It’s spring 2019 and Lancaster University’s Campus in the City project is back, bringing research and researchers from campus into the city centre shopping arcade to share their discoveries with the city residents.
“Because of what you do we’d like to invite you to the launch event,” they said.
“Oh, what an honour!” we thought.
“The deputy mayor will be there!” they said.
“Sounds like canapes and complimentary drinks on tap!” we thought.
“So if you could be there to set up from 9 am and have your stall and activities ready to open to the public at 10 am, then work until 3 pm, that would be excellent,”
Hang on a second…
Yes, we were part of this year’s Campus in the City launch event, and it was a great honour! We were introduced with full fanfare by Lancaster University’s champion for engagement Prof Sue Black, alongside other colleagues from Lancaster Environment Centre and other University departments. I have to say that even at Glastonbury, I’ve never talked someone about the Wonders of Woodlands with a stilt walker stood beside me!
Another thing we’ve not experienced before is for one of our visitors – a complete stranger – to come back to us towards the end of the day with a bag of chocolate as a “thank you for all you do”. Wow. To that lovely person we extend our thanks for making us feel that our hard work is appreciated. We’re very grateful.
Indeed we had such a lovely day on the 2nd March that we’ll be back on the 23rd! We’ll have the full woodland tent with us this time: shoppers of St Nicholas Arcade, Lancaster won’t be able to miss us! If you’re around In The City, we hope to see you there!
(NB the complimentary drinks – of the hot caffeinated variety thanks to a local cafe – were much appreciated, though oddly canapes never did materialise!)
Monday saw us back in Carlisle – being interviewed by Kevin Fernihough at BBC Radio Cumbria. After a weekend at Kendal Calling, “introducing” presenter Tom Salmon had been instructed not to shower or change before calling into work.
We’re not entirely sure how much he knew in advance, but when Tom heard that we were going to show him the microbes on his festival kit, his expression was priceless
Tom bravely provided T-shirt, wristband and wellies for us to swab live on air – and we’re following the growth of his festival bacteria until Friday, when Jo will phone in live to identify Tom’s very own festival bacteria…
Here’s what the plates looked like after only 2 days…
And the lovely results after 4 days in the stinkubator:
We’ve just returned from Glastonbury 2017, where we ‘launched’ our brand new woodland-themed stall. We wanted to make it as visually exciting as possible and approached a photographer, an artist, and some ‘arty’ scientists about displaying their work at our stall.
We had an amazing response from our visitors, so here’s a brief introduction to the artists behind the images displayed at our stall – with links to much more of their work:
- Woodland Inspiration – Images courtesy of James Jackman.
Paintings inspired by Wytham Woods. Oxfordshire artist James Jackman creates his paintings by unpicking, editing and reassembling elements of landscape and place. He explores the border between realism and abstraction through layering, marking, and colour. A level of abstraction allows the viewer to create their own interpretation of the image and complete the creative process. See more of James’ art on his Facebook page.
- Life in Middle Earth – Images courtesy of Andy Murray
Taking a closer look at soil mesofauna is like discovering a whole new planet. Mesofauna simply means “animals of intermediate size” and they also often thrive at the boundary between above- and belowground worlds: in the surface soil, leaf litter, and under dead wood on the forest floor. Andy’s blog A Chaos of Delight reveals the beauty of the mesofauna in their intermediate world.
- Plugging into the wood-wide web – Images courtesy of Merlin Sheldrake and Magnus Rath
Merlin and Magnus have developed a technique to show mycorrhizal fungi growing inside plant roots. They offer a rare glimpse of the ways that plant roots ‘plug in’ to the ‘Wood Wide Web’. A laser-scanning microscope was used to capture the images and then colours were applied to different layers to highlight the differences in plant and fungal structures. The techniques used to obtain these images are new, and allow the visualisation of the plant and fungal structures with a clarity that has not been possible before, revealing the extraordinary intimacy of this ancient symbiosis.
- Microbial Art – Images by Prof. Eshel Ben-Jacob, courtesy of Microbial Art.
A series of remarkable patterns that bacteria form when grown in a petri dish. The colours and shading are artistic additions, but the image templates are actual colonies of tens of billions of individual microorganisms. The colonies form the different structures as adaptive responses to laboratory-imposed stresses that mimic hostile environments faced in nature.
When Jennie Dennett of BBC Radio Cumbria heard that we were taking Cumbrian dung beetles to Glastonbury, she immediately got in touch to find out more and invited us to give an interview at their studios in Carlisle. Our activity “How Gross is Your Festival Kit” gave her an idea – drawing presenter Mike Zeller away from the studio under the pretence of a meeting, a member of the studio team took sneaky swabs of his kit and posted them to us at the Lancaster Environment Centre. We duly plated them out and incubated them to see what’s population the BBC Radio Cumbria studio.
On Friday, we arrived at the studio with some nasty-looking growths on agar plates, which we were able to produce on cue when Mike asked us about the activity.
BBC Radio Cumbria videoed the whole thing, so you can watch it on their Facebook page here.
Mike’s bacteria are now on show in our newly opened Hall of Shame. Thanks to the BBC Radio Cumbria team for making it happen!
We think it went pretty well – despite an initial fraught 20 minutes of being lost in the Carlisle one-way system during morning rush-hour.
Doing something creative is a nice way to balance intense research work, so @panemma has really enjoyed designing a brand new stall – this first draft is very much in keeping with this year’s woodland theme.
We also had a fun coffee-break making a model to see what it would look like in the field (although note the complete absence of mud).
Not a bad start, now all we need is a door…