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Rockpool Roadshow blows minds

Published: 15 October 2015

Canned Ecology outside the Northern Ireland AssemblyHere at Queen’s University Belfast we recently obtained a small grant from the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) with which to do a bit of outreach and science communication—or #scicomm if you’re into Twitter.

A big part of our remit was to communicate the work of MERP, as one of several NERC-funded projects Queen’s is involved in. Given that MERP is funded courtesy of the public coffers, we are willingly beholden to ‘engage with stakeholders’— a needlessly-fancy term, which often amounts to ‘chat with people’. We also took the opportunity to promote the good work of NERC.

At Queen’s we’ve been trying to do just that over the past couple of months and, in an attempt to make our engagement engaging, we’ve used our outreach grant to build a rockpool into a big metal trailer. With so many creatures packed into a portable tin can we couldn’t help but brand it ‘Canned Ecology’ (Twitter hashtag: #cannedecology). Mobilising this outreach beyond our annual in-house open days has payed dividends; so far we’ve pitched up at Stormont to doorstep politicians and those working in the environment sector outside academia, and at family nature event in Slieve Gullion Forest Park.

Dr Danny Barrios-O'Neill outside Northern Ireland AssemblyWe’ve learnt plenty from these events, including that almost everyone takes an interest in our science... or at least in our sea urchins. Capitalising on this latent interest can only be a positive thing moving forward—we can and should allocate at least some of our time to communicate to as broad an audience as we possibly can.     

Altogether, Canned Ecology has taken a substantial amount of time and effort to get off the ground but we now have a mobile outreach platform in place, which the wider University can utilise for future events. More to the point, the real value of Canned Ecology lies in a simple fact: sea urchins consistently blow people’s minds!

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