i-sense researchers invited the public to be scientists for a day at our "Bug Hunters" stall at this year's Spark Festival London at the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park.
Through fun, hands-on activities, we took visitors on an interactive journey for our hunt for bugs- to detect and identify infectious diseases much earlier than is currently possible.
We started off by spreading our very own infectious disease "Olympic Fever" around the festival to get people thinking about their own movements in an disease outbreak situation - how, without knowing, they could be interacting with people with infections all the time!
We then introduced visitors to various different infectious diseases through some brilliant 3D models (courtesy of i-sense Exploratory partner Dr Stephen Hilton and his colleagues from the UCL School of Pharmacy) and some cuddly bugs (in, the picture below you can see flu, rhinovirus or the common cold, E. coli, flu antigen neuraminidase, bacteriophages, Ebola and the giant molecular structure of an antibiotic).
This was a great way to engage different diseases with children at the festival who were keen to touch all the different bugs and learn more about them. Next we challenged visitors to puzzle activity "Love Bugs", a race against time to find the perfect antigen match for our giant blue antibody puzzle pieces. They were given a choice of various red antigens, all seemingly the same, but only some were the perfect fit (see image below). The game demonstrated the scientist’s search for this unique interaction, which can form the basis for a diagnostic test. It definitely brought out the children's competitive side- the fastest were awarded a cuddly bug!
Visitors also had the chance to try out our mobile tests for flu and see first hand how their mobile phones could be used to rapidly test and track infectious diseases.
Using mock samples, representing three different "diseases"- Snifflepops, Winter bug and Armageddovirus!- people used our on-site mobile devices and i-sense app to read out their “diagnosis” in minutes. They pinned their results onto a map of London (where they are from) and a world map (where they have travelled), to represent how mobile data could quickly and accurately detect disease hotspots on a global scale (shown in image below).
We had a lot of fun and it was great to see so many people interested in learning more about our research and eager to contribute. Overall, public feedback on our research was very positive, but the stall was also a great chance to hear people's concerns.
It is only with public involvement and feedback that we can ensure our research benefits the people that need it most, and achieve our goal to protect future patients and populations from the threat of infectious diseases.
The Bug Hunters Stall was funded by a UCL Public Engagement Unit grant, awarded to i-sense Communications Officer Kailey Nolan.
Spark Festival London was a fun, interactive family event on 30th-31st August at the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park. Focused on the theme of "Future", students and researchers ran activities that engaged UCL's pioneering engineering research with the local community at the new site of UCL East.
Spark Festival was run by the UCL Public and Cultural Engagement and UCL Engineering and is being funded by the Engineering and Physical Science Research Council (EPSRC).
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.