University of Dundee
Magnificent Microbes is an innovative outreach event designed to educate, inspire and entertain large numbers of school children and family groups about microbes, the roles that they play in shaping our environment, and how they influence the food, health, and green energy sectors of our economy. This is accomplished through an exhibition style event where there are a mixture of stalls with videos, photographs and information that is presented in an interactive and appropriate manner. It is organised and delivered by the scientists within the Division of Molecular Microbiology at the University of Dundee. It has run successfully three times with the first event in 2010 and the latest event completed in May 2014. The intended audience has been split between primary school children and teachers and family/ community groups and in total, approximately 1,800 people have engaged with the project. In 2012 there was free access to the event to all members of the public and in 2014 hard-to-reach community groups were specifically targeted by issuing free tickets. In 2014 the schools that were invited to participate were on the MD40 list (Scottish lndex of Multiple Deprivation). Different strategies have been used for evaluating the impact and success of our event. This has included questionnaires based on assessing changed perception and quantitative assessment of enjoyment. During Magnificent Microbes 2014 the team worked with Lauren Boath from Dundee Science Centre and used alternative strategies to capture and assess the change in language associated with the word “Microbe” displayed by the teachers and school children. There is also a “Celebration Day” where the school children visit the scientists at the university to show us their work and how they have interpreted their visit to “Magnificent Microbes”.
Each and every interactive stand at Magnificent Microbes was custom developed in collaboration between scientists and science communication experts and is suited to purpose. There are a mix of stands that cover a broad range of microbiology from microbial shape and form to its role in food production and biofuel development. Stands invite audience engagement in a variety of ways, from asking them to build models of microbes to donning lab coats and taking part in scientific processes. A variety of materials have been used from research grade equipment to everyday objects like modelling clay, Lego, foodstuffs and hair gel. In 2014 Magnificent Microbes was advertised in the local press through a “Name the Giant Microbe” competition. Around 500 entries were received and it stimulated members of the public to attend the event. Social media (Facebook, Twitter) and the local radio were also used to advertise the event. An integral part of Magnificent Microbes is the opportunity for visitors and school children to grown their own “microbial handprint”. This requires the dissemination of the results in photographic form after the event. To facilitate this, a database was commissioned that would serve as a repository and that was also designed to collect quantitative and free text comments about the event. These data have been valuable in shaping other Magnificent Microbe events.