RMS at the Oxfordshire Science Festival 2013

The Oxfordshire Science Festival 2013 took place from 9 – 24 March. To continue our mission to promote microscopy in the local area, the Royal Microscopical Society organised a series of activities.

Royal Microscopical Society: Seeing is Believing
Cornerstone Arts Centre, Didcot. 
7 March – 7 April

Our series of events kicked off with the opening night of the micrograph exhibition at the elegant Cornerstone Arts Centre in Didcot. The gallery space displayed dozens of handpicked images from artists around the world. At the foot of the gallery enlarged, high-definition slides of the artwork flickered onto the wall intermittently. Both children and adults were in attendance, the former enjoying extended stints on the available microscopes; as well as wandering around to appreciate the vivid images on display.

The micrographs themselves came from both the natural world and the physical world, with a combination of light and electron microscopy on view. One of the images, nestled in the entrance, could be viewed through 3D glasses; further enhancing the spectacle of the exhibition.

Many of the micrographs taken from the physical world provided cryptic, almost psychedelic imagery. From the natural world the pictures of diatoms exploded with primary colours and transformed into surreal, Dali-esque landscapes. Perhaps the micrographs of greatest intrigue were the ones that took on the shape of everyday or familiar objects. At the opening a group of schoolchildren fondly deliberated over Rok Kostanjsek’s “Micro-seal”, the anterior of Walckenaeria cucullata; a money spider from the Linyphiidae family. It does indeed resemble a seal playing with a ball and claimed 2nd prize in the electron microscopy for life sciences award category in the 2012 RMS International Micrograph Competition and was only pipped to 1st by Anne Weston’s magical “Dancing parapodia”, a reef-like depiction of the common ragworm.

The opening night was also attended by many prestigious and long-serving members of the society, as well as regular contributors, experts and special guests invited from the local area, who milled around and discussed the aesthetic merits of the works on display. The exhibition contained submissions as far back as 2006, such as David McCarthy’s remarkable “Fly on sugar” a SEM image of a fly appearing to balance on a stack of sugar cubes, through to last year’s shortlisted micrographs. For this very reason, the exhibition was a wonderful overview for veteran microscopists as well as newcomers to the art.

We were pleased to receive this positive feedback, from visitors young and old:

“Innovative and Intriguing” – Kathy

“Very helpful for my GCSE project, amazing” – Kylie

“Fantastic display. Unusual and eye-opening, a world otherwise unseen except for science” – Joy

“Really helping me for my science” – Dylan

“My 2 year old was very impressed; he thought they were fireworks/the sun. I loved them too!” – Jane

“Very cool. I like the mole nose” – Connor

“Colour enhancement clarifies and makes artistic these amazing natural structures” – P Cooke

Cornerstone Arts Centre, Didcot
16 March

The Royal Microscopical Society and the Cornerstone Arts Centre enlisted the help of over 40 children aged 3-15 to become detectives for the day. We needed their help to solve the mystery of who had stolen one of our precious micrographs from the gallery!

The workshop asked children and their parents to examine fingerprints, pieces of ribbon and paint samples to piece together all the parts of the puzzle and decide on a culprit.

With three sessions running throughout the day, all the young detectives were incredibly keen and enthusiastic - fascinated by what they could see under the microscope. They got especially excited at the chance to collect their own samples from the footprint found in the gallery.

We received some great feedback and the event has definitely inspired several future microscopists and forensic scientists!

Cafe Scientifique
Cornerstone Arts Centre, Didcot

To accompany our micrograph exhibition, the Royal Microscopical Society took over the Cornerstone Arts Centre’s resident science evening Café Scientifique with a talk entitled ‘Seeing is Believing: The Science behind the Art’ by Dr Louise Hughes from Oxford Brookes University.

The evening attracted around 60 visitors and was a resounding success covering the various different techniques used in microscopy and even how some of the images featured in our exhibition were obtained. There were several pairs of 3D glasses on hand for people to explore some of the images in even more depth.

Visitors also took the opportunity to browse our micrograph exhibition in the interval which led to a number of interesting questions in the following Q&A session.

Microscopes and Mountains
Dept of Earth Sciences, University of Oxford
23 March

Following the success of last year’s event ‘Volcanoes: the Magical Microscopic World of Magma’, with the help of Owen Green we again ran an event at the Department of Earth Sciences, University of Oxford. This year the topic was ‘Microscopes and Mountains’. Combining a public lecture from Dr Dave Water (Curator of the Mineralogy and Petrology Collections, Oxford University Museum of Natural History & Lecturer in Metamorphic Petrology) with a number of hands-on activities, the aim was to get visitors of all ages excited and enthusiastic about microscopy.

Although the weather was very much against us – snow and freezing temperatures which would have discouraged even the hardiest individuals – the event was surprisingly well attended. After Dr Dave Water’s lecture all the visitors explored our range of microscopes games and activities, kindly supplied by Noel Fuller from Microscope Services Ltd.

So interesting were these that we struggled to persuade everyone to leave when our time was up at 2pm!

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