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Experiences of previous exhibitors

The Summer Science Exhibition is the Royal Society’s flagship public engagement event which takes place in July every year at the prestigious home of the Royal Society in central London. Exhibitors from previous years share there experience of participating.

Case studies from 2019

The mathematics of cancer
Art of isolation
Take a bite out of climate change
Lighting the brain after birth
Timber towers of tomorrow

A fantastic opportunity for early‑career researchers

The mathematics of cancer – Dr Paul Sweeney, University of Cambridge

Mathematics of cancer summer science exhibition stand

The mathematics of cancer exhibit allowed Summer Science Exhibition visitors to explore the complex structure of tumours, through games and 3D imagery. This was based on research combining medical imaging and computation to generate 3D models of tumours, which are then used to research the improvement of drug delivery in cancerous tumours.

The exhibit was developed and run by a team of mathematicians, physicists, biologists and engineers, many of whom were post-doctoral researchers or PhD students for whom the event highlighted the importance of public engagement in science and sparked enthusiasm for them to do this again in the future. In addition, it gave them a valuable chance to develop numerous admin skills, which are typically not encountered in a research environment, such as project management, leadership, contingency planning and fundraising.

Taking part in The Royal Society’s Summer Science Exhibition was also instrumental in Dr Paul Sweeney’s career progression and personal development, and in particular, played a significant role in him securing a fellowship at the University of Cambridge.

The Summer Science Exhibition is a unique event

Art of Isolation – Dr Ben Robinson and Professor Rob Young, Lancaster University

The art of isolation summer science exhibition stand

Dr Ben Robinson and Professor Rob Young are part of a team from Lancaster University who have frequently exhibited at the Summer Science Exhibition. Their 2019 exhibit, the Art of Isolation, demonstrated how some of the most sensitive experiments in the world are performed and gave visitors the chance to explore aspects of quantum mechanics and nanotechnology.

Their team feel that the opportunity to engage with such a wide range of interested visitors – from young children and their families to distinguished Fellows of The Royal Society, and everyone in between, is what makes the exhibition special. They see it as a great opportunity for self-development and personal growth that results in long‑lasting benefits for the whole Exhibition team. It has significant influence on how they approach other outreach events and Dr Robinson feels what his student volunteers learn will be reflected in the way they write papers, their theses and ultimately, one day, fellowship and grant applications. He also believes that having industrial collaborators really helps researchers emphasise the impact of their cutting-edge research in people’s daily lives.

The exhibition has led to a range of press opportunities for Dr Robinson and Professor Young, including interviews on BBC Breakfast, Sky News and BBC Radio 4, giving them a rare opportunity to reach over a million people with a single article or interview.

An investment for future engagement events

Take a bite out of climate change – Professor Sarah Bridle, University of Manchester

Taking a bite out of climate change summer science exhibition stand

Professor Sarah Bridle is an astrophysicist working on cosmology and, more recently, has become interested in how we can reduce greenhouse gas emissions from our food choices. Professor Bridle first came to the Summer Science Exhibition as a Royal Society University Research Fellow, and was so in awe that she has wanted to take part ever since.

Her exhibit at the Summer Science Exhibition in 2019 covered areas such as food production, processing and consumer choices and highlighted examples of innovations which improve sustainability in these areas. Being relatively new to the topic, one beneficial outcome of the experience for Professor Bridle was to create a network across the UK and foster “team spirit which has continued to this day.”

The effort that the team put into developing their exhibit materials and resources for the Summer Science Exhibition has proved to be a great investment for other events. The team have used their materials from the Summer Science Exhibition in schools and workshops around the UK as well as in Brazil,  Myanmar, The Gambia and India.

Professor Bridle has also written a book on her work, aimed at informing the public about how food and diet choices can impact climate change and the experience of explaining these concepts to a wide‑ranging audience at the Exhibition was really helpful in her writing. She made several valuable contacts during the Exhibition and Soirée evenings who were highly enthusiastic about her research and the book, and later, kindly wrote some fantastic book endorsements for her.

A great team building opportunity

Lighting the brain after birth – Dr Ilias Tachtsidis, University College London

Lighting after birth stand at summer science exhibition

Dr Ilias Tachtsidis leads a team of engineers, scientists and clinical staff in the research and development of a novel light‑based techniques to enable cot-side diagnosis and monitoring of brain injury in newborn babies. In 2019, he set up a mock neonatal intensive care unit at the Summer Science Exhibition to demonstrate this technology and its importance in the treatment of premature babies to the public.

Dr Tachtsidis’ exhibit enabled him to involve the doctors and nurses who are part of the project in the engagement, providing a great opportunity for team building, particularly as they are usually split between different institutions. He also felt it was very important that the younger generation, namely his PhD students, were heavily involved in delivering the exhibit and he encouraged them to take the lead in engaging with the visitors during Exhibition week.

Taking part in the Summer Science Exhibition was the pinnacle of a larger public engagement project for the team but the central London location and breadth of the audience really set the Summer Science Exhibition apart from the other events they took part in. Dr Tachtsidis also felt that the press coverage he received around the Exhibition helped a lot more people understand what his research is setting out to achieve.

The Summer Science Exhibition strengthens interdisciplinary collaborations

Timber Towers of Tomorrow – Professor Michael Ramage, University of Cambridge

Timber towers of the future summer science exhibition stand

Professor Michael Ramage and his team exhibited their research on the development of sustainable wood‑based alternatives for building at the Summer Science Exhibition in 2019. Visitors explored the science behind timber buildings at the cellular level and the engineering involved in designing and building the timber skyscrapers of the future.

The Exhibition team comprised architects, engineers, biochemists, chemists, physicists, plant scientists, mathematicians and materials scientists. They found the experience highly beneficial as it enabled them to get a better grasp of how other disciplines proceed in their research and to improve mutual understanding of the perspectives of each other. This has proved a long‑term benefit since the Exhibition, enabling more effective collaboration across his research team.

Professor Ramage was encouraged by “how receptive members of the public were to very large‑scale timber buildings” and remembers being asked a host of great questions by visitors. The training provided by the Royal Society was extremely valuable for the Timber Towers of Tomorrow team, and Professor Ramage felt that the process of sharing the training outcomes with his wider team worked very well in preparing everyone for the Exhibition. He praised the support from the Royal Society team in that “anything and everything we had questions about, somebody was ready to help – even if there wasn’t an answer, there was help with how to get an answer.”

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