Site icon Think: Public Engagement with Research

van Schaik Lab

The van Schaik lab’s set up at PER team’s event at CoCoMad Festival – a popular day out for families from the local community.

Professor Willem van Schaik and his lab recently worked with us brainstorm and design public engagement activities linked to their research. Find out more in the short case study below.

The research group of Professor van Schaik combines experimental tools in molecular biology and biochemistry with the opportunities offered by the development of novel, high-throughput DNA sequencing technologies and bioinformatics to elucidate the mechanisms by which harmless commensals transition into multi-drug resistant opportunistic pathogens. The reservoir of antibiotic resistance genes (‘the resistome’) in human faeces and hospital waste water is also studied.

Sounds complicated? Willem and his team are interested in microbiomes and the role of these antimicrobial resistance. He is particularly interested in those within the gut and hospital bugs , which is now a global challenge facing humanity. Public engagement on this topic is therefore timely and relevant to all.

The PER team put a call out for researchers interested in taking in our Research at Heart of Brum event at CoCoMad Festival in Cotteridge Park in Birmingham. This festival attracts over 6,000 from the local community and is especially popular with families with children. With this in mind, Willem was keen to ensure the activities developed were going to be appropriate for this audience but also re-useable for future events which might involve slightly different demographics.

Over the course of a couple of planning and development sessions we discussed ideas for what might would work, with lots of great ideas coming from the research team. These were shaped into an application for internal public engagement funding, so that the team could purchase the resources required. Once this was drafted, the team submitted it and a successful outcome ensued – the team now had the funds to push ahead with planning for the event.

Given their work has a ‘poo’ focus, the team decided to play on this because it’s a topic which people, especially children, find funny and lightening the mood would hopefully help break down some of the barriers to conversation.

The team were keen to get a key key messages across:

To do this the team developed a number of key activities:

Willem and some of his lab members who took part on the day

Visitors take part in finding & identifying different bacteria extracted from the papier-mâché gut


Young children play hook-a-poo as researchers explain why hand-washing is important

In conclusion, the team’s activities proved very successful and hundreds of people took part in one or more activities. Furthermore, the activity also served as a bit of a team building day for the lab and an opportunity to developed their public engagement skills in a busy, festival style environment, working together to make their activities successful and to facilitate lots of conversation. They were certainly lots of smiles and laughter all around from those who took part in the loo brushes as well as those just enjoying the action.

If you’d like to know more contact Willem and/or our team.

Image credit: Caroline Gillett

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