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Putting Research at the Heart of Brum

Res Ht BlueThe University of Birmingham has been doing research that matters to Birmingham for over 100 years, but it’s not always easy for those outside of the institution to find out about the amazing work that’s happening. Unless you work here or know someone that does, you probably don’t know that we currently have around 2,500 researchers and thousands of other staff supporting them who are working on developing new solutions to all sorts of problems. ‘Research at the Heart of Brum’ is a new initiative to connect members of public with our research through pop-up events where people can get hands-on with the work we do and meet the brilliant people who do the research. Our firs event will be on the 6th October 2018 and will take place on the main concourse of Birmingham New Street Station* between 11am and 3pm, and we’ll be holding a research market where we’ll be showcasing everything from mental health research to particle physics. So get involved and be curious!

Here’s snapshot of what to expect on the day:

Physics – did you know that researchers in Birmingham are world-leaders in work to understand how the Universe works? We’ll have a real working particle detector, you’ll be able to see live data from a Nasa mission and you’ll even be able to create your own black hole with one of the teams that helped with Nobel Prize winning research in gravitational waves.

Youth mobility – what’s the best way to support young people to make the  best decisions in life? Help trial a new area of research and give your input with Dr Sarah Brookes-Wilson who will be bringing her prototype Youth Journey Cards.

Dentistry – we spend a lot of time cleaning our teeth, but not much time thinking about what that cleaning is taking away and what it might leave behind. Join our dentistry researchers to build your own bacterial biofilm, find out how to blast dental bugs away and learn how fillings are being made simpler.

Maths – what if everything around us was interactive through touch? Feel the force of our haptics research that is set to change how we interact with the world in the Birmingham of the future.

Mental health – we think being an adult is just about being over 18, but our brains continue to develop right up to the age of 25. Join our researchers to find out how we all interpret risk differently and how this can affect every decision we make.

Linguistics – what happens when words are not enough to describe a situation? Join researchers to experience the power of language and how finding the right words can help people to come to terms with experiences grief and loss.

Cancer Treatments – meet our Cancer Research UK researchers who’ll have all sorts of hands-on demonstrations to show how Birmingham research is helping to develop new personalised therapies and get them to those who need them most through clinical trials.

Psychology – the human brain can store some information for decades. So why does memory cause so many problems in the justice system? Eye-witness statements can be massively inaccurate even when the witness is certain about what they saw. Test your memory and find out why our brains play tricks.

Tell us what you think: #HeartofBrum @uobengage

Find out more:

*Many thanks to Network Rail for allowing us to use their space!

Guest Blog: Matt Ward – join him on his journey into the blogosphere!

PER Team recently heard about a new project being developed by Research Physicist, Matt Ward, and went to chat with him about it. Matt has been musing on the peculiar issue of early career researcher ‘invisibility’; that is the phenomenon by which the public have a tendency to only see science as either a school subject or a professor’s job, and very little in-between. It’s not a new issue and has previously been highlighted  by others, such as Sense About Science with their Voice of Young Science network. However, the public exposure to and understanding of early research remains limited. One key reason behind this probably comes from within; researchers tend only to put the most experienced member of the group forward and for a number of reasons often shy away from pushing (or allowing) younger researchers into the limelight. So Matt is launching a new blog to host interviews with younger researchers, to bring the human stories of research to the public and help bridge the gap in public understanding of research. But he needs your help. Read for more details and for your chance to land a spot as an interviewee…

“My name is Matt Ward and I am a research scientist in Radiation Oncology at the QEH. I have recently started a blog which aims to communicate cutting-edge scientific research to the public, with the noted difference that my `interviews’ are all with early-career academics (senior academics get enough attention as it is!). The blog is yet to go live, but I have already been receiving lots of input from various research teams around the UK, and it has captured the interest of science correspondents at the BBC.

“The blog is an initiative to break down the barriers between the celebrated academics (Professor Josephine Bloggs, MSci MSc PhD MD FMedSci FInstOfPostNominalLetters…) and the ambitious kid on the street. In my Athena Swan ambassador work, I discovered that it’s well-known that a lack of self-belief (particularly in young women) is a deciding factor in many students not entering University level education in the sciences, and again not continuing on into research. I believe that, by highlighting the process in-between early academia and emeritus professor – the work being done by us – we can show that it is in fact normal people doing this work, normal people who just happen to be very passionate about a particular subject.

“For those who are interested in submitting something please get in touch. The questions are straight-forward and the style is colloquial and chatty; I am more interested to find out why you are so interested and passionate about your work than to be an expert in the matter after reading it (though if you can write on two-sides of A4 and get a lay person to completely understand what your research is about, then kudos!).

“So, if you are a scientist passionate about your work and you are able to spare 10-15 minutes to write about why, then I would love to hear from you!”

Interested researchers should contact Matt at

Matt will also be part of a free event of talks and Q&A with researchers working on the future of cancer treatments that is being held in the ThinkTank museum on 29th September. The event is called Front-line: The Future of Cancer Told by the Next Generation of Scientists where Matt will discuss his work on medical physics, joined by Agata Stodolna (organoid technologies) and Oliver Pickles (immunotherapy). Register free here. 

Image Credit: Matthew Ward and Cancer Research UK.

Community Organizing – Listening Training for Researchers

As part of the NERC-funded ENCOMPASS public engagement project led by geologist Dr Carl Stevenson, project partner Citizens UK will be offering researchers interested in community engagement the opportunity to take part in a training day focused on learning about the concepts, principles and practice of community organising, with a focus on listening campaigns.

Date: Tuesday 18th Sept, 2018

Time: 09.30-16.30

Location: Education Room, Lapworth Museum on campus (tbc)

If you are interested in securing a space please contact

The Power of Local

On 3rd July the National Coordinating Centre for Public Engagement (NCCPE) held a day-long event at ImpactHub in Digbeth to explore the potential for partnerships between local community groups and Midlands-based researchers. Public Engagement Officer, Leah Fitzsimmons, and several University of Birmingham academics went along to find out more.

The event, which was open to applications from any interested academics and community groups was part of a scheme called the Community and Universities Partnership Initiative, or CUPI. The idea for CUPI came from two previous NCCPE initiatives; the Schools and Museums and Universities Partnership Initiatives (or SUPI and MUPI, respectively). The format for all three schemes has been to convene a range of researchers and potential partners in a neutral venue in order to develop skills and ways of working, before exploring the potential for new partnerships to arise between attendees. Each initiative consists of several of these matchmaking events held around the country and CUPI meet-ups were also held in Bristol, Manchester and London. The icing on the cake of this format is small grants were available to support budding collaborations formed through the event.

It’s easy to understand why it might be impactful for communities and researchers to come together to collaboratively identify areas of local need and importance and then work together to find evidence-based methods to effect a direct improvement in the lives, wellbeing and/or economics of an area or community. However, these types of projects are not always straight-forward. Whilst we know that community collaboration can enormously enhance research and make valuable differences to society alike, these different groups often have very different methods of working, different timescales and different aims. Community groups often feel that there is a massive power imbalance between them and that they get lost in the academic infrastructure. Additionally, community groups rarely have a clear idea of the importance of or role they can play in academic publishing, which can further alienate groups from one another. However, we also heard a lot of positive experiences and once the participants had been encouraged to open up about their needs and expectations, their motivations and their timescales, the conversation flowed and some really exciting quickly ideas began to take shape.

The final session of the day saw the attendees challenged to create 3 minute Dragon’s Den-style funding pitches for ‘Thinking Fund’ grants of up to £1,000 in small groups consisting of at least one academic and one community partner. It turns out that there’s nothing like to potential promise of funding to focus the mind, and from the bustle and excited exchange of ideas emerged nine brilliant proposals, of which University of Birmingham academics contributed to two. From helping social enterprises and churches with evaluation methods, to exploring the cultural and economic heritage of rail; I was impressed and pleasantly surprised by the creative and innovative projects that for formed over just a few short hours. Of the nine proposals pitched, up to seven will be funded, with outcomes to be announced by the NCCPE in mid-July. Those successful applicants will then have four months to explore their idea before having the opportunity to apply for a further £5,000 of seed-corn funding to begin to get the project off the ground and we really hope to see some of our UoB research helping to make a difference locally through this scheme.

power of local tweet

And if you couldn’t make it on the day, there’s also good news – community partnerships can come from anywhere, at any time and the Public Engagement Team can provide support and help identify potential funding schemes to resource them. From the CUPI event itself, several community organisations expressed a wish to ‘call out’ to our academics so please look out for opportunities which we will be sending out through Twitter, our Team newsletter as well as school and College communications. We would also love to develop methods for communities to let us know of their needs on an ongoing basis so please do let us know your thoughts or ideas on this.

Public Engagement students end-of-module presentations – open to observers on the 25th July!

Our PGCARMs course is coming to an end for our students and following the great response last year we’re opening up their end-of-year presentations to interested observer’s again!

Are you a researcher looking for inspiration, curious to see how others go about public engagement or simply curious to see what we’ve been up to – come along!

This is your chance to support our students, gather ideas and we’ll even include lunch – what more incentive do you need? Register to ensure your place HERE.

Any questions, get in touch with the UoB PER Team at

The Royal Society of Biology Outreach and Engagement Awards

The Royal Society of Biology Outreach and Engagement Awards will be closing for applications at the end of the month!

The Awards aim is to reward outreach work carried out by researchers who inform, enthuse and engage with different audiences. The Awards are open to scientists working in any sector of UK biosciences, from universities, institutes or industry.

There are two award categories each with a cash prize: New Researcher (£750) and Established Researcher (£1500).

Applications close on 29th June. For more information and to apply, please visit the Society’s website HERE.



This past week on May 23rd, 2018 we were joined by artist Charlotte Jarvis, who facilitated our interdisciplinary ‘WORLDS COLLIDE’ mixer event for UoB researchers and external creatives.

Charlotte has collaborated with scientists on public engagement projects and currently lectures at the Royal College of Art and Imperial College. Charlotte has seen her own heart beat outside of her body, grown her own cancer in a dish and recorded music onto DNA!

The evening was spent exploring public engagement collaborations between scientists, artists, creatives, academics and curious organisms of all varieties. Public engagement opportunities were investigated across sectors, and their value was debated, before workshop attendees had a go at developing ‘mock proposals’ for collaborative public engagement projects focused around key societal challenges/opportunities e.g. Big Data, Genetic Engineering, AI etc. Some really inspiring ideas were concocted!

This was the third event we’ve run now and previous events have already led to real-life collaborations between artists and researchers in Dentistry and Physics.

If you didn’t make it to this last event, have no fear as WORLDS COLLIDE IV is headed your way this July! This next event will have a biomedical focus, however regardless of your research area you are very, very welcome to come along. We are also going to be thinking about a future event themed around arts and humanities research in particular, though we stress again that the whole point of these events is to mix researchers from across disciplines as the connections and synergies which sometimes arise can be really uncanny and inspiring!

Watch out for the June edition of our newsletter, when we’ll have the date, location and further details ready for you!

LAPWORTH LATES (Thursday July 19th, 2018) – Live for registration now!

We are pleased to be initiating the first ever Lapworth Lates event on the evening of Thursday 19th of July, 2018. The Lapworth Museum of Geology will throw open its doors for an evening of performance, workshops, interactive demos and more, all aimed at a curious adult audience. Coinciding with a new exhibition in July on ‘Dinosaurs in Popular Culture’, this first Late event will draw inspiration from this theme as well as the wider museum collection and research at the University.

Funding from the Alumni Fund is allowing us work alongside a small interdisciplinary team of postgraduate students who are helping us programme activities and we are also extremely pleased to have been able to commission two artists for one-night-only spectaculars…

Expect a truly magical and immersive night especially of interest to those who enjoy the intersection between science and art. If you’ve never visited the Lapworth before, let this be your excuse and we are certain you’ll want to come back! The event is open to everyone and is free, so mark the date in your diary now and bring along your partners, friends or colleagues! Eventbrite link to register HERE.

Researcher registrations are now CLOSED, but if you want to help us or have any idea please get in touch with – We’d love to hear from you. 

Malvern Science in the Park on 30th June – Get Involved!

Malvern Science in the Park is an alfresco, family-friendly event held annually in Priory Park Great Malvern to allow the public to explore the wonders of science and technology. This year it is being held on 30th June from 10:30am – 4:30pm and the organisers are looking for scientists and researchers to get involved. There are lots of opportunities for engagement, from giving a talk to creating a discovery trail around the park so be as creative as you dare – though it’s worth bearing in mind that there is no access to mains electricity!
The event is free to attend and will be a really enjoyable way to bring your research to hundreds of interested people. For more information visit the website or to put yourself forward send an email to organiser Adrian Burden.
Need some inspiration? Try looking through last year’s programme or get in touch with the PER Team and we will help you to develop your idea.
Save the date: can’t make the 30th June? Why not get involved in the week-long Malvern Festival of Innovation being held from 8th – 13th October? Held in venues around Malvern and attracting everyone from businesses to school children (with a schools day on the 9th October and a family day on the 13th).

BORDER CROSSINGS: Want to turn your research into a documentary film? (Deadline May 23, 2018)

Filmmakers, are you ready for an academic project to inspire your storytelling? Would you like to collaborate with some of the world’s leading scholars? Could your film skills make some brilliant academic research accessible to wider audiences?

Academics, do you have a research story that could be turned into a documentary film project? Would you like to collaborate with a professional filmmaker with an established track record? Do you want to share your research with a wide public audience?

To celebrate our new Creative Documentary by Practice MFA (to be led by Sophie Fiennes, Kim Longinotto and Riete Oord), Open City Documentary Festival are relaunching their Border Crossings initiative with a £5,000 development fund for filmmakers collaborating with academics who have a research story in search of an author. A runner’s up prize of £2,500 will also be awarded.

Taking place as part of UCL’s Festival of Culture, this is an exciting ‘speed-dating’ initiative aiming to build partnerships, to create opportunities for research and knowledge to be translated into insightful and engaging documentary and to allow filmmakers access to table-turning research stories.

The deadline for applications is midnight on 23rd May 2018

There are places for 10 filmmakers and 10 researchers. During the course of the two hour session, researchers and filmmakers will meet to discuss their work and will form teams following this meeting. These teams will be eligible to apply for the £5,000 development fund. All applicants will pitch their projects to a panel of expert judges during Open City Documentary Festival 2018 (4th – 9th September). The award will go to the most exciting and viable project pitched.


To apply for a place at the Border Crossings event on the 7th of June, please fill in the below form

Academics – APPLY

Filmmakers – APPLY