Meet Cathy Moore, Postdoctoral Scientist at St George’s, University of London
The scientists of the future. Meet Cathy Moore, as she talks about the importance of engaging and with school children, challenging stereotypes to make science more accessible.
Cathy Moore is Postdoctoral Research Assistant at the Infection and Immunity Research Institute at St George’s University of London. Her work focuses on finding new ways to diagnose and treat Malaria and TB, as well as exploring the possibilities of Plant Biotechnology for developing a producing new diagnostics and drugs.
Cathy is not only a familiar face at St George’s, but also in the schools and streets of London, as she has made it her mission to open up the world of science to school children, not through traditional communication but by creating an open dialogue. Here Cathy talks about her approach and the importance of engagement for progressing novel science such as Plant Molecular Farming.
Hi Cathy, can you tell us about your approach to public engagement and why do you think it is valuable to engage children and schools?
Public engagement is very important to me, but the current model of encouraging the public to come to us (events, websites etc.) to tell them about our subject is not as effective as taking the science to the public, and being informed by the public on what subjects they want to hear about. My public engagement projects have included setting up a stall in the street to offer information about COVID19 and the available vaccines, and taking part in a science club for a secondary school. For this we asked the students what subjects they wanted us to talk about.
Engaging with children has a two-fold benefit. Children/young adults not only absorb the information but also the culture of science. This addresses the issue of stereotypes. For example, a decade ago asking school children to draw a scientist resulted in almost all children drawing someone resembling Albert Einstein. A recent study found that now more and more children are drawing women. More engagement with children by scientists will continue to challenge the sorts of ideas that would discourage girls and members of BAME communities from pursuing science. The other benefit is that the children can take the information they’ve learned home to their families. A very effective strategy for disease control, for example, in parts of the world where parents may not have had access to education, is to teach disease control in schools so that this information can filter back to the families and the community.
Pharma Factory will be taking part in pop-up events and Science Festivals in the autumn and spring, why do you think science festivals are important for PMF and bio-tech?
Science festivals are, I feel, more informal and probably a lot less intimidating for the public compared to say, attending a talk in a university. It also means there is a variety of media and subjects to engage with, rather than one talk on one topic. Scientific research dissemination online can also be rather impenetrable for non-scientists who may not understand all the terminology. Being able to talk to scientists in an informal setting gives people the opportunity to understand the topic by asking for clarification.
Why is it important to engage children in conversations about Plant Molecular Farming?
When I talk to people about PMF the most common response I get is ‘I had no idea this sort of thing was even happening!’. I think engaging children in PMF and bio-tech will not only normalise the technology, but also inspire and encourage the children to potentially pursue a career in the subject, or at least be comfortable and accepting of the platform should they ever need any therapeutics produced with this technology.
How might PMF change the future, and what is the role of your engagement work in supporting that future?
Encouraging the growing of more plants has obvious environmental advantages. I see PMF having the greatest impact in low to middle income countries, since the low initial investment cost and the required skills for agriculture are attractive advantages for this platform in these regions. It would allow these countries who are most affected by infectious diseases to take ownership of their own therapeutic production, in the region for the region. Normalising the technology through public engagement will hopefully increase the public’s confidence in this method.