Public Engagement at Bath

Supporting researchers to engage the public with their research

Plankton: What lives in a drop of water?

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Russell Arnott (Architecture & Civil Engineering) was awarded £461.48 to develop school-based public engagement activities and to support members of the Water, Environment & Infrastructure Resilience (WEIR) centre to develop their public engagement skills.

Russell is a postgraduate researcher in the Water, Environment and Infrastructure Resilience (WEIR) research centre. The centre studies water in all its capacities and it has grown a considerable amount in numbers since it started in 2013. They have coastal engineers studying how to protect our coasts; limnologists trying to make our reservoirs cleaner; computer modellers trying to understand how floods occur; and microbiologists studying the diseases found in water.

The project was designed to get people thinking about the importance of water and the processing that goes on in order for us to be able to turn on tap and drink the water. Clean water is something we take for granted in the UK so it’s important to be aware that almost half of the world’s population doesn’t share that luxury.

For the project, Russell gathered seven colleagues from WEIR to raise their confidence and aspirations when engaging different audiences with their research. They took part in a seminar where Russell, who used to be a teacher, coached them through the language and approaches they should use when talking to non-specialists. They all had to present their research to a class of children using only one slide and then answer questions. He trialled some activities and the presentations with them and offered constructive feedback. The aim of the event was to raise awareness about the importance of water; to increase researchers’ confidence when engaging with non-specialists; and to help children realise that science isn’t done by white men in lab coats (most of the researchers that took part were female).

The team also went to schools to teach the children about the importance of water quality by carrying out activities with them, including identifying animals from dirty pond water and learning how to filter dirty water. The children were given muddy water that they mixed in with other substances, such as glitter, to represent diseases and other contamination. At the end, the water was filtered and the solids were recovered and put in the bin. Russell found it a fun experience to be teaching again, and everyone from the department was grateful for the opportunity and found it helpful to gain experience in talking to non-academics. Russell enjoyed seeing his colleagues, who were initially nervous about going to the schools due to their lack of experience with children, relax into it and interact with them.

Initially, it was challenging for Russell to find a way to co-ordinate people because there are a lot of people in WEIR and he wanted to give them all equal opportunity to take part. Although Russell feels that the activities were only loosely related to his research-themes, they were important because they resulted in members of WEIR being more able to communicate ideas effectively to a non-academic audience. To encourage people to do public engagement, having someone within the department to mobilise, support and coordinate it is key.

Originally, the group were going to attend the NCCPE conference in Bristol, but unfortunately they were unable to attend it due to timings. However, they held a public engagement talk about their research at the Bath Taps in Science event this year, which Andrew Ross helped them to organise. Russell thinks it is very important to have a culture of public engagement. He believes that if you are an academic, you should incorporate public engagement in research, as it’s hugely useful and valuable.

Contact Russell ( for further information about his project.


How animals find medicine in nature: A citizen science display

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Dr Nick Priest (Biology & Biochemistry) was awarded £500 to design and deliver a citizen science display that enabled members of the public to collect data from experiments.

Nick’s public engagement project aims to raise appreciation for evolution by having members of the public collect data from experiments that are set up and run live. Although his experiments are focused on the topic of how animals find medicine in nature, they are designed to provoke questions about the evolution of complex behaviours and how humans should medicate in order to avoid the evolution of antimicrobial resistance. The main evidence his lab has found so far suggests that drinking alcohol confers resistance to sexually transmitted infections and it does so through a novel “non-immunological” mechanism.

Nick and his team carried out an experiment at the University of Bath’s 50th Anniversary Festival focused around the question: “How much alcohol do fruit flies drink?” For this, the public used digital callipers to quantify the consumption of alcohol from individual flies. There were 43 participants involved in the data collection and 25 of these engaged in in-depth conversations with the Priest lab. Some questions arose during the data collection that served as useful prompts to explain evidence the lab has already collected. Questions such as, “How useful is the fruit fly model?”, “How can this help humans?” and “Doesn’t drinking lead to STIs, not the other way around?” were easy lead-ins to justify discussions of the results and approaches used in the Priest lab. However other questions posed by the public have led to additional experiments. The question, “If it protects them, then do flies drink alcohol before sex?” led a team of undergraduates to test whether the call of a male stimulates female fruit flies to mate. They found that virgin females placed in a sound chamber with mating calls from conspecific males drank more alcohol that females played the wrong call or females placed in a silent chamber.

Nick's citizen science stand at the University's 50th anniversary festival

The Priest lab also trialled an experiment at the Festival of Nature in Bath. The experiment involved placing virgin female flies that had been medicated either with alcohol or not into tubes with virgin males and scoring for sexual congress (i.e. whether "pre-drinking" encourages sex). The public witnessed the setup of the experiment and added measurements to the table at the stall throughout the day, which collated the data. Most of the participants were primary school children and they showed a strong interest in the experiment. Several children returned to the stall 3-4 times throughout the day to take part in the data collection. There were 120 participants involved in the data collection and 45 of them engaged in in-depth conversations with Nick and his team about the research. In the coming months, Nick hopes to address a question from the public about ketones (a common product of human consumption of alcohol and driver of liver damage), by measuring ketone levels in the urine/waste of flies.

On 4th July, Nick ran experiments on food choice at a summer school event for budding scientists. After a full day of experiments, one of the 9 pupils stated that fly research was what she wanted to do for the rest of her life.

At the Festival of Nature event, Nick was invited to give a talk at the Royal Entomological Society Conference, 3 local primary schools and a private secondary school. One of his long-term goals is to expand the scope of his public engagement by presenting multiple tables of experiments at a national festival (i.e. outside of Bath). Ideally, this would be at the Green Man Festival in the Brecon Beacons, Wales because they have science fields that attract a family audience. He would also like to compile the data he’s collected so far and have it published as a Citizen Science paper.

Contact Nick ( for further information about his project.


The human library

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Daniel Finnegan (Computer Science), Tayfun Essenkaya (Psychology) & Meike Scheller (Psychology) were awarded £500 to pilot a Human Library initiative in Bath, a framework for conversations that challenge stereotypes and prejudices through dialogue.

This project initially aimed to raise awareness of people with sensory impairments and mental illnesses. It has now been extended to people from all types of minority groups, as well as anyone with a story to tell. The purpose is to create an opportunity for these people to come together with the general public and share their stories with each other without any judgements. It aims to challenge and decrease prejudice by speaking out and sharing each other’s experiences and viewpoints.

It is a modern day problem that people don’t talk to each other very much, leading to a hardening of beliefs about “others” – especially minority groups. Meike is trying to reduce this by encouraging people to talk to each other about what makes them who they are in the Human Library. Exchanging stories allows others to put their firmly held ideas about certain groups into perspective and to embrace diversity through understanding “others”. Understanding others facilitates acceptance and this can only be achieved through engagement with one another.

Meike found out about the Human Library project through her colleague and co-organiser, Tayfun, who was involved in a Human Library in Turkey some years ago. She felt it would be useful for her public engagement work because it gives a better understanding of what makes humans special and important details that are often not included in lab-based experiments. The Human Library is a place where people are the “books” to read. It is designed to provide a safe and positive environment for people to verbally share ideas and opinions that can challenge stereotypes and prejudice. Meike, Dan and Tayfun had the idea to pair the participants with researchers, and ideally pair up people who know each other to make them more comfortable. The aim is to have small tables of 4-5 “book pairs” to tell their stories.

The project team has had a large amount of interest in the subject, but not enough people have been willing enough to commit to participating. Meike wanted to have the event at the University of Bath festival this year, but due to not having commitment from people, it had to be postponed and reorganised at another venue. The Human Library event took place on 7th July in the Bath Central Library meeting room. Meike decided to look into places in Bath city centre due to the idea that the location of the University might enforce a perceived ‘(physical) hierarchy’ and could put people off from travelling up to it. It was hoped a more relaxed environment in an open room would encourage people to come along.

Meike identified some researchers who would like to be involved with the event, and matched them with suitable partners. Meike has learned through the planning process that targeting single people directly gives more positive responses than releasing an open request to a group of people. She believes the event was a good opportunity for making connections with new people for the future.

Contact Meike ( for further information about the project.


Threshold concepts, social justice and the use of multi-platform storytelling

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Dr Matthew Alford (Politics, Languages & International Studies) was awarded £500 to develop his experience of performance techniques as a means of public engagement.

Matt is trying to connect three practical areas in his project: storytelling, teaching, and public engagement. The project builds on Matt’s longstanding scholarly research into the relationship between Hollywood, the military and security services, and ideology. To this end, Matt spent a year giving regular readings from his book ‘The Writer with No Hands’, including at the university's 50th anniversary celebrations, and will finish recording the audio book with musical accompaniment in front of a small audience next academic year. During the final session, Matt will seek focus group feedback to inform a written piece on the role of entertainment in public and academic pedagogy, considering for instance how key concepts can be made relatable and easy to follow.

Matt has recently appeared several times on Bristol Community FM (BCFM) for Andrew Parsonage’s ‘Stood Up’ show to talk about his research and stage experiences. While at BCFM, Matt was also asked to talk about the late actor, Roger Moore, who famously played the character, James Bond. Matt helped celebrate his life by participating in a discussion about Moore’s funniest lines in films. Matt also drew an analogy that related Noam Chomsky's media theory to making a cup of coffee.

To develop skills and ideas, Matt tried stand-up comedy with the Bright Club in Bristol and has started an improvisation course this summer. Matt is interested in developing a solo set but acknowledges that integrating ideas about Hollywood and ideology may not be easy. Martin Curtis, Senior Lecturer in Performing Arts at the University of Lincoln, has recently offered to serve as dramaturge on a stage project with Matt that develops these roots more theatrically. In the meantime, Matt is appearing on a variety of public forums and hopes this will have a positive impact on his ability to help audiences enjoy critically engaging with political doctrine.

Contact Matt ( for further information about his project.


Antibiotic resistance: Public engagement and risk assessment

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Professor Ed Feil and Dr Susanne Gebhard (Biology & Biochemistry) was awarded £500 to develop and deliver public engagement activities that examined the extent to which the public are receptive to the extensive media coverage of antibiotic resistance, identifying the key messages that needed clarifying and the most effective approaches for doing so.

This project involved developing and assessing different public engagement activities to highlight the issues of antibiotic resistance. The activities were used on university UCAS open days and during the Bath Taps into Science event on 17 March 2017. For these events, a stand was designed and developed by five undergraduate students as part of their final year projects, supervised by Susanne. The stand presenters consisted of five PhD students from the Infection & Immunity research theme in the Department of Biology & Biochemistry, and the target audience were children visiting the Bath Taps into Science School Fair.

The stand included three interactive activities, including “Spin the wheel”, “Which antibiotic?” and “Build a bacterium”. “Spin the wheel” proved to be the most popular with the students, as the explanation of lab equipment was quick and hands-on and the microbe samples attracted the students. “Which antibiotic?” was successful as 90% of the students chose the correct antibiotic straight away. However, the youngest students didn’t engage with this activity because the concept was too difficult for them. “Build a bacterium” attracted students due to the puzzle they could help to assemble. Most of them understood the principle of antibiotic resistance, but the activity took up a lot of space and was difficult to explain to those who didn’t know what a bacterium is. The older students didn’t enjoy this activity because it was too simple.

In total, there were 306 interactions from children aged 7-13. The project team used survey-based approaches both prior to and during the events to gain data about the key knowledge gaps and level of interest/concern. The children’s background knowledge was minimal, but the parents and teachers commented that the stand was a unique opportunity for the children to learn about microbiology and laboratory research, as it’s not possible to teach this at schools due to limited funds and equipment. The evaluation found there was a risk of bias in the activities due to possible peer-pressure from other children or parents, and an inability to participate in their first choice activity due to stands being so busy. However, the presentation at Bath Taps was successful and provided the team with confidence to give more public engagement projects to undergraduate students. Involvement of PhD students improved networking within the research theme, which should create more interest for the PhD students to use public engagement with their research.

Contact Susanne ( for further information about her project.


GameTale 2017

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Daniela De Angeli (Computer Science) was awarded £500 to deliver GameTale, a two-day game-focused event during which participants develop a game based on objects from museums.

GameTale is a free two day game-focused event held in Bath, where participants work to develop either a video game, a board game, or a card game. There are a series of objects that participants can use as a base for their game, so that a narrative will develop around the object in the game. The objects are either virtual or physical reproductions of artefacts at museums. They can include weapons, fossils, statues, furniture, etc. There are 3D models and 3D printed copies of all the objects provided during the event. So essentially, participants pick an object, design a game, and tell a story. The event is open to everyone.

The event ran for the first time last year when it was sponsored by the Centre for Digital Entertainment. It was hosted by the University of Bath and there were 9 teams made up of 30 participants who each developed a game over the two days. The schedule for the days started at 10am and went on late into the evening, with regular breaks throughout. The first day began with breakfast, followed by a short introduction to GameTale, and then the setup of the teams. After this, they began to look at the tools offered to choose the ones they wanted to use, which included Oculus Rift, Epson Moverio, Arduinos, and many more. After a lunch break, the teams began to design the games. In the evening, each team gave a short presentation about the games they had designed. Some of the ‘GameTellers’ decided to work through the entire night, and others turned up earlier in the morning than scheduled to continue working. The game development continued throughout the second day and by the evening, the teams were polishing their games and then each gave a final presentation on what they had achieved.

There were a total of five game objects and reproductions of museum artefacts offered by the National Trust (NT) and the Bath Royal Literary and Scientific Institution (BRLSI). The NT offered an antique Urn from Dyrham Park. BRLSI offered a sculpture from Gahna, a Leopard and a drum; a Romano British bronze brooch; the tooth of a giant ichthyosaur; and the complete skull of Pelagosaurus typus. Following the weekend, there was a showcase held in the Elwin room at the BRLSI where the teams presented the games they had produced.

In 2017, GameTale will be running on 14-15 October. A room has been booked at the University of Bath, and the event is also being sponsored by the University this year. Registration through the website is now open and will close on 30 September. The registration includes answering questions on personal interest in video games, board games, card games, and museums. The museum objects for the event will be revealed at the beginning of October and the schedule over the two days will follow a similar pattern to last year. On 17 October, there will be a showcase of the games produced over the weekend held at the Bath Digital Festival. Daniela hopes for a bigger showcase this year with more feedback provided from the visitors who will play the games. There will also be an international speaker coming along to talk about the topics of history and games.

Daniela has sometimes found it difficult to secure objects and digital artefacts for the GameTale event, particularly with local museums due to their lack of available time. She has one object confirmed so far from the National Trust and she is awaiting confirmation for another two. However, Daniela has found that her experience from last year has helped her with the organisation this year and showed her ways she can improve her data collection, the advertisement for the showcase and the analysis of games that are produced. She wants to look deeper into the ways the objects are interpreted and how they are used in game production. Daniela is also looking to publish the games online, which she found too complicated to do last year as some games needed specific devices such as Leap Motion’s hand tracking and Google’s Tango to be played. She hopes to upload them in a way that doesn’t require any special tool to play them and to make the games more easily shared online.

Contact Daniela ( for further information about GameTale.


Not so wild about seagulls in cities

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Caroline Hickman (Social & Policy Sciences) was awarded £500 to measure the attitudes of the children towards seagulls and to educate them about the risks seagulls are facing.

This public engagement project has been successful in meeting its objectives, but also been a lot of fun. The project collaborated with the Young Carers' Centre in Bath, aiming to measure the attitudes of the children towards seagulls and educate them about the risks seagulls are facing. There was a strong desire to approach the project in a creative and interesting way, engaging the children in both the subject and also the research project. Their attitudes towards seagulls were measured at the beginning and again at the end of the workshop to compare any differences.

There is a tension in urban environments between people and seagulls as they move into cities, partly as a result of climate change. Due to the water in our oceans becoming warmer, fish have to swim deeper to find the right living temperature, meaning they are more difficult for seagulls to reach. This has forced seagulls to migrate more inland, which then causes tension with residents and local councils because they can be seen as loud, aggressive, and disruptive to live alongside. As we still see less obvious signs of climate change in the West, it is important in exploring social attitudes to climate change to include children in these discussions, and to help them to become aware of the signs that are visible, as this could help prepare them to deal with the future changes we all need to make to deal with the impact of climate change.

A melange of children and seagull puppets!

Most of the funding for the project was used to employ a puppet maker who came into workshops to help the children make seagull puppets. This included paying for his time and all the materials needed to make the puppets such as newspaper, sticky tape, glue, feathers, and pipe cleaners. He worked really well with the children, engaging and inspiring them to create their own individual puppets. The children then named their seagull puppets and created characters and stories for them. We are making a short film of the children talking about the seagull puppet workshops, as well as animated conversations between the puppets filmed against a green screen background. The Young Carers Project will have a copy of the film to show parents and funders.

Dr Chris Pawson, Head of Psychology at the University of the West of England, worked with Caroline to set up the project and first year undergraduate social work students attended the workshops and worked alongside the children, giving them valuable practical experience for their studies. The intention was to run three workshops, but due to its success, they have held four workshops and there is a fifth planned. There has already been a commitment for another joint project in January as it has gone so well this year.

Caroline also had seagull postcards to hand out to adults who attended the University of Bath’s 50th anniversary festival. The postcards contained three questions: “Where do you live?”, “What is your age?”, and “What is your opinion of seagulls?” She had approximately 300 completed cards returned and she is planning to compare the results to the children’s results from the workshops to extend the data on public attitudes to Gulls.

Contact Caroline ( for further information about her project.


Reducing animal use in cancer research

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Bailu Xie (Pharmacy & Pharmacology), Faye Monk (Pharmacy & Pharmacology) and Dr Paul De Bank (Pharmacy & Pharmacology) were awarded £500 to design and deliver two public engagement events to explain and promote the importance of modelling human pancreatic cancer, to two target audiences: primary school children and members of the public interested in science.

Bailu, Faye and Paul's first event was held at St. Mary’s Primary School as part of Bath Taps into Science. The aim was to engage children about the differences between cancer cells grown in 2D and 3D and how these related to finding alternative drug screening models for patients with pancreatic cancer to reduce animal use. To help the children to relate to these concepts, they used pictures and toys from the Disney Pixar movie “Inside Out”, where the characters were transformed from 3D to 2D. Fluffy pom-poms were used to help mimic cancer cells and capture the children’s interest. The team then showed the children how cells grown in 3D are different to the ones in 2D due to their multiple layers and how the barrier in the cancer tissue prevents anti-cancer drugs reaching every cancer cell. The children also learnt about how small a cell is, what a cell looks like and the plastic dish and plate where cells would grow in a laboratory. Bailu was surprised at her ability to keep the children engaged and interested in her research topic.

Some of the resources that Bailu used for her public engagement project

The second event was held at the University of Bath’s 50th Anniversary Festival on the 6th May. The aim here was to raise awareness about pancreatic cancer and talk to the general public about cancer research at the University of Bath, in collaboration with KOҪ University in Turkey. With support from her supervisor, Randy Mrsny, and with the help of a visiting pharmacist, Nour Abaza from Jordan, and a number of booklets and handouts from the charity, Pancreatic Cancer UK, Bailu was well-prepared for targeting all age groups. For the children, she adapted the same approach as the first event and also included a guessing game for them to find cells in the cancer model. For the adults, she gave them questionnaires about pancreatic cancer and then explained the answers and her PhD research project to help address the issues in pancreatic cancer. The questions covered areas such as the symptoms of pancreatic cancer, the 5-year survival rate of pancreatic cancer, the amount of UK investment in pancreatic cancer research, and the percentage of a pancreatic tumour that is made up of cancer cells.

Approximately 50-60 adults engaged in conversation with Bailu and 20 completed the questionnaires. According to the answers they gave, only 4 people were aware of all the symptoms of pancreatic cancer. The majority of participants knew the low survival rate of pancreatic cancer, but most of them were not aware that this is largely due to late diagnosis and the fact that little progress has been made in pancreatic cancer research compared to other cancer types. None of them knew that only about 10-20% of pancreatic cancer tissue is made up of cancer cells.

All the participants were fascinated by Bailu's project on modelling the microenvironment of late-stage human pancreatic cancer. Learning from other people’s personal experiences with cancer and their interest in wanting to know the scientific research behind it has encouraged Bailu to further pursue her career as a scientist in understanding pancreatic cancer and look for more opportunities to talk with the public about pancreatic cancer in the future.

Initially, the project aimed to engage A Level students, but the team struggled to gain access to a school within the timescale for their project. In future, the team's hope is to relate the students’ studies with the research going on at universities to prepare and inspire them for further education.

Contact Bailu ( for further information about her project.

Bath's first-ever public engagement conference: Seeds of Change

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In late January, we held the University's first conference dedicated to Public Engagement with Research (PER). Seeds of Change saw over 60 researchers and professional services staff gather to share their experiences of public engagement, to learn more about national perspectives (particularly those of the Research Councils), and to hear from some of the many local community partners we've worked with in recent years.


It's been almost five years since the Public Engagement Unit was launched during which time, we've funded over 50 engaged research projects. The conference provided an opportunity to critically reflect on these and other PER experiences and to create a step-change in delegates' public engagement work.




We were fortunate to hear from a range of public engagement experts. The conference kicked off with reflections from our current and previous winners of the Vice-Chancellor's Award for Public Engagement with Research. Drs Paul Shepherd (Architecture & Civil Engineering), Sarah Bailey (Pharmacy & Pharmacology) and Kit Yates (Mathematical Sciences) shared reflections on what PER had done from them. From increasing their confidence, to sourcing collaborators, from thinking about new ways of communicating, to raising their profile and from recruiting PhD students to developing grant writing skills, it was clear that PER had offered that a lot!


We then heard from the following key figures influencing public engagement at a national scale:


In particular, the speakers addressed the future opportunities and challenges facing the PER agenda including Teaching & Research Excellence Frameworks and the impact of Brexit.


The afternoon sessions in the conference gave space for delegates to raise and address their own critical issues in relation to PER and to hear the experiences of some of our regular non-academic collaborators drawn from: 44AD, Fringe Arts Bath, Bristol Natural History Consortium, At-Bristol and the Holburne Museum.


It was great to have the conference fully booked and to see so many researchers enthused by PER. Ideas generated from the event will be helpful as we plan the sustainability of our Unit beyond 2018.


New small-scale public engagement projects launched

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Following our recent annual seed fund call we've funded 11 small-scale public engagement projects in departments across the University. As part of what we call 'Tier 1' of the call, researchers could apply for up to £500 to deliver their own projects.


Tier 1 provides an important opportunity for those new to public engagement to 'give it a go'. We designed the tier as a chance for researchers to trial an activity or an idea - to develop proof of concept - and / or to reach a public / publics that they hadn't worked with in the past. As well as actually 'doing' something, we're keen for those we fund to learn from the experience and to consciously develop their engaged research practice further.


Project titles and researchers that we funded are outlined below. The projects demonstrate a diverse range of activities from running a Human Library to contributing to Bath Digital Festival, from puppetry to citizen science opportunities and much, much more. The grants may only be small but that hasn't stymied the creativity in terms of engagement! And the publics being reached are equally diverse - museum professionals, young children, volunteers in a local shop, young carers, actors to name but a few.


If you'd like to find out more about any of the below projects, just drop me an email (


  • Dr Sophie Parsons (Dept of Mechanical Engineering) - A tiny solution to a big problem? Public acceptance of using yeast and microalgae to make deforestation-free consumer products
  • Sarah Bloomfield (School of Management) - Theatrical reflection of paradoxical tensions experienced within a community enterprise
  • Daniel Finnegan (Dept of Computer Science) - Trialling the Human Library at the University of Bath
  • Dr Matthew Alford (Dept of Politics, Languages & International Studies) - It’s Fun to Empower the Public:  Threshold Concepts, Social Justice and the Use of Multi-Platform Storytelling
  • Caroline Hickman (Dept of Social & Policy Sciences) - Not so wild about seagulls in cities
  • Dr Janet Goodall (Dept of Education) - Super shoppers: Engaging parents with children’s learning
  • Dr Nick Priest (Dept of Biology & Biochemistry) - How Animals Find Medicine in Nature
  • Professor Ed Feil (Dept of Biology & Biochemistry) - Antibiotic Resistance: Public Engagement and Risk Assessment
  • Daniela De Angeli (Dept of Computer Science) - Game Tale 2017
  • Bailu Xie (Dept of Pharmacy & Pharmacology) - Reducing Animal Use in Cancer Research and Drug Delivery
  • Russell Arnott (Dept of Architecture & Civil Engineering) - Plankton: what lives in a drop of water?


Thanks to the Widening Participation Office who provided additional monies that allowed us to fund more projects than we were originally planning.


Our seed fund call will next open in September 2017.