Well folks, as I mentioned in my first post, I have been trying to break into science communication. Good news! I was commisioned to write an article for The Scientist, which is now published, on an immunology exhibition in Trinity College Dublin called Infectious: Stay Away. It's a great exhibition where the visitors get to participate in many of the exhibits, including one where they extract their own DNA for use in an on-going population genetics study. A subscription is required to read the article, but the good news is it's free to sign up! Here is a taster:
At the entrance, I'm greeted by a team in outbreak gear -- full overalls and face masks -- who insist that I proceed into the decontamination zone. Here, I'm screened and electronically tagged to monitor my infection status throughout my visit. This jarring introduction is perhaps one of the most innovative ideas in Infectious -- the world's first simulation of a live epidemic. The electronic sensor around my neck can communicate and infect other sensors when in close proximity, and by periodically infecting a random visitor with an "electronic virus", the exhibition curators can monitor the spread of that virus as it infects the influx of visitors.
As I navigate through Infectious, I find a lab bench with several microscopes inviting me to get up close and personal with parasites, bacteria and the bioterrorist's favourite, anthrax. Nearby, a mosaic of Petri dishes lines the wall, each having being kissed by a visitor over the weeks since Infectious opened. A multitude of microorganisms grow in the dishes, some conforming to the outline of lips. I admit, this particular part of the exhibition makes me think twice about being amorous ever again.
Suddenly the red light on my electronic tag begins flashing. I have become infected. I give a suspicious glance to the person next to me and make my way to the disinfection station, where an animation representing each visitor and their role in the spread of the virus plays. I stare at this real-time visualisation of the infection kinetics as the ease with which viruses can spread through a crowd hits home.