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June 2021

pint of science logo - cartoon brain in a pint glassJune 2021 - Cheers to virtual public engagement!

Here’s our take on doing Pint of Science 2021 a bit differently this year, from the Institute’s Emily Little who curated and produced the festival and PhD student and Institute Fellow Evé Wheeler-Jones who hosted the final event which also formed part of our Resonate Festival.

This year’s Pint of Science (PoS) was a very different experience back in May. With pubs and venues still closed and unable to host events, the online challenge had been set. The transition wasn’t too difficult from Warwick’s point of view as we have been building up our experience of producing engaging online content over the last year. I can only imagine the logistics the UK team have had learning from dipping their toes into a limited number of events online in September 2020 to fully diving in and embracing a FOUR night online festival of nearly 70 events hosted by 32 universities all over the country on 17-20 May. They even ran a month long interactive ‘art meets science’ online gallery, which I was pleased included Life Sciences’ Dr Ellie Jameson’s beautiful Phage artwork that looked great in the virtual setting (below).

Screenshot of the Creative Reactions online gallery

Preparing for an online festival

So the challenge for the Institute team, which began in January this year, was to represent Warwick in the virtual ‘pub’ using our Streamyard live streaming service and Youtube. Just how do you communicate science in an interesting way through your webcam(s) and reach those that may not already engage with such opportunities in person let alone on a computer? We started with proposing less events as requested, so we aimed for at least 3, and invited our enthusiastic and experienced Fellows to pitch ideas if they were interested.

Personally, I had to build up my training on Streamyard and how to present well online, so I took advantage of the PoS sessions they put on in April as well as attending the excellent Jamie Gallagher Presenting Online session WIE provide as part of our own training offering. I can’t praise Jamie enough for his work in this area. I then had to train up and advise our event teams so that the three events we eventually created, ran as smoothly and effectively as possible. The enthusiasm and dedication from everyone who made the events as good as they were and the humour that was needed to push through the stress and nerves of preparing for live streaming was a credit to all.

Our events

Our three very different events were once again of wide appeal and demonstrated one of the University’s strengths - interdisciplinarity!

Alex Baker a PhD student and keen engager from Chemistry wanted to look at medicinal botanical drugs. It fitted into the Creative Reactions theme and so we persuaded colleagues Bruno Fruenguelli from Life Sciences and Gavin Schwartz-Leeper from Liberal Arts, to give their perspectives on the physical and societal sides of the plants based drugs we chose to focus on: Chocolate, Coffee, Cannabis, Heroin and Psilocybin. We also brought in WMS alumnus and current NHS Junior Doctor Nyree Jackson to provide a frontline and revealing insight direct from the hospital wards. We worked with Honorary Fellow Kevin Moffatt providing his extensive expertise in delivering science to the public, as our ‘audience’ which enabled us to craft a well-balanced and interesting event. Realising this could be a heavy subject for an hour, we decided to intersperse the discussion with three cocktails and asked WMG’s Phil Jemmett to be our virtual barman, mixing up and explaining the science behind popular drinks that related to the discussion topics. Watch the programme back below:

Phil in his day job is an experienced ‘sci-commer’ who delivers fantastic outreach and schools content for WMG. He had devised his own intergalactic event which he hosted for the Atoms to Galaxies theme. He invited Claire Dancer from WMG and Tishtrya Mehta (another PhD student) and Mark Hollands from Physics on board his virtual spaceship and together produced a fun and interesting look at solar energy, battery power in Space and mining for the elements needed to build and survive a trip through the galaxy. Take off with them below.

I’ll leave the third evening to Fellow Evé Wheeler-Jones, who took up the chance to give this online engagement format a go by hosting our Tech Me Out event.

Although I have been involved with PoS previously, this was my first time hosting, so this presented a brand new challenge for me. The Sustainable Racing event (catch up below) comprised of a panel discussion, presentation, introduction to a community project and a sneak peek at future projects taking place at Warwick! We reminisced on the brilliant "World First" chocolate powered sustainable racing car with its creators: Prof Kerry Kirwan and Dr James Meredith from WMG, and Dr Stephen Lambert, a Warwick Alumnus who now works for McLaren Applied. However, I think the thing that caught my attention most were the racing cars that the student society Warwick Racing were building and racing! We were extremely lucky to hear from WMG Alumnus Iqra Hamid, who worked on student racing projects when she was here. Overall this event was really insightful into the future of racing as well as the opportunities that research is opening up to make the most of our waste products.

Evé Wheeler Jones - PhD Student in WMG

Would we do it again? We hope so!

This spotlight is just a small glimpse at the hard work that goes into delivering the festival. The events did reach a wide audience and we’ve had some great feedback which makes the huge amount of time and effort all worthwhile. It seems that the desire to hear from university experts, scientists whatever their field of expertise has remained strong even when moved to an online format. Being part of Pint of Science 2021 has been an enriching experience and I am grateful to all this year’s participants and supporters who made it so fun, interesting and unique. The Institute’s ready for whatever next year brings, hoping we will be back appearing in a Coventry pub or venue for the full engaging experience, all over again!

Our PoS pages with more information can also be found here.

Emily Little, Public Engagement Manager, Warwick Institute of Engagement