Behind-the-scenes at Wonder with Amy Sanders
Back in January, Amy Sanders, Programme Manager in Engaging Science at the Wellcome Trust, introduced the Wonder season on ThInk. Four months down the line, and with the season finale approaching, I caught up with Amy to get another sneaky peak behind-the-scenes at Wonder.
“It’s like organising a big party and suddenly wondering who will come – you’ve got the cake, you’ve got the balloons…but will it go off with a bang?”
This weekend (7th-9th of April) the Wonder Street Fair will spring to life in the Barbican Foyer. Over twenty different stalls will exhibit cutting edge science, quirky facts and all manner of interactive activities over the course of three days, all with aim of bringing the brain to life for a public audience. There will be science buskers from the Francis Crick Institute, a cinema in a campervan and a musical instrument you can play just by moving a muscle. It sounds fantastic – so why the nerves?
“We know that some of the ticketed events have sold out already, which is fantastic, but the Street Fair is free, and people just turn up. It’s also the first time a bunch of researchers have put on quite so many different activities for the public in an arts venue and nobody’s quite sure how it will turn out. The Wonder events will be running alongside BNA 2013: Festival of Neuroscience. The question is – how can we make the most of the fact that this major scientific conference is going on in a public venue? Will the two mix or remain largely separate? And how will the neuroscientists react to what their colleagues are doing out in the foyer and elsewhere across the building? We’re putting an idea, a model for public engagement at scientific conferences, on trial this week.”
Although the BNA conference itself will be open only to delegates, the Street Fair, and the other events running throughout the week, will provide many opportunities for the public to come face to face with neuroscientists and with brain. This includes real animal tissue samples, and Amy advises me that some of the exhibits are not for the faint hearted. There are also over 30 volunteers taking part in the street fair, roving scientists who’ll be wearing ‘Ask me about brains’ t-shirts, and of course the twenty groups of researchers and communicators who will be running the stalls and their activities. It sounds like a logistical nightmare?
“It’s certainly been a busy week for me and for Harriet Martin who is coordinating the Street Fair in meticulous detail. Each of the teams has their own specialist kit – eye-trackers and the magical Beuchet Chair for example! Then there are the usual logistical challenges – how do you make sure everyone who needs one has access to a plug socket? How are we going to transport an enormous light up brain into the building? I’ve been working on the project since February 2012 and I must have had two meetings and a hundred emails a day since then!”
But has it all been worth it?
“Definitely. It’s been great to see the number of neuroscientists at all stages of their careers getting involved and being so enthusiastic about working with the public. I’ve already heard lots of our contributors say that they want to do more events like this in the future.
I’ve also had the opportunity to attend some great events myself. The Cinema and Psychosis event back in March was a surprising combination of art theory, film, personal experiences and the latest research – I think everyone who attended came away having encountered something new or learnt something that they didn’t expect to. And I’m looking forward to the Salon Project this week. There have been a lot of exciting collaborations – we even introduced a trance DJ (James Holden) to a cabaret artist (Christopher Green)!”
So with Amy’s insider knowledge, what should we be sure not to miss this weekend?
“I’m really intrigued by the ‘Mind in the Cave’ stall – they’re exploring how light deprivation may have shaped early cave art – I’m looking forward to learning more about the science behind their activity, and perhaps even trying it out myself. I am also keen to finish knitting the neuron that I started on back at our earlier event in March!
Oh and you should certainly watch out for Roger Kneebone’s simulated surgery. His team will be enacting what happens when someone is rushed into hospital with a traumatic brain injury, and they’ll be starting right from the beginning with the dramatic accident itself. So please don’t be alarmed if you see something unusual – it’s all part of the plan!”
The Wonder Street Fair runs from 12 noon – 6pm on Sunday 7th and from 12 noon – 7.30pm on Monday 8th and Tuesday 9th of April. There’s no need to book – just drop in and get involved. For more details on this and other Wonder events visit the Barbican website. Or you can follow the events throughout the week using the hash tag #wonderseason.
Going along to a Wonder event this weekend? We’d love to hear what weird and wonderful things you get up to. You can tell us all about it using the hash tag #wonderseason.