Policy, Ethics and Life Sciences Research Centre

Project Items

Talking Science in Cumbria


Through the receipt of a People Award from the Wellcome Trust we were able to retain scientist and novelist Dr Ann Lackie to provide talks on science and ethics to schools and community groups in Cumbria.

In the past PEALS has successfully engaged with communities in Tyne and Wear, but had intermittent impact in rural areas.

Dr Lackie provided 52 free talks between July 2003 and June 2005.

Talks ranged from ‘Garry the green fluorescent mouse’ and ‘Was Frankenstein an anorak?’ (for primary and Key Stage 2-3 children) to ‘Making Eyes’ (about stem cells), ‘Selection Pressures’ (genetic selection and genetic modification) and ‘The Human Genome Project’ for adult groups.

Ann, who was formerly a zoologist and parasitologist, is also the writer Ann Lingard.

In April 2004 she organized the second ‘Words and Pictures: explaining science through art and writing’ conference, held at the Cumbria Institute of the Arts and funded by the Wellcome Trust and Pfizer UK, among others; both Tom Shakespeare and Lisa Matthews were invited speakers.

Project update

Ann has travelled all over Cumbria to talk to schools and community groups ranging from Soroptimists and Rotaries, WIs, Rural Women, Young Farmers and even Forensic Science students, on topics such as the science and the implications of the Human Genome Project, stem cells, genetic modification and cloning, and (in ‘Geeks and trainspotters’ for primary schools – Ann is also an accredited SETpoint Science Ambassador) on the excitement of doing science!

The ‘market’ for the talks, which are tailored to suit the science background (usually nil!) and age of the participants, has turned out to be enormous, with verbal comments afterwards such as ‘it’s fantastic that there are people out there who are prepared to come and explain these things’ to ‘I haven’t been able to understand all this GM business, about the crops, but now I can see what’s been going on, all this transferring of genes and so on’ and ‘I think there is a real need for presentations like this – so we can challenge and question from a more informed viewpoint’.

Highlights have included a hilarious session with a Farmers’ Discussion Group, which meets in a pub, debating scrapie-testing and and transgenic sheep; a ‘Big Brother House’ session at Settlebeck School, where the ‘contestants’ were genetically-modified animals and bacteria; and the occasional challenging question such as ‘If identical twins have identical genes, are their cells identical too?’ from a primary school girl who had only just been introduced to the idea of cells and genes.

The project continues until June 2005, and Ann already has talks organized for groups as diverse as the Quilters’ Guild, playwrights and a Humanist Society.

Find out more about the talks (PDF: 33KB).