This August, i-sense researchers asked festival goers at Greenman Festival to help us contain a mysterious outbreak that is turning people into Llamas!
As thousands of people gathered at Einstein's Garden, a unique area of Greenman Festival that brings science to life through art, nature and interactive experiences, they came across a rather unique stall. The Llama Outbreak Control Clinic was set up in response to a public health emergency that had descended upon the festival- a strange virus that was turning people into Llamas!
Starting off with one lifesize Llama in the centre of the site ("Llama 0" and the first victim of the virus), the llamas started to multiply throughout the festival and we were able to demonstrate how quickly and unpredictably an infectious disease could spread, particularly in a mass gathering. The virus was further spread through the sudden appearance of "llama tails" and quickly more and more potentially infected people came to our clinic to seek diagnosis!
Once people reached the clinic, they were directed to the testing area to confirm their diagnosis. People of all ages gathered to try out our paper-based strip tests and read out their diagnosis using the i-sense app. Through a giant, wooden model, i-sense researchers explained the nanotechnology behind a simple lateral flow test; what exactly was happening with a person's sample as it flowed through the strip and how it might work for other infections like flu and HIV.
If the test was positive, vistors helped us track the outbreak by pinpointing where they may have come into contact with the virus so we could predict where it might spread. People were also keen to communicate their opinions and concerns around health data; on the whole people were very positive about sharing data in the context of preventing a pandemic, but there were also concerns around data privacy and security. i-sense researchers were able to have some very useful conversations that will help us shape our research, and how we communicate it in future.
There were also plenty of crafts and facepaints to keep people engaged!
By the end of the festival, thanks to an increasing amount of people testing and sharing their data, we were successful in quarantining the sources of infection (5 lifesize llamas!) and containing the virus at Greenman Festival. Through this interactive game experience, i-sense was able to simulate a public health emergency and how the research and clinical community might react to an emerging disease outbreak. We were also able to show the public how the technologies they use everyday could help us detect an infectious disease outbreak earlier than is currently possible, as well as the benefits of home-based and community testing, and sharing data in rapidly preventing the spread of disease.
Fun was had all round and it was great to see so many people interested in learning more about our research, and eager to contribute. Overall, public feedback was very positive, but the stall was also a great chance to hear people's concerns and start a dialogue that ultimately benefits our research.
It is only with public feedback that we can realise our research vision, to develop usable and responsible technologies for the benefit of patients and populations.
The Llama Outbreak experience was funded by a UCL Wellcome Trust Society Award.
If you would like to know more about our research or would like us to visit your school, institution or event, please get in touch with i-sense Communications Officer, Kailey Nolan.