Educating the Public on Biofilms

Helping society to gain an understanding of what biofilms are and how they relate to daily life.

Inspiring Minds

Public Engagement (dialoguing with the public about our research) and Outreach (raising science aspirations of children) about biofilms are extremely important activities to maximise the impact of NBIC, and for society to gain an understanding of what biofilms are and how they relate to daily life.

In particular, we want to reach the public with an active interest in biofilms related topics, such as home, hygiene and healthcare. We also strive to inspire the younger generation.

Our Public Engagement and Outreach Officer supports members of the NBIC network in their engagement and outreach activities and we regularly develop appropriate resources for wider use to lead and inspire projects.

Raising Awareness of Biofilms in the UK and Beyond

Our ongoing #BiofilmAware campaign is all about helping people to understand what biofilms are and why biofilm research is so important. We want to be pioneers in educating the UK on biofilms and how they can be harnessed to tackle a number of global challenges. As part of this campaign, #BiofilmWeek aims to promote the economic and physical impact that biofilms have on our world.

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#BiofilmWeek NBIC

Supporting Scientists to Engage with the Public

We have conducted a wide range of activities across the UK, which have included; biofilm dances, art exhibitions, biofilms in a train station, biofilm workshops at IKEA, and have held public engagement stands at events such as Science in the Park, Festival of Science and Curiosity, Royal Society Summer Exhibition and New Scientist Live. 

Events like these offer a valuable opportunity for NBIC researchers and PhD students to develop a public engagement activity related to their research, and gain experience from engaging with public audiences.

In October 2022, NBIC participated at New Scientist Live, one of the biggest public science events in the UK. This was a great opportunity for NBIC researchers and PhD students to develop a public engagement activity related to their research, and gain experience from engaging with public audiences.

In July 2023, HRH The Princess Royal, opened a new building at the University of Edinburgh, the Nucleus, in which an art and physics exhibition showcasing NBIC’s research on biofilms was displayed especially for the occasion. These artworks were created by students from the Edinburgh College of Art who discovered the research undertaken by NBIC’s co-director Cait MacPhee and her group, especially around new coatings to prevent biofilms formation on boat hulls and the application of biofilms on ice cream properties. The exhibition featured biofilms-inspired embroideries made by illustration student and winner of NBIC’s 2022 #BiofilmCreate art competition, Ruby Tait. The exhibition will remain on display and open to the public for the foreseeable future. 

In 2024, we road-tested a number of new activities

 

Nottingham

On 10 February the NBIC team participated at the Nottingham Festival of Science and Curiosity. The activities included making models of different bacteria from Play-Doh using the inspiration of microscope images and the Giant Microbe cuddly toys.

The other activity was a simulation of germ transfer using an iridescent powder that can only be seen under the UV light. The Good and Bad Bugs activity was initially designed as part of the Royal Society Summer Exhibition 2019 stand ‘Super Biomaterials to fight Super Bugs’ (where the Great Greetings Experiment kicked off with 700 participants. A Microbiology Society Outreach grant enabled the activity to be improved with a bespoke software to drive it, meaning the facilitating volunteers have more time to talk to the public participants. 37 people got involved this time and thoroughly enjoyed the experience as evidenced by the quotes on the feedback form,

“It gives a lot of knowledge in a fun way.”

 

“Do this in school!’

 

“It is so cool and we learned a cool fact about germs.”

 

“Brilliant – very accessible.”

 

The University of Nottingham‘s Science in the Park took place on 9 March, and almost double the number of participants (63) attended, all of which again ticked the option that they would recommend others to take part in the activity and ‘agreed’ or ‘strongly agreed’ that it increased their understanding about how germs are spread between people via hands and surfaces.

Thanks to the team that expanded beyond NBIC for making these events a success. It was great to visit Tim Self and Robert Markus from the School of Life Sciences Imaging (SLIM) at the University of Nottingham for showing their fantastic microscopic beasts on their stand at Science in the Park.

The Good and Bad Bugs activity at the Nottingham Festival of Science and Curiosity.
The team at the University of Nottingham‘s Science in the Park event.

Southampton

On 18 March, the NBIC team took part in the Southampton Science and Engineering Festival (SOTSEF) at the University of Southampton.

The event was attended by over 5000 people, all enjoying over 140 activities across Southampton’s campuses. On the NBIC stand participants built their own micro-organisms, either following instructions for the models we have designed (two inspired from bacteria, one from algae, and one from fungi) or just designing their own micro-organisms themselves, using pictures of micro-organisms we provided, and their imagination. Once built, their micro-organisms were stuck on our ‘biofilm wall’, to help us build a giant LEGO biofilm made of many species of micro-organisms living together, exactly like what we would have in real life.

The team setting up at the Southampton Science and Engineering Festival (SOTSEF) at the University of Southampton.

The models we have designed have very various level of building complexity, and therefore we had people of all ages, from 5 to 73 years old, building LEGO and discovering the wonderful world of biofilms at the same time. It was a pleasure to small younger people and adults being equally engaged with this activity, and we thoroughly enjoyed meeting our visitors.

We also offered to cultivate people’s own bacteria, by swabbing their hands and objects they have onto a agar place, which we incubated for a week just after the event. This resulted in beautiful plates filled with bacteria of all colours, which the visitors can discover on our NBIC Instagram. We recorded each plates number, so people can actually find out which germs they had on them that day and how it resulted after a week of incubation on the plate. We are sure that a few surprises were discovered.

Edinburgh

In April 2024 our team of staff, PhD and MSc students from across the UK very successfully engaged the public of the National Museum of Scotland, the most visited attraction in Scotland, with our biofilms research, over 5 days. This event was part of the Edinburgh Science Festival and attracted hundreds of people. Visitors could have a go at building their own micro-organisms out of LEGO to add to our gigantic LEGO biofilm display, but also try our public premiere of our NBIC virtual reality experience, using state-of-the art Meta Quest 3 VR headset to build beautiful virtual biofilms, inspired from our research, and using real research simulation software. The visitors and our team of volunteers both really enjoyed the event and had a lot of fun discussing biofilms research while doing fun activities.

NBIC volunteers, David Fairhurst said:

“The biofilm activity was excellent. Visitors were keen to come and build LEGO, and while doing so, were very open to talking about the science behind biofilms. Some of the older visitors were quite competitive so we could add a “fastest build” league table to record who had built which model, and how fast they were.”

The NBIC virtual reality experience in action. 

Get Involved

Our LEGO and virtual reality experiences are available for NBIC partners to use for engagement activities. If you would like to borrow these, or if you would like to get involved with future NBIC public engagement activities please contact our Public Engagement and Outreach Officer, Jean-Christophe Denis. 

NBIC jc

Jean-Christophe Denis

NBIC Public Engagement and Outreach Officer

Jean-Christophe supports the NBIC community with the development and delivery of public engagement and outreach activities to ensure that the NBIC commitment to this area is delivered.