The Pirbright Institute took Dr Zoo’s Travelling Science Lab out on the road for the first time at Innovate Guildford 2019, a local science and arts festival, which took place on Saturday 23 March. Visitors entering the ‘Viral Survival’ themed mini escape room were challenged with a series of scientific puzzles which they had to crack in under five minutes in order to survive a deadly virus. Together with Pirbright’s interactive stand, the exhibit was designed to showcase the Institute’s research on viral diseases, and particularly those that spread from animals to humans, known as zoonoses.
Pirbright is a world leading centre of excellence in the prevention and control of some of the most devastating viral diseases of livestock including foot-and-mouth disease and African swine fever as well as those that jump from animals to people such as Crimean-Congo haemorrhagic fever and Nipah. Innovate Guildford enabled Pirbright to communicate the global impact of its research to people locally using a fun and innovative approach.
The centrepiece of the exhibit, Dr Zoo’s Travelling Science Lab, was a specially commissioned, bright pink, Dr Who inspired police box housing an array of laboratory-like equipment. Visitors were encouraged to become one of Dr Zoo’s assistants, employing different scientific skills as virologists, vaccinologists, bio-matheticians, and biosafety experts to help evade the deadly disease. Working against the clock participants had to solve three different science-themed puzzles to crack the final code so they could escape the virus.
Councillor Gordon Jackson, who was among the lab’s many visitors, said: “We were delighted to have Pirbright’s portable science escape room at Innovate Guildford Science and Arts Festival 2019. I took on the challenge personally: it combined a testing and enjoyable exercise with an excellent educational experience. Next time I hope to escape within the allotted five minutes!”
Together with a desk-top containment box on the Pirbright stand in which a ‘field sample’ from the outbreak could be ‘analysed’ by completing several puzzles, the ‘Viral Survival’ themed exhibit was designed to give participants insight into the types of challenges scientists have to overcome when faced with a new outbreak of a zoonotic disease or unknown virus.
Virologists from the Institute guided younger visitors through a series of instructions on a LEGO® DNA helix to build a LEGO® virus. After completing the model they were then encouraged to alter the virus giving insight into vaccine development using genetic engineering.
Pirbright’s Dr Simon Graham and Dr Rebecca McLean gave an engaging interactive talk on zoonotic diseases; where they come from and how scientists develop vaccines for them. Dr Graham said: “It was great to share our science with the local community, and to see the audience really getting involved. It’s a brilliant way to help the audience understand the contribution Pirbright is making to the fight against emerging zoonoses.”
Innovate Guildford 2019 was a huge success, and Pirbright was proud to be there demonstrating its scientific research to an enthusiastic local audience. Lianne Rowden, a local visitor said: "I would like to say a big thank you to the team at The Pirbright Institute for making learning about viruses so fun and engaging for my daughter. The Dr Zoo escape room was a brilliant experience that she can't stop telling people all about."
Pirbright's ‘Viral Survival’ exhibit and Dr Zoo’s Travelling Science Laboratory will also be at Cheltenham Science Festival in June with even more fun challenges to complete and another chance to evade a deadly emerging viral zoonosis.
For more information visit www.pirbright.ac.uk/zoonoses.
About Innovate Guildford
Innovate Guildford is a science and arts festival promoting the work of pioneering organisations that are right on Guildford’s doorstep. Companies majoring in science, technology, engineering and maths subjects (STEM) joined forces with those championing the arts to inspire young and old, and demonstrate how the two areas are closely linked.
About The Pirbright Institute
The Pirbright Institute is a world leading centre of excellence in research and surveillance of virus diseases of farm animals and viruses that spread from animals to humans. Based in the UK and receiving strategic funding from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), the Institute works to enhance capability to contain, control and eliminate these economically and medically important diseases through highly innovative fundamental and applied bioscience.
With an annual income of nearly £32.1 million from grants and commercial activity, and a total of £14.3 million strategic investment from BBSRC during 2017-2018, the Institute contributes to global food security and health, improving quality of life for animals and people.
For more information about The Pirbright Institute see: www.pirbright.ac.uk