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NCTC: Public Engagement in 2016

I am very lucky to work for NCTC - not only because I work with some extraordinary and historical bacteria on a daily basis, but I get the opportunity to share my passion for microbiology with members of the public and potential future scientists.

Part of my current role is mentoring placement students, who spend a year with NCTC in between the 2nd and final year of their undergraduate degree. It is always rewarding to see the knowledge and enthusiasm for bacteriology gained by the end of their time with us.


Red bug - As drawn by Daniel at the Disease Detectives activity


Over the past year, I have been involved with public engagement events as a way to share my passion for microbiology with those who may not have any previous exposure to the subject and want to learn more. I lead a session as part of the “Hitchhiker’s Guide to Microbiology” course on how specimens are received and handled within Public Health England for members of staff within the organisation who do not work in the laboratory setting. The course is a great way for staff to have a taste of life in the lab.

I also got involved with a couple of events run by the Royal College of Pathologists. Children aged 10-15 and their parents were invited to “Disease Detectives,” held in the Hunterian Museum, to learn about the role pathologists play in treating diseases.  Donning lab coats, they learnt how to streak an agar plate and wash hands the correct way to prevent the spread of infection. The younger children drew us pictures of the bacteria they had just learned about which we took back to the laboratory and recreated with the NCTC strains. Our current placement students, Ellie and Noshin, got to work searching the collection for colourful bacteria to match the pictures. Personal favourites are Daniel’s red bug painted with NCTC 2676 Kocuria rosea and the fun we had with the glow-in-the-dark NCTC 3756 Pseudomonas fluorescens.


Glow in the dark bacteria - NCTC3756 Pseudomonas fluorescens


In October, PHE, in conjunction with RCPath, invited GSCE students to the teaching laboratory in Colindale for a taster of the work carried out on site. Agar plates, ELISAs and pipettes were all used to manipulate glow-in-the-dark specimens and recreate the experience of working in a real microbiology laboratory. Whilst nervous and timid at first, after we got started with the practical work, the students relaxed and were really interested in learning about the microbiology work PHE is involved in.

The best part of public engagement events for me, is speaking to animated youngsters hoping for a scientific career and hopefully inspiring them with the work we do in Culture Collections and PHE as a whole as well as my own career path. I was amazed at some of the insightful questions asked and how keen the children were to get stuck in to the practical work.

Staff at NCTC will be involved with more public engagement events in the future and are keen to share our colourful collection with as many people as possible, so if you have an idea for agar art, or have done some of you own, send us a tweet!


In fact, if you would like to share any images of your work with us, the Twitter links for all four collection are below:

January 2020