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BSI East Anglia Regional Group at the Norwich Science Festival

The BSI East Anglia Regional Group was established in 2009 to create a forum for scientists from Norwich and beyond with an interest in immunology to come together and enhance collaborations. More recently, it has focused on increasing awareness of immunology and the work of the Society through public engagement. Here, the Group shares their recent experience engaging with the public about vaccines at the Norwich Science Festival.

The annual Norwich Science Festival (NSF) takes place in October half-term with a week of exhibitions, shows, talks and hands-on activities for all ages and is an ideal opportunity to showcase immunology and our research to the public. This year, it was delivered in a hybrid format using a wide range of historical and modern city-wide venues including the Norwich Cathedral, theatres and the multi-space Forum. Following its online format in 2020, the eight-day celebration of science was welcomed back by partners, contributors and visitors with great enthusiasm.

After a challenging eighteen months, the sixth Norwich Science Festival was an opportunity to showcase the ground-breaking ways that scientists and innovators are tackling challenges that society faces and helping us to embrace the future. Its engaging programme included zoology and nature; climate change; life sciences; digital technology; engineering; chemistry; astronomy; space and physics; and cutting-edge research from across the Norwich Research Park and beyond. Headline events included our very own Ben Garrod dissecting an ostrich (no animals were harmed – it was donated after a natural death!).

We ran an activity stand on vaccines. The BSI supported our participation in this event with a Communicating Immunology grant to fund reusable resources for the activities. The stand included a wide range of information and hands-on activities on Covid-19, including: make your own coronavirus paper plate; origami mice and syringes of different vaccines; viewing lung tissue; and posters displaying the history of vaccines and myths surrounding Covid vaccines. Many of the activities were from the BSI’s immunology activities and resources including Antibody Challenge, Herd Immunity Bowling and some printed infographics. We were unsure how many would attend the festival. Over the eight days (23–30 October 2021), more than 180 events took place, with 47 organisations and more than 64,000 visitors. On the day we participated, there were over 7,000 visitors.

The festival was delivered in line with current guidelines to keep visitors and contributors safe. For Covid safety, we had pre-prepared activity packs with paper/pens and resources to reduce multi-use items (which were sanitised between users). However, due to such a high interest in the stand, we ran out of packs within a couple of hours and had a team making extra activity packs to keep up with demand. The origami mice and vaccines were a definite hit, along with making pipe cleaner antibodies and the Antibody Challenge game. These also engaged participants for an optimum amount of time, enabling conversation about the function of antibodies. The Herd Immunity Bowling activity worked well at the start of the day but by the afternoon, the skittles did not stick as well to the floor. However, it was a big hit with the children and gave a good discussion opportunity.

The public asked lots of questions about vaccines, the impact of vaccination and the effectiveness of face masks. Having open and honest discussion was appreciated. We learned how important it was for the public to have the opportunity to talk to scientists about this topical issue, to dispel the myths about vaccines and talk through what we know and what we don’t know. The event also had a big impact on our students helping out, who gained valuable skills in science communication. One reflected on being asked ‘what is science?’ it was a question they weren’t expecting and initially found difficult to answer! We thank the BSI for supporting this event and look forward to running further events communicating immunology in the future.

The BSI East Anglia Regional Group

Are you interested in joining the BSI East Anglia Regional Group? Visit the Group’s webpage here.