Edinburgh Infectious Diseases takes the Ashworth Outreach Project to visit local primary schools

The Ashworth Outreach Project started earlier this year to take "treasures" from the Ashworth Natural History Collection out to meet the public.  Over this autumn we have successfully delivered our "Bugs and Bones" workshops to over 120 primary school children aged between 7 and 10 in their classrooms, and have been delighted to receive very positive feedback from all the schools we visited.

The concept behind the project was to use the Ashworth Natural History Collection to develop interactive workshops for schools based on "Bugs and Bones".  We wanted to use the wealth of parasites and pathogens (the bugs) in the collection alongside the wonderful vertebrate specimens (the bones) to help tell stories about infectious diseases;  what causes the diseases, what effects they have on the infected host, and how the host is able to fight back against the disease.

Left:  the "treasure chest"; top right:  talking to a very attentive class at Cointon Primary about "Bugs and Bones";
bottom right: mouth parts of a flatworm magnified 200 x, and a flea, carrier of plague, magnified 40X

One of the key aspects of this new project was the construction of a "treasure chest", shown in the picture above.  The chest was expertly made by Mark Reynolds and Peter Reid from the University's FUSION team and allowed us to safely transport some of the more robust mammalian skeletal samples from the Ashworth Collection.  We took bones from animals including camel, lion, polar bear, chimpanzee and horse, alongside vials containing "bugs" such as tsetse flies, flat worms, horse flies and mosquitoes.  Having the box has meant that for the the first time we could take selected specimens out of the University and into schools, and let the children have the chance to have hands-on experience with the some of the wealth of science and history that the Ashworth Collection represents. 

The project brought together staff and students from different parts of the University of Edinburgh:  Anuj Sehgal and Gareth Hardisty from the Roslin Institute, Janice Murray and Gillian Coakley from the Institute of Immunology and Infection Resarch, Elaine Mitchell, a PhD student from the University of Dundee, who worked on the project for the Professional Internship for PhD Students (PIPS) component of her BBSRC studentship, Janet Paterson from the Scottish Initiative for Biotechnology Education and Hilary Snaith from Edinburgh Infectious Diseases

The members of the team attended a 2-day training course in science communication at the Scottish Storytelling Centre, and then collaborated to put together the workshop, to discuss such subjects as antibiotic resistance, vaccination, food security and pathogen evolution, linking the animals bones to diseases that affected them.

We have received very encouraging feedback from all the schools we visited.  We asked the children to describe in three words how they felt about the workshop, and a word cloud of their responses is shown below!

The Ashworth Outreach Project was supported by a grant from the Wellcome Trust's Institutional Strategic Support Fund to the Unviversity of Edinburgh.  We also received a generous contribution from the Centre for Infection, Immunity and Evolution in the School of Biological Sciences.

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