By Mariangela Panniello, Chair, Oxford branch

On Saturday 17 March, despite the grey sky and a cold snow falling, the Oxford branch volunteers came together for Food for Thought, a morning of fun and science organised in partnership with Refugee Resource, a local charity working to facilitate the integration of migrants and asylum seekers in Oxfordshire.

We can think of food in many ways: as the juicy fruit growing on a tree, as the squishy and wet mouthful we’re about to swallow, or as energy for our muscles! Food for Thought aimed to teach the science behind these transformations and raise awareness about the value of a healthy diet.

Ten British Science Association (BSA) volunteers ran five different hands-on activities:

  • Where food comes from: in collaboration with The Curiosity Box, an activity all about the magic powers of sun, soil and water to convert seeds into food
  • Microscopic food: in collaboration with the Royal Microscopy Society, a surprising journey through the hidden anatomy of spices and seeds, invisible to the naked eye
  • The food journey: the perfect occasion for kids to get their hands dirty with crushed food mixed with orange juice, mimicking the action of gastric juices in our stomach
  • The blood factory: what does the perfect blood look like? A good balance of sugar, salt, fat and vitamins. Plenty of (almost real) blood cups were made by our attendees with oil, salt, soap and kitchen colours
  • Body power: a chance to see our muscle energy recorded live on a smartphone screen!

Food for Thought attendees observing "microscopic food"

Moreover, Dr Heidi de Wet, from the Department of Physiology, led the Researcher Corner: a space reserved for adults to discuss nutrition and diet-related diseases with an expert.

Food for Thought involved about 30 refugee children, between 5 and 14 years old, and their mothers. A familiar and joyful atmosphere invaded the East Oxford Community Centre right from the start, while volunteers and attendees travelled together through the secrets of plant and human physiology. Here’s what one of them told us, the day after the event:

“Thank you. You definitely will have inspired some future scientists! And my daughter said it was her favourite part of the weekend, even better than a friend’s birthday party!”

With Food for Thought, we put science at the heart of culture and at the service of the people. Here is what Metta, one of our volunteers, said after the event:

“I really enjoyed the open and welcoming atmosphere at the Food for Thought event! With so much genuine interest and discussion between the researchers, BSA volunteers, the Refugee Resource community group and the Refugee Resource volunteers, we all left feeling inspired.”

Being a scientist in a place like Oxford means countless occasions to listen, learn and take on new challenges, but these occasions often reach only a small portion of the local population. Sharing our knowledge with the lively curiosity of our attendees has been a great way to serve our community and learn from one another. We hope to repeat this experience next year!