A Snapshot of Science

Posted by Dr Asha Patel on 10 March 2017

The importance of communication

As a scientist, dissemination of research is an important part of the job. This is usually targeted to peers by publishing articles in scientific journals or presenting findings at conferences. However, communicating research to a wider general audience is also critical for non-scientists to gain awareness and understanding of science. The importance of this communication first became apparent to me before I began my PhD, when I was working as a pharmacist in primary care. Taking time to educate patients about their medication empowered them to understand their treatment better and therefore improved health outcomes. Similarly, it is important to engage with the public to arm them with knowledge of science that may have impact far beyond the lab.

Art and Science

My research is within the field of regenerative medicine and I have found that in a growing arena of interdisciplinary and international science, it is critical to be able to communicate ideas and data through language that is common to all participants. Jargon can confuse the most seasoned scientist and is not an effective strategy for team work. The same is true for communicating to non-scientists from all walks of life and scientific art is one of many ways that can provide a snapshot into science to compel people to delve into the significance of the research behind the image.

The ETERM-EPSRC fellowship allowed me to carry out part of my post-doctoral research at the Koch Institute (KI), at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The KI opens their doors every week to the public, to invite them to view its gallery featuring art generated from research being conducted within the institution. This gallery also features an exchange with Wellcome images in the UK enabling international exchange of science through art.

The KI image awards

The unveiling of the KI image awards brought an audience of over 150 people from the general public to gain an insight into the science behind the images by networking with the scientists who created them. To reach a wider audience outside of Cambridge USA, video blogs were also posted on the Koch Institute's YouTube site. More recently, my image was featured on the Cell journal website showcasing the "Best of 2016" highlighting how far reaching these events can become.

My image, 'suit your cell', is a compilation of photos taken using a fluorescent microscope collected during a project to discover materials capable of supporting the growth of human cells outside of the body that may be useful for clinical therapies or drug screening. The in-depth research article was also made open access thanks to EPSRC funding for those in the audience who wanted a more detailed account of the research.

By taking part in these events, I've learned how to talk about my research in a way that is much more accessible and therefore engaging to the general public. I've realized how important it is for scientists to step out of the lab and art is one of many ways of achieving this. The KI event takes place annually and I'm excited to see the next wave of images and public engagement in 2017!


In the following table, contact information relevant to the page. The first column is for visual reference only. Data is in the right column.

Photo of Asha Patel
Name: Dr Asha Patel, MPharm, PhD
Job title: Post-Doctoral Fellow
Section / Team: Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research
Organisation: Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Asha Patel is an EPSRC E-TERM post-doctoral fellow at the University of Nottingham and Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She is currently based in the laboratories of Daniel Anderson and Robert Langer, working on nanomaterials that may be useful for regenerative medicine and gene therapies. Asha completed her Pharmacy degree at King's College London in 2006 and has previously spent over seven years in pharmacy practice and primary care with the Co-operative Pharmacy. She gained her PhD at the University of Nottingham in 2014 under the guidance of Chris Denning and Morgan Alexander, where she investigated how material properties could influence human cardiomyocyte maturity and applications for drug and cardiotoxicity screening.