At the end of May, we announced the winners of our Science Communication Competition. This month the 2nd prize written piece ‘Ground control to Major Tim’ by Anwen Brown was published in the October issue of The Biochemist.
To coincide with the publication of this piece, we asked Amy Hong, the winner of the video competition, about the inspiration behind her video ‘Toll-Like Receptors’, which won 2nd prize in the video category. Amy has just finished her DPhil in Zoology at University of Oxford.“From the very start of my DPhil, it became clear that the diverse range of public engagement activities were of great interest to me. Here at Oxford, I learnt about the Higgs particle from a famous physics professor in the crowded corner of a local pub (Pint of Science), I cheered for a friend who explained her entire thesis with just one single slide using barely 3 minutes (3MT), I volunteered at Museum workshops which link frontier psychology research to the art of selfie photos (Ashmolean Live Fridays). It was through these events that I was then inspired to create my own ways of communicating my research.
Molecular biology is complex. Cellular receptor and signalling molecule jargon can be difficult to memorise even for scientists. How to communicate my research without using jargon became the biggest challenge in translating my research about Toll-like receptor (TLR) signalling. Surprisingly, I got a perfect answer to that question through one of my first tutorials with my supervisor.
I was very shy when I started my DPhil – so, instead of burying me in heavily sciencey questions, my supervisor told me a little story about the “host immunity army” to get me talking. The immune cells in the body are like soldiers in the army. Neutrophils are a bit like suicide bombers, they fearlessly march ahead, sometimes even sacrifice themselves to protect the host body. Macrophages and dendritic cells are like communication soldiers, they transfer invasion information to T-cells which function in adaptive immunity. And helper T cells are like logistic supply specialists, they help activate B cells to secrete antibodies and help activate cytotoxic T cells to kill infected target cells. Until this day, I still remember the enthusiasm in his voice and the light in his eyes when he told me the story. It was his story that sparked my creativity for the video that I produced for the Biochemical Society Science Communication Competition, in which I used toy guns in the hand of toy soldiers to represent the expression of TLRs on immune cells.
As a science communicator, to explore innovative methods of communicating my research is my goal. Since the Biochemical Society Science Communication video, I’ve produced a dance video called “Mission Immuno-Possible”, explaining the signalling network of TLRs with the theme of secret agents – when the secret agent is badly beaten by a spy that entered the intelligence agency, agents find a way to communicate with each other and deliver information to agency HQ using a combined effort. In scientific terms, when signal flow is obstructed by inhibitors downstream of TLR activation, signalling pathways bypass the inhibition by forming signal synergy in order to activate the transcription of immune genes.
I have also created an education game called “Death Evasion – Immune Battle”, teaching the function of Toll-like receptors to A-level pupils in the form of “battleship” fights.
I hope, by transforming frontier research into something fun and active, I may be able to inspire the next generation of scientists who will cure the incurable diseases and solve the unsolvable puzzles.”