Hello and welcome to my blog! My name is Caroline and I am a PhD student at the University of Sheffield. My research project focuses on Striga - a genus of parasitic plants that devastates harvests by infecting food crops. I am exploring the defence reactions that can make host plants more resistant against Striga. Due to my ongoing battles with anorexia, I haven't made as much progress as I would have liked but I am determined to finish the course.

This blog charts the ups and downs of life in the lab, plus my dreams to become a science communicator and forays into public engagement and science policy....all while trying to keep my mental and physical health intact. Along the way, I'll also be sharing new plant science stories, and profiles of some of the researchers who inspire me on this journey. So whether you have a fascination for plants, are curious about what science research involves, or just wonder what exactly I do all day, read on - I hope you find it entertaining!

Saturday 17 October 2015

Getting ready for a big night...

Do you remember way back in April, I visited Westfield School as part of a Departmental outreach initiative called the Krebs Fest? This event, taking place across the whole of November, celebrates the life and work of Sir Hans Krebs, a researcher at the University of Sheffield who received the Noble Prize in Physiology and Medicine in 1953. This was awarded for his discovery of the citric acid cycle ( now named the 'Kreb's Cycle' after him), one of the key, fundamental processes that liberates energy from food in every cell. The University has really gone to town with the celebrations including public lectures from Noble Prize winning scientists, interactive exhibits and art installations ( including giant inflatable microbes in the Winter Gardens in the city centre - see below!). One of the showcase events will be a film-festival where local schools will present homemade mini-videos on a scientific topic based on the theme 'hidden worlds'. 
A giant E.coli, 28 m long and 5 million times larger than life.....if a scale model of a person stood next to it, they would be 9,000 km tall!

Which is where I come in. To inspire the schools in their search for a suitable theme, the Unviersity linked each school to PhD students who would go in and describe their own research. I paired up with Carly who researches nematode worms which infect Asian elephants, so we decided to do a joint 'Parasite' theme. Last April, we went in with chief animator Steve Poole to talk to the year 8/9 STEM club ( Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) and we had great fun showing them some of my infected plants and Carly's box of elephant poo ( although we didn't get it out due to health and safety...).
At the entrance to Westfield School

Anyway, the long summer break now over, it was time to see what they had come up with. Not surprisingly, kids find elephants more interesting than plants and the pupils had decided to base their film on Carly's research. I don't take it personally though - I'm used to plants being left out of the limelight! Nevertheless, they had put together an impressive animation showing the lifecycle of the parasites and how they make elephants ill. Especially good seeing that it was produced during lunch breaks!

 It was brilliant to see how the students had really got to grips with the project and were taking the science seriously. At one point, Steve suggested that they could animate a parasitic worm so it flew up the elephant's bottom. One of the pupils immediately pointed out that it wouldn't be scientifically accurate - the elephants ingest the parasite from contaminated plant material, so it goes in through the other end! The students were also keen to run through the introduction they would give on the night, explaining why they chose the theme of parasites, how they made the video and what they learned from the  project.  
Steve the animator at work

I'm looking forward to the Celebration Night when the presentation will be projected on a colosall scale on the walls of Firth Court, along with the other entries. Keep your fingers crossed that we win the prize for most imaginative presentation! 

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