Imperial College London

NHLI sharing our science at the Great Exhibition Road Festival


Researchers at table at public engagement event

Members of the National Heart and Lung Institute (NHLI) share their science at Imperial’s Annual Festival.

We are delighted that so many of our staff and student community took part in this year’s Great Exhibition Road Festival held in June. The Festival is a free annual celebration of science and the arts each summer in South Kensington open to the public. It is a chance to celebrate the power science has to create a sense of awe and wonder to inspire us, motivate change and spark innovation, with a weekend science and arts events for all ages.

"Sharing my research with the public was an immensely rewarding experience, whilst enhancing my science communication skills" Vanessa Ho PhD student

The festival is just one opportunity that is seized upon by our researchers over the year to share their work and passion with a broader community outside academia. Public engagement is an important part of NHLI’s work and something encouraged and supported by the Department. "Public engagement describes the myriad of ways in which the activity and benefits of higher education and research can be shared with the public. Engagement is by definition a two-way process, involving interaction and listening, with the goal of generating mutual benefit" National Co-ordinating Centre for Public Engagement (NCCPE).

Here we share some of the photos and thoughts of researchers who took part in the Great Exhibition Road Festival 2023.

Studying blood flow and microvessels in the body 

At this year’s Great Exhibition Road Festival, Vanessa Ho, a PhD student and Research Assistant with the Vascular Science Section, had an exciting microfluidic stand that showcased blood flow using laser-cut keyring micro-chips. These keyrings were engraved with an organ that allowed visitors to observe fluid flow and take this home. They also had an interactive video where visitors could manipulate blood movement in a microchannel using dials and switches. The stand attracted a diverse range of visitors who shared the researchers genuine excitement for microfluidics. Vanessa noted that “I had fascinating discussions about microfluidics, and it was truly inspiring to connect with the younger generation of scientists. Sharing my research with the public was an immensely rewarding experience, whilst enhancing my science communication skills. The festival exceeded our expectations in terms of popularity and support from the organisers. Thank you to everyone who assisted us and visited our stand”. 

  • lung and brain shapes
  • researchers at table
  • multi-coloured liquid
  • keyring

Imperial College Science in Medicine School Team

The Imperial College Science in Medicine School Team Prize have been running a Poster Prize competition for teams of 6th form students called The Imperial College Science in Medicine School Team Prize. The categories for this year were Heart and Circulatory Disease, Lung Disease, and Scleroderma and Raynaud’s. At the stand the team showcased some of the poster entries for their competition.

Dorian Haskard and Courtney Chatterton-Bartley discuss last year’s winning posters with a visitor.
Dorian Haskard and Courtney Chatterton-Bartley discuss last year’s winning posters with a visitor.

The aims of the project are to introduce 6th formers to the excitement of medical research and its importance for promoting better health. The project aims to encourage team building in education and research, whilst fostering communication skills by including an artist or designer in the team. The team hope to promote appreciation for the importance of affordability, availability, and acceptability of medicine.

The School Teams Prize Committee comprises Professor Dorian Haskard (Vascular Science Section), Professor Cecilia Johansson (Respiratory Infections Section), Jaya Rajamanie & PhD student Courtney Chatterton-Bartley.

Margaret Turner Warwick Centre for Fibrosing Lung Disease

Dr Laura Fabbri and Dr Alison John ran an activity entitled ‘Can we take your breath away?’ on behalf of the Margaret Turner Warwick Centre for Fibrosing Lung Disease. Scarring (fibrosis) affects every organ in the body and has been estimated to cause approximately one-third of all deaths worldwide. The Centre is the UK's only research centre dedicated to studying fibrotic lung diseases with a 360-degree approach. The playful activities at the festival aimed to arouse public curiosity and highlight the everyday challenges and limitations faced by people with pulmonary fibrosis.

The stand featured paintings and poetry from patients, a sculpture highlighting that finding a cure is a race against time and an augmented reality app to visualise your lungs in 3D.

Laura explains “Our activity is designed to make people experience the life of a person with pulmonary fibrosis. Fibrosis is a sort of scarring that happens in the lungs. Because of the disease, they feel short of breath and also common everyday activities, such as walking and talking, cycling, or having a shower, may be a challenge. We set three different bikes to represent normal, mild fibrotic, and severe fibrotic lungs. When cycling you could see the oxygen being pumped into the lungs until filling them. But the lungs with fibrosis were more challenging to fill, and the oxygen did not spread where the fibrosis was. We invited the public to test the different bicycles and then tell us what it was like”. 

Researchers at festival

Laura and Alison were joined by people from Action for Pulmonary Fibrosis, and an ex-patient called Andy, who underwent a lung transplant and was able to share his lived experience. People engaged with the activity and the disease they had never heard of, it was also educational for children, who learnt how the lungs work.

Let's Talk About Cough

‘Let’s talk about cough’ is a public engagement project that aims to raise the profile of chronic cough by sharing diverse stories, knowledge and perspectives in creative ways. It was represented at the festival by Dr Michael Wortley and Dr Eric Dubuis from the Airway Disease Section, who ran an audio experience entitled ‘Aliens, Avalanches & ATP that visitors could listen to through headphones whilst in a library. 

Aliens, Avalanches & ATP recounts a scientific drama spanning decades. It tells the true life stories of people whose everyday experience is shaped and threatened by a physical reflex, that for most of us is a minor irritation. The drama is followed by a conversation with some of the people who shared their stories to make the piece.

  • People in library with headphones
  • People sit and listen in library
  • People look at books in library
  • person writes on pad

The experience at the festival was a pilot and the audio experience will be presented in public libraries, as part of festivals and events, throughout 2024.



Ms Helen Johnson

Ms Helen Johnson
National Heart & Lung Institute

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Contact details

Tel: +44 (0)20 7594 6843

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