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Public Engagement

Centre of the Cell goes to Italy

Centre of the Cell Team in Bergamo

By Learning and Outreach Officers Rebecca Knowlson and Alex Jenkin

In September, the Centre of the Cell team packed their bags and flew to Bergamo in Italy to deliver two days of training at the British Bilingual School.

The British Bilingual School is a Nursery and Elementary school in Bergamo that overlaps the Italian and English curricula and teaches the students in both English and Italian. The school heard of Centre of the Cell thanks to Tiziana Schioppa, a scientist who used to work in a lab with Centre of the Cell Director Professor Frances Balkwill and whose children now attend the school.

The school was due to participate in BergamoScienza 2015, a free local science festival that has been running since 2003. The aim of the festival is to make science accessible, especially for young people and school groups. The school asked if they could draw upon our expertise as science communicators and train some of their teachers to deliver our Snot, Sick and Scabs show at the festival. It is hoped that the use of this show will be a starting point for a bigger science communication project, similar to Centre of the Cell, in Bergamo.

Snot, Sick and Scabs

Snot, Sick and Scabs is our most popular science show. Our shows are presenter-led performances run by Centre of the Cell Explainers both in schools and on our site in Whitechapel. They last 45 to 60 minutes and are performed for an audience of up 120 students. Find out more about the shows we offer at

Snot, Sick and Scabs is about the body’s defences (our snot, sick and scabs) and the ways in which they work to keep out microorganisms.  By the end of the show the children will have learnt what snot is made of, why we vomit and how scabs form. They will also learn lots of disgusting facts like why you shouldn’t pick your nose and eat your bogies and why it’s important not to pick your scabs, much to the delight of parents and teachers!

Preparing to go to Bergamo

Centre of the Cell

To prepare for the trip we put together a training schedule and also made a replica Snot, Sick and Scabs kit to take with us. The idea was to use this kit to train the teachers and then leave it with them so that they could use it for the festival. Producing this kit included making a replica of our famous giant hair.

Training Teachers

The training was delivered over two days to two groups of teachers. Each session involved a complete run through of the show presented by us. After this we split the teachers into smaller groups, ran through the script and gave them time to learn each demonstration.

We also shared our knowledge and ideas about presenting to a non-English-speaking audience. In July, Centre of the Cell were visited by a Chinese Summer School and the Learning Team worked with an interpreter to deliver a number of our shows for the students.

In our experience, there are a few things that need to be adapted when presenting to an audience whose first language is not the same as yours. Working with an interpreter often means that you have less time because explanations have to be repeated by the interpreter. You can extend the length of the session but you may have to cut some content.

Centre of the Cell

At BergamoScienza the teachers had a time slot and so needed to cut some of the content of the show. We worked with them to decide which parts are essential and which parts could be edited. Additionally, this audience may need extra learning resources to aid their understanding during the show. We worked with the teachers to develop the idea of using a vocabulary wall, sticking up images and words (in Italian and English) after they have been explained.

Overall, there were three key things that made the training effective. Firstly, it was important to be flexible with the training schedule and timings. This provided the teachers with a broad understanding of the show and its content as well as the time to focus on things they found most challenging. Secondly, it was important to allow the trainees to actively participate, giving them the time to try the demonstrations for themselves and get used to the kit. The best way to learn demonstrations is to have a go yourself! Finally, we discovered just how important it was for us as trainers to have first-hand experience of running the show. This meant that we were able to answer any questions and make informed suggestions.  

In conclusion, delivering this training was a fantastic experience for us and has taught us a lot about how to develop and deliver training programmes in the future. It was also a wonderful opportunity to tell a new audience about Centre of the Cell and QMUL. This year’s BergamoScienza took place between 2nd and 18th October. We very much hope that the presenters and visitors enjoyed Snot, Sick and Scabs. So now to the future…where will Centre of the Cell go next? You’ll have to watch this space to find out.

Learn more about Centre of the Cell at

Look out next month for a second part to this post about how Centre of the Cell shows teach scientific concepts.

Written by Rebecca Knowlson and Alex Jenkin
Learning and Outreach Officers 
Centre of the Cell



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