The independent charity, the Wellcome Trust, was set up in 1936 in the aim of funding and improving health and public awareness of medicine and biology. They are the second largest private funding body in the field of medical research (second to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation).
The Wellcome Trust funds research, promotes the publishing of articles and encourages the existence of public databases for the storage and distribution of information. What I find most inspiring though, is the dedication to promoting public awareness of biology research and medical endeavors. The Wellcome Trust hosts a variety of exhibits at the Wellcome Collection opposite Euston in London – the exhibits are free and open to all.
The permanent collection, Medicine Now, combines art with medicine and art and is divided into five sections: The Body, Genomes, Malaria, Obesity and Living With Medical Science.
The ‘Body’ section includes a 3D, see-through, life-size model of a body; you can press buttons labeled as different body organs to light the respective body parts. This interactive piece enables the visualization of the human insides and is easily accessible to children (and me… I only just clocked the difference between the uterus, bladder and ovaries!).
In the ‘Genomes’ section, there is a piece titled ’23 Pairs’ by Andrea Duncan. 23 pairs of baby socks are displayed behind a glass frame, depicting the variety of our chromosomes.
The ‘Obesity’ section displays a very powerful and disturbing life-size model, ‘I can’t help the way I feel’, by John Isaacs.
When human DNA is being prepared for sequencing, it is first cut into millions of small pieces, each of which if inserted into bacterium – these then divide to produce trillions of copies of each piece. The exhibit has on display the machine used to pick up individual ‘colonies’ and to transfer each one to a tiny tube from where the DNA can be extracted and sequenced. This particular robot was one of the robots originally used to sequence the firs human genome!!
Other pieces include a printout of the entire human genome sequence and a gastrointestinal camera the size of a baked bean. Throughout the exhibit there are white low-seat chairs with telephones attached to them. You are invited to sit and pick up the receiver to listen to a variety of lectures by Professors discussing various topics relating to genetics, obesity and so forth.
The exhibit makes biology feel accessible to all, not just to the select few specialists in the field (who may actually find the exhibit bordering on kitsch). For those of us who are curious but sometimes feel overwhelmed by biology and medicine, this is the perfect exhibit – it is welcoming, approachable and you will definitely learn some science!
And right at the end, you can reward yourself by having a go at the interactive activity where you have to pick a word out of a long series and then draw whatever comes to mind. All the postcards go up on display on the big wall behind (yes, I did take a picture of mine). I am not going to lie, that was probably the best part :- )
The Wellcome Trust is working hard to encourage peoples’ education of medicine/biology – they do so by creating welcoming exhibits that do not overwhelm the public, are child-friendly and FUN! If you have been already, please do share your thoughts and ideas oh how the Wellcome Trust may have improved the exhibit.