Published on July 18th, 2015 | by Kristina Harrison


The Wellcome Trust Ideas Lab: behind the cameras

Highlights of the Wellcome Trust Ideas Lab event in Edinburgh by Kristina Harrison.

Coming up with novel ideas. The non-stop battle for funding. Anti-social working hours. Starting with a hypothesis and finishing worlds apart from it. Somewhat prone to procrastination. Copious amounts of caffeine.

To most people involved in science, this may sound like a depiction of academic life. However, it is also describing another distinct profession: screenwriting.

These similarities between researchers and screenwriters became evident during the Wellcome Trust Ideas Lab, which was hosted at the 2015 Edinburgh International Film Festival (EIFF) in June. Ten scientific researchers were left in the same room as ten screenwriters, with the aim of connection, conversation and collaboration. The event was in partnership with the Beltane Public Engagement Network and was designed to immerse the screenwriters into the world of biomedical research and to explore potential film ideas.

Printing new ways to scientific discussions

Stereotypically, scientists and screenwriters have been portrayed as somewhat reclusive and socially awkward. However, in reality, this group of talented individuals behaved the opposite. Non-stop conversation exuded from the start to the end of this two day workshop, with contact details being hastily exchanged upon departure. The topics of discussion ranged from reproduction to ageing and from Autism to Alzheimer’s. Future directions of biomedical research were debated, which was enhanced by a tour around the Heriot-Watt University laboratories. There they were introduced to the many successes their researchers have achieve, -the most remarkable, that there is now a way to 3D print objects containing viable and functioning live cells in a gel form. This advance in technology could open the way to being able to print organs for transplant which would not be rejected or could replace the requirement of animal testing.

From the lab to the screen

One thing that was particularly clear during the Ideas lab was the enthusiasm that both professions had for their own area of work. There was also strong agreement that collaboration between researchers and screenwriters is important for an accurate (and informed) portrayal of science in both the big and the small screen. For some members of the public these portrayals could be their main source of biomedical information, which suggests that to enhance public understanding, it is imperative for researchers and screenwriters to work together. The Wellcome Trust is dedicated to improving this relationship and the EIFF Ideas Lab was just a small step towards that goal.

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About the Author

Kristina Harrison is a postdoc at the Rowett Institute of Nutrition and Health, investigating the health benefits of dietary components.

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