The Royal Society Summer Science Exhibition hits London!

David Curnick

After months of planning and preparation, 22 exhibitors, showcasing some of the best research being undertaken across the UK, have gathered in London for this year’s Royal Society Summer Science Exhibition.

Although much of the set-up had been done over the weekend, it was an early start yesterday. We had to arrive at the Royal Society first thing to ensure our stand and props were ready before the doors opened to the crowds. So, after a quick stop in a local café for a much-needed caffeine boost, I joined the rest of the team from ZSL’s Institute of Zoology, amidst a buzz of excitement.

We are here to present our stand, entitled Where The Wild Things Are, generously supported by the Bertarelli Foundation, which showcases the methods and technologies we use to study and monitor wildlife in remote locations. From the seabed off of Greenland to the forests of Borneo, from sharks in the Indian Ocean to seabirds in the North Atlantic, researchers from the ZSL Institute of Zoology are using some of the latest technologies to better understand our natural world.

Where The Wild Things Are stand at the Royal Society Summer Science Exhibition
The team from ZSL’s Institute of Zoology ready to discuss our stand ‘Where the Wild Things Are’

After a short briefing and orientation around the building, the doors were first opened to the press. Videographers, journalists and podcasters alike circulated through exhibition, noting down elements of each stand and interviewing exhibitors in turn. There was even a brief appearance from Professor Brian Cox. Once the assembled media had left, it was time to open the doors up to the general public. This was the exciting part as, after all, communicating our science directly to the public is the main reason we are here and it is estimated that over 14,000 people will come and visit during the week.

Some of the first visitors to our stand was a group of school children from East London. Dressed smartly in their uniforms they were eager to learn and get hands-on with the props we had brought along. We began demonstrating how tracking technology is enabling us to better understand how seabirds and sharks use the oceans and how we can use that information to better manage and conserve their populations. To enable visitors to interact with the stand, we have developed a quick game where, using Nintendo Wii remotes inserted into cuddly toys, visitors have to do their best albatross or shark impressions. The students were asked to follow on-screen cues and make their animals flap/swim as fast as possible or rest, with the motion sensors inside the cuddly toys detecting any movements they exert on the toys. Through interacting with the game, visitors learn how the tags generate the data we use to better understand the behavior of these ocean wanderers. The winner is the individual who best imitates the behaviours of their chosen animal. Over the course of the day it made for some fun competitive interactions between friends, peers, colleagues and family members. 

Dr Robin Freeman demonstrates our interactive game
Dr Robin Freeman demonstrates our interactive game involving a cuddly shark. Visitors try to imitate shark and bird movements to find out how our tags capture data about the movements of these species in the wild

However, on the stand we also have demonstrations on how we use other technologies to monitor wildlife. These include the use of remote camera traps to monitor tiger populations and using lasers and cameras to help us understand the impacts of deep sea trawling on sensitive seabed habitats in Greenland. In addition, colleagues from the Indicators and Assessments Unit at the Institute of Zoology are showing how all these data are brought together to assess the global state of biodiversity.

Although the first day of the exhibition went by very quickly, by the end of it my feet were sore, and my voice was a little hoarse. Hopefully all have left with a better understanding of our work and, with any luck, we have inspired a few to consider future careers in science.

If you’re reading this and are interested to find out more about our work and the Royal Society Summer Science Exhibition, the good news is that the exhibition runs until the Sunday 8th July and is completely free to attend. So, whether you are here in London on holiday, have half an hour free on your lunch break, or are looking for something to take the family to, come and join us and the other great exhibitors and find out about some cutting-edge science.

We are very grateful to the Bertarelli Foundation, through the Bertarelli Programme in Marine Science, for supporting our stand at the Royal Society Summer Science Exhibition.

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