Science London at the Lambeth Country Show
We couldn’t have asked for a nicer summer’s weekend for the debut Science London event at the Lambeth Country Show 2018! As the biggest free family festival in the UK there was plenty on offer to entertain people of all ages. We were very excited to be invited to pitch up a stall in the Discovery Tent, the festival’s science zone.
Our mission as usual was to spark an interest in science, with the theme for the weekend as “Bacteria: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly”. Armed with games and props (kindly donated by bacteriologists from Imperial College London) we enthusiastically delivered a well-rounded and informative experience for all the families and young people who visited us.
When you hear the word bacteria, it’s natural that negative connotations spring to mind. Disease, dirty and deadly – these are just some of the words connected to them. With its bad reputation fuelled by the flurry of medical media reports, it’s not a surprise that we assume all bacteria are bad. That’s why we wanted to change this perception, and emphasis how fascinating the bacterial world can be.
With the total count of bacteria on Earth at approximately 5 x 1030 (1), forming a biomass exceeding that of all plants and animals, there are millions of types of bacteria – and they can’t all be bad! From the cyanobacteria that provided earth with oxygen (and subsequently gave rise to complex life) (2), to the probiotic supplements we take for a healthy digestive tract, there are many weird and wonderful bacteria that have beneficial applications to us humans.
With a potential energy crisis looming in the near future, a hot topic of research at the moment is a means of producing clean renewable energy. Research has even been implying that some types of bacteria could potentially offer a solution! For our stall, we featured Shewanella oneidensis, a type of bacteria that can process metals like iron and manganese, and use it to create electrical currents across its membrane (3). It can still do this even under oxygen starved conditions. Because of this ability scientists are hoping that this could be applied and used on a larger scale, to make bacteria powered batteries – bio batteries!
We demonstrated this bacteria’s ability to generate electricity using a simple prop called a mudwatt. This was a pot of soil that contained Shewanella, moistened with water and nutrients. The electricity current produced by the bacteria was then harnessed via wires in the soil, to power an LED light attached to the top of the pot. The mudwatt we used had soil that was 9 months old, and it was still producing light.
A huge future bacterial concern is antibiotic resistance and increased use of antibiotics. Concern regarding this has grown substantially in recent years, with outbreaks of resistant strains of bacteria causing major problems in hospitals, especially for immunocompromised patients. A well-known example is MRSA, a strain of bacteria that is resistant to the penicillin group of antibiotics (4). We demonstrated this with our bacterial take on a common funfair game – throwing lots of antibiotics (velcro balls) to try and hit our board of bacteria, antibiotic resistant bacteria, viruses and bacteriophages. The goal was to visually convey that antibiotics only target bacteria (only these were covered in velcro), and that antibiotic resistance can occur with incorrect usage.
And The Ugly
There’s always time for a Snakes and Ladders game – especially with a twist! Interspersed with good and bad bacteria facts, families met some interesting characters as they played the game. The goal was to show that we encounter good and bad bacteria all the time. We wanted people to learn about the bacteria we should avoid, and the bacteria that have and continue to enhance our lives.
We at Science London thoroughly enjoyed our slot at the Lambeth Country Show and we hope everyone learnt a thing or two about bacteria! Make sure you keep up to date with what’s going on with Science London – follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram to find out about upcoming activities and events. We hope to see you next time!
Written by Anna Hoang
Photography by Charlotte Guyver