Escape Room: Project development

Escape Room: Project development

Escape Room: Project development

When the Public Engagement Team first proposed the idea of a cell signalling themed escape room, I was immediately hooked. The concept of cell signalling pathways lends itself to so many engaging and activity based explanations of how beautiful and intricate the communications inside a single cell are.

The original development team was a collaboration between PhD students from the Signalling programme at the Babraham Institute (Chiara Pantarelli, Piotr Jung, Richard Odle and myself) and the public engagement team (Michael Hinton, Esther van Vliet and Giulia Poerio).

Our aim was to design a public engagement activity that would excite young adults and grown-ups at the same time as communicating our science – capitalising on the popularity of escape rooms seemed perfect for this. The purpose of an escape room is well understood, it would be fun yet challenging, and it would be an opportunity to engage people with not only cell signalling as a concept, but also about the exact pathway that we work on in the Welch lab.

Our first task was the trickiest: to define the precise steps in the signalling pathway that would form the basis of our escape room. Signalling pathways can be incredibly complicated and complex, with diagrams sometimes covering a whole wall! We settled on keeping it simple, but scientifically sound, and chose a pathway with a direct link to people’s lives – how our cells protect us from infections. Next, we brainstormed some fun activities for the escape room, figured out how to fit these into the pathway, and then had to link them together into a coherent whole (all while keeping in mind that we wanted to make this something that would fit in the back of a car so that it could be a portable activity to maximise reach and impact!). I don’t want to give too much away, but I particularly enjoyed designing the pipetting challenge. The public engagement team were super helpful in making our ideas come to life, thinking more about how the activity all fits together and creating a really professional set up.

We trialled the escape room with Babraham Institute staff, including a team from our HR and Finance Departments and a couple of teams of researchers who regularly visit escape rooms in their spare time. Their feedback helped us to fine-tune the activities before we opened to the general public as part of the Cambridge Science Festival.

I really enjoyed the opportunity to develop a new public engagement activity from scratch rather than jumping in straight away as a briefed volunteer. Getting stuck in with public engagement activities always renews my enthusiasm for research, and the opportunity to be involved in a project that directly engages people with the exact pathway I am researching in my PhD was really something special.
The team are delivering over 25 sessions of the Escape Room in the Faraway Forest at the Latitude Festival from Thursday 18th to Sunday 21st July 2019. Can you solve the puzzles and save your cells?

This is the first of three blog posts in a series about the Escape Room project – you can read the others at:
#1 The Cell Escape! Developing novel ideas for engagement 
#2 The Cell Escape! The science behind the scenes
#3 The Cell Escape! A researcher's view of Public Engagement