Optional Abstract: 

Aquascience is a flexible family of activities that can be tailored to diverse audiences, time scales and occasions with it’s adaptability facilitating the maximum public engagement with organisms and their environments. Participants find out about the organisms that are found in lakes and rivers and how they can be used in pollution monitoring. Using samples collected from local rivers and lakes they identify river invertebrates and use them to classify how polluted the river is and examine phytoplankton samples and classify the type of lake they came from. Aquascience has featured both in work with schools and in general public engagement activities, including the BBC’s Bang Goes the Theory Roadshow, the Faculty of Life Science’s Open Day, at Manchester Museum, and activities linked to the Manchester Science Festival. Since starting in January 2011 over 5000 people have already experienced the wonder of the hidden life in our rivers and lakes.

‘Aquascience’ is a University of Manchester outreach event run by staff from the Faculty of Life Sciences. It is designed to introduce people to issues related to the pollution of lakes and rivers. Pollution of freshwaters is an important global issue and Aquascience is designed to bring this to the attention of both school children and the general public. This allows them to engage with research currently carried out at the University and to provide a teaching and learning service to schools. Aquascience gives people an idea of what sort of organisms you find in lakes and rivers, how they can be used in pollution monitoring and includes of a suite of activities that can be tailored to different audiences.


The largest event is Aquascience-max, which is a two day outreach event. The first day is based at the participating school, with a team of aquatic scientists from the University taking a group of school children to a local lake and river to sample the water, plant and animal life. The day begins in the classroom, with an introductory lecture on why rivers and lakes are important, and how we can sample them. There is never any need to persuade the pupils to enter the water - as soon as they arrive at the river bank they don their waders and get in the water! The pupils take pH and other readings then sample the invertebrates and water for pollution analysis. After lunch the pupils sample a nearby pond or lake and take samples of phytoplankton and water. After a quick review of their collections, the day ends with the pupils having gained an understanding of how professional ecologists and scientists samples rivers and lakes, and have their very own samples of river invertebrates, lake phytoplankton and water.

On Day 2 the pupils come to the University to analyse their samples, starting their day with an introductory talk about using organisms to monitor pollution. They are then taken to the laboratories where small groups of children are given their river kick sample, from which they have to sort out the invertebrates from all the non-living stuff such as leaves, stones etc. Once sorted, they have a closer look under a dissecting microscope and using a simple guide designed by the staff, they identify what they have found and, using a simple scoring system based on the tolerance of different invertebrates to pollution, they work out how polluted the river is. They then compare the findings from looking at the biota with a chemical analysis of the nutrients and ammonia. After lunch the pupils go on a tour of the University, encouraging them to think about attending Higher Education themselves. The pupils then spend the afternoon looking at the phytoplankton sample from the lake/pond. Not many pupils have ever had the chance to look down microscopes at such inspiring microscopic organisms and they invariably find it exciting with lots of impressive algae to look at and identify. Using the presence of indicator species they then decide how eutrophic the lake/pond is. They then compare their diagnoses with that from nutrients and chlorophyll-a data from their water samples. See for a video of us sampling. Due to the two-day time scale of Aquascience-max many schools cannot afford the time commitment so we also provide a 1-day experience, where we provide the phytoplankton and biota, and the pupils come into University to analyse the samples.


Both the pupils and staff are given questionnaires to fill out at all events and are encouraged to write comments. The feedback from pupils has been excellent and the day is not only fun but highly educational too. The work that pupils have carried out has been applied to their studies for their GSCE's and BTEC assignments, with the pupils using the data they obtained to write up their assignments. ''It was mint'' or ''mega'' were some of the comments from the pupils, and it wasn’t only the students that enjoyed the experience with staff members giving comments such as " have helped to enrich our students learning. I am sure now some of them realise what is out there for them, if they wish to pursue their studies at University of Manchester in the future. I wish I had been given the same insight many years ago!! After today I have been inspired to make my ideas of testing our local mere and river happen.’’

Our schools activities have been a great success and a number of schools will be taking part in Aquascience in the future, with the University using it as a way of furthering good relations with local schools and encouraging wider participation in higher education. However, we don’t want a young person relying on his/her school to be involved as it is important for us to reach out to a wider audience. It is for this reason that we developed a cut down ‘roadshow’ version of Aquascience. In this version we go out to the public, and with samples of river invertebrates, phytoplankton and microscopes we set up a stand in a public place, allowing us to engage with the widest possible audience, from young people to adults. Aquascience-roadshow has been very successful, and has been exhibited at Museum open days, Science Festivals and University open days.


It is also important to leave a legacy, and it for this reason that we are now developing ‘Aquascience-school’. This will be a downloadable instruction pack for schools, containing all the information they need to set up their own sampling programme. This will widen Aquascience’s exposure well beyond the 5,000 people we have already reached.

Aquascience is therefore not a single outreach activity, with a specific target audience, but is better thought of as a family of activities that can be tailored to different audiences, time scales and occasions with its flexibility facilitating the maximum public engagement with organisms and their environments - ecology in action!



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