How can we look inside the human body?
I asked this question to a class of 7 year old children. The first answer I got was “with the camera of your phone of course, you can do everything with that!” They were really surprised when I told them that a magnet does the job instead.
This was part of a science outreach workshop organised at the Italian school in London (La scuola italiana a Londra) by Native Scientist, a non-profit organisation that aims to promote science and STEM careers within ethnic minority pupils. This was an event aimed specifically at Italian school students to provide them with role models that share the same culture. My fellow Italian scientists and I wanted to give an insight into research and explain the exciting career options available to them.

As my PhD project focuses on magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) techniques for cancer imaging, I started thinking about how to introduce the very basic concepts of MRI to the students. After a couple of brainstorming sessions with the outreach team of the division of Imaging Science and Biomedical Engineering, we came up with the idea of building a miniature MRI scanner prototype. We used a ring magnet to create the magnetic field, and colourful Lego bricks to build the surrounding structure.

On the day of the workshop I explained to the students how we can use the magnetic field to generate images of inside the human body by showing the effect of the field on patients made from different liquids mixed with iron-fillings. The MRI prototype was a precious assistant for the successful delivery of my talk and, of course, the main attraction for the kids. The young audience showed their enthusiasm by asking lots of questions related (and non-related) to the presentation’s topic, and also had great fun in experiencing the force of the magnetic field in attracting a paperclip! Even whilst having so much fun, by the end the workshop they had grasped the main concepts of the demonstration.

Elisa Roccia presenting to a group of children around a table at the workshop

The kids went back to their classes with a little taste of what being a researcher means and, hopefully, some inspiration for their future (without forgetting the brick of Lego as a souvenir). As for myself, I walked out of the school pleased to have ignited the students’ curiosity and to have been an advocate for science promotion and language integration.

Elisa Roccia