Read | No lab coat needed – science is for everyone

By Helen Della Nave, Head of Open Source Science 

Forget the age-old image of science being the realm of the white-coated elite; we want to shatter stereotypes and make science everyone’s game. It’s not just for the Albert Einsteins or Dorothy Hodgkins of the world – science impacts everyone, so we all need to impact the science.

We The Curious is on a mission to open up science and ensure it’s accessible, engaging and, most importantly, relevant to us all. From the youngest minds just starting to question the world around them to the frazzled parents at the supermarket, we want to prove that curiosity should know no bounds.

In 2017, we unveiled our innovative Open City Research programme to connect our diverse audiences across Bristol with current scientific research. This programme doesn’t just open the door to the research, it invites local people from all backgrounds and walks of life to step in, get involved and even steer its direction – ensuring it mirrors the interests and needs of the communities around us.

We’re currently immersed in two fascinating and universally relatable projects. First up, ‘Shopping Trolley Secrets’, a collaboration with the University of Bristol and University of Nottingham, which could significantly influence our future approach to health. Exploring the theory that shopping purchases can be early indicators of health issues, the researchers have already discovered that they can predict deaths from respiratory diseases such as Covid-19, using sales data of cough medicine. Now, they hope to find early signs of other illnesses such as ovarian cancer so that people can get help sooner. And it couldn’t be easier to take part – just a simple, online survey at this stage, and when we reopen visitors will be able to take part in shaping the research in our venue. We hope to get hundreds of people contributing to help shape the direction of this cutting edge study.

And for the junior scientists-in-the-making, a complaint about noisy seagulls at a local primary school has morphed into an epic exploratory project into the birds that we share our city with. Instead of writing them off as pests, the children have discovered some fascinating facts – such as that gulls have a great memory for faces, so if you’re mean to one, it will seek you out in the future, and that the birds don’t like to make eye contact, so stare them in the eye if they’re pestering you.

Kids and adults are learning first hand through our Open City Research that science doesn’t have to be about test tubes and textbooks, it’s about the world around us.

As the summer beckons and we are able to finally reopen our science centre again, we will be able to welcome visitors back into our Open City Lab, a space where anyone can come and get hands-on with the wonders of science. It’s not just an invitation, it’s a call to action. So, roll up your sleeves – no lab coat required – and let’s get curious together.

Header credit image: Brain tractography - credit Alfred Anwander 

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