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The list of project summaries for this year's PER Seed Fund projects are now available - 23 projects were funded in total, seven from MPLS researchers. It's always interesting to see what was funded; whether you applied, are thinking of applying, or just curious about different ways of doing engagement.

The University’s Public Engagement with Research Seed Fund is an internal grant scheme for academics and researchers to: - Develop or pilot new Public Engagement with Research projects or; - Improve existing Public Engagement with Research activity; - Evaluate and gather evidence of the impact of the activities. The fund is supported by the Higher Education Innovation Fund (HEIF).

23 projects have been funded (ranging from £2,000 to £4,000) in response to the 2019-20 call for proposals. The seven from MPLS researchers were:

Dr Joshua Bull (Mathematical Institute) - What's The Point? Investigating spatial point patterns through citizen science

This project will create a new app which is both a puzzle game and a valuable “citizen science” collaboration with Oxford mathematicians! App users will place points to try to match shapes and solve challenges, with each attempt contributing to a large dataset of labelled point patterns. We are developing new mathematical techniques to automatically identify structure in this type of dataset, something that humans can do easily but computers struggle with. Interpreting spatial patterns in these datasets is crucial for improving our understanding of problems in a huge range of areas, including describing the clustering of immune cells within tumours, the structure of neurons in the brain, and the way that information can be interpreted by computers. Our app will allow users to help us build a database of point patterns which have been labelled by humans, accelerating the development of new mathematical descriptions of point data and providing insight into diverse problems across maths, biology and ecology.

Dr Ruth Feber (Zoology) - Citizen Science and Social Networks 

Citizen science has tremendous potential for engaging the public in research and for generating valuable data. One scheme, the National Moth Recording Scheme (NMRS), run by Butterfly Conservation, is one of the largest citizen science schemes in the UK, generating datasets that are used by scientists to underpin national assessments of biodiversity change and for wider environmental research. A network of over 100 volunteer coordinators play a vital role in the scheme, by receiving, verifying and computerising moth records contributed by the public. The rapid growth in digital communication has enabled far more people to participate in the scheme but is also changing the traditional face-to-face social networks that have historically underpinned the success of the scheme. Working with Butterfly Conservation, we will consult the volunteer coordinators on the opportunities and challenges that the digital environment presents for them. In particular we will focus on exploring the impacts of changing social networks on their motivations and engagement with the scheme. The project will lead to wider recommendations on how to foster networks to achieve successful joint working in citizen science monitoring programmes in a digital age.

Dr Seham Helmi (Physics) - DNA Self-Assembly: DNA 2.0 Gala Event

We would like to develop an art-science collaboration to engage diverse community groups around Oxford with research on DNA self-assembly. We are proposing a DNA self-assembly Gala Event, which would bring this innovative research to an audience that may not otherwise have the opportunity to engage with it. The content will be co-created through workshops, in which community groups (such as schools, charities and community centres) will collaborate with a professional choreographer to create a dance of their own inspired by the research. The final gala event will showcase these dance performances alongside more in-depth talks about the science and its applications. This project provides an opportunity for community groups to demonstrate their own understanding and interpretation of the research through choreographed dance, enabling participants to engage on a creative, social and intellectual level. Furthermore, this project brings an additional benefit for the gala audience, who will learn about innovative research presented in a novel format.

Prof Simon Hiscock (Botanical Gardens) and Dr Tonya Lander (Plant Sciences) - Oxford Plan Bee: Citizen Science, Education and Conservation

There is widespread concern about global bee decline, which is expected to impact both ecosystem function and human food security. This project focuses on filling two of the knowledge gaps that reduce our ability to respond to this decline: (1) We know approximately where individual bee species occur in the UK, but we don’t know how many of each species we would expect to find. That means usually we can identify when a species goes extinct, but not when it is in decline. (2) We need specific guidance about what woodland and urban land management interventions support and enhance wild bee populations. Oxford Plan Bee works with citizen scientists to collect data about wild bees in Oxford City and surrounding areas using a network of public and home bee nest boxes and guided walks. We aim to collect essential data for long-term monitoring of wild bee populations, contributing to global efforts to understand and reverse pollinator decline. We also work with the University 7 | P a g e Estates and Wytham Woods to develop evidence-based management interventions to protect and enhance populations of wild bees. The project also engages more broadly with the local community to promote public understanding of bees, plants, pollinator-friendly gardening, ecology and conservation.

Dr Ali Marie (Engineering) - Engineering a Great Smile

Tooth decay (dental cavities) is one of the most common diseases in the UK and the main reason for tooth loss. Expenditure on dental services is significant, for example between 2015-2016 the NHS spent £50 million only on tooth extraction, not to mention other costs. Public health research has shown that prevention programmes aid in the reduction of tooth decay, and this activity aims to explore causes of tooth decay, steps everyone may take to promote dental health and some related materials research at the University of Oxford. Our group, led by Professor Alexander Korsunsky, research is to tackle tooth decay challenge by undertaking a systematic, coordinated, multi-scale microscopic investigation, coupled with numerical disease modelling to move towards better diagnosis, and proactive intervention and treatment of tooth decay. We would like to highlight some basic physical process, including mechanisms of tooth cleaning (brushing and flossing) and biomineral loss from teeth, and explore public perceptions of dental care and materials research. Using the format of a drop-in hands-on science festival activity, I want to develop my own and my research group’s public engagement skills meanwhile delivering messages of science to children and families, teenagers and adults. These messages include: relevance of research to daily life, how science and engineering is all around us and that anyone can be involved at many different levels, there are careers in science that are exciting and varied, and that we can develop skills at any stage in our lives that can help make us healthier.

Prof James Martin and Dr Tom Crawford (Mathematical Institute) - Tom Rocks Maths Intern Programme

The PER seed fund will allow 2 students to work with Dr Tom Crawford during the summer of 2020 to produce a series of outreach content that aims to explain interesting mathematical concepts and research for a general audience. The students will be free to choose their own topics to cover, with the final outcome being a 5-minute video, a 10-minute podcast and a 2000- word article, each of which will be published on Tom’s award-winning website www.tomrocksmaths.com. The goal of the project is to train the students in the art of public engagement through online content and live performances, with the hope that they will become future champions of PER. With Tom’s guidance, the content produced by the students will be designed to encourage those who have no interest in maths to engage with the subject. Maths is one of very few subjects where people are happy to admit that they struggle with it or that it ‘isn’t for them’. This can even be seen as a ‘badge of honour’ or something to be proud of, which is something that needs to be changed. Maths is an integral part of almost everything that we do from the programming of computers to predictions of climate change and through the Tom Rocks Maths Intern Programme, the aim is to help people to understand this importance and ultimately to feel less afraid of the subject as a result.

Prof Clive Siviour and Akash Trivedi (Engineering) - The Gas Gun Guys

Will it crush? Will it survive? 9 | P a g e Watch the Gas Gun Guys explore how damage occurs in different materials. We will use our gas gun to fire projectiles at various objects and use a high-speed video camera to record how the objects react. Learn how these experiments link to ongoing research within the High Rate Group and our quest to better understand the damage mechanisms of various materials under high strain rate deformation from impact loading conditions. You will also have the opportunity to request (within reason!) any object that you want to see being impacted with our gas gun. We will learn together about how it responds and whether it crushes or survives the impact. Who knows? You might help us discover innovative impact resistant materials through this project by accident!

You can read about the projects from across the University here.

Congratulations to everyone - we can't wait to see how these projects develop!