Higgins lab impresses the crowds at the Harwell Open Day
Kate explaining the lab's posters to visitors
Fluffy microbes and a cartoon movie of red blood cells drew in the crowds to Matt Higgins' stand at the Harwell Open Day last week.
Matt and lab members Harriet Lane-Serff, Kate Wright and Frank Lennartz took part in the huge event, the first to be held across the Harwell campus.
With the Open Day welcoming schoolchildren during the week and the public on Saturday, thousands of people had a chance to learn about many areas of science including what goes on at Diamond Light Source - where Matt and his group carry out some of their research.
Matt, Kate and Frank spent a day introducing around 350 children to the two deadly parasites they work on - the malaria parasite and trypanosomes. A few days later, Kate and Harriet had over 2000 people visiting them and other groups in the 'Wellcome Zone' at Diamond House, eager to find out more about how the synchrotron can be used for this and other research. They talked and answered questions non-stop, so it was little surprise that they almost lost their voices!
The display, put together especially for the occasion, gave plenty of background information about the parasites and diseases they cause. Alongside this, there were descriptions about the group's own research - using X-ray crystallography to understand the structure and function of key proteins involved in the diseases.
Harriet and visitors at the hands-on computer puzzle
Two big attractions on their stand were the cartoon movie showing a malaria parasite invading a red blood cell and a hands-on computer task. At the computer, visitors could try their hand at building protein structures into electron density maps. The aim was to fill in gaps in the data, which had been generated by the group's own research.
'Most people saw it as a fun puzzle,' comments Harriet. 'The older children had some understanding of what they were doing whilst the younger ones enjoyed a chance to try out the computer puzzle.'
Frank was particularly impressed by the ability of the children to grasp the science: 'I could see that many of the children were thinking with us and showing they really understood the general problem.'
All the visitors clearly had an appetite to learn more about the lab's research, says Kate. 'Everyone was so interested and thought it was great to be able to talk to researchers about their work.'
This is the first time that Frank, Harriet and Kate have done an event of this sort and they agreed that they would definitely do it again.