vrijdag 10 september 2010

The Academische Jaarprijs - continued

In May, I wrote about how our team, the Genenkrakers (gene code breakers), got selected for the finals of the Academische Jaarprijs. What this would mean for my activities was not really clear to me at that point, but now, after having submitted the full proposal, I know it involves being organizer, bartender, entertainer, actor, movie director, and much more. So what have we been doing over the past few months? Well, a lot! This year, at Noorderzon, a new building full of science appeared in between the music stands, theatres, arts, food, wine and beer. (Noorderzon is a yearly performing arts festival held in Groningen.) Our team for the Academische Jaarprijs was asked to participate in this new Science Center, called Cu3. After some brainstorming, we came up with the idea of a “DNA bar”: serious science with a hint of the main activities of the festival’s visitors.

At this bar, we sold DNA necklaces: visitors were given a cotton swab and asked to take some saliva from their inner cheek, we isolated their DNA and put it in a capsule that could be hung on a necklace. The Cu3 was a big success (it had more than 5000 visitors over 10 days), and our DNA bar was an excellent idea – we sold over 1100 DNA necklaces! Who would ever have expected such a success! Isolating 1150 DNA samples is a lot of work, so we asked for help from our colleagues in the Department of Genetics.

Without any trouble we got over 40 volunteers to work behind the bar for an afternoon or evening. For me, it involved organizing the bar schedule, supervising the shifts, and keeping track of the stocks in the bar. In addition, I did a number of shifts myself, explaining to visitors why we were doing this, persuading them to have their DNA isolated, and helping in the isolation process. I also got to know the other members of the Qu3 – all people who, next to their regular jobs as a teacher, scientist, artist or student, had volunteered to work long evenings in this Science Center at an arts festival… Those were 10 long days, but it was great fun.
When Noorderzon was over, there was no time to recover as our team had to have their TV pitch filmed. Our plan was to act a short interview, explaining the metaphor between DNA and the railway, and for this interview we needed trains. The NS (Dutch railways) has a conference center in Utrecht, where there are simulated trains available for certain purposes. So, accompanied by a photographer and a camera women, we all traveled to Utrecht, where it took us almost the whole day to record a 3-minute movie, not including the time we had spent writing the script and designing the animations that are part of the movie.

This project is really giving me opportunities to see a whole different side of science. Working in the Science Center gave me an incredible amount of energy and enthusiasm. I think I found out the direction in which I will have to steer my career in the future. For now, I’m recovering from the festival and trying to get my lab work running again (almost forgot, I’m still a post-doc) and remembering the great evenings at the DNA bar.
Please visit our website and weblog and do join our Facebook, Twitter and Hyves groups to help us win the prize in October!

- This blog was first posted on PCDI's community blog -