Schoolzone: Good bugs, bad bugs

18 February 2013

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Fun Kids is the UK’s only children’s radio station. With a core audience of between 4 and 9 years old, it’s not the SGM’s usual audience, but when we were invited by Fun Kids to develop a series about microbiology, we jumped at the chance.

In the series, called Good bugs, bad bugs, microbiology is introduced through the characters Benny (the good bug) and Mal (the bad bug) in a fun and engaging way, covering areas of microbiology from microbial transmission to sewage treatment, and food production to algal blooms! We asked Chair of the Communications Committee Joanna Verran (JV) and Microbiology Today Editor Paul Hoskisson (PH) if they would help with the planning and development of the series. Here they let us know how they got on.

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Why did you get involved with this project? 

JV It seemed like a fun idea! It’s great to think about how to get microbiology out to as many different audiences as possible – and why not start them young!

How did you get on with the work involved?

JV Not too badly – once I got focused into the programme’s language it was enjoyable to think about how best to get important points across in a simple, but accurate and of course entertaining, way.

PH The work wasn’t really difficult or time-consuming, it was a nice respite from the usual things that academics do…

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What did you think of the final episodes, were they what you expected?

PH They were much better than I thought they would be. Reading the scripts makes you imagine how the characters would sound, but the Fun Kids team have really brought them to life.


Did this project make you think differently about how you communicate?

PH It’s interesting how doing something like this makes you consider all of the ambiguity in any sentence, especially when trying to simplify microbiology for a young audience.

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What was the most challenging part of this project?

JV Making sure that we were consistent with our messages and language across episodes. It was also nice working with Paul and the team at SGM via ‘track changes’!

PH It was interesting that as a scientist you try not to think about micro-organisms in an anthropomorphic way, yet in this project, that is exactly what we were trying to do in order to get the message across – I found this a particular challenge.

Which was your favourite episode?

JV I love them all!

PH Not sure I can choose ... Episode 1, probably as it gives a nice overview of the breadth of microbiology.

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Benny or Mal?

JV Benny the beneficent!

PH Benny, obviously – I work on Streptomyces!

Given the chance would you like to take part in ‘Good bugs, bad bugs – another look down the microscope’?

JV Definitely!

PH Yes! The diversity and importance of microbiology to virtually every aspect of life on the planet is a great thing to get across to kids and this was a great way to go about it!

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What advice would you give to anyone interested in getting involved with any aspect of microbiology outreach?

JV If you like talking about microbiology (or indeed any area of science!), then it is always good to think about how you are going to explain things in a way that is clear and accurate – but it has to also be interesting or people simply won’t listen. It is about engaging, not pontificating. Outreach and engagement activities demand a lot of energy and concentration for extended periods, but they are also stimulating, rewarding and exciting, and often enlightening as well. Always listen to your audiences if you want them to listen to you! So, if you like the sound of it then I would definitely encourage you to get involved! You get a lot of experience on the job and it makes you love your subject even more than before.

Good bugs, bad bugs is available to listen or download on the Fun Kids website If you are interested in microbiology outreach, or becoming an SGM Expert, get in touch with our Education and Outreach Officer.

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Since the show went on air in mid-December, Good bugs, Bad Bugs has reached 200,000 listeners, been downloaded 2,165 times, has 156 subscribers on iTunes, had 600 entrants to a competition in its name and the webpages dedicated to it have had over 1,500 page views!