Working with Science Insights

Science Insights is an exciting summer work experience programme designed to give school pupils a real insight into the work and life of research scientists across different areas of biological, biomedical and animal sciences. Two placement students from the MSc Science Communication and Public Engagement course, Alex and Joe, tell us about their time working with the project.

Alex

Picture of Alex
Alex

I chose Science Insights because I was interested to discover how research-based institutions engage with younger generations through science. It also gave me the chance to apply some of the knowledge I had learnt on my course. 

My work over the 8 week placement has focused on the promotion of Science Insights. I have had the opportunity to assist with the promotion of the programme on various social media platforms such as Instagram, design a small video that aims to demonstrate the positive impacts of the programme on its various alumni and complete detailed and informative interviews that have helped demonstrate the vast array of benefits that Science Insights has to offer.

Joe

Photo of Joe
Joe

The focus of my time with Science Insights has been on the development of online resources. I have been looking at finding additional uses for existing media content to be used online, developing a library of video content that can be used in promotional content or as an online resource. I have tried to repurpose elements of this content into clips for social media to improve outreach.

I have also worked on elements of a social media strategy, focussing on developing a Twitter campaign with the hopes to grow Science Insights. I researched potential ways to better reach schools in the area to ensure that all potential applicants know about the programme, as well as better diversify the applications we receive.


Reflection


Throughout this experience we have had the opportunity to develop a number of different skills that will help us with our future career plans. We have gained valuable insight into various public engagement practices by connecting with a number of Science Insights alumni and learnt a number of new communication skills that we were previously unfamiliar with.


We’d like to say a massive thank you to both Robin and Steph, for their support and experienced guidance throughout the last 8 weeks, and I look forward to hearing about Science Insights in the years to come, it really has been a pleasure to work on a project providing such excellent opportunities for young people.


Science Insights


The Science Insights team have found it extremely valuable to work with Alex and Joe, as they have given a new perspective and fresh eyes around how to promote the programme. The Team are looking forward to running Science Insights again in Summer 2022 and the work Alex and Joe have done will help us to encourage more young people to apply and more researchers to take part.

Gardening in the workplace

Kelly Douglas and Nick Mullin tell us about the garden at the Centre for Regenerative Medicine, which is tended regularly by volunteers.

Centre for Regenerative Medicine garden

Not many lab or office based workplaces offer the opportunity to spend time during the working day in a garden environment, but here at the Centre for Regenerative Medicine (CRM) we are lucky to have that chance.

At the rear of the building is the CRM garden which contains a mix of habitats and environments, which have been created to be enjoyed by all students and staff.

As well as formally planted beds, there are wildflower and grassed areas all of which back onto the waterway. Scattered throughout are picnic tables and benches which offer the chance to sit and enjoy a few minutes in the blistering Scottish sunshine while watching the world going by.

wildflowers
Wildflowers to attract wildlife.

Encouraging wildlife

For those who do take advantage of the garden, you only have to sit and watch for a few minutes to see a variety of wildlife. In particular there are a number of different bird species that can be seen or heard. These include great tits, blue tits, goldfinches, greenfinches, robins, pheasants, skylarks, crows, jackdaws, buzzards, kestrels and in the last few weeks a peregrine falcon has been spotted around the site.

As well as using the garden to feed our feathered friends, the installation last year of bird boxes meant that there were breeding birds in the garden and in June the first successful fledging of CRM baby birds occurred. Hopefully this year we can all be around to actually see the boxes get used.

As well as the birds, there are rabbits and foxes although you may have to sit a bit longer at the right time to catch sight of these. Our wildflower areas encourage insects of many varieties, especially our local bees who we rely on to pollinate our crops.

Garden wildlife
Bird boxes, bird feeders and visiting bees.

Growing crops

In addition to the chance to enjoy wildlife, the six raised beds at the end of the garden offers an opportunity that is unique at Little France, the chance to grow fruit and vegetables.

Given that the current waiting list for an allotment in Edinburgh is around the 7 year mark, the chance for people to be able to grow produce is one that is very much appreciated by the current gardeners. Over the last 12 months these beds have been used to grow potatoes, courgettes, leeks, kale, onions, carrots, spring onions, garlic, peas, beans, rocket, strawberries and raspberries as well as a selection of herbs.

produce from the CRM garden
Fresh produce from the CRM garden.

There are also fruit trees which have previously provided sufficiently good crops to allow the brewing of the first ever CRM cider. To refresh our ‘pressers’ mint from the garden was used in our ‘mocktails’, as part of our garden party in 2019 (event to be resurrected as soon as possible!).

Apple pressing and mocktails.
Pressing apples for cider and making mocktails at the CRM garden party.

Improving wellbeing

After a long, cold and difficult winter we are looking forward to getting back out in the garden and starting to plant again.

The amount of work involved in growing fruit and vegetables is not huge and the more people that are involved the greater the division of labour.

The experience of getting out in the fresh air, bending your back and tending the beds is rewarding. The rewards are more tangible when you get to eat delicious, fresh, organically produced fruit and vegetables.

Gardening is also widely recognized as an excellent form of exercise and a means of decreasing stress and increasing mental health. The ability to break up the day with a few minutes of pruning followed by stepping back to admire your work, or the chance to take out the frustrations of the day on weeds is a great way of keeping on top of the stresses and strains of our daily lives.

Get Involved

We have new exciting plans for 2021, with discussions commenced to install hedgehog hotels with support from Social and Responsibility department. Our planting plan for 2021 has commenced, with aim to grow the most quality produce possible within the year.

The chance to be involved in the garden to share its benefits is open to all university staff and students who work or study at the Bioquarter campus. If you want to get involved email crm.wellbeing@ed.ac.uk to request access to the Sharepoint site, where news, views and a jobs list is maintained.

 

The kitchen garden was set up as part of the centre’s sustainability and wellbeing initiative.

Find out more at https://www.ed.ac.uk/regenerative-medicine/about/equality-diversity-wellbeing 


Growing 3D skin in a dish

Scientists grow cells all the time. These can be used to help model disease and test new drugs in the lab.

Jennifer Shelley, a PhD student in the Davidson Lab at the Centre for Inflammation Research, is using a new innovative technique to grow skin cells into a 3D structure. She hopes to use this to develop new treatments for Atopic Dermatitis, the most common form of eczema.

Jennifer explains this technique, and its benefits over traditional skin models, by comparing skin to a brick wall.




Communities matter – how cells co-operate to decide their collective fate

Professor Sally Lowell
Professor Sally Lowell

In current circumstances, community matters more than ever. It seems that co-operation in communities of cells is also important in early development of the embryo. Group leader Professor Sally Lowell (Centre for Regenerative Medicine) recently wrote on this matter in Nature Reviews Molecular Cell Biology. Here she talks about the work of her own lab looking at how cell communities work together in early embryonic development.

Communities matter

Our lab has a longstanding interest in community effects.  This started when our PhD student Karolina Punovuori discovered that cell-cell adhesion molecules called cadherins do more than just stick cells together. It seemed that they could in fact be helping cells to coordinate differentiation decisions with their neighbours. For example, as pluripotent cells start to express one particular cadherin, called N-Cadherin,  this adhesion molecule seems to somehow be able to make cells a bit more ‘deaf’ to certain anti-neural signals. This ‘dampening’ of anti-neural signals helps to reinforce the decision to turn into a neural cell. Because cadherins bind to each other on adjacent cells, we speculate that cells might use cadherins to spread information between neighbours in something akin to a community effect.

 

 

NesSys
NesSys

As I discussed in the Nature Reviews article, the field is looking for new technologies to help us all to identify and study community effects. Our former postdoc Dr Guillaume Blin, who now runs his own lab at the CRM, has developed software called “NesSys” that makes it possible to identify and measure the properties of every cell in relation to all of it’s neighbours within a tissue or 3D culture. This opens up the possibility of asking questions about how the differentiation decisions of one cell relate to those of the other cells in its local community.

What next?

Looking to the future, the lab are working hard to use NesSys to explore community effects at gastrulation and during differentiation of pluripotent cells in a dish. For example, PhD student Darren Wisniewski is examining mechanisms that seem to coordinate mesoderm differentiation between nearby cells under certain conditions. Postdoc Matt Malaguti is working with PhD student Jen Annoh to develop new synthetic biology tools to give us an alternative non-imaging based approach to study how cells influence their neighbours during differentiation, and PhD student Matt French, in collaboration with CRM PI Linus Shumacher, is exploring how we can add some mathematical rigour to these ideas by modelling the effects of different types of neighbour-interactions.

 

So, the whole lab are working together to a common goal of understanding how local communities of cells help each other to decide their collective differentiated fate. We are delighted to have recently been awarded funding from the Wellcome Trust to keep pushing this work forward.

Professor Sally Lowell and her research group
Professor Sally Lowell and her research team

Professor Sally Lowell is a group leader at the Centre for Regenerative Medicine and Wellcome Trust Senior Research Fellow.

 

Lowell, S. You should always keep in touch with your friends: Community effects in biology. Nat Rev Mol Cell Biol 21, 568–569 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41580-020-00290-1



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The Institute for Regeneration and Repair (IRR) is a research institute based at the University of Edinburgh. Our scientists and clinicians study tissue regeneration and repair to advance human health. IRR incorporates the Centre for Regenerative Medicine (CRM) and the Centre for Inflammation Research (CIR).

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