MRC WIMM Public Engagement Prize winners announced at this year’s WIMM Day

A huge congratulations to Tomasz Dobrzycki who has won this year’s MRC WIMM Public Engagement Prize. Tomasz, who is a DPhil student with Dr Rui Monteiro and Prof Roger Patient in the MRC Molecular Haematology Unit, has shown fantastic commitment to public engagement over the last year, taking part in a whole host of activities including the MRC Festival and events at the Museum of Natural History in Oxford. Most recently, he has turned rap-star for FameLab – a UK wide competition to explain a scientific concept in three minutes. Rapping his way through blood developmental biology, Tomasz came second in the regional final and entertained us all at WIMM Day with a special rendition.

We also awarded two runners-up prizes this year, for their stand out public engagement activities. Prof Jim Hughes from the MHU and Steve Taylor from the Computational Biology Research Group, were recognised for their work on developing virtual reality software that allows visitors to take a 3D tour around DNA, to understand how the genome folds inside our cells. First displayed at News Scientist Live, this has now been selected for the prestigious Royal Society Summer Science Exhibition. Annina Grädel, DPhil student with Prof George Hollander, was also rewarded for her work with an artist to showcase her research on the immune system, where she showed great initiative outside the scope of the initial project.

A special mention goes to Layal Liverpool, Dr Caroline Scott and Dr Jessica Davies for their ongoing commitment to public engagement.

Speaking about the award, Tomasz said:

WIMM PE Prize 2017
Tomek mid-rap, receiving his award

‘I'm very, very happy to have received the MRC WIMM Public Engagement Award. Each of the activities was rewarding in itself, but it’s great that it has all culminated in this award. At first, I got involved in the public engagement activities mostly to try something new and challenge myself to develop new skills. However, by putting my research in a broader context for the public, I discovered another depth to my work and I realised that what I do, along with other scientists in the WIMM and beyond, has impact on the world – and people want to hear about it! It’s refreshing to present the reasons behind science to someone from outside the field and hear their views, as opposed to high-detail discussions on everyday basis in the lab (which I also enjoy!).

‘It was also a challenge to learn to communicate science with just right amount of details for the audience to understand and this is what kept me getting involved in more and more activities. As time passed, I realised that the passion for science can be contagious and I was very willing to spread it, hoping to see sparks in the eyes of my audience. When you hear from children or teenagers: “This is so fascinating!”, “You are doing a great job” or “I want to be a scientist one day!” – it gives your work a whole new meaning.’

Prof Hal Drakesmith is co-chair of the WIMM Public Engagement with Research Committee. He said:

‘We had some fantastic entries for this year’s MRC WIMM Public Engagement Prize, including collaborations with artists, development of virtual reality software, and many much-appreciated school visits. However, Tomek’s efforts to engage the local community (and beyond) with his work really stood out. From talking about cancer research with shoppers in the supermarket through to his turn as a rapper in FameLab, Tomek has shown a huge commitment to public engagement with research. The fabulous performance of his Rap at WIMM Day will live long in the memory. We look forward to seeing what exciting activities are next!’

We look forward to seeing next year’s entries!