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Patani Lab, Institute of Neurology

From a colouring-in competition to choreographing a nerve cell, the Patani Lab embraces unique and artistic ways to engage the public.

10 October 2017

The Patani Lab is a group of researchers based at UCL Institute of Neurology and the Francis Crick Institute. Led by Dr Rickie Patani and sponsored by Wellcome, the Lab’s research focuses on the causes of Motor Neuron Disease (MND). MND is incurable, progressive and fatal.

The Patani Lab undertakes a lot of public engagement to communicate their research to the public. Dr Patani explains that their public engagement is ‘bidirectional’: the Lab wants to enter a dialogue with the public and get feedback and involvement on their research. This will let them work collaboratively to re-evaluate, refine and evolve their research programmes and engagement agendas.

They also want to inspire children to become the next generation of thinkers, researchers and leaders in science, in order to “maximise our chances of understanding and treating some of the most devastating and fatal neurological diseases.”

The Patani Lab’s public engagement is aimed at all ages and audiences. As well as maintaining an active presence on YouTube and Twitter -  where they recently held a colouring-in competition for children - the Lab uses extremely creative and innovative artistic and theatrical approaches to showcase its research.

One example is the dance-science piece Action Potential, first performed at the Manchester Science Festival in 2015, in collaboration with the Combination Dance Company. The piece uses choreography to anthropomorphise a nerve impulse; this demonstrates some basic concepts about nerve cell function and the impact of MND.

Dr Patani explained that this piece showcased true synergy in engagement: each person involved contributed a unique skill, including dance, choreography, marketing, science and medicine. “This ‘innovation through collaboration’ is a key part of our engagement strategy,” he said.

Audiences have said that Action Potential is “emotive and well acted” and a “perfect combination of accessibility without losing the science.”

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