Moving discovery from the region’s institutions into the community—that is the goal of the Cambridge Science Festival, a unique 10-day celebration of science, technology, engineering, art, and math (STEAM). This year, Partners HealthCare hospitals played a key role in helping the festival’s attendees understand the many ways that medical science impacts their lives. 

At the Science Carnival and Robot Zoo on April 14, Massachusetts General Hospital researcher Nitya Jain, PhD and colleagues from the Mucosal Immunology and Biology Research Center set up shop among 100 interactive booths. With a “Meet Your Microbes” presentation, they helped children and families grasp immunology in a tangible way—using a T-cell demonstration and a home microbe culture kit. Across the exhibit hall, McLean Hospital researchers highlighted the intricacies of a real human brain, which the booth’s inquisitive visitors were allowed to hold in their hands.  

Separately, a “Science Slam” hosted by the Mass General Research Institute on April 19 sought to overcome the communication barriers that often prevent high-level science from effectively reaching lay audiences. Researchers were given five minutes to informally present their research—and convey its importance—without relying on slides or scientific lingo. Presentations covered a wide range of topics including depression, cancer biology, and neonatal evaluation for infection. “These events were part of our efforts to spread the word about research at Mass General beyond the walls of the hospital,” said Susan Slaugenhaupt, PhD, Scientific Director of the Mass General Research Institute. “At a time when science seems to be constantly under fire, it was great to connect with so many people who are enthusiastic about research."

Also on April 19, Brigham and Women’s Hospital took its own turn at the festival, with a science fair at the Hale Building for Transformative Medicine. There, hands-on demonstrations highlighted medical innovation for community members and BWH staff. The Pediatric/Newborn Medicine Research table featured brain science activities. An exhibit titled “Gas Man” used computer simulation to track the path anesthesia takes through the body. The Zebrafish Core Facility discussed how zebrafish are used to study basic function and disease. Visitors crowded a virtual reality device used to view and annotate imaging scans. Sat Bir Singh Khalsa, PhD, of the Division of Sleep Medicine, led meditative yoga sessions steeped in science. And the Drinker Iron Lung, whose roots trace back to the Peter Bent Brigham Hospital, stood as a notable piece of medical history as people gathered to see—and even climb inside—a machine that saved the lives of countless polio victims.

All told, the festival’s many moving parts helped call attention to the very best of Partners innovation, before a wide-ranging audience. “It was a great success, drawing in an impressive crowd of all ages and interests and giving our remarkable researchers a chance to showcase their incredible work,” said Jackie Slavik, PhD, Executive Director of the Brigham Research Institute. 

Photo credit: Brigham Research Institute, Mass General Research Institute

Topics: Technology, Community Partnerships, Scholarship

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