I have been interested in public engagement in science for almost ten years. This roughly tracks with the sudden expansion of public engagement in science activities by universities and other learned societies. After some brief training by the ‘Researchers in Residence’ scheme (funded by RCUK and Wellcome Trust) I did a few school visits as a PhD student and then as a young post-doc but then not much after that.
Soon after moving to the University of Sheffield I helped out with the ‘Festival of the Mind‘ on an exhibit about the use of zebrafish in medical research. This centred around the zebrafish ‘Pod’ (that was built for the 2009 Royal Society Summer Science Festival), a dark portable space that housed fluorescent microscopes to look at zebrafish embryos and larvae. It was here that I experienced one of the true meanings of public engagement work.
I was showing a man the zebrafish, chatting away and it turned out that his brother had neurodegenerative disease that the zebrafish are used for studying a Sheffield. After I explained this he became very animated and asked me question after question. He didn’t know that medical research happened; not that zebrafish were used, not that we were working on a particular disease that he cared about but that it happened at all.
For this man a hidden world was revealed to him that day. We scientists quickly forget that we work with hidden worlds all the time. At the University of Sheffield we are organising a science festival that will take place in a few weeks time called ‘KrebsFest’. This festival will celebrate the work and legacy of Hans Krebs, who while working at Sheffield, demonstrated so elegantly the hidden world in which our cells are are able to use the energy contained in food.
I’ll leave you with a time lapse video of me organising 140,000 pills and capsules.