At Life, we invite scientists and STEM professionals into the centre to participate in ‘spotlight on’ days, where visitors get the opportunity to chat to scientists and take part in hands on activities and demonstrations.
It’s an opportunity to really throw focus on a topic and bring it to life, and in our latest spotlight on day, a group of students from the Molecular Sciences for Medicine Centre for Doctoral Training (MoSMed CDT) funded by EPSRC, came into Life to lift the lid on the molecular science behind medicine.
Here Nikol Zografou Barredo, a third year MoSMed PhD researcher, shares her thoughts on the day and reflects on the value it adds to her research.
The MoSMed CDT is a comprehensive research programme that was established in 2019. Founded by Professor Mike Waring (Newcastle University) and Professor Ehmke Pohl (Durham University), the aim of the CDT is to bring together researchers from both institutes in various interdisciplinary research projects.
In the last five years, MoSMed has helped to fund 69 PhD studentships, supporting individuals who want to pursue a career in various research areas based in chemistry and/or biology. There is a strategic focus based on a number of research themes including:
- The identification and validation of new therapeutic targets to develop drugs, diagnostic agents, and biomarkers
- The development and design of new assays to test drugs
- The discovery of new approaches to predict, identify, and characterise target protein-drug interactions.
In the MoSMed community, alongside the research, PhD students have also been undertaking innovative training, to equip them with the skills they need for a career in science and beyond the lab.
One of the goals of MoSMed is to engage with the public and share knowledge of our science and what it is like to work as a scientist. Science communication has become increasingly important in recent years, with growing access to information online, which can often lead to misinformation. By strengthening relationships with the public and opening a two-way dialogue, we can gain trust with communities as well as encourage the younger generations to potentially consider pursuing a career in science.
We recently had the chance to do that, when a group of students from MoSMed organised their first outreach event at Life, named “Marvellous Molecules and Medicine”. As one of the biggest visitor attractions in Newcastle, with a rich history of scientific engagement across all ages, Life provided a great setting for the CDT’s first outreach event. In addition to science communication, Life also produces its own research, some of which is conducted by our own MoSMed researchers, including research into finding a treatment for Osteoarthritis.
The idea and design of the event was organised by third year MoSMed students Nikol Zografou Barredo, William Thompson, and Victoria Burge, with support from the CDT and the Contemporary Science Manager at Life, Ben Rutherford-Orrock. The purpose of the event was to showcase a series of experiments based on biology, chemistry, and medicinal chemistry, and how each of the research areas are linked with each other.
Five stations were set-up for the day which included a welcome and introduction station; understanding diseases (biology); what do drugs look like and how do they work in our body (medicinal chemistry); trying out chemistry experiments/techniques (chemistry); and a reflection and creativity station.
A total of 20 PhD researchers from Newcastle and Durham Universities volunteered to take part and delivered an exciting event.
Our primary aims were:
- Raise awareness and inform audiences about how the causes of a disease are identified, to help provide an understanding of their mechanism, look at which strategies and techniques are formulated to find a new treatment and how medicines are synthesised and produced before being tested.
- Show how researchers from different interdisciplinary areas can collaborate with each other and demonstrate that it takes more than one research team to test, design, synthesise, and produce medicines.
- Design and organise a series of interactive and fun activities and experiments for all ages and abilities, that would illustrate the journey of drug design. When designing the stations, we took into consideration the age of the audience and how we would need to adapt and explain science based on their knowledge and background.
- Inspire younger generations by sharing how we see the world of science and encouraging participation in activities, giving visitors the chance to experience a day working as a scientist. The event also provided an opportunity to inspire younger generations about the rewards of being a scientist and how impactful this job can be in finding treatments for complex diseases, such as cancer and metabolic disorders.
It was wonderful to be able to encourage younger generations to feel as though they can achieve anything; to let their imagination run free, embrace it, and believe that anything is possible!
The reactions from the visitors on the day were overwhelmingly positive with much excitement and lots of “wows” and smiles. It was nice to see the enthusiasm and the eagerness, especially from young visitors.
At one of our stations, we asked the visitor scientists to draw their own protein crystal structure which we then sent to them to keep in a digital picture frame.
One of the quotes we received was: “Thank you very much for sending this through, and thanks to you and your colleagues for your time and effort also, my child really enjoyed all of your activities”.
In the final station, the young visitors were asked to draw their favourite moment of the day and we received lots of creative drawings, with “Glo-germ” and pH indicator experiments being the stand-out activities of the day!
One of the main achievements of the day was the expression of gratitude and appreciation that we received from both parents and their children leaving each station, with big smiles and obvious happiness that they had learnt something new on the day.
It is inspiring to think that this event will be a cherished memory to some of the visitors and may potentially lead them to follow a scientific career. It was a great opportunity for the MoSMed PhD researchers to take part in, enabling them to share their world of science in the hope of informing, motivating and inspiring the next generation of scientists. Overall, it was an unforgettable, rewarding, and heart-warming experience.