This week there’s been a lot of activity in the group around public engagement. Firstly a deadline looms for contributions to the upcoming open day at the Centre for Medical Image Computing. Everyone at the centre is contributing to a large exhibit where interested non-specialists can find out what it is we do. I’ve been working on a poster with one of our PhD students on the simulation work I do and how we apply it to biomedical imaging. I’ve also been putting together demonstrations and software for our group’s display. That’s a bit more ongoing.

Also this week I’ve been working with a colleague at CABI on a proposal for an exhibit at a public engagement event being held by the Wellcome Trust. This one is for a stall at a scientific street fair at the Barbican next spring. We’ve come up with a few ideas to illustrated our ideas using edible brains (well, not actual brains, but edible things in the shape of brains) and presenting some of our ideas around non-invasive in vivo microscopy and disease progression. Fingers crossed on that one.

All of this is quite exciting and a nice break from the norm. Another memorable event this week was a seminar on using Bayesian inference and random graphs to estimate brain connectivity – so much of our work involves having highly technical conversations with other specialists.

“Are you sure that it’s appropriate to assume that because the adjacency matrix element is zero, the inverse covarience matrix element is also zero?”

Well, actually no now you come to mention it but… oh, one of the statisticians in the room is saying that the assumption’s safe, phew. That was a close one.

Instead, we’re trying to explain as clearly as possible why our research is interesting and worthwhile in a way that’s engaging and accessible without being patronising.

“What we’re trying to do is look at the microscopic structure of your brain without having to cut you open. This would eliminate the need to stick needles through your skull to check if there’s anything wrong.”

Come to think of it, that might be a bit too direct.

Public engagement is undoubtedly important. My research is publicly funded, and so telling the public what I’m up to is the least I can do, frankly. This is also linked to things like Open Science, whereby you should be able to download my code, repeat my experiments, and see that I’m not making up, and Open Access, whereby you should be able to read what I publish under peer-reviewed journals for free.

Science should be open and free and accessible and available. Getting knowledge out there enables people to use it in new ways. Making research interesting will (hopefully) excite the next generation of scientists and developing communication skills with interested non-specialists at the very least makes for interesting dinner conversations.

I’m all for it. Drop by if you’re in the area.

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