-defining films, the discussions surrounding the Playing God Film Series promises to be fascinating. You can follow the conversations using the #PlayingGod hashtag on Twitter.

Unique partnership brings new expertise to online learning

The Faculty has established a unique partnership with the Natural History Museum (NHM) to create a series of short, online extinctionscourses for the public. The courses will combine the world-leading knowledge and teaching expertise of the two institutions, with courses looking at extinctions, forensics, and the biology and classification of biodiversity. These will be the first online courses ever developed between a university and the NHM.

The first course will start in April 2015, focusing on extinction events ranging from the dinosaurs to modern and possible future extinctions. Professor Norman MacLeod, Dean of Postgraduate Education and Training at the Museum, says:

“The researchers and curators of the Natural History Museum are world-renowned for their contributions to scholarly knowledge through their books and technical journal articles, and also through the lectures they give and students they supervise. Now, advances in information technology and our partnership with The University of Manchester will enable us to reach out to audiences beyond London and the UK. We hope these courses will advance awareness, curiosity, and learning about the natural world, as well as promoting responsible stewardship of our planet.”

Worm Wagon at The Great British Bioscience Festival

Worms as part of the exhibitFaculty scientists will take a topical look at how to avoid the spread of infection during The Great British Bioscience Festival (GBBF.) The Worm Wagon will be highlighting the impact of world diseases and parasite infections through their exhibit, which includes the vital statistics on Ebola.

Dr Sheena Cruickshank, a founder of the Worm Wagon, is one of just 20 exhibitors chosen to take part in the festival by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council. Researchers from the Manchester Institute for Biotechnology will also take part, presenting an exhibit called The Complex Life of Sugars.

GBBF is the culmination of a yearlong tour, enabling visitors to explore the fascinating world of biology through interactive exhibits from actual scientists. It runs from the 14th to the 16th of November in Museum Gardens, London. Dr Cruickshank says:

“We’re really excited to be part of GBBF. We’re hoping our interactive displays, jigsaws, videos, and Top Trump cards on parasites and world diseases will really capture people’s imaginations. We have an important part to play in preventing the spread of infection. The current Ebola outbreak in West Africa shows how easily disease can spread when the correct procedures aren’t in place. As scientists, I believe we have a duty to spend time outside of the laboratory telling people what we do and why we do it. Working on infectious diseases isn’t just about staring down microscopes; it’s also about helping people to tackle the spread of these illnesses.”

Dr Cruickshank’s exhibit includes Top Trumps, jigsaws, videos, and living worms, and also offers the opportunity to be photographed as a schistosome parasite. The concept grew out of the work she has been doing with recent migrants to the country, teaching them how to prevent the spread of parasite infection.

GBBF is free and suitable for all the family. Find out more at the festival website.

Major breakthrough could help detoxify pollutants

PCB StructureFaculty scientists hope that a major new breakthrough could lead to more effective methods of detoxifying dangerous pollutants like PCBs and dioxins. The team, based at the Manchester Institute for Biotechnology (MIB), were investigating how some natural organisms lower toxicity levels and shorten the lifespan of these notorious pollutants.

The main drive behind the research, which has been underway for fifteen years, is to find a way of combatting hazardous molecules which are released into the environment via pollutants and burning household waste. The concentration of these molecules has increased over time, meaning that their presence is more threatening than ever before. Despite some measures already being taken, such as the worldwide ban on PCBs in 2001, more still needs to be done. Professor David Leys explains his research:

“We already know that some of the most toxic pollutants contain halogen atoms and that most biological systems simply don’t know how to deal with these molecules. However, there are some organisms that can remove these halogen atoms using vitamin B12. Our research has identified that they use vitamin B12 in a very different way to how we currently understand it. Detailing how this novel process of detoxification works means that we are now in a position to look at replicating it. We hope that, ultimately, new ways of combatting some of the world’s biggest toxins can now be developed more quickly and efficiently.”

Science Spectacular

Discover the secrets of 3D printing, build the world’s largest fractal, see a dress of glass and flame, and enjoy an exciting programme of evening entertainment. Art and science collide to engage and inspire curious minds of all ages in 11 days of innovative exhibitions and activities across Greater Manchester, proudly produced by the Museum of Science & Industry.

The University hosts an exciting programme of activities during the Manchester Science Festival. This year’s highlights include Chemistry Flash-Bang Show, Weather & Climate DIY, Ice Age Science: Mammoths, Mega Boulders & Microscopes, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Solar System, and – Science Spectacular – our amazing family fun day! The Science Spectacular will be held on Saturday 25 October 2014 and, with over 40 interactive science stalls, there will be something for everyone at this fun-filled family science day.

Last year's eventYou’ll be able to take part in a range of challenging science quests, find out how to make square bubbles, help us build an erupting volcano, and see if you can put a fly in a headlock. You’ll also meet our newest dinosaur, Gorgosaurus, and discover why he has x-appeal.  Many of our researchers will be there to answer your questions; they are behind some of the world’s most amazing discoveries. They’ll tell you what’s lurking in our rivers and just how flies help with their research. There will be fun activities for adults and children alike. Make sure you don’t miss out!

Dr David Kirby discusses science advisers in film and TV

Faculty researcher Dr David Kirby was recently featured in an article and podcast for Nature Jobs, focusing on the role of The front cover of Dr Kirby's bookscience advisers in film and television. In his book, Lab Coats in Hollywood, science communication and film studies expert Dr Kirby looked at what draws scientists to the world of film. He interviewed 25 scientists to investigate how film producers used scientists on films such as Hulk, Finding Nemo, and 2001: A Space Odyssey.

According to Dr Kirby, in an age where stereotypes are closely scrutinised, producers and writers are often most interested in knowing what scientists are really like. The questions the scientists are asked, and the time the advisers are needed for, varies depending on the film or TV series.

After many years immersed in the world of Hollywood media, Dr Kirby feels he has learnt a great deal. For any scientist wishing to follow his footsteps, he suggests they need to really understand the world of entertainment to work well with filmmakers and television producers. He says:

“Scientists underestimate how much science is communicated through films and television shows. Science is not just defined as what you find in a textbook. Science includes images of scientists themselves, the scientific process, scientific institutions, and science’s place in society. My research shows that when scientists become involved as consultants for the entertainment industry they are able to positively influence representations for all of these aspects in addition to making scientific facts more accurate.”

To find out more about Dr Kirby’s research, and the role of the science advisers in general, read the Nature article and listen to the podcast.

Faculty researcher shortlisted for national award

Sheena CruickshankA project led by Faculty researcher Dr Sheena Cruickshank was shortlisted in the Engage Competition 2014, run by the National Coordinating Centre for Public Engagement (NCCPE). The project, entitled ‘Educating Community Groups about Parasite Infection and its Impact,’ was praised for its work informing UK immigrants about how infections are transmitted.

Alongside Indira Mclean of Bolton College, Dr Cruickshank devised an education programme that is being used by language schools. The programme teaches people from around the world about how parasitic infections such as toxoplasma, whipworm, malaria, and schistosomes are caught, and how they can be prevented. Dr Cruickshank said:

“Globally, the biggest killer of people under 50 is infection. In countries where infections that are caused by gut worms are still very common, it is the main reason why children don’t get an education. We focused on explaining how people catch these infections, their global significance (in terms of prevalence and effects on global health and economy), and how they can be prevented.”

The programme underwent a pilot run during ESOL classes at Bolton College. The participants were of mixed nationalities including African, Iraqi, and Indian. Dr Cruickshank said:

“Apart from providing a vital information service, this is an incredible opportunity to learn from these people’s experiences. Hearing about worm infections and their impact on daily life has motivated many of us to change our research.”

An insight into stroke survival at the Pint of Science Festival

Stroke survivor Christine Halford and her daughter NatalieA stroke survivor and her daughter told their story in a Manchester pub as part of a three-day science festival in Manchester. The Pint of Science Festival took place across Manchester, bringing Faculty experts together with members of the public.

The festival provided an opportunity to hear about current research, discuss a range of topics over a drink, and take part in science-based pub quizzes and games. Each of the four Manchester pubs involved hosted a different scientific theme. In ‘Understanding Stroke’, part of the Stoke Association’s Action on Stroke Month, Professor Stuart Allan provided an insight into the brain of stroke survivors. Professor Allan said:

“We know that brain damage occurs within minutes of a stroke and that the quicker we can intervene to stop the processes that contribute to the death of brain cells the better.  With the advancements in stroke research in the last 20 years we know much more about these damaging events and that there can be brain repair post-stroke, meaning stroke patients now have a better chance of survival and recovery.”

The highlight of the event was provided by stroke survivor and nurse Christine Halford and her daughter Natalie, who offered moving first-hand accounts of their experiences of stroke. Natalie said:

“It’s imperative to raise awareness of stroke because nobody thinks it’s going to happen to them, until it does and your life is turned upside down. Stroke can happen to anybody of any age, at anytime and anywhere, which is why research is necessary as we still don’t have all the answers. The pub is a great setting as we can reach out to people who ordinarily would know nothing about stroke.”

Students offer advice on sensible drinking

The student's posterFaculty students are campaigning against excessive alcohol consumption and hope their message goes viral. The team of first year biology students have won an award from the University for a project which tasked students with the challenge of bringing biology into the local community.

Students Bethany Love, Katy Faulkner, Caroline Cahill, Portia Hollyoak, Aimee Parry, Annika Vik,  and Helen Feord launched the awareness campaign earlier this year on social media. They used Facebook and Twitter to promote facts and figures on alcohol consumption using images and videos to engage its audience.

Bethany said her team came up with the idea not to encourage students not to drink alcohol, but to advise them on over-drinking:

“We wanted to use social media to promote our campaign to young adults outside the university since it isn’t just students that overindulge with alcohol. While the majority of students are aware of the short term effects of excessive drinking, many are not aware or would rather not think about the permanent damage that can occur as a result of binge drinking”

“We are raising awareness and letting people know that you can go out and have fun with your friends, but you can also still be safe and not damage your health. Our ambition is that when people are searching online for information about anti-binge drinking, we want them to think of us. We think they will want to engage with the campaign because it is about students talking to other students about the issues surrounding binge drinking.”

Aimee said:

“The success of our project is clear from the popularity of our Facebook and Twitter pages, and the use of social media has enabled us to reach the attention of a wider audience than expected.”

The campaign won an award for the Best Community Project at the University’s recent Biology Project Symposium. Students taking part in the project were given a term to bring biology into the local community. It took on numerous forms, from fundraising for charities to setting up/demonstrating topical information displays in primary schools and shopping malls.



Science Stroke Art 2014 launches in Manchester Town Hall

Dame Professor Nancy Rothwell at the launchOver 250 people celebrated the launch of Science Stroke Art 2014 with an innovative event at Manchester Town Hall. TV doctor Chris Steele hosted the evening, which was organised by The Stroke Association and The University. The night featured music, poetry, visual art, and short talks about stroke research and treatment.

Professor Dame Nancy Rothwell, who is a world-renowned expert on stroke, spoke about the work of scientists at the University. She also discussed the importance of Science Stroke Art:

“What we want Science Stroke Art to do is raise awareness of stroke and show that it is not just something that happens to old people, but that young people can be affected too. We also wanted to show that stroke isn’t the end of a fulfilling life and to tell people about research into stroke. I never like to make false promises but there’s a possibility that in the next few years that there will be radical new treatments for stroke.”

Science Stroke Art will feature a series of engaging events in Manchester throughout May. The programme includes interactive talks, music, theatre, and live demonstrations, all of which intend to capture the public’s imagination and challenge misconceptions about the condition. Chris Larkin, Regional Head of Operations from the Stroke Association said:

“Stroke is one of the greatest health challenges of our time but doesn’t get the attention or funding it deserves. Far too many people don’t understand it or think it’ll ever happen to them. Science Stroke Art 2014 aims to help overcome this challenge by raising awareness of stroke through an engaging programme of events, all taking place throughout Action on Stroke Month.”

Faculty scientist recognised for entrepreneurial spirit

curtisdobsonDr Curtis Dobson has won the Commercial Innovator of the Year award at the BBSRC’s Fostering Innovation Awards 2014. The awards were presented in London, in front of a prestigious audience featuring leading figures from the worlds of investment, industry, government, charity, and academia. He scooped the £15,000 award in recognition of two successful healthcare companies that are based on his research.

Ai2 Ltd has developed anti-infective peptide technology for use in ophthalmics and medical devices. This technology helps to reduce infections caused by contact lenses, catheters, wound dressings, and orthopaedic devices. Microsensor Ltd is developing a new approach to the early detection of medical device infection and environmental monitoring. The technology is simple, inexpensive, and robust, proving a clear indication of clinically or industrially relevant levels of infection on a surface. Dr Curtis Dobson said:

“Being recognised by this BBSRC award is a privilege and an honour, and further validates our efforts to tackle resistant infection, which impacts so many people throughout the UK and beyond. The additional funds will help us accelerate commercialisation of our latest technologies, ultimately delivering benefits to patients sooner.”

Professor Ian Kimber, Faculty Associate Dean for Business Development, said:

“This is a remarkable achievement and is a testament to the industry and innovation of Curtis and his co-workers. It is a reflection also of the emphasis we place on ensuring that the fruits of our substantial investment in research deliver valuable products and opportunities.”

Medical Research Council centenary celebrations

Manchester students on placement at the Medical Research Council in the Gambia played an active role in the recent celebrationgambia (1) of the MRC’s Centenary year. The students involved were Beth Coe, Thomas Elliot, Alex Clark, Richard Morter, Jack Bibby, and Megan Chasey. All embraced the experience, and Thomas even designed the centenary t-shirt. They were also introduced to MRC Chairman, Donald Brydon, when he visited the unit for the centenary celebrations.

The students were invited to join the organising committee and run stations for the open day which formed a central part of the celebrations. 150 children from 15 local schools attended. Richard and Thomas served as microphone runners at a high-profile ‘Ask the Experts’ event which featured a distinguished panel of guests. The event was attended by over two hundred people.

Alison Offong, Head of Communications at the MRC Gambia said:

“Richard and Tom ensured seamless operations on the night!”

Tom and Beth were honoured to attend the Directors Award Dinner, held at Professor Corrah’s house. They were seated at the MRC Chairman’s table and had a very enjoyable evening. Beth said:

“It made it us feel part of the MRC as a whole and it was such a privilege to be given the opportunity to get involved. Meeting the local school children and their teachers made us feel that we belong and that the work we are doing is so worthwhile.”

An early Christmas present for Jake

jakesletterIn October we received a letter from 7-year-old Jake Billett, who lives in Bacup. Jake told us that he was “sooooo interested at science” and that “when I’m 17 I want to come to you for my lessons to become… a medical scientist.”

Rather than wait until Jake is 17, we decided to invite him into the Faculty for a special visit. We showed him round our buildings, had a long discussion with him about dinosaurs, showed him flies, frogs, and maggots, and helped him use a microscope. He visited our laboratories and got an idea about the huge range of things he could study if he came here. We then took him over to the Manchester Museum for a guided tour.


Jake had a lovely time, and we really enjoyed showing him around. We will be organising a visit to Jake’s school in the spring, when we will be taking some giant millipedes and beetles to show his classmates.

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to Jake and everyone who visits our website or who has come to any of our activities with the public.

What are we good for? The University launches its social responsibility strategy

nancysr (1)The University formally launched its social responsibility strategy at the end of November during an event in Whitworth Hall. The launch marks the finale of a two-month long awareness-raising campaign which highlights how staff, students, and alumni are ‘Making a Difference’ by featuring them on purple circles across campus and sharing their stories on the Make a Difference blog.

The event welcomed members of the Board of Governors and the General Assembly, staff, students and alumni, representatives from local organisations and the wider social responsibility community as well as colleagues from the Faculty.

President and Vice-Chancellor, Professor Dame Nancy Rothwell, delivered a keynote address at the event, speaking about social responsibility as one of three core goals of the University. Nancy summarised:

“Our first two goals of world class research and outstanding learning and student experience might be characterised by the question ‘what are we good at? In contrast, social responsibility can be characterised by a different question; ‘what are we good for?”

Alongside Nancy were Julian Skyrme, Director of Social Responsibility and Professor Aneez Esmail, Associate Vice-President for Social Responsibility. Aneez explained:

“The strategy highlights the University as an essential contributor to the betterment of the wider society, something that is in the DNA of this institution.”

The inspiring and up-beat event provided an opportunity for guests to meet some of the people who have been featured in the Make a Difference campaign and learn more about the priorities and programmes at the centre of the strategy. Guests also watched a film that illustrated the differences that are being made as a result of some of the social responsibility programmes developed by the University.

Two new publications were launched at the event: Measuring the Difference illustrates the significant economic and social impact created by the University and the second: A Guide to Social Responsibility at the University of Manchester outlines the priorities of the strategy and the many ways our staff, students and alumni can become involved and continue to make a difference. The Guide will be distributed to all staff in December’s edition of UniLife.

More information about the social responsibility strategy programmes and priorities and ways you can get involved and make a difference are available on the newly launched social responsibility website.

The Science Arena attracts the crowds at Live from Jodrell Bank

pinkfloydLive sets from New Order, Jonny Marr, and the Australian Pink Floyd were the main attraction at Live from Jodrell Bank in early July. During the day, though, visitors could also attend activities in the Science Arena, soak up the sun or enjoy the shade of the Lovell Telescope, and learn about the different areas of research being undertaken at the University.

The Manchester Immunology Group’s ‘Worm Wagon’ was at the festival for the second year running. Armed with specimens of a variety of gut dwelling parasitic worms, large sheets of paper, and trays of coloured chalk, they encouraged festival goers to learn about parasites through the creation of a giant worm mural.

Visitors created worm illustrations based on specimens, images, or simply on the emotions that the idea of wormmuralparasitic worms conjured up. Some superb parasites were created, including a wonderful ‘Wimble Worm’ to celebrate Andy Murray’s participation in the Wimbledon final on the same day. Professor Kathryn Else was pleased with the Worm Wagon’s contribution to a great weekend:

“Fun was certainly had, but more importantly the festival gave us an opportunity to inform people about the impact that parasitic infections have on public health across the globe.”

cellcookiesAnna Salter, Annette Allan, and Liz Granger ran a stand where they creatively explained the different parts of cells using biscuits and sweets. Images of cells taken as part of their own research were shown to visitors, who used them as a guide when decorating their biscuits. Over 300 visitors of all ages made their own cell cookie. Liz Granger commented on the activity:

“It was a really fun day, and a great opportunity to discuss our research with people who might not normally engage with science.”

Manchester’s brain leaders featured in MOSI exhibition

‘Brains: the Mind as Matter’ is a Wellcome Collection exhibition at The Museum of Science and Industry (MOSI) brain (1)which opens on July 26. The exhibition explores what humans have done to brains in the name of medical intervention, scientific enquiry, cultural meaning, and technological change. It also demonstrates how Manchester has long featured at the forefront of all things neurosurgery.

Many items in the exhibition have been loaned out by The University of Manchester for the very first time, including the work of Carys Bannister (OBE), the UK’s first female neurosurgeon. Bannister was a world-leader in neurosurgery who lived and worked in Manchester. She pioneered much of the research for the successful treatment of hydrocephalus, the condition of excess fluid on the brain. When visiting the exhibition you will be able to view a hydrocephalic skull and lantern slides which show hydrocephalus.

Other highlights include the work of Sir Geoffrey Jefferson, an employee at hospitals in both Salford and Manchester between the 1920s and 1950s, and drawings by Dorothy Davison, a medical artist who helped found the Medical Artist Association. Jefferson and Davison worked together extensively to illustrate brain conditions and the surgical procedures used to treat them.

Brains curator Marius Kwint said:

“The archives and collections from the University reveal some of the inspiring individuals who helped to make the city a centre for neurological science and medicine. There are some fascinating stories here. And then, of course, there are the sometimes tragic and touching cases of their patients.”

Items loaned from the University include slides, video footage, drawings, and books. There are also some historic specimens from diseased brains, a spinal cord, and brain slices, and a fascinating resin cast of a brain hemisphere. Professor Stuart Allan discussed our collaboration with MOSI:

“These artefacts reveal the ground-breaking work done on the brain here in Manchester, and the MOSI exhibition provides a fantastic opportunity to share these stories with the public. The University has played a crucial role in training world-leading scientists and medics. We hope this exhibition will inspire future generations and highlight the wonders of the human brain.”

Pupils discover new treatment to stop the spread of worm infection

Scientists from the University have been working with inner-city school children, carrying out research into a hulmepupils (1)condition which affects roughly one billion people worldwide. The 29 youngsters, from Trinity Church of England High School in Hulme, conducted an eight-week experiment investigating the development of eggs from worms which infect the gut.

The pupils learnt how worm eggs infect children around the world, causing malnutrition and sickness, and how these infections are responsible for children missing out on education. They treated worm eggs with different substances to try and stop them from developing into worms, with the hope of finding new ways to prevent the spread of disease.

They made an exciting discovery when realising that clove oil reduced egg development by 50%. As clove oil grows in many places where worm infections exist, they may have found an effective natural therapy to reduce the spread of worm infection.

Pupils showcased these results as part of a presentation day for parents, staff, and students at the University. Faculty researcher Professor Richard Grencis presented certificates to all the participants and even had prizes for a few. Ann Flatman, Deputy Headteacher at the school, said:

“The Trinity Community is extremely proud of our pupils and the work they carried out during this Royal Society Research Project. It’s a joy to see pupils engaged and learning practical scientific skills. It‘s extremely important to us that our pupils gain a real understanding of the hardships faced by others within our global community. The fact that they have stumbled across a potential solution to a condition that affects millions of other children worldwide is an added bonus, to say the least.”

Dr Jo Pennock, from the Institute of Inflammation and Repair, said:

“Most of the children and parents had never been to the University and didn’t know much about what scientists did. We hope that by working more closely with local children, we’ll encourage them to take up science as a subject choice and a career.”

Sale Sharks star wings his way to graduation

A Sale Sharks star graduated from the University this week after charlieamesbury (1)completing his final-year studies at the same time as playing and training with the Premiership rugby union team. Charlie Amesbury transferred to Manchester after signing a professional contract with the club and followed the advice of his tutors and trainers when deciding to spread his final-year studies over two years. This decision allowed him to cope with both his education and a gruelling training schedule. The winger’s dedication paid off when he was awarded a 2:1 (Upper Second) classification in his BSc Biology degree:

“I’m very pleased with my result – the grade reflects the support offered by the University and their sensitivity to individual needs while delivering first-class teaching. Combining a professional sports career with a time-intensive degree would’ve been impossible without this support. Modern lecture theatres and teaching techniques such as podcasting allowed me to keep up with fellow students even when lectures clashed with training.”

Charlie’s final-year research project involved studying the body clocks of professional rugby players and comparing them with non-rugby playing men of the same age. He aimed to discover if the biological clocks of the professionals were well synchronised and able to be more active earlier in the day than the non-rugby players. His supervisor, biological clock expert and Sale Sharks fan Professor Andrew Loudon, spoke about working with Charlie:

“Charlie’s incredibly organised. To hold down a competitive place playing on the wing in a Premiership rugby club and perform academically as he did takes some doing. The team at Sale Sharks were very supportive and we thank them for their cooperation.”

Charlie benefited from the University’s Sports Scholarship Scheme, which provides a range of support for students such as funding for free gym access, physiotherapy sessions, lifestyle support, and strength and conditioning coaching.

Professor Matthew Cobb, Associate Dean for Social Responsibility, said:

“We recognise that university life is not only about academic achievement, and that some students have to cope with major challenges in life and work. Charlie is a great example of a student who has met all his challenges and achieved excellence in all fields.”

Loreto College students visit the Faculty

loretocollege (1)In the middle of June, 90 Year 12 students from Loreto College in Hulme took part in exciting and informative practical sessions at the University. The exercises, led by Dr Kathy Hentges, included the dissection of chicken eggs so that the students could study the developing embryo. They then designed experiments that demonstrated how temperature and salt solutions affect embryonic heart rate.

Researchers and lecturers from the Faculty of Life Sciences and the Faculty of Medicine and Human Sciences talked to the students and described the variety of research topics being studied in the University. The students seem to have enjoyed the meetings and practical sessions:

“The session was brilliant – I enjoyed talking to the academics.”

“Overall, the programme was excellent.”

“I really enjoyed it and found it interesting to be involved in the practicals.”

This visit was part of a larger project with Loreto College. Earlier in the year, Dr Hentges, Rebecca Williams, and Joe Timothy visited the college to teach 40 students about gene expression. Through practical experiments the students increased their knowledge of gene expression, PCR reactions, and gene structure. They were also encouraged to use these experiences in their ‘personal statement’ as part of their application to university.

These sessions with Loreto College are part of the University’s Widening Participation (WP) scheme, which aims to increase the recruitment of students from backgrounds that are traditionally underrepresented in Higher Education. The University’s recognition of the central importance of this aspect of our work is reflected by the fact that WP forms one of our core strategic goals. Dr Kath Hinchliffe commented on Loreto College and the WP scheme:

“The activities with Loreto College students are a superb example of how the Faculty is interacting with the local community to fulfil WP obligations. By actively engaging with potential future undergraduates, we raise awareness of the biological sciences, reveal the wealth of exciting career opportunities they provide, and deliver the key message that these opportunities are open to any individual with the potential to succeed, irrespective of his or her background.”

Sustainability events at Manchester Museum

sustainabilityAlongside colleagues from Manchester Museum, Dr Jennifer Rowntree recently organised a series of events focusing on the theme of sustainability. The Tuesday evening talks, which ran from April 30th to May 28th, covered the topics of transport, clothing, housing, biodiversity, and food. At each event a speaker from outside the University gave a 30 minute talk. This was followed by 2-4 shorter talks from academic or administrative staff which provided an excellent opportunity to highlight important research, promote good practice, and suggest areas for improvement within the University.

Simon Warburton, from Transport for Greater Manchester, was the speaker at the first event. He provided some fascinating insights into the practicalities of devising and implementing a coherent travel plan for Manchester. During the Clothing event, Stitched Up Collective’s Sara Han discussed upcycling and sustainability within the fashion industry. Ric Frankland from Dwelle was the next speaker and his focus was sustainable housing. In particular, he discussed the process of building his EcoHouse, which can be seen on the roadside when following the bus route into Fallowfield. Matt Holker from the Greater Manchester Ecology Unit offered some inspirational words regarding the ways in which recording biodiversity in our local area can map the trends of species distribution, an increasingly important practice as climate and habitat pressures continue to change. In the final event, it was Incredible Edible’s Pam Warhurst’s turn to make the audience think about the sustainability issues that exist within our food chain. Each event attracted an impressive audience of between 30 and 40 people, many of whom were keen to get involved in the lively discussions which followed the talks. Dr Rowntree commented on the events:

“The Faculty’s involvement in organising this kind of public outreach activity is a testament to our commitment to sustainability issues. The events not only encouraged links between the University and external organisations, but also enabled cross-faculty discussion and cooperation that will ensure the work being done to improve sustainability awareness across the University continues to thrive.”

MICRA Celebrates 1000 Members with Two New Co-Directors

The Manchester Interdisciplinary Collaboration for Research on Ageing micra(MICRA) is celebrating its 1000th member following the announcement of two new co-directors. Professors Cay Kielty and Dean Jackson, both from the Faculty, have joined the existing leadership team of James Nazroo, Chris Phillipson, Alistair Burns, and Neil Pendleton to support the continued growth and development of MICRA across the University and beyond. Until recently, Cay was Associate Dean for Research in the Faculty and she now leads on cross faculty working. She holds a chair in medical biochemistry with a focus on regenerative medicine. Dean is a cell biologist, the Head of Section for Cellular Systems, and a member of the FLS Senior Management team.

MICRA has a diverse membership built up over three years as a network promoting interdisciplinary research on all aspects of ageing. Membership is open to anyone interested in this field and has attracted academics, students, voluntary sector providers, staff from the NHS, the private sector, and the government, as well as many older people. Most members have attended MICRA events, including the monthly public seminars in which academics from different disciplines present alongside practitioners on key ageing issues. Seminars are now regularly attracting audiences of around 100, looking at topics such as ‘Ageing, Dementia, Creativity and Storytelling’ and ‘Population Ageing and the Future of Cities.’ 115 attended last month’s public lecture by Dr Aubrey de Grey. You can join MICRA by following the link at the bottom of their homepage.

The Beast Within

Sheffield based artist Paul Evans is about to unveil the results of a breedsmlcollaboration with Dr Sheena Cruickshank, Prof Kathryn Else and Prof Matthew Cobb, from the Faculty of Life Sciences at The University of Manchester. In consultation with the scientists he has created a series of large (1.5m x 0.5m) drawings, in graphite, of human parasites. These will be exhibited has part of a special exhibition at Manchester Museum during science week: 27th October until 4th November.

“By drawing these parasites on a human scale – or at least on the scale of human children – I hope to create a visceral contrast between the strange beauty of these organisms and the horrific nature of their impact upon human beings. This beauty is especially apparent when seen from a safe distance through the medium of the electron microscope.

Though there might be allusions, perhaps, to the imagery of science fiction and Hollywood body horror in these drawings, the actual experience of coming to terms with these organisms is significantly more challenging. When I visited the Department of Life Sciences at Manchester University I was shown a video of a whipworm infestation in a young girl’s intestines. This image will live with me forever.”

Further information on this project can be seen on the Manchester Immunology Group website and at the project blog: