By Sylvia Soldatou
My work focuses on the discovery of new natural products from natural sources such as (marine) microorganisms, to be used in the biopharmaceutical, agriculture, and aquaculture industry for combating pathogenic organisms. I have always been interested in public engagement and therefore, I have been involved in outreach activities and events through the University and the STEM Ambassador hub. My goal is to communicate science and the fascinating aspects of natural products research to a broader audience in the hope to inspire young generations and to inform the public about the research field that I have dedicated my professional career.
While attending a session hosted by The Public Engagement with Research Unit (PERU) at the University of Aberdeen during I was introduced to Cell Block Science; an initiative that aims to educate inmates about the science being undertaken at universities close to them. I decided to participate as this activity was completely different from what I had done in the past and most importantly because I strongly believe that science and knowledge should be accessible to everyone. The PERU team was very helpful with all administrative preparation and providing support before and during my visit to HMP Grampian.
I wanted to introduce the inmates to my research field, therefore I delivered a presentation on the evolution of natural products used as therapeutics agents from ancient to modern times and the importance of marine microorganisms on finding new molecules. Moreover, together with the participants we carried out two experiments: extracting chlorophylls from fresh spinach and using red cabbage as a pH indicator. We had female and male participants in separate groups as per HMP Grampian’s rules of various ages (20-65 years old). Overall, it was a successful activity as all participants showed enthusiasm to learn about natural products. They were excellent in following the protocol to carry out the experiments, keen to learn more about chemistry and they asked insightful questions throughout the day.
Seeing inmates learning about natural products chemistry, their willingness to know more about science and carry out hands on experiments has been my highlight as a scientist and STEM Ambassador so far. I felt that I was able to open a door full of new knowledge to people who for various reasons never had that opportunity before. Such activities make science and research accessible to everyone regardless of their background and it was an honour to be a part of it.