OXFORD REACHING OUT INTO THE COMMUNITY

University researchers reach out into the community

A researcher reconstructing lost historical sites, a project transforming lion killers into lion conservationists, activities to help people living with dementia and a department giving schoolchildren a chance to touch a piece of the moon have all been named winners at this year’s Oxford Vice-Chancellor’s Public Engagement with Research Awards.

These projects, along with eleven others, were recognised at the University’s Vice-Chancellor’s Public Engagement with Research Awards on 28 June, at the Oxford University Museum of Natural History.

Dr Claire Sexton, of the Department of Psychiatry, won an Early Career Research Award for engaging communities with her research on ageing in the brain. Since 2015 she has delivered Dementia Friends information sessions and public talks about her research. She is also Founding Chair of Dementia Friendly Chipping Norton. The group aims to bring together people living with dementia, caregivers, community organisations and researchers to increase awareness of dementia locally and improve inclusion and quality of life.

The Department of Earth Sciences was recognised in the Building Capacity category, for their work with Oxford primary school groups. Schoolchildren joined researchers in investigating samples of real lunar material brought to earth by the Apollo missions in the 1970s, which are rarely seen and held, even by researchers of lunar science.

Awarded projects engaged those much further afield too. A project led by Dr Amy Dickman from the Department of Zoology worked with communities in Tanzania to transform lion killers into lion conservationists – a major need in an area which holds the world’s second largest lion population, but had previously suffered extremely high rates of lion killing by local people.

The Vice-Chancellor’s prize was also announced at the ceremony – this year’s winner was Dr Alexy Karenowska, Department of Physics, for her work on the documentation, preservation, and restoration of at-risk cultural heritage sites across the world. Dr Karenowska led a team to create a 13 tonne replica of the Triumphal Arch from Syria’s Palmyra site, destroyed in 2015. She managed the installation of the structure on Trafalgar Square in London and has overseen the installation of the same arch in New York, Dubai and Florence.

Professor Louise Richardson, Vice-Chancellor says: ‘I have been deeply impressed by the quality of the public engagement with research projects submitted for this year’s awards. The breadth and diversity of the activities taking place show how seriously the University takes its commitment to public engagement. It is inspiring to see the positive impact these activities have both on research and on the individuals and communities that have been involved, from warriors in Tanzania and young adults in Brazil, to local communities affected by dementia.’

Professor Alison Woollard, the University’s Academic Champion for Public Engagement with Research says: ‘Public engagement enriches both research and society and the University is committed to enabling our researchers to inspire, consult and collaborate with the public. I’m delighted that we are able to recognise and highlight the fantastic work our researchers are doing and hope these awards encourage more colleagues across the University to carry out their own public engagement with research.

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