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Public Engagement Champion - Richard Unwin

Dr Richard Unwin, Research Fellow, Division of Cardiovascular Sciences (Twitter: @RDUnwin)

What do you do?

Richard's research focuses on using a technology called mass spectrometry to investigate changes in the molecular make-up of tissues during disease, in particular diseases related to ageing. By taking tissues, or body fluids, and comparing their constituent parts, it is possible to determine biological processes which are responsible for disease – these changes can then act as ‘markers’ of disease or can act as new targets to develop therapies. A major area of interest for Richard in Alzheimer’s disease, where he has recently mapped the levels of over 5,000 molecules in six distinct regions of the human Alzheimer’s brain, revealing new aspects of biology. He has also worked on age-elated macular degeneration, and is part of a Manchester team currently developing two potential new drugs for this condition – the most common form of blindness in the developed world.

What have been some of your public engagement highlights?

Richard has been doing public engagement since embarking on his PhD 20 years ago, including photo shoots with Leeds luminaries including Ronnie the Rhino – mascot of the Leeds Rhinos Rugby team! Highlights include designing and developing a series of animations describing aspects of his work, which were streamed round Manchester Royal Infirmary throughout Clinical Trials Day 2015 and which have racked up >20,000 views on YouTube. Richard reached the final of “I’m a Scientist, Get Me Out Here” in which scientists hold webchats with school children, and the pupils vote for their favorite in a series of X-Factor-style eliminations, and still regularly answers careers questions from students in their ‘Careers Zone’. He also designed and delivered a week-long science takeover at a local primary school which was hard work but really rewarding, especially seeing the enjoyment on parents faces when we ran the ‘science fair’ part after school.

The best piece of public engagement advice you have received:

Definitely to prepare well and test out or rehearse activities or explanations first. When I started doing public engagement, I would recruit my neighbour’s children and run activities past them in my kitchen. It’s important to get feedback and to use it. Now they are both grown up, but luckily I have my own children to act as my Guinea pigs!.

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