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Cola drinking flea is a hit at Queen Mary Science Festival

Hundreds of local school children found out how caffeinated drinks affect the heartbeat of a flea at the third annual Barts and Queen Mary Science Festival on Tuesday 25 June.

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A festival visitor watches a magnified flea
A festival visitor watches a magnified flea

The fully-booked free festival at Queen Mary, University of London’s Mile End campus explored the fun side of science and medicine and attracted over 300 guests, from 11-year-old school pupils to university students and researchers.

‘Science showman’ Professor Andrea Sella, whose creative chemistry demonstrations fill theatres up and down the country, performed at the event, demonstrating the science behind ice, crystals and crystallography with the help of frozen petrol, a large block of cheese and a giant crystal made of LEGO.

Queen Mary’s Dr Mohammed Khanji talked on keeping the heart healthy, while the British Red Cross staged a performance explaining how to save a life. Researchers from the British Pharmacological Society investigated the effects of caffeine on the body by inviting guests to place water fleas on a microscope slide, drop a low-caffeinated solution onto them and measure their heart rate with a clicker counter.

The Octagon at Mile End also hosted a ‘Science Market’ – a series of hands-on exhibitions, talks and displays from Queen Mary experts, which included an exploration of genomes, arthritis research and a Bionic Man.

Guests were welcomed to the event by Professor Vernon Trafford, Chair of the William Harvey Research Institute’s Public and Patient Advisory Group.

Co-organiser Jane Batchelor comments: “The Festival is aimed at everyone, from young children to adult ‘big kids’ to A-Level students thinking about studying medicine. After our first event in 2011 many of these students told us that their visit to Queen Mary was not only fun and interesting, but it helped convince them to apply for a degree.

“Our researchers and exhibitors are brilliant at explaining and demonstrating really important health issues and research in easy to understand ways, using visual arts, humour and creativity. They’re opening up science for a whole new audience.”

The Barts and Queen Mary Science Festival began in 2011 and is organised by Dr Steffen Petersen, Dr Francesca Pugliese and Jane Batchelor of the NIHR Cardiovascular Biomedical Research Unit at Barts and The London School of Medicine and Dentistry, part of Queen Mary.  

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