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Oxford University has today announced the winners of its science-inspired schools’ art competition Beyond Boundaries which was launched to encourage inclusion in science research

Bethany Atherton artwork inspired by researcher Aché Atta-Boateng

Running for the second time (first run in 2018), the competition was developed to increase the visibility of Black, Asian, and Minority Ethnic scientists and mathematicians, while also engaging local schools and young people in showcasing their research in art form.

Oxfordshire state school pupils were asked to create art – of any form – based on profiles of six Black, Asian, and Minority Ethnic researchers from the Mathematical, Physical and Life Sciences (MPLS) Division of the University of Oxford. As part of their profiles, researchers shared their personal and career stories, as well as their current work in areas such as infectious diseases, cacao trees, nuclear fusion, sand rat genetics, cryopreservation, and data visualisation.

The competition received 215 entries from students in the Oxfordshire area. Winners were chosen for each year group from 5-8, by a panel of judges including: Sara Lowes, Curator of Creative Learning, Modern Art Oxford; Prof Matt Jarvis, MPLS Associate Head (People); and Dr Pavandeep Rai, Postdoctoral Research Scientist (Department of Physiology, Anatomy and Genetics).

Winners received £100 and runners up received £50 as well as the chance to have their work displayed in the forthcoming Beyond Boundaries exhibition at the Oxford University Museum of Natural History (dates to be confirmed).

Submissions were rich in variety, and ranged from drawings and paintings to digital animations, and winners included Bethany Atherton, of the Warriner School, who won the Year 8 competition with her piece titled ‘Bee Aware’, which was inspired by botanist Aché Atta-Boateng’s research.

She said: ‘Winning this feels absolutely amazing. I love to draw and spend most of my time doing this. To be able to include a strong message in my drawings that others will now see, makes it even more exciting. My grandparents keep bees and so Aché Atta-Boateng’s research about pollination jumped out at me, as this is a topic that is very close to my heart.’

Emmanuelle Dankwa, a researcher in the Oxford University Department of Statistics, who was featured as one of the six academics profiled, said: ‘Participating in Beyond Boundaries has not only helped me think more deeply about the ways in which I communicate my research to non-experts, but has also afforded me the wonderful privilege to share my story to inspire a young person out there to aspire to careers in STEM. It’s exciting to see what brilliant pieces of artwork have been influenced by my research!’

Of the public response to the competition, Daisy Hung, Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Manager, MPLS Division, Oxford University, said: ‘We were delighted to have 256 participants and 215 entries from Years 5-8 for the 2020 competition.

‘It was a great opportunity for us to highlight the incredible researchers of colour in the Division and to show young people that they can be scientists too.’

Dr Rebecca Surender, University Advocate and Pro Vice-Chancellor for Equality & Diversity at Oxford University, said: ‘I am so delighted to see that this exciting project has provided another opportunity for Oxford to showcase its amazing and diverse range of research talent and to encourage our local school children to become excited about science.’

Sara Lowes, Beyond Boundaries judge and Curator of Creative Learning, Modern Art Oxford, said: ‘It’s been a privilege to view the artwork created for the Beyond Boundaries competition and I’m hugely impressed by the creative ideas and strong connections to the mathematicians, scientists and research that was on display. Congratulations to everyone that took part.’ 

Full details of the Beyond Boundaries project, and artwork from both the 2018 and 2020 competition can be viewed on the Oxford Sparks website.

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