Since 2012, Imperial Festival has been attracting visitors of all ages and backgrounds to learn about, interact with and discuss scientific research with academics. The CDT has a been involved as exhibit designers and creators, and as volunteers on hand to chat to the public about their fields. The festival is a great opportunity for researchers to inspire new audiences, address misconceptions about medical imaging and bioengineering, to hone communication skills and to have fun.

The Great Exhibition Road Festival 2019

This year, Imperial College London will join forces with 18 other cultural institutions to host The Great Exhibition Road Festival, an even bigger event which aims to attract over 20,000 members of the public. In preparation for this exciting event, a team of CDT students and staff have been developing interactive exhibits for a stand in the Health and Wellbeing Zone. Samuel Vennin has been leading the organisation of the stall, which will be called “Peeking inside the human body” and will showcase the Centre’s work around medical imaging. Three activities will be offered to the public to help them engage with our research:

  • Virtual reality – Elsa-Marie Otto has developed a game where visitors use virtual reality (VR) headsets to explore human organs and attempt to find hidden symbols against the clock. Gamers will be asked if they would trust surgeons to plan their operations using VR.
  • 3D printed brains – Shu Wang has created an activity to showcase the potential of 3D printing technology for surgical planning. Visitors will be shown a range of 3D printed brains that have different diseases and will be asked what they would do if they had a 3D print of their own brain.
  • Theranostics – Jonathan Jackson and Aishwarya Mishra have built an exhibit which demonstrates how theranostics can be used to treat cancer. Visitors will be asked about their perceptions of radioactivity, before and after they have completed the activity.

In preparation for The Great Exhibition Road Festival, the CDT’s public engagement officer, Bella Spencer, recently ran an afternoon of training for 15 researchers. The session kicked off with an introduction to public engagement, with discussions on each researcher’s motivation for being involved. Comments from students ranged from feeling as though it was important for the public to understand their research, to its being a good opportunity to get out of the lab and regain perspective as to why they do their projects.

After this, Sam Furniss from the Science Museum ran a series of activities about how to engage audiences. Sam explained the importance of making eye contact. To practice this, the researchers got up on their feet and told the group what they had for breakfast, while trying to look at each audience member every 3 seconds – easier said than done! After that dizzying activity, they split into groups and explained the use of mystery objects to each other. Sam gave great advice: ‘Hook, link, extend’.

  • Hook – Use questions or exciting facts to entice festival visitors to your activity.
  • Link – Explain how the science behind the activity is relevant to the visitor’s life.
  • Extend – Encourage and enable the visitor the think about the science beyond the duration of the interaction.
 CDT student Irina practises engagement and interaction techniques during the workshop
CDT student Irina practises engagement and interaction techniques during the workshop

Before putting their new skills to the test, the group heard from Elsa-Marie, Shu, Jonathan and Aishwarya about their exhibits and the science behind them.

The training session was great fun and the feedback from researchers was really positive. Irina Grigorescu, a CDT student investigating novel imaging biomarkers for prognosis of developmental outcomes in babies born preterm, said that she learnt how to be engaging with a crowd. She also developed her ability to be encouraging when talking to a young audience.

The Great Exhibition Road Festival will be running from Friday 28 June to Sunday 30 June on and around Exhibition Road on from 11am to 5pm. Our stand, in the Health and Wellbeing Zone, can found on the Queen’s Lawn in Imperial’s South Kensington Campus, just off Imperial College Road.

To find out about future public engagement training and events, please contact Bella Spencer at