Janine Fenton – A Nervy Workshop

PERC asked Janine Fenton (School of Biosciences) to write a short blog piece on the recent public engagement work she has been involved with. Janine applied for funding from the Public Engagement with Research Committee to put on ‘A Nervy Christmas Workshop‘ last December.

Janine Fenton

I have a keen interest in Bio art and its use in science outreach. I worked on several science based art works both individually and in collaborations with other artists. The artworks have gone into exhibitions here. The venues have included Birmingham Open Media (BOM) Gallery, Midlands Art Centre (MAC), The Royal Birmingham Society of Artists (RBSA) Gallery, The Lighthouse gallery, Brighton and galleries abroad.

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Image courtesy of BOM

These pieces are designed to encourage a non-scientific audience to think about science in society. I have also talked to the public and artists at about science and my work in research at workshops and open labs in galleries. The most resent outreach project I organized myself with the gallery, applying for funding from the university (Public Engagement Research Committee) producing artworks that were based on some of my research into the drosophila nervous system. These pieces were shown at BOM and in the Reception of the Bizz Inn, Birmingham Research Park. I then gave a workshop and a gallery open day explaining the work with the flies, microscope and specimens, and the research results for them to look at as well as hands on activities. Finally a video record of the outreach piece was put online for all.

Watch below:

These kind of outreach days involve talking to people from a wide range of backgrounds. Children and adults people with little education to those of exceptionally high education in art, humanities or science. You have to give a simple but not over simplified over view of the topic. Awareness of peoples sensitivities is important especially as biology and fly genetics can require some discussion of reproduction and reproductive organs which is still taboo.

The project opened up discussions around the science of the flies nervous system, the flies ability to feel and the implications of this the experiments including ethical and practical issues. I had children visit and they were quite excited about mutant flies and genetic manipulation and asked lots of great questions. As well as this I learned to use twitter to extend the interactions from the gallery to a wider audience.

There were also feedback forms and a name the neurone competition to try and engage the publics and find out how they gained from the experience. The responses were positive and very encouraging.

More outreach involvement is planned.

If you would like to write a case study on your public engagement work, get in touch: engage@contacts.bham.ac.uk

Read more case studies here

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