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Four groups of University researchers have been awarded funding to take forward new, high-quality engagement public engagement projects in 2019. They are being funded through the Public Engagement Lab, an exciting and creative approach which sees researchers collaborating with the University museums and libraries. The aim is to connect researchers with cultural practitioners to explore and develop new ways of engaging the public with contemporary science research.

Many congratulations to the four successful projects, which were as follows:

‘Good Vibrations’ (£13,000 award): Shamit Shrivastava (Engineering Science), Kelly Richards and Carly Smith-Huggins (Museum of Natural History)

Aim: To use the topic of ‘bubbles in action’ (how they can act as a model for cellular mechanics, and be used by biomedical engineering applications) to highlight how science can work beyond disciplinary boundaries, so people see science differently. The project will create a pop-up experience in communities in Oxford, and target young people (10-13) and their families. A free kit of ‘do-at-home’ experiments and investigations will be given out, providing a way to connect with researchers, and to visit the Museum of Natural History to share what they’ve learned and discovered. There may be the potential for these ideas to illuminate the research and form a publication.

‘In Control, By Design’ (£12,000 award): Julien Carponcy (MRC Brain Network Dynamics Unit), Joy Todd (GLAM Division) and Jozie Kettle (Pitt Rivers Museum)

Aim: A project for people with motor-related neurological conditions (such as Parkinson’s, and their families and carers) to work with researchers, engineers, and artists/fashion designers to create their own aesthetically pleasing mobility solutions, and to empower them to manage their day to day lives. The project will use collections at the Pitt Rivers Museum in a series of workshops to provoke, reflect and reinterpret their ideas for solutions, and the collections themselves, culminating in a short film and possibly a fashion show.

‘Who Writes the Future?’ (£9,500 award): Jacob Ward (Mathematical Institute), the Bodleian Library and Kelly Smith (Pitt Rivers Museum)

Aim: A project to diversify the voices writing the future by inviting young people to collaborate with science and humanities researchers and a ‘writer in residence’. The project will enable them to explore science fiction and futurology via library and museum collections and support them to write their own short stories, to collect into an anthology of short stories.

‘Let’s Talk Climate’ (£5,000 award): Ken Amor (Earth Sciences) and Sarah Lloyd (Museum of Natural History)

Aim: To work with year 11 and 12 teenagers to explore the science of the IPCC reports and reinterpret them, with the support of researchers and museum collections and staff, by creating their own ‘report’ (written, video, art or performance), and sharing this report with policy and decision-makers.

About the Public Engagement Lab

The project represents an important part of both the University and the MPLS Division’s commitment to supporting high quality public engagement with research. After an application process in September, those researchers who were selected to take part spent three days working in teams with world leading experts from the museums and libraries service to explore public engagement in depth and develop their ideas.

On the final day, teams had the opportunity to pitch for a share of £40,000 to enable them to bring their ideas to life over the course of the next year. The judging team consisted of representatives from the Oxford University Museum of Natural History, the Pitt Rivers Museum, the Bodleian, MPLS Public Engagement and London’s Natural History Museum.

All the teams came up with creative, interesting ideas about how to engage the public with research in new and unexpected ways. Although only four teams were awarded a share of the £40,000, the project will support all those who took part to further explore and develop their ideas, and to identify and apply for other funding opportunities. Since this is a pilot project, detailed evaluation will be carried out to understand the programme’s value, as well as the funded projects’ outcomes and impacts.

Thanks are due for the funding that has enabled this project to happen – a combination of EPSRC Impact Acceleration Account funding and a contribution from the Wellcome Institutional Strategic Support Fund.

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