Parallel Session 3: Unconventional Outreach - STEM on the Road
Tuesday 9 April 14:45 - 16:30
Engaging audiences with complex scientific concepts can be extremely challenging, especially when describing new technologies that the public are not frequently exposed to. Pirbright's work using CRISPR/Cas9 to genetically modify mosquitoes has far reaching implications for the control of devastating diseases such as those caused by dengue, West Nile and Zika viruses, but describing this research in a way that is meaningful to non-scientific audiences can prove difficult. To explain how CRISPR/Cas9 gene editing works and its multitude of applications, we used LEGO® to create interactive DNA models that provided instructions to build mosquitoes. Visitors can genetically modify the mosquitoes to stop them spreading disease by using our instructions and a LEGO® brick 'tool' representing a CRISPR/Cas9 molecule. With this hands-on, eye-catching and adaptable interactive, audiences are able to engage with our scientists in ways they have not been able to previously. Combined with videos, leaflets, live insects and voting polls conducted using LEGO® bricks, the exhibit we affectionately named 'Bug Busters' provided a highly engaging environment that drew people of all ages – small children were often first in line, but adults were also equally keen to get building with LEGO®. Public engagement is facing ever increasing pressure to become more technologically advanced, with many companies turning to virtual reality headsets or developing computer games to attract visitors. For those with more modest budgets, we advocate that going back to basics can be just as effective and, in a sea of screens, can help you stand out from the crowd. We will review the journey of our LEGO® interactive from its conception and build, to the trial and its final Cheltenham Science Festival debut, highlighting challenges and successes along the way.