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Manchester Science Festival - #BritainBreathing: Allergy Busters

Exhibits and participants at Manchester Science Festival

What do a giant model nose, half a plastic bottle and a pair of sheep lungs have in common?  They are all props used on our stand to communicate the science of allergies to visitors at the opening weekend of Manchester Science Festival in October. The British Society for Immunology was delighted to take part in this event for the first time working with the Royal Society of Biology and The University of Manchester.

Our stand ‘#BritainBreathing: Allergy Busters’ aimed to investigate the world of allergies, what causes them and what effects they have on your body. This event was also the perfect opportunity for us to gain some user-feedback on an exciting new collaboration, #BritainBreathing.  A joint partnership between ourselves, the Royal Society of Biology and The University of Manchester, #BritainBreathing is an exciting new citizen science project that aims to engage a wide range of the UK population to act as ‘citizen sensors’ to help scientists understand more about seasonal allergies such as hay fever or asthma. To achieve this, we are currently developing an app which will allow the public to record their allergy symptoms in a simple and straightforward way and then safely share that data with the project team.  Manchester Science Festival proved the perfect testing ground to stimulate interest in the project and get feedback on prototypes of the app.  We had some really engaging conversations on the value of such a scheme and our interactive polling station to gauge views showed great support for the project.

However, we didn’t stop there and our stand represented a smorgasbord of allergy themed activities with something to suit all ages. Most popular was the demonstration of ‘how your lungs work’ carried out by our public engagement manager, Hannah Hope.  For this, we used a pair of sheep lungs to show the anatomy of lungs and how air enters and leaves them.  The looks of amazement on the kids’ faces was priceless, and they listened intently as Hannah explained to them how the lungs work and what happens to the airways during an asthma attack.  Sheena Cruickshank from The University of Manchester also gave an innovative presentation looking at how allergies work with the help of tennis balls and a Velcro bat.  The kids all enjoyed their acting debuts as mast cells (the bat) and allergens (the tennis balls) and left with a much better understanding of the intricacies of how allergies make us sneeze.

Other activities included the perennial favourite, our giant nose, which kids could explore, crawl through and discover all sorts of allergens such pollen grains and toxic mold spores. The “What’s up your nose?” tagline acts as an excellent ice breaker to get kids thinking about how their bodies work and why their nose is important.  We also had some fascinating microscope slides on display showing mast cells and inflamed lung tissue.  Kids do seem to gravitate towards microscopes and never cease to be amazed by the power of magnification.  The slides are also of interest to the accompanying adults and are a good lead into some absorbing conversations on the causes of allergies. For our younger visitors, the plasticine model making station proved very popular with some excellently designed pollen grains produced.

We also ran a new activity making balloon lung models to demonstrate how the lungs work and how air enters and leave. To make these very simple but highly effective models requires a list of equipment that any Blue Peter model maker would be proud of: half a plastic bottle, a balloon, plasticine, elastic band, cling film, straws. (If you feel inspired, you can download the instructions.)

To engage and inspire kids at this [young] age is an incredibly important part of our work and is why we need to keep going out into the community providing the public with opportunities to engage with science and immunology.

The highlight was my day was watching as a 10-year-old girl brought her friend to make a model lung as it was the “coolest” activity she’d seen all day. The girl had already visited our stand earlier in the day and had obviously paid attention. She proceeded to show her friend how to make the model lung explaining the science of how the lung works accurately and precisely along the way. To engage and inspire kids at this age is an incredibly important part of our work and is why we need to keep going out into the community providing the public with opportunities to engage with science and immunology.

For more information or views from the day, visit or check out #BritainBreathing on Twitter. 

Jennie Evans,
BSI Communications Manager

A huge thank you to all our wonderful volunteers at the event.