LMS Researchers Showcase Hands-On Science at the Great Exhibition Road Festival 2023

Researchers from the MRC Laboratory of Medical Sciences (LMS) join the public for a day of bungee gut runs, DNA extraction and more science at the Great Exhibition Road Festival 2023.

 8 August 2023   Public Science

By Charlie Delilkan

LMS scientists joined the public at the Great Exhibition Road Festival for the weekend. The Great Exhibition Road Festival is one of London’s biggest celebrations of science an art. The free weekend aspires to break down barriers by connecting experts from some of the most influential institutions in the UK including the MRC, Imperial College London, The Science Museum, Victoria & Albert Museum and The Science Museum.

This year welcomed over 55,000 people overall, with over 2000 of these visitors flocking to the LMS stations to get involved in the jam-packed weekend full of workshops, talks, innovative activities and more.

The LMS ran four different engagement activities, each inspired by the research done at the LMS including: Extracting Strawberry from DNA, Did somebody order pizza with extra dopamine?, The Epigenetic Puzzle, and The Bungee Gut Run. Each received positive feedback and was a way to communicate high level research in a fun and engaging way. Every activity was enthusiastically enjoyed by visitors with people prepared to wait up to an hour and a half to join in.

One of the most popular activities at the festival was the ‘Extracting DNA from a Strawberry’ workshop. Researchers led the workshop where guests could extract DNA using common household items including dish soap and salt. Positive feedback was received for all the activities. One visitor said, “I thoroughly enjoyed doing this – I would like to do this again!”

Dr Grazia Rutigliano and Dr Alice Petty, from the Psychiatric Imaging group, designed an interactive exhibit called ‘Did somebody order pizza with extra dopamine?’ which used a pizza delivery analogy to explain Schizophrenia and the how the current treatments work.

The Bungee Gut run was designed by the Gut Signalling and Metabolism Group, led by Professor Irene Miguel-Aliaga. The activity represented the communication between the gut and other organs in the body, including the brain and reproductive system. This research holds promising implications for addressing human diseases, such as obesity and fertility issues.

LMS Researchers Showcase Hands-On Science at the Great Exhibition Road Festival 2023

Figure 1: Young visitors racing to collect as much food as possible on the bungee gut run.

Professor Miguel-Aliaga’s group said “Engaging with the lay public is a great experience. It is rewarding to feel that you can “give something back” by conveying the relevance of what we do – in particular, the value of experimental systems like flies and mice. But it is also a great opportunity to reflect on our own goals and experimental priorities; both children and adults with no prior knowledge of our work often ask the most interesting and fundamental questions about what we do, and how and why we do it”.

Amongst the activities offered by the LMS were an epigenetics puzzle coordinated by Professor Juanma Vaquerizas, who leads the Developmental Epigenomics group at the LMS. This allowed visitors to discover how DNA is folded and analysed, using rainbow string and crocodile clips.

Srishti Ayra, one of the creators of the activity and volunteers on the day said ‘Helping to organise and run the Epigenetic Puzzle stall at the GERF 2023 was immensely fulfilling! It’s so fantastic to see how the research we do at the LMS fits with people’s interests in biology and health research, and how it helps both us and budding new scientists ask new questions to shape how we move forward with our work.’

LMS Researchers Showcase Hands-On Science at the Great Exhibition Road Festival 2023

Figure 2: A group of visitors explore how DNA is folded whilst completing the epigenetics puzzle.

Our researchers also led a series of workshops where visitors of all ages could get hands-on science experience by extracting DNA from a strawberry.

Milly Coxhead, a PhD student who assisted with the strawberry DNA extraction activity, siad ‘I had such a great time volunteering at the Great Exhibition Road festival. I thoroughly enjoyed getting to talk to young future scientists about their interests and how they can get involved in science and potentially find a career path within the subject. The event was filled with excitement and intrigue, and I came away really happy that everything ran smoothly, and we were able to inspire and communicate with so many enthusiastic people! Overall, I had a fab time volunteering with everyone at the Great Exhibition Road Festival.’

Staff and students from across the Institute volunteered their time to be part of the festival. Sofia Velazquez Pimentel, Science Communication Officer at the LMS, said “At the festival, there was this amazing buzz. It wasn’t just about science, it was about people, society, and building bridges. It was this organic, down-to-earth kind of dialogue that shows just how human curiosity can spark something bigger.”

LMS Researchers Showcase Hands-On Science at the Great Exhibition Road Festival 2023

Figure 3: A budding young scientist extracts DNA from a strawberry with one of our volunteers.

It is no doubt that the festival was a huge success, attracting the largest number of visitors to date and connecting the public with experts across the sciences. Thanks to the tireless work of the LMS researchers and volunteers, it was highlighted not only as a scientific exploration but also as a platform for fostering human curiosity, social connections, and community dialogue.