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: https://mcrbrainbox.wordpress.com/

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.

University praised at the BBSRC award ceremony

The University of Manchester was recently a finalist at the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) Excellent with Impact awards and was awarded two special commendations for demonstrating outstanding practice in particular areas. The University of Manchester was awarded the two special commendations for our outreach in collaboration with the Manchester Museum and effectively embedding impact across our staff development programmes.

The awards looked to “recognise institutions that can develop and successfully deliver a vision for maximising impact, alongside a relevant institution-wide culture change” and so The University is extremely proud to be commended in such a way.

The BBSRC is the largest biology funding body in the UK and they support over 3,500 scientists in the UK.  The University has a large number of BBSRC-funded lab groups performing cutting edge research across all its Faculties. Our commendations and presence in the finals recognise the importance our groups place on research that has a real impact and is setting a culture of excellence.

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Representatives from the Manchester team at the BBSRC: Karen Lewis (BBSRC Executive Team), Simon Hubbard, Lauren Tempelman,  Amanda Bamford, Luke Georghiou. Photo by Joel Knight

The BBSRC judges were particularly impressed with our Museum outreach, highlighting the ‘Learning with Lucy’ frog conservation and education programme. Working with the Manchester Museum, the Faculty teamed up with Lucy, a nine year old girl on a mission to save the Lemur Leaf frog. The project was a huge success, reaching international coverage and having an impact in helping to save one of the world’s rarest frogs.

Professor Amanda Bamford says

” I am really pleased the judges were impressed with the education and outreach work we do with Manchester Museum. We have a very long standing, successful and unique collaboration with the Museum staff delivering outstanding impact”

In addition, two University scientists, Dr Sheena Cruickshank and Dr Andrew Almond, were finalist for BBSRC Innovator of the Year this year.  Innovator of the Year “celebrates individuals and small teams who have harnessed the potential of their excellent research to help address real world challenges”.

Professor Simon Hubbard, one of the leaders of the University competition bid, says

During the course of this three year competition the University has made great strides in embedding an impact culture into its staff and students, in all areas from business development through to social responsibility. I am thrilled that the BBSRC recognised this and chose us as one of the 10 finalists. We were the only institution to have two nominees for Innovator of the Year and were rightly recognised with two commendations for our impact success.

 

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.

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© NASA

 

 

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

Tuesday Feature Episode 39: Charlotte Alcock

After a fortnight break, the Tuesday Feature returns with UK/EU Recruitment & Marketing Officer Charlotte Alcock. Find out about her interesting role here:


Please explain your role here in the Faculty.

I am a Recruitment and Marketing Officer (UK/EU) for the Faculty of Life Sciences. My main aim is to inspire people to apply for Life Sciences courses here at Manchester. To achieve this there are lots of different activities I get involved in including: writing for the website and prospectus, managing our social media and video content, arranging open days and giving talks about our courses. The part of the job I enjoy the most is planning exciting activities for school pupils who want to come in and visit our facilities at the University and get involved in some hands on science.

How does your role benefit the public?

I hope that through all the activities my team is involved in we are inspiring the very brightest and best students to come to Manchester and that these students will go on to become scientists that will have a big impact on areas that affect the public. Over the time that I have worked here I have seen our graduates go on to careers as varied as developing vaccines, conserving shark populations, developing crops which are resistant to disease and working as clinical scientists in the NHS.

How did you first become interested in marketing?

I don’t have a background in marketing; my degree is actually in Biological Sciences right here at The University of Manchester (longer ago than I care to remember!). When I saw this job advertised I saw it as a great opportunity to come back to work at a place that I loved, use my biology knowledge, and inspire more people to come and take advantage of all the brilliant opportunities that are available here. I am lucky to be marketing something that I really believe in as opposed to, for example, the latest style of handbag!

What did you want to be when you were younger?

When I was much younger I really wanted to be a writer.

However, I chose to study Biological Sciences at university as my brother was diagnosed with autism when I was 16. I was really interested in the idea that there were genetic factors underlying his condition and I wanted to understand that better. I think at the time I thought I would become a high flying scientist and make an exciting discovery in this field. But a few years in the lab at university made me realise that although I absolutely loved learning about biology I just wasn’t suited to the work of a research scientist!

So although I’m not living out my childhood dream, I do still get to do lots of writing in my job and I get to write about my favourite subject!

 How has working in Manchester helped you?

Manchester is a great place to work. The Faculty of Life Sciences in particular is a really close knit community. I have always found all my colleagues here to be really helpful and willing to give up their time to support my activities with schools. Working here has given me the opportunity to work alongside inspiring scientists and keep up my interest and involvement in science.

What do you do outside of work?

I have two small children – so although I did used to love and do a lot of yoga, cycling, running and baking – I seem to spend an awful lot of my time these days at the park pretending to be a dinosaur!

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.”

Be a school governor

The University is aiming to help create the largest growth of school governors in the UK. To do this, they need the help of staff members to become volunteer governors in local schools.

School Governors play an important role in the long-term development of local education by providing support and strategic advice to head teachers. They also make executive decisions over budgets and staff appointments.

Becoming a governor is a great way for staff to learn new skills, with 93% of governors claiming that they had ‘gained new skills’. What’s more, many feel proud of the work that they are doing and feel as if their contribution is making a real difference to local schools.

A governor usually serves a 4 year term and the average time commitment is 10-15 hours a term. The social responsibility team, alongside SGOSS – Governors for Schools, have made becoming a governor as easy as possible. They have a dedicated network of staff members set up for people to share best practice as well as give support and guidance to one another. Additionally, the University will make some allowance for staff to take paid time off if their governorship  overlaps with their work commitments.

For more information and to sign up for this great scheme, head over to the SGOSS – Governors for Schools website.

The 6th Annual Body Experience

Saturday 19th March 2016 saw the ‘Body Experience’ return to the Manchester Museum for the sixth year running. Over 1000 people poured into the Museum to explore the wonder of the human body through engaging and interactive stands hosted by teams of researchers from across the Faculties of Life Sciences and Medical and Human Sciences.

The family fun day kicked off at 11 o’clock, where people were greeted by student volunteers and where people collected their very own passports for the ‘Body Experience’. If anyone was unsure in which direction to start, Science Buskers were on hand to entertain the public as they passed through reception. ‘Body Experience’ took over the Museum from top to bottom, with opportunities to see and feel real kidneys, build your own spine, explore the wonder of the human brain, children could crawl through a cholesterol-filled artery and make their own mucus! Over 60 researchers took part to share their passion and excitement for their research with the public.

The event was organised by Ceri Harrop with huge support from Shazia Chaudhry, Vicky Grant, and the Photographics Team in the Faculty of Life Sciences.

Feedback from the public included:

-As an adult, fascinating to hear young researchers talk of their interests.

“I’ve got an operation on my hip in a couple of weeks so it was dead informative to chat to the spine people! SOMETHING FOR ADULTS AS WELL AS KIDS”, Alan, 42.

“Both boys (aged 3 and 7) loved it. We also found it very interesting. The students were great.”

“Really enjoyed all of it. Kids were really engaged and actually disappointed when we had to leave!!”

Ceri Harrop, the coordinator for the day, says:

“It is great to host the Body Experience for the sixth consecutive year, and see the support and enthusiasm from both the researchers, student volunteers and the public build year-on-year. Feedback was overwhelmingly positive, with the only negative comments being that it should be a two-day event.

All in all, the body experience was 8 hours, 16 stands, 67 researchers, 15 volunteers, 2 science buskers, 540 passports, one brilliant day!”

 

 

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

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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.

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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
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
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.”

National Trust work experience launches

In partnership with the National Trust the Faculty of Life Sciences have launched a new work experience program giving undergraduate students an opportunity to get hands-on experience working with one of the UK’s largest conservation charities. The monthly events, organised by Amanda Bamford and Adam Hugill, led by Ashley Deane, a Manchester Biology Graduate and National Trust Ranger, each focus on a different area of conservation giving students a wide range of experiences.

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Shortly before Christmas, 14 Life Sciences students headed down to the National Trust site at Styal Mill for the first of these events focussing on fish passes and submerged camera technology. The students spent the morning learning about the importance of fish passes and got their hands dirty practising how to carry out the regular maintenance of the passes and how this affects its use by fish. After a chance to explore the site further the students braved the Manchester weather and carried out river surveys measuring river flow and their profiles working closely with Ashley, fellow ranger Claire Disley and Manchester PhD student Cecilia Medupin.

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The day was a great success with all involved looking forward to the resumption after the Christmas break:

Ashley Deane, National Trust Ranger:

“Having graduated from the same university with many of the same units I studied still available to study today I have put together the whole programme designed to offer opportunity for undergraduates to gain practical experience which will help them in extremely competitive jobs hunt. All the students seemed to thoroughly enjoy the day- in all a great day was had all round.’’

Charlie Hewitt, 2nd Year Biology Student:

“Ashley was great and her enthusiasm for her job made the event. It seems that she gets a lot out of what she does and has made me consider a similar role to hers for my own future.”

Amanda Bamford, Associate Dean for Social Responsibility:

”I am really delighted that we have been able to develop this exciting collaboration between our Faculty and the National Trust. This is a unique opportunity for our students to learn and work alongside National Trust rangers out in field, helping with the protection and care of habitats and wildlife and importantly gaining valuable work experience.”

Adam Hugill

If you are interested in one of the future events please contact Employability.FLS@manchester.ac.uk

 

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.

Madagascar Medical Expedition 2015

This year a team of students went on a life changing trip to Madagascar to help educate and treat Schistosomiasis in the area. Here’s an account of their adventures.


 

What is Schistosomiasis and why did MADEX do this project?

Madagascar Medical Expedition 2015 was a student-led research expedition, which set out to screen school children for schistosomiasis in one of Madagascar’s most remote and isolated areas.  We wanted to treat those with the disease and run health education programmes to teach the children ways of preventing re-infection.

Schistosomiasis is a parasitic disease caused by the Schistosoma fluke which is the second most important parasite-born disease after malaria. It is found in tropical, humid climates. People become infected through contact with water infested with the parasite larvae. There are three main species that infect people: Schistosoma haematobium which causes urinary schistosomiasis, and S. mansoni and S. japonicum which causes intestinal schistosomiasis.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) considers schistosomiasis to be the second most important parasite-born disease, second only to malaria in terms of global socio-economic impact. Approximately 166 million people are infected worldwide across 78 endemic countries and it is thought it causes around 20,000 to 200,000 deaths/year. The disease has a particularly serious impact on children as they become too ill to go to school. This impact on education has a major impact on the economy. For this reason the reduction of schistosomiasis is in line with the Millennium 2020 objectives for global health set out by the WHO. Control of schistosomiasis is based on treatment with Praziquantal (an anti-helminthic drug), improved sanitation and health education.

In Madagascar in 1987, approximately 16 million people were thought to be infected in a total population of 24 million. The WHO advises treatment via Mass Drug Administration every 6 months to any population which has greater than 50% prevalence; however in 2009 approximately just 20% of the population in Madagascar had received treatment.

Planning the expedition, and collaboration

This was the first ever student-led medical research expedition from The University of Manchester (UoM), and took over two years of planning. With the backing of The Ministry of Health Madagascar, we put together a proposal, and negotiated with Manchester Medical School to let us use the project for part of our university course. We organised training in microscopy and schistosomiasis identification with Professor Andrew MacDonald’s team and were supplied with brilliant education resources from Dr Sheena Cruickshank in the Manchester Immunology Group.

Four UoM students went to Madagascar: Stephen Spencer (Founder, Head and Lead Coordinator of the team), Anthony Howe (logistics and finances), Hannah Russell (medical, health and safety officer) and James Penney (research lead, and as a French speaker, in charge of international communications)

We also nurtured a collaborative link between UoM and The University of Antananarivo. We selected two recent medical graduates to join the field team: Daniel and Anjara. As well as being an extra pair of hands, they translated, took over the health education programme, and conducted interviews with local health workers, headteachers and village chiefs to investigate the health burden and health beliefs of the area, and so were absolutely crucial to the success of the expedition.

The research

The research was based in the district of Marolambo, one of Madagascar’s most remote locations, situated in central East. We screened six schools from six villages in this district.  This involved hiking between villages, sometimes up to 24km, through forested areas with nearly a quarter of a tonne of equipment.

We screened a total of 399 children from 6 schools, across 6 villages in the district. We looked for schistosomiasis by three different methods: 1) looking for eggs in stool samples 2) looking for eggs in urine samples and 3) using CCA antigen testing, to test for presence of the CCA antigen (given off by all schistosome species) in urine samples. In this way we tested for both urinary and intestinal schistosomiasis.

We found an overall prevalence of 94%, with our data showing that all of this was intestinal rather than urinary schistosomiasis. We also recorded extremely high egg counts, well over the WHO threshold for ‘intense’ infection, and on discussion of these results with experts, it is likely that if some of these eggs remain in the patient’s intestines then severe problems like liver cancer and splenomegaly could occur. Infection, if left untreated, can cause serious damage and even death, so it is critical to intervene with anti-parasite medicine and education. Further to this we ran health education programs to the school children, teaching them about schistosomiasis, how to avoid re-infection, and raising awareness to the local community.

What lies ahead for MADEX?

Our long-term goal is to control schistosomiasis in the Marolambo region.

We have met with the Ministry of Health of Madagascar in Antananarivo, who are keen for the work to continue. As well as ensuring complete treatment amongst this community, we would like to re-screen these populations to study the re-infection rates here.  In addition to this, with follow-up projects, we also aim to reduce the disease burden by focussing on improving education about the disease.

We hope to make this a long-term project, and to continue the collaboration between The Universities of Manchester and Antananarivio, by sending out students year on year. Planning for an expedition in summer 2016 is underway.

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Acknowledgements

Thanks to: Professor Anthony Freemont & Manchester Medical School, Dr Ed Wilkins & Infectious Diseases Unit (North Manchester General Hospital), Professor Andrew MacDonald, Dr Sheena Cruickshank & Manchester Immunology Group (University of Manchester), Dr Jane Wilson-Howarth, Anglo-Malagasy Society, Jayne Jones & Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, Herizo Andrianandrasana & Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust, Dr Peter Long (University of Oxford), Dr Shona Wilson (University of Cambridge), Schistosomiasis Control Initiative, Natural History Museum London, World Health Organization, Royal Geographical Society, East Lancashire Hospitals NHS Trust, Mission Aviation Fellowship, Dr Alain Rahetilahy & Madagascar Ministry of Health, Prof Luc Samison & University of Antananarivo, Dr Clara Fabienne & Institut Pasteur (Madagascar), Zochonis Enterprise Award, British Medical and Dental Schools’ Trust.

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.

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images courtesy of Anthony Hall.

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.

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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.

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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 https://scratch.mit.edu/projects/74443210

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 http://www.flyfacility.ls.manchester.ac.uk/forthepublic/

To download the teaching packs and support information for teachers, visit the droso4schools website:https://droso4schools.wordpress.com

All school resources including computer game and YouTube videos are explained and summarised on this blog: https://poppi62.wordpress.com/2015/08/28/school-flies

Science Communication: The Manchester Science Festival Launch Night

Each year the city of Manchester turns into a hub of science, with researchers coming from all over the world to celebrate the Manchester Science Festival (MSF). This year is no different and this year some of the coverage of the event has been reported by students of the MSc Science Communication course. Below is a report done by Amy Hodgson about the start of the MSF and the launch night.


This year’s Manchester Science Festival launch had extra impact thanks to the first cohort of students on the University’s new MSc in Science Communication. The students live tweeted throughout the launch party on Thursday evening at the Museum of Science and Industry. Also promoting the European City of Science (ECOS) 2016, the party was a thoroughly entertaining and inspiring evening of demonstrations, experiments and ‘sneak peeks’ of what is to come during this exciting year of science in Manchester. The Manchester Science Festival runs from 22 October to 1 November with events across the city for all ages.

Marieke Navin, the Director of the Science Festival and Sally MacDonald, the Director of the Museum of Science and Industry introduced the launch event. Juergen Maier, from chief sponsor Siemens addressed the importance of innovation and technology in the UK. Judith Smith, from lead education sponsor the University of Salford asked whether science could have the same ‘pulling power’ as the Great British Bake Off. Danielle George, Professor Engineering at Manchester University showcased the beginnings of a new ‘robot orchestra’, using old floppy disks to play the Rocky theme tune. She asked for donations of any old technology items that can be added to the orchestra.

The headline exhibition at the festival is ‘The Cravings Experiment’ and at the launch party the award-winning chef Mary-Ellen McTague created two tasty experiments for the guests. The first involved two invented names ‘bouba’ and ‘kiki’ to investigate how we relate certain flavours to sounds. Various canapés were served and guests were asked which word best described each canapé. The second experiment aimed to find out if having food displayed in different ways changed the tasting experience.

Next on stage was ‘Gastronaut’ Stefan Gates who conducted various noisy and smelly demonstrations and experiments. These included firing marshmallows into the audience using a leaf blower, freezing cheese with a fire extinguisher and using a ‘flavour dispersal device’ to see if the audience could recognise a certain smell. There was also a taste bud experiment in which MSc student Emily Lambert’s tongue turned bright blue, revealing her to be a ‘super taster’.

The European City of Science ‘photo booth’ proved to be a popular attraction. Guests were asked to make a promise to join, create, share or tell for the year, with the pictures published on Instagram to ensure all promises are kept. The evening ended with a DJ set from Everything Everything. ECOS director Annie Keane said that the student social media team had done a ‘great job’ in helping to get the programme off to ‘such a fabulous start’ on Twitter and Instagram.

The Manchester Science Festival runs from 22 October to 1st November with events across the city for all ages. Manchester is the European City of Science 2016 and the EuroScience Open Forum runs from 23 to 27 July 2016.

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Report by Amy Hodgson. The social media team was Amy Hodgson, Jair Sian, Emily Lambert, Bernadette Tynan, Alec Wilby and Dave Saunders.

Faculty of Life Sciences awarded the Athena Swan Silver Award

The Faculty of Life Sciences are proud to announce that they have been awarded the prestigious Athena Swan Silver Award. The award was created as a way to recognise institution’s commitment to tackle gender inequality in higher education.

Equality Challenge Unit awarded the Athena Swan Silver Award to just 87 departments in the whole of the UK. The Faculty was one of only 6 departments who were able to retain their silver award from 3 years ago. In order to retain, The Faculty had to show progression in its efforts to address gender equality on both an individual and structural level. The award will last for the duration of 3 years and will promote the Faculty as a champion for gender equality.

On the value of the award, Sarah Dickinson, Head of Equality Charters at Equality Challenge Unit said:

“In an ever changing higher education landscape, we realise that participating in the charter is a significant undertaking, and we would like to take this opportunity to thank and congratulate all those who participated for their demonstrable commitment to tackling gender inequality.”

Amanda Bamford, Chair of the Athena Swan Self-Assessment Team and Associate Dean for Social Responsibility, said:

“I am really thrilled with this award which recognises the efforts made across the Faculty to ensure a supportive working environment for all our staff. The award reflects an enormous amount of work and commitment to provide the most progressive and supportive environment possible for career development and work-life balance in the Faculty. We strive to develop a culture of fairness, opportunity, flexibility, and respect. We want to be a beacon in gender equality so there is no pausing in our efforts especially as are now working towards our Athena Swan Gold award!”

Hema Radhakrishnan, Deputy Associate Dean for Social Responsibility, Faculty of Life Sciences, who also took an active role in the application, said:

“We are delighted to receive the Athena SWAN Silver award which recognises the tremendous effort from the Faculty of Life Sciences towards advancing gender equality amongst staff and students. Even though we are a long way forward from the Suffragette movement, women are still more likely to be discouraged from pursuing careers in Science, Engineering and Technology. Women who do take interest in these subjects often progress in their careers at a rate that is slower than their male counterparts. Athena SWAN Charter was established in 2005 to encourage and recognise commitment to advancing the careers of women in science. This Silver award shows that we as a faculty are working hard to reduce the gender gap and the efforts taken by the faculty are benefiting women and individuals with caring responsibilities.”

The Faculty will be presented with the award at a ceremony in the coming months and will be able to proudly wear the Athena Swan Silver badge.

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A Summer of Science – a Celebration of Environmental Research

In celebration of the Natural Environment Research Council’s (NERC) 50th anniversary, a series of special science outreach events have taken place as part of the “summer of science”. As part of this, four teams of scientists from the FLS were given funding to host the “FLS environmental roadshows”.

The roadshow took place in 3 events – the FLS Community Open Day, a special adult-only event at the Manchester Museum and a one day exhibition at the Jodrell Bank Observatory is Cheshire. The open day saw over 850 people come to the University where they got to learn about the exciting life of plants.

For the one day exhibition the team were based at the Jodrell Discover Centre. The family friendly event saw cockroaches running up children’s arms, earthworms moving through soil and hands on experiences with carnivorous plants. The adults at the centre were taught about food security, radioactive contamination and soil ecology.

Dr Giles Johnson, Deputy Associate Dean for Social Responsibility and Faculty Lead for Environmental Sustainability said:

For us, the event was a huge success.  We were able to explain our science to a wide range of the public and we were also challenged to think about our science in new ways, by the questions we were asked.  It was a great day out.

Becky Burns, the Head of Gardens and Interpretation at Jodrell Bank thanks the team:

Thanks to the FLS team for coming out to Jodrell Bank Discovery Centre with their Summer of Science Roadshow! Visitors of all ages enjoyed interacting with enthusiastic staff and students, exploring the world of plants and living creatures and learning about their ongoing research.

Jodrell Bank, famous for its radio telescopes, has a long lasting association with Life Sciences in Manchester. Even before the telescopes moved in, the Bank housed the Victoria University Botany department. The botany tradition has continued through to today with an extensive arboretum, which is where the national collection of apples trees bloom. It makes for a great visit – so why not treat yourself this weekend.

Brains versus Brawn

Faculty researchers have raised over £1000 for charity by taking part in the Great Manchester Run. Read the short report below by Rebecca Montacute and Catherine Lawrence. 


Neuroscientists from the Faculty have fundraised over £1,000 for charity by taking part in the Great Manchester Run, the largest 10K race in Europe. The Brain Inflammatory Group studies the role of inflammation in several diseases that affect the brain, particularly stroke and Alzheimer’s disease. PhD students and staff from the group ran to raise money for the Natalie Kate Moss Trust. Natalie was a former student at the University who died tragically, aged 27, from a brain haemorrhage. The Trust was set up in her honor to support research into brain haemorrhage and to support students who have suffered a brain injury.

Pictured left to right: Jonjo Miller, Ingo Schiessl, Michelle Edye, Raymond Wong, Rebecca Montacute, Matthew Dewhurst, Michael Daniels, Stuart Allan, Catherine Lawrence (and David Brough, not pictured).
Pictured left to right: Jonjo Miller, Ingo Schiessl, Michelle Edye, Raymond Wong, Rebecca Montacute, Matthew Dewhurst, Michael Daniels, Stuart Allan, Catherine Lawrence (and David Brough, not pictured).

Lidija McKnight: Being in the media spotlight

I’m not normally one who would choose to live life ‘in the spotlight’. In fact, I’d say the opposite was closer to the mark. However, following a brief interaction with the media in 2013, I vowed to myself that actually, the media can offer opportunities to share research which might otherwise stay confined to academia. I am fortunate that my research – the biomedical imaging of ancient Egyptian mummified remains – has broad public appeal. That said, nothing could have prepared me for recent events.

In 2014 I was approached by the BBC to discuss the possibility of making a documentary for Horizon on the use of radiographic imaging to study human mummies. As my research primarily concerns ancient mummified animals combined with the fact that human mummies are frequently in the news, I managed to persuade the researchers to run with animals instead.

In October, following numerous conversations with researchers and producers, I was fortunate enough to spend several days and nights filming for the programme, alongside a team from Manchester Museum and the Royal Manchester Children’s Hospital. Despite the very long hours, numerous retakes and general jitters about being on camera, the whole experience was thoroughly enjoyable and interesting. The programme aired on BBC2 in May 2015 to more than one million viewers.

Working on Horizon opened up a number of doors. The week before the programme aired, a BBC news crew came to film the curator and myself in the museum talking about some of the key findings of the research. This news piece was broadcast several times on the day of the Horizon programme and sparked a great deal of media attention which was over and above what we were all expecting!

Unfortunately for me, the curator was away at a conference so the media attention was targeted at me. I spoke to the university’s Media Relations team who gave me some idea of what to expect at Media City the next day.

I already had three radio interviews lined up so the BBC sent a taxi at 5am to take me to Media City. Once there things quickly spiralled and I did live radio interviews on the World Service, Radio 5 Live, Radio Manchester, Radio Berkshire, Good Morning Scotland and Radio Wales. Live radio is not as bad as you might think, and media training that I had done proved to be useful in giving me a bit of confidence.

Doing an interview in a studio is a little easier because you can actually see and interact with the host, but interviews for stations which don’t have studios locally are performed in a radio booth. This booth is literally a black ‘box’ in the foyer of Quay House. It looks a little like a cross between one of those fancy new-style public conveniences and the TARDIS! Basically, it’s a sound-proof cubicle with a microphone and a headset, through which you speak to a producer before listening to the live radio show, at which point the presenter will introduce you and ask questions.

After coming out of each interview, I checked my phone and found emails and missed calls from journalists, radio and TV people, as well as calls from the Media Relations team at the University who were also busy fielding enquiries. Stupidly, I had gone without my laptop (big mistake!) so I spent all my spare time trying to reply to emails and send out suitable images on my mobile. Around lunchtime, the situation had become so crazy that I called out for help. The museum sent a cab to come and collect me as I had a short break before I was due to go on Newsround at 4pm. I spent two hours at the museum having professional photos taken on the gallery (which were then sold on to newspapers), helping to write a press release and speaking to international newspaper journalists – not much of a rest, but a change of scenery nonetheless!

I hadn’t expected to be going on TV that day, but the Media Relations team had forewarned me to go dressed for it. I appeared on Newsround which was a whole new realm of scary. There is nowhere to hide on live TV, but we had two practice runs before the show which helped a lot. The presenters and crew were very nice and genuinely pleased to have a real-life person on the sofa. The Newsround target audience is 8-13 year olds – dramatically different to the BBC News Channel who had requested that I stay on to film a live interview at 7:30pm. That was a little strange as I had to sit in an empty studio and talk into a black box. I finally made it home at 9:10pm – ten minutes after Horizon started on BBC2!

It didn’t end there. I had many other live and pre-recorded radio interviews over the phone with Irish, Canadian and American broadcasters. Newspapers and science websites ran stories on the research and a documentary team is coming from Canada to film our work.

So what advice would I give to other FLS researchers regarding the media? Firstly, the media is not as scary as it might seem. Embrace every opportunity presented to you and run with it, no one wants you to fail (especially not on live radio or TV). Have faith in the fact that you know your research better than most other people out there so don’t be afraid to speak about it with confidence. If you don’t like the questions, there is a knack to turning them around to one you like better. Don’t feel alone – the University has a team of professional people to handle the media – use them and their experience to your advantage. Lastly, attend some media training so that you have just a little bit of confidence for when that phone call or email comes – you won’t regret it.


You can catch the Horizon Documentary here on the BBC

Dementia Awareness Week 2015.

This week is Dementia Awareness Week, which looks to raise awareness of this debilitating disease. Dementia is an incurable disease that can strip you of your most cherished memories, your relationships and your identity – leaving you feeling isolated and alone. This does not have to be the case. This year, the Alzheimer’s society, who heads up Dementia Awareness Week, are promoting the idea that Dementia sufferers can #DoSomethingNew. The campaign hopes to spread the idea that life does not have to end when dementia begins.

The University of Manchester has teamed up with Dementia Friends, a programme that tries to change people’s perceptions of dementia. It aims to transform the way people think, talk and act about the condition. Kate Middleton, Admin Support Manager in the Faculty, is a volunteer Dementia Champion. She says:

“I became a Dementia Champion as I have personally been affected from a family member living with dementia; this initiative by the Alzheimer’s Society is to change society’s negative perceptions of dementia as people living with the condition can experience loneliness and social exclusion.  As a Dementia Champion volunteer, I talk to people to hopefully give them a better understanding of dementia and ask them to consider the small things that they can do to make the difference to people living with condition.  People can then turn their understanding of dementia into practical action by becoming a ‘Dementia Friend’ and help in creating dementia-friendly communities.  Being a ‘Dementia Friend’ doesn’t mean you have to commit to doing something time-consuming, every small action counts – such as behaving patiently with someone showing signs of dementia – or helping or supporting a friend or relative affected by dementia.  By raising awareness in society through talking about dementia, we can enable people living with the condition to go about their daily lives and feel part of their community.”

To find out more about the way this Faculty is helping to tackle the disease, watch our Life Science Broadcast on the topic: