Public engagement & society.
Communicating our research to inspire learning.
We support the UK Research & Innovation (UKRI) belief that engaging the public with research helps empower people, broadens attitudes and ensures that the work of universities and research institutes is relevant to society and wider social concerns.
Modern genomics and data-driven science lie at the heart of many breakthroughs in life science, with far-reaching applications affecting everyone in the global community. We believe that engagement with the public is of paramount importance to have a meaningful two-way dialogue about our research and the impact it has.
Our award winning public engagement team delivers visually stunning, inventive and successful activities at strategic events such as the Norwich Science Festival and the Royal Norfolk Show. Our Pink Pigeon Trail recently won a UEA Engagement Award, while our 2019 Open Day, Inside EI, was well received by hundreds of members of the public who left with a much better appreciation of the role that genomics and data-driven science have to play to tackle global challenges such as food security and maintaining the health of vital ecosystems.
We value feedback and put this at the heart of our activities, ensuring that both the public and our scientists are gaining the utmost from each and every experience. From our now infamous Blocksford Brickopore LEGO sequencer to the live sequencing of the NedOME and more, feedback helps us better understand how to hone and improve each activity so that learning and dialogue can be optimised and have a lasting impact.
Bees are in drastic decline, which affects the food we eat. Perhaps one way to bolster their survival is to plant the right sources of pollen. But just what flowers do bees like in the first place? And how do we track them? What about in different months and in different areas? How do we make sure that bees are visiting the agricultural plants we want them to? It’s a story of both pollen and pollinators; one that might be at least partially solved using reverse metagenomics and the MinION.
For 2019, building on our successful Pink Pigeon Trail event from last year, we have combined our innovative LEGO DNA sequencer with a similar trail based activity but this time it explores the threats faced by pollinators, such as bees, and how we can track what plants they pollinate for the good of sustaining bee populations and to make agriculture more efficient. The Bee trail, headed up by our new mascot Barney Bee, takes visitors on a clue-hunting tour of discovery, where they must find the bees and the plants that they pollinate. Attached to each bee is a pollen grain sticker with a unique DNA sequence, which guests will be invited to build with the LEGO bricks and then put through our LEGO DNA sequencer to discover what plant each bee has been visiting.
At the end of a successful trail, participants receive a bag of wildflower seeds - and are encouraged to share pictures and videos (using the social media hashtag: #EIBeeTrail ) as they plant these in their gardens or other areas set aside for cultivating more wildflower meadows, to help towards reversing the decline in the bee population and improving pollination.
The first ever LEGO DNA 'channel' sequencer, the Blocksford Brickopore, which helps us to explain the complexities of DNA sequencing, metagnomics and more in a simple, easy to access way. By building their own DNA sequences from LEGO, participants can then match what they've made against the NCBI database using BLAST to discover how we are able to compare DNA sequences and identify unknown samples.
The Blocksford Brickopore LEGO Sequencer was officially launched at the Norwich Science Festival in 2018, which then led to the development and release of the Mk2 version at the same festival in October 2019. The official launch occurred in November 2019, with the full step-by-step instructions and open-source software available online to allow anyone to build their own LEGO sequencer.
We pride ourselves on our public engagement at Earlham Institute. This year, to add to our award-winning portfolio of activities, we invited schools and the general public to explore our research and cutting edge laboratories through an immersive open day, called Inside EI. Not only did we host a successful event, we obtained valuable feedback that showed the positive impact that well-thought out public engagement and science communication can deliver.