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.

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.”

PhD Student wins Science Communication Competition

PhD researcher Ben Stutchbury has won an international science communication competition. The competition was hosted by Chemistry World, the magazine published by the Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC). The aim was to make chemistry a more accessible topic to the public.

The applicants first had to write an 800 word essay summarising a commissioned report by the RSC. The report found that chemistry, unlike other scientific disciplines, failed to be relatable to the lay audience.

Ben says:

“The RSC Public Attitudes to Chemistry Research Report highlighted a number of issues in the way chemistry is perceived by the public. For example, when asked where a chemist was likely to work, most people said “in a pharmacy”! One thing that struck me was how negatively the term ‘Chemistry’ is viewed by the public in comparison term ‘Science’. As chemistry is a huge part of science, I was surprised by how differently they are perceived. I think that the public opinion to the terms ‘Biology’ and ‘Physics’ would be more positive than that of ‘Chemistry’.”

The report had found that the public’s perception of science was that it was fun, interesting and engaging, which was in stark contrast to the view of chemistry as an isolated field, which was seen to be inaccessible, serious and intimidating. Ben therefore concluded that establishing why science was tangible and chemistry was not, would help to make chemistry more accessible.

Ben argued that this is likely due to chemistry’s lack of presence in the mainstream media. There is no David Attenborough or Brian Cox acting as a ‘public champion’ for chemistry. However, he also concluded that the problem may run deeper, stemming from how chemistry is taught in schools.

His essay, which will now be published in the next issue of Chemistry World, was highly received and Ben was shortlisted for the final, in the famous Faraday lecture theatre at the Royal Institute. Each of the 5 finalists had to produce a 10 minute talk to a mixed audience of 200 people that would explain a chemistry concept in an engaging way. For this Ben chose the chemistry behind the mucus in our bodies.

After some deliberation amongst the judges, Ben was presented with the award. The award comes with a week’s work experience with AkzoNobel – a world leader in the chemistry field.

Ben, whose PhD comes to an end in 6 months, says:

“It is really fantastic to have won the award, but the most exciting thing was just reaching the final. The opportunity to present in the historic Faraday Lecture Theatre is something I will never forget. The other finalists all gave brilliant presentations and it really showed that the communication of exciting chemistry has a bright future!”

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


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.

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.

blog msci

Manchester shines at the Cheltenham Science Festival

Today is the start of the annual Cheltenham Science Festival. It runs for 5 days and features prominent researchers talking about topics ranging from dinosaurs to immune cells. The University of Manchester is well represented – whether it’s Phil Manning talking about Dinosaur Hunters or Brian Cox talking about all things science, Manchester plays a central role in this year’s festival.

Renowned Faculty Professor and best-selling author, Dan Davis, will be talking about compatibility genes. Dan, who has literally wrote the book on ‘The Compatibility Gene’ will explain the history behind the discovery of the genes and how his research here in Manchester is continuing the story. It is something that should not be missed!

A full listing of all the Manchester talks:

Phil Manning: Dinosaur Hunters & Dinosaur Wars

Tim O’Brien: Searching for Alien Intelligence 

Brian Cox: Brian Cox, Alice Roberts and Adam Rutherford 

Dan Davis: The Compatibility Gene 

Graphene: Material of the Modern Age

science festival

Awards for Venturing Further

Two businesses that were established by Faculty Alumni have been awarded financial prizes as part of the prestigious Venture Further competition. The companies, Joy and Joe Ltd. and Metriculate won £10,000 and £2,500 respectively.

The annual competition, hosted by the Manchester Enterprise Centre, allowed students and alumni to showcase their businesses with the hope of securing financial rewards. The awards were split into four categories: business, social, digital and research. Joy and Joe won the business category for their innovative ‘kangaroo care’ carrier. The product, designed to help facilitate the kangaroo care technique in infants, has proven to be extremely popular. The all-British company was established by Olumayowa Osundeko, who finished his PhD in Biotechnology last year. He says:

“We would like to invest the £10,000 into developing our packaging, which is at the moment only really suitable for online customers and we intend to launch the product on the high street later this year. We’d also like to develop our accessory range.

We’ve gained a lot from entering Venture Further and the team at the Manchester Enterprise Centre has taught us a lot about how to present our product and howto build our brand. We’ve also gathered useful tips and trends to look out for as our business grows.”

In the digital category, second place went to Metriculate, a company that was established with the help of Mark Ashworth, who completed a PhD in Biochemistry. The company helps design intelligent lab management tools for research. The three man team are now looking at ways to use the £2,500 to further expand their business.

Award Winners

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”!

Faculty events for International Women’s Day

IWD LOGOThe Faculty will be running a short series of events for staff and students in the lead-up to International Women’s Day on March 8.

Professor Dame Nancy Rothwell will kick the series off with her talk ‘A Life in Science’, which will be followed by a Q&A session. It promises to be an intriguing account, covering Prof Dame Rothwell’s research in the field of neuroscience, her contributions to the understandings of brain damage after stroke and head injury, and her path to becoming the first woman to lead The University of Manchester. The talk will take place on Tuesday March 3 in Stopford Lecture Theatre 1. Doors will open at 12.50 and the talk will start promptly at 1. You can pre-submit any questions by completing this survey and please book online if you wish to attend.

On Thursday March 5, there will be a panel discussion on ‘Women in Science’. This will take IWD posterplace in the Roscoe Building between 5 and 6.30pm. The panel, including female members of the Faculty, will discuss the under-representation of women in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) and possible ways to resolve the issue.

The series will close with two events on Friday March 6. Dr Sheena Cruickshank asks the question ‘Are we too clean?’ in her 1 o’clock talk in Stopford Lecture Theatre 1. With improvements in hygiene and the availability of treatments increasing life expectancy for many, the talk will look at how this may make us more vulnerable to other diseases. Sheena will then join Dr Joanne Pennock and Professor Kathryn Else, who will be presenting the Worm Wagon initiative in the Stopford foyer from 12-3pm. The Worm Wagon raises awareness of global worm infection through interactive games, traditional Indian art, and informative displays. The team won the 2013 Manchester International Women’s Day award for Women in STEM.

The series offers a fantastic opportunity for staff and students to learn more about the work of women in life sciences. We hope to see you there.

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.

Worm Wagon at the Great British Bioscience Festival

Scientists from the Faculty took The Worm Wagon to East London for the Great British Bioscience Festival this November. Led byA proud jigsaw maker Dr Sheena Cruickshank and Professor Kathryn Else, they were part of just twenty groups selected to take part in this 20th year anniversary celebration of the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC).

By combining eye-catching activities with real parasite samples, The Worm Wagon’s exhibition aimed to educate people about the dangers of infection. Both children and adults made the most of the chance to handle tapeworms while others posed as parasites at the ‘schistosome selfie stand’.

The exhibition also featured giant jigsaws and Top Trump cards, all of which proved very popular with the many children at the festival. The jigsaw, once completed, highlighted the key role that washing your hands plays in avoiding infections. The Top Trumps taught their users about the many different parasites and diseases around the world. They even featured topical information about the Ebola virus.

Despite the fact that The Worm Wagon’s exhibition was fun for all who attended, there is a very serious message behind the concept. The idea grew out of the work the team have been doing with recent migrants to the country, teaching them how to prevent the spread of parasite infection. These infections affect approximately 2 billion across the globe and are the biggest killer of people under 50 worldwide. 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. Dr Cruickshank discussed the event:

“It was great to see the local community get so involved and I learnt a lot from the visitors. A favourite moment was seeing one young boy (just 6) turn to another visitor and explain how worm infection was contracted and what the impact of infection was- a future scientist in the making.”

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.

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!

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.”

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.”

Body Clock Day on the BBC

On Tuesday 13 May, the BBC is having a day focusing on our body clocks. They will be looking at what body clocks do and how they a clockwork. The Faculty’s leading clock researcher, Professor Andrew Loudon, will be on BBC Breakfast TV and several radio stations, while Professor David Ray will be on the Sheila Fogarty Show on Radio 5 Live. A film of one of his patients will also be shown.

Other clock researchers from around the country will also be involved. Professor Russell Foster will be on the Today Programme on Radio 4 and there will be various items on radio and TV news programmes.


Benjamin Stutchbury wins over audience at FameLab Regional Finals

stutchbury (1)Faculty PhD student Benjamin Stutchbury recently took part in the North West regional finals of FameLab UK 2014, a competition to find new voices in science. Four other University researchers were also involved.

The event, hosted by MOSI, saw the region’s finest communicators battle it out to impress a judging panel of Dr Phil Manning (University of Manchester), Carolyn Bishop (University of Huddersfield), and Victoria Gill (BBC). The prize on offer was a place in the FameLab UK National Final. Each contestant had three minutes to present accurate and interesting science in an accessible way, using everyday language and storytelling.

Benjamin won the audience vote at the Regional Finals with his presentation entitled ‘Designing drugs on the London Underground’. His talk focused on the use of systems biology to improve drug design. Mathematical networks are widely used in systems biology so Benjamin used the London Underground map as an example of a mathematical network that the audience could easily relate to. Benjamin said:

“The ability to communicate complex scientific concepts to a wide audience is an extremely important skill to develop. Concentrating complex science into a (hopefully) entertaining three-minute talk was extremely challenging, but also great fun. I was amazed by how inventive some of the contestants were and the range of scientific topics covered. I would recommend anyone to give it a go next year!”

Dr Jo Pennock, a lecturer from the Faculty, also participated in the Regional Finals. Jo was chosen as a wildcard and will go into a draw for the last spot in the National Final, held at Bloomsbury Theatre on the 23rd April.

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.”

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.

Raising awareness of animal research

animalresearch (1)Pupils from schools and colleges across Greater Manchester recently attended a special open day at the University, learning how and why animal research is used in certain situations. They heard how researchers were looking for cures for cancer, epilepsy, Parkinson’s, and age-related deterioration and attended a tour which showed how the animals are kept. The event came following the University’s commitment to developing principles of openness in animal research. Faculty researcher Professor Matthew Cobb said:

“The visit allowed students to experience the conditions and high standards of care we give to our animals. They saw mice, some of which are genetically modified by deletion or insertion of genes, or genes that can be switched on and off. They learnt about epilepsy research in flies and compared young flies and their grandparents to learn about ageing and how it can be studied. Believe it or not, we have lots in common with fruit flies. Many of our organs and structures have the same origins and serve the same purposes. Applying this knowledge from Drosophila flies to humans and human disease is a powerful and effective strategy.”

Mark McElwee, Deputy Head at Parrswood High School, said:

“The event was really worthwhile. The pupils gained an insight into the realities of animal research. It definitely opened their eyes to the potential of animal research for medical benefits and in fact it changed some of their opinions. They were also amazed at the care and dedication put into ensuring the wellbeing of the animals. The feedback from the pupils is that some were so inspired they are seriously considering changing their UCAS applications to go into biological sciences.”

Karolina Zaezyczny, aged 17, from Holy Cross College, said:

“The open day did change my view. It’s made me aware of the positive things and why scientists sometimes have to use animals in their research. I was very impressed with the facilities the animals were kept in.”

The Big Picture – images of Manchester research in action

Photographs focusing on University research are being showcased as part of Manchester Science Festival. The photos are entries for this year’s Image of Research Competition, with subjects ranging from wishing trees, to living chrysalises, to the ravages of extreme weather. This year’s theme is ‘The Big Picture’ and all of the entries demonstrate how University research is making a real difference in the world.

Members of the public are invited to help decide which pictures most capture the imagination, raise curiosity, and get you thinking differently about research. You can vote for favourite until November 4.

crossingcontinentsFaculty researcher Dr Joanne Pennock has been shortlisted in the competition. Her image features a British boy looking through a microscope, standing in front of another photo of a young Ugandan boy. Dr Pennock explained:

“The Ugandan boy in the background is eligible for a global World Health Organisation program, which has a target to treat 750 million children for intestinal worm infection by 2020. The boy in the foreground is British. He is not part of the global treatment campaign, yet he is learning about the worm eggs that infect children in Uganda and the effect they have on health.”

The Images of Research Competition is a regular part of the annual Manchester Science Festival. Now in its seventh year, the festival’s family friendly programme also features the University’s Science Spectacular on Saturday November 2. This free event takes place at Whitworth Hall and Manchester Museum between 11am and 4pm, giving visitors the chance to learn about research, meet scientists, and try out simple experiments.

Success in the International Genetically Engineered Machine (iGEM) competition!

Faculty undergraduates were part of a team that won a gold medal in the European heat of the International igemGenetically Engineered Machine (iGEM) competition. The students will now go on to the World Finals, to be held at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Boston at the beginning of November.

The worldwide iGEM competition is open to students who are interested in synthetic biology. Competing teams are given a kit of biological parts at the beginning of the summer. They then use this kit, and additional parts of their own design, to build biological systems and operate them in living cells.

The Manchester team, mentored by Professor Eriko Takano, created a synthetic alternative to palm oil using E. coli. Due to its use in many consumer products, demand for palm oil is huge. This is causing the price to rocket, at the same time as creating irreparable damage to rainforests and species such as the Sumatran Orangutan. The team said:

“We went beyond what’s expected in terms of human practices. We researched a report that explored the effect of our project on national and global scales. We studied the viability of replacing palm oil with a synthetic alternative, putting special focus on the effects of competing with traditional farmers. Our report details a vision in which synthetic biology and traditional farming complement each other.”

Because of this aspect of their work, the team won the award for Best Human Practices. They were also involved in outreach activities, with stands at the FLS Community Open Day and at the University’s Science Stars day. Team member Rob Harrison said:

“We would like to thank the Faculty for their generous support. Each team member found the experience highly beneficial; be it for lab experience, computer modelling, or the development of transferable skills.”

We’ll be posting an update on how the team get on at the World Finals. You can find out more about their project on their Wiki page, and more about the competition in general on the iGEM 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.”

The Beast Within: an update

The Beast Within was a collaboration between the Manchester beastwithinopening (1)Immunology Group (MIG) and artist Paul Evans. The original exhibition, which saw a series of drawings of microscopic parasites on human scale displayed in The Manchester Museum, was part of Manchester Science Festival in 2012. MIG have now negotiated with Paul so that they can keep four of the images on permanent display in the AV Hill Building. The pictures chosen tie in with research currently being undertaken by members of MIG, MCCIR, and Computer Sciences.

Paul used microscopic images of the parasites to create the graphite drawings. By drawing the parasites on a scale clearly visible to humans, he was hoping to emphasise the contrast between the strange beauty of the organisms and the horrific nature of their impact. Infections caused by such parasites affect almost three billion people worldwide. Research undertaken at MIG and MCCIR looks at how these parasites affect the immune system and what can be done to better manage and treat such infections.

whipworm (1)MIG regularly study one particular parasite; the gut dwelling whipworm known as Trichuris trichuria. Around 1 billion people are infected with this worm, most commonly in humid tropical countries in Asia, Africa, and South America. The infection occurs when people eat food that has been contaminated with parasite eggs found in the soil. Symptoms include malnutrition and stunted growth. They are the single most significant reason that primary school aged children miss out on education. Interestingly, though, species of the same worm are currently being used in clinical trials for the treatment of inflammatory bowel disease.

Dr Sheena Cruickshank researches the role of these parasites in human health, including the ways they can benefit their host. She welcomes Paul’s use of these creatures for art:

“The final images that Paul has produced are incredibly striking. They provide the public with an opportunity to see these creatures in a way that isn’t possible without a microscope. We hope they will make people think about the impact of these parasites and their significance for human and animal health.”

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:

Interview with Michael McKenna, University Challenge team member

Life Sciences BadgeManchester’s University challenge team brought home the trophy this year after a tense battle against Pembroke College, Cambridge, joining winners from 2006 and 2009. After participating in a program viewed by an estimated audience of 3 million, what lasting impressions has the experience left on the team and what is it like returning to university life? We interviewed 21-year old Michael McKenna, an undergraduate biochemist from FLS and the teams science specialist, about his experience and life following the show.

Michael told us how he has always enjoyed watching quiz shows, but admits to only becoming interested in University challenge relatively recently,

“I watched it a couple of times with my parents when I was younger, but the questions were always so far over my head I never really got into it”.

However, since becoming a fan in 2008 he admitted with a laugh that he now gets particularly involved, often shouting answers at the screen.

As the youngest member of the team, a first year undergraduate at the time of filming, we wanted to know what drew him to try out and how he gained his extensive general knowledge. Already a quiz fanatic, Michael said that soon after joining the university he searched for quiz societies and competitions to participate in. This lead him to compete in Oxford as part of a non-televised competition. It was the contacts he made here who encouraged him to try out for the University challenge team. He was particularly modest about his general knowledge simply saying,

“I think I actually have a pretty bad memory for facts, I was chosen because the knowledge I do have complimented the rest of the team.”

Mike spoke fondly of his experiences on the show noting that,

“although in the first few rounds everyone was quite nervous and didn’t really speak much, as the competition drew on people became more relaxed and friendly and I’m still in contact with some of people we met in the later rounds”.

He also revealed that although Jeremy Paxman comes across as relatively stern on TV, whenever there was a dispute over the acceptability of an answer he always sided with the students.

Mike is now settling back into university life and is close to completing his second year of study. Along with his fellow team mates, he now practices with this years team and has formed (what I assume must be a formidable) pub quiz team. He reflects that Manchester’s rigorous selection process and active community of previous team members was hugely beneficial for himself and the team, probably giving them an edge over other universities.

Sarah Fox (May 2012)