The importance of communication
As a scientist, dissemination of research is an important part of the job. This is usually targeted to peers by publishing articles in scientific journals or presenting findings at conferences. However, communicating research to a wider general audience is also critical for non-scientists to gain awareness and understanding of science. The importance of this communication first became apparent to me before I began my PhD, when I was working as a pharmacist in primary care. Taking time to educate patients about their medication empowered them to understand their treatment better and therefore improved health outcomes. Similarly, it is important to engage with the public to arm them with knowledge of science that may have impact far beyond the lab.
Art and Science
My research is within the field of regenerative medicine and I have found that in a growing arena of interdisciplinary and international science, it is critical to be able to communicate ideas and data through language that is common to all participants. Jargon can confuse the most seasoned scientist and is not an effective strategy for team work. The same is true for communicating to non-scientists from all walks of life and scientific art is one of many ways that can provide a snapshot into science to compel people to delve into the significance of the research behind the image.
The ETERM-EPSRC fellowship allowed me to carry out part of my post-doctoral research at the Koch Institute (KI), at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The KI opens their doors every week to the public, to invite them to view its gallery featuring art generated from research being conducted within the institution. This gallery also features an exchange with Wellcome images in the UK enabling international exchange of science through art.
The KI image awards
The unveiling of the KI image awards brought an audience of over 150 people from the general public to gain an insight into the science behind the images by networking with the scientists who created them. To reach a wider audience outside of Cambridge USA, video blogs were also posted on the Koch Institute's YouTube site. More recently, my image was featured on the Cell journal website showcasing the "Best of 2016" highlighting how far reaching these events can become.
My image, 'suit your cell', is a compilation of photos taken using a fluorescent microscope collected during a project to discover materials capable of supporting the growth of human cells outside of the body that may be useful for clinical therapies or drug screening. The in-depth research article was also made open access thanks to EPSRC funding for those in the audience who wanted a more detailed account of the research.
By taking part in these events, I've learned how to talk about my research in a way that is much more accessible and therefore engaging to the general public. I've realized how important it is for scientists to step out of the lab and art is one of many ways of achieving this. The KI event takes place annually and I'm excited to see the next wave of images and public engagement in 2017!