‘Onion bhaji’ Meteorites, Trinidadian Leeches and Monster Skulls: Bringing Science to the Community

CLAN (Community Led Ambassador Network) is a project funded by the Scottish Government’s ‘Talking Science’ scheme which aims to bring science into the top 0.5% most deprived areas in Scotland through free public engagement activities led by Glasgow Science Festival and University of Glasgow researchers.

The project is now well underway. By the time of its completion, CLAN will have reached around 6500 people, from young children to the elderly.  Events have ranged from a family-friendly ‘Space Fair’ at the Platform community hub in Easterhouse to science-themed crafts for adults at a refugee drop-in centre in Govan.

Science of local interest has also featured, such as the High Possil meteorite which fell  in 1804 in an area of Glasgow now known as Lambhill. For the first time in over 200 years, the meteorite was returned to Lambhill for an event with Dr John Faithfull, who shared the little-known story of its discovery with locals at Lambhill Stables community centre. Visitors were free to handle a variety of stony and iron meteorites on loan from the Hunterian Museum, including one specimen whose crusty appearance quickly earned it the nickname: “the 4500 million year old onion bhaji”.

bhaji

A stony iron meteorite, dubbed “the onion bhaji”

Researchers from across the university have played a valuable role in making science accessible to diverse audiences.  Dr Mhairi Stewart from the Institute of Infection, Immunity and Inflammation attended the G15 Youth Group’s ‘Girls Night’ in Drumchapel, enthusing girls aged 11-13 in parasitology. Her unique props included a real human brain and a leech which was delicately prised from the leg of a member of the university’s Trinidad expedition team after some particularly boggy fieldwork in 2006.  At the same event, Dr Zara Gladman got her hands dirty with the chemistry of bath bombs (her face and body remained peppered with glitter for several days).

bath bomb

A selection of skulls on loan from the Hunterian Zoology Museum provided the perfect focus for a Halloween-themed art class at Drumchapel Community Centre last month in collaboration with DRAW, with children drawing some beautifully imaginative pictures and building their own fantasy animals (with appropriate herbivorous or carnivorous dentition) out of clay.

monster ben

Ben the Monster. Carnivorous dentition clearly visible.

Also last month, Dr Stewart White, Darryl McLennan, Robert Gillespie and Zan Boyle from the Institute of Biodiversity, Animal Health & Comparative Medicine donated items to the “scientist’s goody bag”, which inspired a science-art workshop for children who were very excited to try on lab coats, have a go at pipetting and be simultaneously fascinated and grossed out by Stewart’s botfly larva.

One of the great successes of CLAN has been to harness the expertise of researchers in support of practical community projects. Ecologist Dr Deborah McNeill, for example, has been paired with volunteers at the Lambhill Stables community garden, where she is offering advice and training in pond biodiversity surveying.

community

Lambhill Stables community garden

It is hoped that these events will mark the beginning of a number of meaningful and mutually beneficial relationships with community groups across the city and beyond.  Glasgow Science Festival is keen to hear from more researchers who would like to be involved in future community-based public engagement. If you are interested, please contact Deborah McNeill: Deborah.McNeill@glasgow.ac.uk

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