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On Tuesday 25 July, more than 140 children together with around 60 parents and caregivers were treated to a thrilling variety of hands-on science activities in University Parks. ‘Science in the Park’ was run by DPAG’s Outreach and Public Engagement Working Group (OPEWG), in collaboration with the Department of Biochemistry, with 30 volunteers comprising research scientists, graduate students and professional services staff.

© Tomoko Watanabe

The collaborative group of volunteers delivered seven hands-on activities including blood matching, microscopy, making plasticine cells, and drawing neurons. Aimed primarily at children, DPAG and Biochemistry scientists were on hand to answer questions and share fun facts.

Neuro acitivity with Ajantha and Hugo

Alzheimer’s Society Dementia Research Leader Fellow Hugo Fernandes and Clarendon Scholar DPhil student Ajantha Abey of the Oxford Parkinson's Disease Centre based in the Kavli Institute for Nanoscience Discovery put on a range of exciting neuroscience activities. 

Hugo said: "It was a lovely day in the park that provided a fantastic opportunity to tell children of all ages (and many adults!) a little bit about the human brain and the neuroscience research in our Department. Children were very curious to find out more about the structure of our brain using the model brain and were fascinated by the different visual illusions we prepared for them. Children delighted us with their artistic skills in drawing, painting and modelling neurons - turns out that neurons can be very bright and colourful! Our mirror drawing exercise was a very simple yet powerful way to highlight how Dementia patients might struggle with even the simplest of tasks - this exercise was targeted mainly for adults who really appreciated this message."

Ajantha said: "It was really fun and we were quite busy the entire day with a lot of kids, parents, and grandparents coming through, and even some general public passers by. Kids really enjoyed the visual illusions and drawing and challenging their parents in the mirror drawing exercise. They also seemed to really get into trying to put the model brain back together and were really mind blown by the blind spot test. Overall a great day, and would definitely recommend people get involved in the future. I've never done much stuff with kids before but it was really fun."


Postdoctoral Researcher Susanna Cooper and DPhil student Liliana Som ran the blood matching activity in the morning (left), which was taken over by DPhil students Hannah Unsworth and Aaron Johnston in the afternoon (right).

The blood matching activity delivered by researchers based at the Institute of Developmental and Regenerative Medicine (IDRM) was a big hit with adults and children alike. One young boy commented that learning about different coloured blood was really cool and a caregiver commented that “It’s a great thing that you’ve done here, it was so exciting for the children and I found it really interesting too. The colour of blood was so surprising!” 

DPhil student Hannah Unsworth, who ran the event in the afternoon with fellow student Aaron Johnston, said: "I had a great time delving into the chemical origins of the colour of blood. The children and parents were as shocked as I was about the vast variation across species. They had so many intriguing questions, it was great to see them interested in science at a young age."

What does is take to be a good scientist?

Research Assistant Anna Lavayssière and postdoctoral researcher Chloe Stewart ran the 'being a scientist' activity in the morning (left). DPhil student Jess Livesey and Research Assistant Akansha Mehta took over in the afternoon, pictured right with postdoctoral researcher Susanne Szydlowski and her son Alvin.

The event also gave children the opportunity to find out what it takes to be a good scientist, and even dress up as a scientist to get a real feel for it. DPhil student Jess Livesey, who ran this event in the afternoon with Akansha Mehta, said: "Science in the Park was hugely successful with members of the public, and it was very enjoyable and rewarding to volunteer. It was particularly great to hear from many parents and carers who let us know how much they appreciated the representation of women in science at this event. I would strongly encourage students to get involved with the Outreach & Public Engagement Working Group, it’s great practice in communicating your research to the public and maybe even inspiring the next generation of scientists."

Indeed, one of the caregivers told one of the organisers, Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) officer Louise Cotterell: “This is lovely and we’re so pleased to see so many women scientists here; our daughters need to see this to inspire them.”

The event was also a fantastic first collaborative public engagement partnership between DPAG and the Department of Biochemistry. Valentine Lagage, a member of the Department of Biochemistry Postdoc Association, said: “All Biochemistry volunteers had a lot of fun today and it has been a very lovely day!  We could see kids being involved and very excited about the different activities! Hopefully we can do more outreach events with DPAG and other departments around!”

Special thanks goes to all our volunteers who made this event possible: Ajantha Abey, Ephraim Berthold, Ben Chapman, Susanna Cooper, Claudio Cortes Rodriguez, Alexa Cosma, Louise Cotterell, Kiara Delos, Hugo Fernandes, Amber Foley, Sarah Franks, Emma Hodgkins, Aaron Johnston, Valentine Lagage, Anna Lavayssière, Jess Livesey, Akansha Mehta, Amy Moores, Bethan O'Connor, Gizem Önal, Flair Paradine Cullup, Christophe Ravaud, Andia Redpath, Fiona Sargison, Sarah Sigal, Liliana Som, Chloe Stewart, Susanne Szydlowski (and her son Alvin!), Hannah Unsworth, and Tomoko Watanabe, who we also thank for the photographs. We also extend our thanks to DPAG and IDRM Facilities teams for supplying first aid kits.