Impact Awards in focus

Public engagement

The University of Exeter is passionate about involving the public throughout our research and we encourage people to take part in all aspects of our research projects; from shaping questions to sharing the benefits of research that makes a difference.

The Exeter Impact Awards has shortlisted five projects in the category which show how the public become part of our research, either during the information gathering phase, or when presenting the outcomes of the project.

The shortlisted projects cover methods of public engagement from blogging about ancient healthcare to using technology to improve carer support.

Professor Peter Vukusic has been nominated for an award after her developed two programmes to develop the public’s engagement with science.

His Girls into Physics programme, which addressed the gender imbalance in physics, began in 2012. The project aimed to improve the way girls engage with science in and out of the classroom by sending teams of female physics undergraduates to speak to youngsters and inspire an interest in science.

This project reached 500 girls in the eight schools visited and encouraged their growth as potential future scientists. 

The second of Prof Vukusic‘s outreach projects, Physics into Africa, involves introducing engaging teaching styles for science in Ethiopia and Malawi.

Two trips out of eight planned visits have taken place with the rest due to happen over the next three years; the aim is to enliven the teaching methods of the local science teachers to improve the pupils’ engagement with science.

PenCLAHRC's Patient and Public Involvement (PPI) team, led by Professor Nicky Britten, have been nominated for the internationally recognised work they have done to make sure public involvement is present throughout PenCLAHRC's work.

The PPI team worked to increase public understanding of health research through Miracle cures and Moral panics workshops; the team also leads Question Generation workshops, throughout the South West. These identify research questions which address the health concerns of patients and carers; seven of these patient generated questions have led to PenCLAHRC research projects.

Another shortlisted project was initiated by and created in response to requests from carers for a study on the experience of bereavement after a long term caring role.

A research team from the College of Medicine and Health, led by Rachel Purtell collaborated with to document the experiences of carers coping with bereavement. The project resulted in the production of a DVD of digital stories and changes to the way medical students are taught and developments in services within Devon County Council's carers support division and Royal Devon and Exeter Hospital Trust.

Dr Alun Withey, from the Centre for Medical Humanities, used his research into 17th Century medicine to engage with a wide audience. Alun uses his blog to share the stories his research uncovers; since its launch in March 2012, the blog has received over 17,000 visitors from more than 100 countries across the world.

His public engagement has also included public lecturers, a sell-out session at the Hay Literary Festival; he is the expert on medical history for BBC Wales and is developing ideas for Radio 4 and The One Show.

The shortlist is completed by archaeologist Gill Juleffs’s research into the monsoon wind powered iron smelting technology of Sri Lanka.

This archaeological research, which was built up over two decades, found evidence of large scale, first millennium AD, smelting technology that harnessed monsoon winds to power the furnaces. The design of these machines altered so radically from known examples that historians were forced to change the way they view this period.

The impact of this project is seen in the subsequent partnership that was formed with The Institution of Engineers Sri Lanka (IESL). IESL have used the Monsoon Steel project in their centenary publication on the history of engineering and have conducted experimental smelts, using the indigenous Sri Lankan technology.

The winner of the Outstanding Public Engagement award will be announced at the Exeter Impact Awards on 10 December 2013.