LMS researchers enthral Festival-goers with science

 8 July 2022   Public Science

Researchers from the MRC London Institute of Medical Sciences (LMS) have taken part in the Great Exhibition Road Festival 2022 to engage the public with science. 

The Great Exhibition Road Festival is an annual celebration of science and the arts in South Kensington. It’s completely free and open to all and this year around 38,000 people attended to take part in workshops, tours, talks, hands-on activities and more. 

The LMS ran three activities that enabled visitors to explore cutting-edge science such as investigating how DNA is arranged in our cells and how the gut changes throughout our lifetime and communicates with other organs. Family audiences also had the opportunity to get hands-on science experience with our researchers leading a series of workshops where participants could extract DNA from a strawberry. 

Professor Juanma Vaquerizas, who leads the Developmental Epigenomics group at the LMS said, “Being part of the Festival was a really fun experience. Not only was it a great opportunity to share our research, it enabled us to think differently about our work and really come together as a team. I was so impressed by the knowledge some of the Festival attendees had – they asked loads of insightful questions and it was amazing to see people so interested in our work.” 

His group led an activity where attendees could explore DNA and even perform a Festival-friendly version of a cutting-edge technique known as Hi-C which helps assess precisely how DNA is folded in 3D space.

Professor Irene Miguel-Aliaga, who leads the Gut Signalling and Metabolism group and was recently elected a Fellow of the Royal Society, said,

“As scientists, it’s important to engage the public with our research as it helps to build trust in science. We did this in a really interesting way for the Festival and we think people had a great time chatting with us about our findings, looking at blue fly poo and having a go on a bungee run!”

Staff and students from across the Institute volunteered their time to be part of the Festival. Jesús Urtasun, an LMS Bioinformatics Analyst, delivered workshops to hundreds of families over the weekend that saw children donning lab coats and following a method to extract DNA from a strawberry – a highlight of the Festival that was featured in TimeOut. 

Of his experience, Jesús said, “I would honestly say that the festival was really an amazing experience. I guess the first thing one notes is how easy to surprise kids are, and how willing they are to learn. From the younger ones to the more experienced, the faces of pure thrill when going hands-on to do an experiment and understanding what they were doing and why they is simply something I was not expecting. And it really was a refreshing experience. 

“It seems to me like curiosity, plain and passionate curiosity, and simple wonder, is deeply imprinted in anyone’s mind, regardless of age, experience, background knowledge and aspirations. Parents were asking sometimes even more questions than the kids!”