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Outside the Lab Profession

SUPERLAB Saves the Day!

Knowledge around biomedical science is lacking, even among well-informed adults. But what about in the next generation? How do we educate young children on the importance of the laboratory? One solution posed by the Institute of Biomedical Science (IBMS) is comics – brightly colored, kid-friendly, and most importantly, filled with scientific intrigue! We spoke with Dan Nimmo, Head of Communications for IBMS on how the comic is delivering a laboratory low-down for little tikes.

Please introduce yourself…

I’ve been Head of Communications for the IBMS for six-and-a-half years now, and one of the key things about my role during that time was trying to make our members feel that they’re more important. Working around pathology, you’ll know why it’s necessary to make sure that people understand who pathologists are, what they do, and why they are important. So to that end we set up Biomedical Science Day (June 8), which we try to commit to from lots of different angles. With SUPERLAB, we aimed to get younger children involved in science and biomedical science from a very early age. I’ve got young children, who quite regularly have check ups; for me, it’s important that they understand there is a process – that there are people involved in the science and that it’s not just the doctor kind saying: “this is what's wrong with you and this is how to fix it.”

My background is actually in secondary school education, comms, and marketing. One of the things I learned there was that primary schools don’t have science lessons like in secondary school, so this was our attempt to somewhat plug that gap. Moreover, our members can take the comics out into classrooms, talk kids through them, and even do some of the experiments inside.

How do you make SUPERLAB accessible for a younger audience?

We work with a company called OKIDO, which creates art and science magazines for children (you may have heard of the TV show, Messy Goes to OKIDO). They actually approached us at just the right time. Sophie Dauvois, one of the heads of their organization, has a scientific background and she’s been instrumental in making complex information more presentable. As someone who is not from a scientific background, I have to say a lot of the work comes from our members. We put together a group of our members – some who are parents themselves – and we asked how they would explain things to their own children. I must admit, some of the things I thought would be too complex, and I wondered: would a child understand this? And the parents respond: absolutely! It’s quite amazing.

Everything is road tested before it goes out to the wider world to make sure that it is understandable to a wider audience. We’re really proud of the second issue, because it takes it a step further. We focused on a patient going in to give a sample (working around “wee wee” and “poo poo” helps with the comedy) and tried to help kids understand that there’s many different departments involved.

We also involve some gamification in exploring the different parts of the lab, microbiology, blood science, and so on.

Who writes the recipes?!

One of our members, Martin Martingichiro – in fact, his bakes are photographed for the issue. Because we were working with OKIDO, we were able to use a number of tried and tested methods that work for children. Baking is always a big thing in children’s magazines, and we’ve had really good feedback for that section. At the end of the day, baking is science, isn’t it? Many of our members are bakers – we have a bake competition and one of our members was even on The Great British Bake Off years ago…

What’s the feedback like from members and parents?

There are always nerves when you put something new out there – even though we test everything as much as we can. But the feedback has been brilliant. 

Do you have further issues in the pipeline?

We’re now involved in managing Harvey’s Gang. It’s not to say there won’t be a SUPERLAB three, but the next step for the foreseeable future is to look at ways of integrating our characters in with Harvey’s Gang. We haven't really spoken too much about it. 

One thing we’re thinking about is needle phobias, which is a big issue with children. We’re looking at creating resources for that, and I think SUPERLAB would be a good way of doing it. Just two weeks ago, we had a patient’s father contact us to say his son is autistic and really struggles with giving blood, so he wanted to know if there was anything we could do to help. While we waited to set up Harvey’s Gang at the hospital, I sent him a couple of the SUPERLAB issues and a little handwritten note. The child’s dad was absolutely thrilled. 

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About the Author
George Francis Lee

Deputy Editor, The Pathologist

Interested in how disease interacts with our world. Writing stories covering subjects like politics, society, and climate change.

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