Schoolzone: Reaching out... Microbiologists make a difference

Issue: Biofuels

26 November 2013 article

As a Society, one of our main aims is to promote high-quality microbiological science to a diverse range of people. This includes, not only researchers, academics, hospital and industry staff, but also the wider public, teachers and school students.

Our outreach activities aim to inspire and create interest in microbiology as well as encourage learning and even engage those interested in pursuing a career in microbiology. These events would not have been so successful or, in many cases, even be possible without the support from our member volunteers.

What events have we attended in the past?

One of the ways in which we engage in outreach is to attend events all around the UK. These can be specifically science-oriented or not, just as long as we can link it to microbiology! Over the last year or so, we’ve attended many events, big and small. Here’s a summary of just a few:

RHS CHELSEA FLOWER SHOW

In 2012, the SGM exhibited in the Environment Zone at the Chelsea Flower Show, arguably the world’s most famous flower show. The display focused on the symbiotic associations that occur between most plants and microbes and how they can be harnessed and enhanced to maximise plant growth. As the world population is predicted to rise from its current 7 billion to 9 billion by 2050, how these beneficial plant-associated microbial interactions could be exploited to help feed the world was also explored. About 157,000 visitors attended the show during the six days it was open to the public, offering the Society an excellent opportunity to engage with gardeners interested in learning more about the science of growing plants.

EDINBURGH INTERNATIONAL SCIENCE FESTIVAL

At Scotland’s largest science festival, Bugs, Drugs and Rock n Roll explored the way in which we exploit microbes for our own gain. From fashion to pharmaceuticals to beauty treatments, a wide range of products rely on the activities of microbes and our expert panel discussed just how they did it.

THE BIG BANG FAIR

Since its’ conception in 2009, the SGM have part-sponsored and attended The Big Bang Fair, the largest science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) celebration for young people in the UK. In March 2013, over 65,000 people attended the event at the London ExCeL Centre. Our stand, entitled Plaque Attack: Giving bacteria the brush off! allowed students (and teachers!) to build their own biofilm, then attempt to destroy it, to learn that the community is stronger than the individual, effective teeth brushing is important and that biofilms can grow in the mouth.

ASSOCIATION FOR SCIENCE EDUCATION (ASE) CONFERENCE

The ASE is a dynamic community of teachers, technicians and other professionals supporting science education in the UK. Our speaker for 2013, as part of the Biology in the Real World event, was Tom Ellis (Imperial College London), who gave his talk Brewing-up the technologies of tomorrow with synthetic biology. We also ran practical sessions focusing on our algae practical resource and trouble-shooting problematic microbiology demonstrations, hosted by James Redfern (Manchester Metropolitan University) and Dr John Schollar (University of Reading).

CHELTENHAM LITERATURE FESTIVAL

Science outreach at the Cheltenham Literature Festival, a non-science-focused event, gives us the opportunity to promote the importance of microbiology to a non-scientific audience. This year we sponsored three panel discussion events:

  • Wounded contrasted battlefront medical care available to soldiers in World War I to that offered today. A medical historian, a microbiologist and a serving military surgeon, explored how treatment in war zones has developed over the last 100 years.
  • Dirt: The filthy reality of everyday life ventured into 19th century fiction and looked at the fascinating role dirt and cleanliness play in the works of Charles Dickens, Jane Austen and others.
  • Bees: From honey to hive investigated our fascination with bees and their place in our culture and folklore. We examined the challenges faced by beekeepers and the medicinal properties of honey, and celebrated the art of beekeeping itself.

Where are we going in 2014?

We have many exciting things lined up for 2014. Some are unconfirmed, but so far we will definitely be attending the following:

THE BIG BANG FAIR

The Big Bang Fair takes place at the NEC in Birmingham from 13 to 16 March in 2014, and we shall be attending for the eighth time. It promises to be the biggest Big Bang Fair yet, with an expectation to beat last year’s attendance. The Fair is free for all 6- to 19-year-olds, parents and teachers and we hope to see as many of our school members there as possible.

ASSOCIATION FOR SCIENCE EDUCATION (ASE) CONFERENCE

2014 at the ASE conference will see the return of Biology in the Real World, a series of events coordinated by the NUCLEUS group of learned societies and similar not-for-profit organisations. Held at the University of Birmingham from 8 to 11 January, we will be having a joint stand with other learned biology societies and we will host a series of talks, as well as demonstrations and discussions on the stand. Each year we showcase our educational resources in the exhibition throughout this educators’ conference and this year is no exception. We’ll also be attending events not yet finalised. Be sure to keep an eye out on our website for details of where you’ll find us in 2014!

Want to get involved?

The success of SGM depends not only on the staff, council and committees, but also our members and this is true for all of our outreach work. I am interested in hearing from members about the societies outreach activities:

  • Do you have any suggestions of events you’d like the SGM to visit? – Do you want to represent the SGM at an event, or hold a small event at your school?
  • Do you have a great idea for a new demonstration that can be used at events to promote a particular aspect of microbiology?

If you have any ideas, questions or comments to do with outreach events, then please get in touch; I would love to talk to you!

Theresa Hudson

Education and Outreach Officer, SGM
Email t.hudson@microbiologysociety.org; Tel. +44(0) 20 7685 2682

Theresa Hudson is our new Education and Outreach Officer. With a research background in microbial ecology and a wide range of outreach experience, from primary school right through to undergraduate and beyond, she looks after our School Members, attends events around the UK with demonstrations and information about microbiology and runs the SGM education website, www.microbiologyonline.org.uk


Image: Visitors at the SGM stand at the Chelsea Flower Show in 2012. I. Atherton. Volunteers at The Big Bang Fair 2013. SGM..