Last month, we had the amazing opportunity to collaborate with We The Curious (Bristol’s visitor centre for science, art, questions and ideas) for a public engagement event.
From 20th-27th August 2018, we took over the Live Lab at We The Curious where thousands of visitors engaged with our activities on display.
Our aim was to get the public involved in our experiment and for them to learn more about our research in an accessible way. The Live Lab setup for the 8-day takeover involved three activity tables, infographic posters, two screens showing videos about our research (all made by lovely Hammond lab members), and a lab bench where we could show visitors larval fish at different development stages under a microscope.
We also had a tank of live adult zebrafish to show what they look like and how they behave. Of course, we also had some handy ESA leaflets as well as a few of our own with our social media links!
Both of us, plus Lucy McGowan and Joanna Moss (PhD students from the lab who kindly volunteered), Dr Chrissy Hammond, and the We The Curious Live Science Team and volunteers were all on hand during the week to answer questions and guide activities.
In order to get the public actively engaged in our project, we asked them to vote on an extra experiment we could run in addition to those we will be doing as part of our Spin Your Thesis! 2018 project. We managed to narrow the choice down to four possible areas:
- Muscles: How does hypergravity affect the size and shape of muscles in zebrafish?
- Behaviour: How does hypergravity affect the way zebrafish swim?
- Heart: How does hypergravity affect the shape, size and rhythm of the heart in zebrafish?
- Immune system: How does hypergravity affect the number and behaviour of immune cells in zebrafish?
The activity tables were designed to be a fun way to provide context both about our research and also the possible experiment choices.
- The ‘behind the scenes’ table had microscopes, slides, stained fish specimens and 3D-printed skeleton parts.
- The ‘behaviour and immune system’ table had vision-altering goggles and a ‘draw disease-fighting cells’ activity.
- The ‘heart and muscle’ table had 3D-printed hearts, interactive games, oximeters and a grip strength test.
Visitors could then vote for their favourite experiment option by popping a lasercut plastic zebrafish token into the experiment-themed fish tank of their choice. We also ran a Twitter poll for those who couldn’t make it to the Live Lab but wanted to cast their vote!
We were blown away with the results! Just over 1700 votes were cast in total. The winning experiment was ‘behaviour’, so we have been busy making sure we have a setup ready for analysing larval zebrafish swim patterns.
The feedback from the event was overwhelmingly positive. We really loved that people of all ages and backgrounds asked, ‘What’s this?’ and, ‘How does this work?’. It was great to see people engaging with science and it was encouraging for us to see that people were interested in knowing more about our project.
Many questions were asked about hypergravity, space, and zebrafish, which gave us a great opportunity to communicate about the reasons behind our research. This included why we are using zebrafish, how they are similar to humans, possible future experiments, and how one of our long-term research aims is to help understand the processes that cause problems such as osteoarthritis. A lot of people felt a personal connection to the healthcare side of our work, and many others were interested in the link to different gravity environments. It was great to hear their thoughts on these topics, and it was cool to share exciting discussions with so many people.
Our ‘takeover take away’ is that we are thankful to have been able to share our project with the Bristol public and we’ve learnt a lot about public engagement – especially running such a hands-on event! Overall, it was totally worth it, and we can’t wait to keep everyone updated about our project.
Here is some of the written feedback we had about the Live Lab event:
Many thanks to our supervisors Dr Chrissy Hammond and Prof Kate Robson-Brown for organising the collaboration, and of course to We The Curious for allowing us to take over their Live Lab space and helping us run such an insightful and fun event!