Bugs and Bones at the Edinburgh International Science Festival

Edinburgh Infectious Diseases was very pleased to take the "Bugs and Bones" treasure chest to the Edinburgh International Science Festival this April.

We were part of the University of Edinburgh's drop-in family programme which ran at the National Museum of Scotland on Chambers Street from 5 - 9 April 2014.  During these 5 days over 3500 members of the public visited the displays and were able to explore with University staff the "Bugs and Bones" treasure chest.  All of the artefacts are from the Ashworth Natural History Collection, based in the Ashworth Laboratories at Kings Buildings, and represent years of adventure and exploration by scientists associated with the University of Edinburgh

The chest contains a large variety of vertebrate specimens, the "bones", alongside some of the microscopic parasitic samples, the "bugs".  Children of all ages handled the polar bear, alligator, fox and rabbit skulls to learn about tooth and jaw development in different species and how this is related to diet and life-style. 

Visitors were also able to investigate the microscopic world of intestinal worms and flies, and learn how these tiny creatures can cause or transmit serious disease to humans and animals.  But visitors also discovered that in some cases parasites can have a beneficial effect on their hosts, and researchers from Rick Maizels' lab in the Institute of Immunology and Infection Research showed how their current work on the parasitic worm Heligmosomoides polygyrus is leading towards potential treatments for inflammatory conditions such as asthma.

Some photos of visitors to the Edinburgh Infectious Diseases display at the Science Festival

The team at the museuem was led by PhD student Elaine Mitchell who worked on the "Bugs and Bones" project as part of her "Professional Internship for PhD Students" (PIPS) project.  Over the five days the treasure chest was on display, Elaine was joined by a great team of other similarly enthusiastic postdocs and graduate students from across Edinburgh Infectious Diseases:  postdocs Henry McSorley and Fabio Simbari; PhD students Anuj Sehgal, Janice Murray, Gareth Hardisty, Christine Acup, Rebecca Callaby, Chara Charsou; and undergraduate students Amy Danaher and Declan Doyle.


Public Engagement with Edinburgh Infectious Diseases

The "Bugs and Bones" treasure chest is part of an on-going involvement Edinburgh Infectious Diseases has with Public Engagement.  We received an initial grant to develop an outreach project for primary and lower secondary school aged children using the Ashworth Natural History Collection to explore the interaction between pathogens and hosts – the “bugs and bones” of the Collection. 

Over 160 children from all over Edinburgh have now taken part in workshops and we have received extremely positive feedback from the schools involved.  The project was especially well received at the Royal Blind School where children who have very little visual understanding of animals were literally able to grasp how they might look and move.

L:  The treasure chest and bones; R: (top) talking to students during a workshop; R (bottom):  the hooks on an intestinal hookworm and a flea

Workshops for primary schools

As part of the "Bugs and Bones" project we have developed 1 h workshops aimed at P4-P7 year groups.  We run these free workshops in schools and take pupils on a metaphorical voyage of discovery to different continents where they will have the opportunity to handle a variety of different animal skull and limb bones, and investigate how animal skeletons are adapted to their function; examine different parasites under a microscope; and learn about how infections are spread from person to person.  There is no exact number for these workshops but they work best with group sizes of 15-25, 20 is optimal. 

If you would like to host a workshop in your school please get in touch wtih Hilary Snaith, coordinator of Edinburgh Infectious Diseases

The project will also be visiting the Midlothian Science Festival in October - more details are on the festival website.

For more details about the "Bugs and Bones" project


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