Outputs: ‘The Superbug Bus’ Public Engagement Project (PEP)

On the top deck of a bus, converted into a mock hospital ward, 4 participants will play the role of patients with antibiotic resistant infections, lying on hospital beds and 12 participants will play the role of visitors sitting on chairs. Wearing virtual reality (VR) headsets and earphones they will enter an augmented reality version of this ward before being “transported” up and out of the ward, to navigate through 3D VR environments where elements contributing to Antimicrobial Resistance (AMR) can be identified. This journey will include the hospital (healthcare transmission); home (food contamination); farms and cities (human and animal mis-use and over-use of antibiotics, and environmental contamination) and airports (international travel). Participants will observe the spread of infections across the globe, before zooming back down to the ward, entering the human body through an intravenous catheter that appears, virtually, in the arm of the patient. They will navigate through the body observing individual bacteria deciding whether or not to form biofilms. Audio narration and visual graphics will provide additional information about AMR and the research developing interventions to fight it. Immersion in this 3D virtual world will enable participants to effectively visualise and interact with scientific data, for example 3D microscopy images of cells, and to explore connections between the factors contributing to AMR.

All participants will then move downstairs to a mock science lab, assuming the role of scientists, working alongside our researchers on interactive experiments related to AMR including; testing how glitter (representing bacteria) sticks to different plastics, to investigate how various polymers affect the ability of bacteria to ‘stick’ and form biofilms, and experimenting with glo-germ, which fluoresces under ultraviolet light, to investigate the transfer of pathogenic bacteria by contact. Researchers will facilitate these activities, engaging in conversations with participants about AMR research, how it affects their lives and how they could help combat it. This will help participants value the research and engender trust in research more widely, and will develop the researcher’s public engagement skills. Researchers will also discuss studying and working in science.

Outcomes:

The Superbug Bus will tour for two months, visiting approximately 24 secondary schools and eight town centres in Nottinghamshire and the West Midlands, achieving the following outcomes: 

  1. Improve public health outcomes by directly engaging 3,600 KS3 and KS4 schoolchildren and 1,600 members of the general public, engendering a deep understanding of AMR, facilitating access to AMR research, and empowering participants to take steps to combat AMR through approaches to hygiene, food handling, and use of antibiotics.

  2. Raise aspiration by sparking the curiosity of 2,400 KS3 schoolchildren in science and health research, increasing the percentage who go on to study triple science at GCSE and consider science careers.

  3. Raise the attainment of 1,200 KS4 schoolchildren studying GCSE science subjects through targeted enrichment of the curriculum.

These outcomes are designed to meet the Wellcome Trust’s aims to ‘empower people by helping them to access, use, respond to, and participate in health research and innovation’, and ‘help people value and think critically about science, health research, innovation and the role they play in society’.

Public:

Our primary audience is Key Stage (KS) 3 (years 8&9) and KS4 (year 10) schoolchildren. They are at risk from AMR, are future ‘antibiotic guardians’ and potentially future scientists. With primary schools prioritising Maths and English over Science, igniting an interest in this audience is important for the future of the sciences. We have identified KS3 as the point where we can have an impact on children’s aspirations and KS4 where we can influence their attainment. Aspects of this PEP map onto the GCSE curriculum for all three sciences, for example in AQA biology it will enrich students’ learning in: cell biology (4.1), microscopy (4.1.1.5), epidemiological data in health issues (4.2.2.5), infection and response (4.3) and antibiotic resistant bacteria (4.6.3.7).

Our secondary audience is the general public, also at risk from AMR, in areas underserved by public engagement. We have permission to park the bus in market squares in Mansfield, Retford, Hucknall, Newark and Nottingham. Participants will engage with the activities described above, with the interactive experiments and conversations tailored to different ages and levels of understanding. 

The project learning materials, including 2d&3D versions of the VR environments will be available on a dedicated website, on YouTube and Facebook and through www.stem.org.uk/resources, enabling teachers to deliver a version of the PEP, and the general public to engage with the material, indirectly reaching a further 100,000–150,000 people.  

Team:

Our team includes Wellcome Trust and EPSRC funded scientists who bring extensive expertise in AMR research and the development of innovative solutions to combat it, and the head of science at a STEM secondary school who brings expertise in engaging our primary audience with science, which will ensure that this PEP is appropriately targeted and relevant. The University of Nottingham’s outreach team bring expertise in delivering successful public engagement events to the general public, and organising visits to schools. The artists are building on extensive experience engaging the public with complex and challenging social and cultural issues, using innovative technology to create exciting immersive experiences. These include Displaced Witness (Baltic gallery), an interactive VR installation that engaged >100,000 visitors with the issue of the Migrant crisis and the Blood exhibition (Science Gallery, Melbourne), where a VR experience immersed the participant in clinical stroke data. These projects, and others detailed in the supporting material, demonstrate the ability to engage large numbers of people with subjects they might not normally engage with, through the innovative use of experiential technologies. They also evidence the ability for these projects to engage both a targeted primary audience and a broader general public audience. This PEP builds on these projects, adding the close collaboration with scientists and the partner school, and using a bus to take the project to our audiences, removing key barriers to engagement.

Delivery:

2019

Jan–March:                  Further research for and refinement of the script for the immersive experience and the planning of the interactive activities.

March–June:                Development and creation of the immersive and interactive elements, including user testing with schoolchildren from our partner school.

July–September:          Refinement of the immersive and interactive experiences based on user feedback.

October–December:     The Superbug Bus Tour:  24 schools and 8 town centres, gathering of initial surveys.

2020

June:                           Conduct follow up surveys.

December:                   Analysis and sharing of surveys, aspiration and attainment data.  

Evaluation

We will evaluate immediate and long-term changes in participants’ understanding of AMR; feelings of empowerment to participate in solutions, and (in the schoolchildren group) aspirations to study and work in science and effects on academic attainment. This will be done with questionnaires filled in before the PEP, immediately after and 6 months after and analysis of school data on subject choices and attainment. In-depth recorded interviews with a selection of participants will provide more detailed evaluation of the above, and of their experience of the PEP. Initial evaluation will feed directly into the delivery of the PEP to improve future sessions. Results will then be shared on a project website (GDPR compliant) and through science, art, education and public engagement networks in the form of mainstream media and social media reporting, academic papers, workshops and presentations at relevant events.