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Wellcome-MRC Cambridge Stem Cell Institute

Public Engagement with Research Award winner

Cambridge Stem Cell Institute group leader Dr Elisa Laurenti has won one of six University of Cambridge Public Engagement with Research Awards. She received a £1,000 prize presented by the Vice-Chancellor in an award ceremony on 13 July in the Old Schools.

Elisa has been a leading force in public engagement at the Institute, particularly as coordinator for the Stem Cell Robots – an activity that has become central to many different events including the Cambridge Science Festival. The activity uses specially programmed Thymio robots to demonstrate how stem cells make decisions to differentiate. Participants are asked to draw a code to tell the stem cell robots which type of cell to become. The interactive nature has made this activity a real success with people of all ages and provides a great tool for scientists to explain how stem cells make decisions.

Dr Laurenti said “This is a great honour and the prize was awarded to me as the coordinator of the “Stem Cell Robots activity”, but really it would like to extend it to all of my collaborators and colleagues that have been fundamental to make this activity a success.” 

The Stem Cell Robots project is a collaboration of several different people and institutions:

-          Dr Stéphane Magnenat, from EPFL LSRO lab at time of the event, co-awardee and co-inventor of the Thymio robots, he is really the mastermind behind the technology of this activity.

-          Shiling Wang and Dr Cyrille Dunant who contributed their coding skills to the initial iterations of the activity and also provide continuous support.

-          Christophe Barraud of Mobsya, who provided the robots

Stem Cell Robots continues to be a central activity to CSCI public engagement activities and is now inspiring new projects. Dr Justyna Rak (Simon Mendez-Ferrer lab) and Jean Charles Callu, are working on Stem Cell Robots 2.0, a new activity which will be focused on blood stem cells and that we plan to roll out in schools and at reading clubs later in 2017.

Congratulations to Elisa for her award and a big thank you to all the volunteers who have helped with all our public engagement activities!