Oxford Science Festival July 2016
25 & 26 July 2016 – Report by Dr Liz Jenkinson, Green Biologics
“The vast difference in age groups attending the event (2-3 to 70+) meant having to adapt your patter very quickly between child and adult so that everyone understood what was going on…I think ‘design your own bug’ was really successful and I loved seeing how creative young minds are. The names they came up with were brilliant, Celly McCellface being a personal favourite. I was also incredibly impressed at some of the kids knowledge and attention to detail – some were drawing DNA as a double helix!”
Mandy Harding, Senior Molecular Biologist, Green Biologics
Green Biologics recently took part in the Oxford Science Festival opening weekend fair held in the Oxford town hall. Although the company has been involved in outreach for many years through various student work experience and placement schemes, this is the first time we have taken part in an event where the target audience was anyone and everyone who had any interest in science. Over the course of 2 days we spoke to hundreds of people ranging in age from 3 to 80+, and discussed GBL and industrial biotech with audiences, some with very little science background, all the way through to those who asked some very pertinent and important questions.
As the audience was so diverse we tried to make sure our stall had something for everyone. The two activities we ran for the children were incredibly popular. Over the course of the fair the kids designed and ‘creatively’ named >75 bacterial cells, whilst learning how sugars are used by microbes to produce waste products that we collect. The second activity introduced them to how chemical mixtures can be separated through a simple pen ink chromatography experiment; the popularity of this second activity demonstrated by the 100s of bits of wet filter paper that ended up being draped on every spare inch on the stall. Whilst the younger children were engaged with the experiments, we talked through the GBL acetone/ butanol process with the older kids and the adults. The bright green table decorations and the fermenter filled with glitter (to represent bacteria) worked far better than we had imagined to draw in the crowds (‘glitter fermenter’ was also useful for mesmerising the very young children!). We used small pots filled with sample feedstocks to show the visitors the types of wastes we can feed to our microbes, and similarly bottles containing e.g. nail polish remover and paints, gave a visual representation of how our chemicals can be used in everyday products.
Thank you CBMNet for the public engagement grant. The money contributed towards costs for: Design a bug craft materials; green ‘bugs’ which were given out to the children (and adults) who took part in activities; table decorations (glitter/bright green tablecloth) and poster printing.
Although thoroughly exhausting, taking part in the science festival was definitely worth it, not just for GBL but for our employees who were taking part in this kind of outreach for the first time. The time we put into planning the overall layout of the stall and choice of activities made it easy for us to tell the ‘story’ from feedstock to product in a way that both children and adults could follow. Visitors to the stall were engaged and very interested in what we were doing, especially as we are a local company and one of the few non-academic groups who were taking part. We will definitely be doing this again!
Most of the adults we spoke to were supportive of our company aims to use microbial fermentation for bio-chemical production. In particular the ‘green chemistry’ and renewable/sustainability aspect of our process. Some of the questions we were asked were very relevant to our ethos of responsible innovation and stakeholder engagement. For example:
- Had we looked into life cycle analysis?
- Was our corn feedstock GMO?
- What was our product market and how did we expect to compete with petrochemicals?
- Why are our products better than ‘normal’ butanol and acetone?
- What did we do with the CO2 and H2 produced by our bacteria?
- What else can the bacteria do?
- What is synthetic biology?
- If acetone and butanol are made by bacteria, does that mean the products that contain them will also be full of bacteria?
“The main thing I got out of it was the challenge of communicating in different ways i.e. being able to explain what we do to kids, I think the youngest ones I spoke to were about 3, but to then switch to talking about the same stuff with adults straight after. Though with the kids it is rewarding when they understand or have their own ideas about what we were showing them”
Victoria Outram, EngD student
“It was enjoyable coming up with ideas on how to represent our company and our work in a fun and interesting way. The festival helped me to think of how to explain some really technical scientific processes in layman’s terms and helped me with my confidence when explaining things to people of all ages and from all backgrounds”
Danni Kydd-Sinclair, Junior Molecular Biologist, Green Biologics