Author Archives: Jess

  1. Hands-on STEM challenges at Medical Mavericks!

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    One of the brilliant activities we have at Race for Science features Medical Mavericks – a wonderful organisation that inspires the next generation of medics and scientists by taking real medical and sports science equipment into schools, colleges & events all over the UK. I talked to the wonderfully job-titled Tom Warrender – Head Honcho of Inspiration – about what Medical Mavericks is all about and why he wanted to be involved with Race for Science. 

    What is your role at Medical Mavericks?
    I’m the Head Honcho of Inspiration!

    What does Medical Mavericks do? What do you hope people get out of the activities?
    We visit schools, colleges and events with a mobile hospital and sports science lab to inspire the next generation of medics and scientists! Students & visitors can experience using all the medical kit they see in a hospital to see how their body works as well as gain an insight into the 100s of amazing jobs they can go into in the NHS.

    Do you have any funny stories about any of the events you’ve done? What has been your favourite?
    We have loads of fainters! Especially when we do our talks. I show a video of the inside of my lungs from a Bronchoscopy I had and it tips people over over the edge. The most we have ever had is 7 people faint in 1 hour!

    Which activity is your favourite and why?
    I love the iPhone retina scan, because it is such a simple bit of kit and engineering, but it is so effective in what it does. How often do you get to see the inside of your eye on an iPhone… get it… eye-phone!

    Why did you want Medical Mavericks to be involved with Race for Science?
    We love science and we love promoting and supporting charities that can change people’s lives, such as Prostate Cancer Research Centre… so what better way to do this, than bringing our kit down to an event that does just that!

    You can find out more about Medical Mavericks here:

  2. Introducing TTP! An interview with Sam Hyde, TTP’s Managing Director

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    We’re so excited to announce that TTP (The Technology Partnership) has agreed to sponsor Race for Science! We interviewed TTP’s Managing Director Sam Hyde about what makes TTP special, what it takes to make collaboration work, and more. 

    What is TTP?

    TTP is an independent technology company where scientists and engineers collaborate to invent, design and develop new products and technologies. With a 30-year history of invention, our multidisciplinary teams are able to deliver across all stages of the development of new products, from research and invention, through design, engineering and manufacture. We work across a wide spectrum of industries – including health, telecoms, industrials and consumer – to create breakthrough solutions that bring strong commercial value to clients and the benefits of technology to all.

    Describe the type of people that work at TTP.

    The people at TTP are technically brilliant; they have an insatiable curiosity and a hunger and desire to challenge the norm. But they also have a passion for the commercial application and discovering solutions that will really add value to our clients and their customers.

    PCRC is looking to become more collaborative; we recently launched a new grant call for innovative research into prostate cancer, and we specifically encouraged collaborative research. I know TTP values collaboration – the word “partnership” is in your name! What do you think is the key to a collaborative partnership?

    We take on and solve the hardest challenges at TTP. A key ingredient for success is well-crafted collaborative teams: multidisciplinary teams made up of engineers and scientists, fostering a culture that values contribution and avoids hierarchy and that has a common sense of purpose. We work very collaboratively with our clients too. I have found that the key to collaborative partnerships is a shared passion for the product vision, a relationship that encourages openness, great communication, and a mutual willingness to explore and think differently.

    What do you consider the most important advances in technology over the past 30 years?

    I am most excited by the advances in technology that have an impact on daily life. If I had to pick two areas, it would be the revolution in communications and the coming of age of molecular biology. Communications has been a driving force of progress, connecting people, facilitating the collation and fusion of information and catalysing learning and technical advances. Advances in biology from genetic sequencing to cell therapy are enabling greater understanding of diagnostics and treatment of disease. I am proud of TTP’s role in the rapid progress of these industries from developing the early mobile phones and the latest satellite communications systems, to our work creating new molecular diagnostics and enabling technology for emerging cell therapies.

    Why do you think it’s important for companies to get involved with charitable events like Race for Science?

    We are really proud to be supporting PCR Race For Science. Prostate Cancer awareness is so important, Race For Science is not only raising awareness about this disease but also important funds for future research into advanced Prostate Cancer.

    How important is your location to Cambridge in terms of science and technology?

    TTP was formed over 30 years ago and continues to be an integral part of the Cambridge phenomenon of innovation, science, engineering and business enterprise. Working in Europe’s largest technology hub and a world renown centre of excellence means that we are in close proximity to the best partners in the world.

    Thank you so much for sponsoring Race for Science. Your support for this event is allowing us to try something new and exciting. Is there anything new and exciting on the horizon for TTP?

    The very nature of our work is to invent and therefore we are always working on new and exciting projects. The work is confidential and therefore I am unable to talk about any of our client projects we are currently working on. However, we also invest resource into working on our own ideas. The most successful of these are spun out into separate companies. We will be spinning out another company over the next few weeks so watch this space…

    Find out more about TTP here:

  3. “Planting” the seeds for Race for Science: Plant Sciences Department at Race for Science!

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    One of the mini escape rooms in Race for Science is in the Plant Sciences Department at the University of Cambridge – it’s one of our toughest puzzles! Sonja Dunbar has not only been helping to develop the game, but will be guiding players through the puzzles at the event itself. I asked Sonja how she got involved with Race for Science, what she loves about outreach, and what advice she would give to potential Race for Science teams!

    What is your role in the plant sciences department?

    I’m the Teaching Associate for the Department, which means I help develop and deliver everything from lectures to laboratory practicals and supervisions with small groups of students.

    What do you enjoy about outreach? What’s your favourite thing about your role(s)?

    I love seeing people have that moment of “I’ve got it!” and helping someone get there is really rewarding. Also, I enjoy sharing knowledge about my subject and getting people to see connections they’d never considered before. Plants are very often overlooked, but there’s so much going on beneath the surface and I love showing people how amazing plants really are! I feel very lucky that I get to do this in both my job and in outreach.

    Sonja helping some of our playtesters with one of the Plant Sciences puzzles.

    How did you get involved with Race for Science?

    My role in Plant Sciences got me to meet others developing the event, but my love of puzzle-solving and role-playing made me keen to be involved! I love developing puzzles on a smaller scale for my Dungeons and Dragons games and I’ve also escaped from Lockhouse’s escape rooms and played many of Fire Hazard’s codebreaking games – so I couldn’t miss the chance to peek behind the curtain for once!

    Why should people get excited about Race for Science?

    I think people should be excited to immerse themselves in the experience. You’ll see so many little details in Cambridge that you’ve never noticed when you weren’t looking for clues!

    What tips do you have for RFS players?

    Work together, but nominate roles within the team. Then everyone will have something vital to contribute to the success of the team and that’s just more fun! My friends and I often split out roles such as map-keeper, clue wrangler, timekeeper and scout.

    For more information about the Plant Sciences department, click here.

  4. What your Race for Science ticket is funding

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    Want to know more about where your money is going if you buy a ticket for Race for Science? I asked our CEO Oliver Kemp to tell us about the innovative new research Race for Science will help fund.

    Where is my money going if I buy a ticket to Race for Science?

    All of the money from all the ticket sales from Race for Science will go directly towards our new projects that we are launching. We have just launched a grant call where different universities from around the country submit bids to us, and we have to work out which ones are the best of those bids and which ones are the most likely to make a significant difference to people with prostate cancer. So, this will fund one of those brand new three projects out of the 25 applications that we have received.

    What is a grant call?

    A grant call is where we advertise the fact that we would like to fund some new research and any scientist in the country can submit a bid to that particular grant call. In this specific case, we are looking for people to have a PhD, to be from a UK university and that they submit a bid that meets the research criteria that we have set.

    Why did PCRC launch one?

    In order to find the best possible science and to find the people that are capable of making the most amount of change to people with prostate cancer. We wanted to ensure that the best scientists at the best universities in the country knew that we existed and were submitting bids to us. The best way to do that in our case was to phone up the universities, get in contact with the administrators and through them let the researchers know that we have money that we would like to spend on the best possible science.

    What are you looking for from the applications?

    We are looking for people who first of all have good science contained within their applications. Does the data that they have submitted stack up? Do they have good collaborations? Are they capable of doing what they say they can do? Our scientific advisory committee and peer reviewers help us to assess that. We are also looking for people who are going to work well with our current researchers, so it’s not just one person sitting in a lab doing their own work, it’s also about how they will work with other scientists and getting constructive, critical feedback on what they are doing.

    We always knew that we wanted the money raised from Race for Science to fund brand-new innovative research into advanced prostate cancer. How does the grant call help to accomplish that?

    We have particularly asked people to submit bids that are innovative and we will use innovation as part of the criteria. We realise that so many of the breakthroughs in the past have come from people thinking creatively about how to tackle this vicious disease.

    What are some of the other ways that PCRC is growing and changing?

    We have done a few interesting things in the last few months. Firstly, we have integrated patient voice into our full grant cycle, trying to make sure that the patients and the people that we should ultimately be accountable to help establish what kind of grant calls we would be launching. At the end of the day these are the people that benefit from the work, raise the money and go out and run events for us. We need to be an organisation that is listening, understanding and responding to what they are requesting of us. Another change worth mentioning is that we also want to collaborate more with other cancer research organisations that are doing similar things to us. There is no reason at all why we should be repeating the same things so we need to be making sure that we’re working together with them to make the whole ecosystem work slightly better.

    Click here for more information about the PCRC grant call, and click here for my other interview with Oliver about the origin of Race for Science.

  5. “Everyone seems happy to be here”: Introducing Citrix!

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    Citrix is an innovative technology company with a team full of creative people: it couldn’t be a more perfect fit for Race for Science. In fact, one of the mini-escape rooms was designed by team-members from Citrix! Read our interview with Janki Shah (Software Engineer) and Heather Talbot, (Software Development Intern) two people who are working on Race for Science.

  6. Introducing… Abcam! An Interview with with Will Howat

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    Abcam, a world-renowned life sciences company, is generously sponsoring Race for Science. Their products are used in labs all over the world to reach new understandings of cancer. Because it’s so important to get reliable and consistent results in science, chemicals used in labs have to be very carefully tested before they are used. Dr Will Howat, Abcam’s Head of Imaging and Immunohistochemistry (IHC), tells us about Abcam’s IHC processes.

    IHC is a technique used to identify different proteins within cells and tissues. By using antibodies to attach to certain tissue, special dyes and microscopy, it’s possible for researchers and doctors to see differences between cells which can help diagnose cancer, or identify different types of cancer.

    We want researchers to focus on what matters most to them – the research. That’s why we provide scientists with products that they can rely on; products that work as expected and don’t lead to wasted time and funding. This is why we are investing in antibody production methods to ensure batch-to-batch reproducibility and validation methods to give our customers high-quality, specific antibodies. To find out more about what Abcam is doing to improve antibody validation, we had a chat with Will Howat our head of imaging and immunohistochemistry.

    Q: Tell us about your scientific career before joining Abcam?

    A: I have had a varied academic and industrial career, starting with a PhD in pathology from the University of Southampton in a well-renowned centre for histopathology, before moving to do more cell biology focused research in the University of Southampton Asthma research dept. After working at the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute on a program attempting to create a murine tissue atlas, I set up and ran the Histopathology/ISH Core Facility at the Cancer Research UK Cambridge Institute. My jump into industry involved joining AstraZeneca as Team Leader for the Molecular Pathology Group in the Translational Science Dept of the Oncology iMED.

    Q: What is your role at Abcam?

    A: I am the Head of Imaging and Immunohistochemistry. I look after the flow cytometry, immunocytochemistry and immunohistochemistry within Abcam, currently in 3 sites across the globe; Cambridge (UK), Hangzhou (China), and Burlingame (USA). My main focus is ensuring this is done with an eye on producing high quality validated antibodies for the Abcam catalogue.

    Q: What technologies or methods does Abcam use for product validation?

    A: Our scientists extensively examine the available literature to determine the best cell lines/tissues with expression or cell culture treatments to induce expression of our target protein and then use these cells/tissues to determine product validation. All of our products are reviewed with a keen eye to determine the localization of the target protein into the expected cellular, and subcellular location and products are discarded if felt to be non-specific.

    Q: How do you ensure that Abcam’s products give researchers publication-quality images that they can trust?

    A: We use a variety of methods within the validation of our new products. This includes staining multi-normal human tissue microarrays (TMAs), multi-tumour human TMAs and rat/mouse TMAs during the antibody development and QC phases of the development of our RabMAb® products for immunohistochemistry. Similarly, our products are not only screened in ELISA but also in Western Blot, flow cytometry, and immunocytochemistry to determine which applications they are most suitable (or not) for and this data is included on the datasheet.

    Q: How can researchers access product testing data?

    A: Please contact the Science Support team who can reach out to the validation teams to provide any additional data that is present.

    Q: Looking to the future, are you taking any steps to further improve product testing?

    A: Absolutely, but that would be telling. Seriously, we are looking to extend our KO validation range of antibodies into immunohistochemistry as well as the current methods of Western Blot, immunocytochemistry, and flow cytometry to enable our researchers to be able to choose antibodies that have been KO validated in IHC. We hope that this will not only increase our researcher’s confidence in our products but also shorten their own validation process within their labs.

    Q: Are there any other developments in our imaging and IHC ranges that researchers should look out for?

    A: We’ll be enhancing our images on the website in the future and aim to include more dual staining for our IHC product range, where applicable.

    For more information on Abcam’s products and protocols, visit their website.


  7. Why Cambridge is the Perfect Place for Race for Science

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    So why did we choose Cambridge?

    At Prostate Cancer Research Centre, we like to talk about using science to turn hope into reality. Our charity is dedicated to finding and funding the best prostate cancer research because we know that gives us the best chance of making a real difference in people’s lives.

    Marathons and treks are lovely, but we wanted an event that explicitly celebrated and highlighted the work our scientists do, as well as the work of researchers across the UK. When we decided to create an event focused on science, it was very obvious that the event should be in Cambridge.

    The history – Home to some of the oldest buildings in the UK and the second-oldest university in the English-speaking world, you can see the history of innovation and scientific discovery just by walking around Cambridge.

    As Martin Rees puts it in The Cambridge Phenomenon: “Cambridge has a record of scientific excellence stretching back to Isaac. More than that, there is a tradition of risk-taking – of entrepreneurship – nurtured in an atmosphere that is both competitive and also supportive.”

    The science today – Even with its impressive history, Cambridge is not a city that looks backwards. Cambridge is home to the most important and fastest growing Tech Cluster in the UK and forms one point of the Cambridge – Oxford – London ‘Golden Technology Triangle. Cambridge is also the technology business start-up capital of the UK. Cambridge has a disproportionately large impact on STEM across the world.

    The people – this is an experience I’ve had every single time I’ve visited Cambridge for this event. I’ll be visiting a potential venue or activity creator, and I’ll describe Race for Science (“Have you ever done an escape room? Imagine if you combined that with a scavenger hunt and the whole thing was science-themed. It’s also for charity.”). Nearly every person I meet in Cambridge responds the same way: “Where can I sign up?!” This is a city full of ridiculously intelligent risk-takers who are always on the hunt for a new challenge.

    I asked our CEO, Oliver Kemp, to summarize why we chose Cambridge:

    If someone asked me where would you set a new revolutionary scientific event to raise money for cancer research. I’d suggest a place with a scientific pedigree, a community that cares and will welcome us and a place where the participants are going to have a huge amount of fun. Cambridge is that place.”

    Check out my interview with Oliver here to hear more about the origins of Race for Science.

  8. Puzzle-solving: More Than Just a Game 

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    We have another guest post from our Communications Research Executive Naomi! Check out her other RFS blog post here if you haven’t read it. 

    Puzzle-solving: More Than Just a Game 

    Codes, ciphers, mysteries and puzzles –  it all seems a bit Tom Hanks running around in the invariably sunny Italian setting of the latest Dan Brown adaptation.

    Well, Cambridge has beautiful historic buildings, and an intriguing history of spies and secrets. We can’t promise sunshine, but we can guarantee that Race For Science will be a lot of fun.

    But solving puzzles is an important part of life, and something we’ve always, as humans, tried to do. Just look at the Imago Mundi, the world’s earliest known map, dated to 500 BCE and discovered in the Iraqi city of Sippar, just north of the ancient city of Babylon. The map puts Babylon at the centre, and while many real mountains, cities and rivers are engraved on the clay tablet, so are imaginary, mystical features. This isn’t uncommon in early maps, where monsters and mythical creatures lurked around the edges of chartered territory. People put down what they know about the world and falling back on what they think they know to plug the gaps.

    To the best of my knowledge, there are no dragons or sea monsters at Race For Science (I’ll double check with Jess), but using a similar thought process is helpful when you’ve got a clue to solve quickly – think first about what you know, and use that as a basis for your wildest guesses!

    I would say that puzzle-solving is also at the core of cancer research, like the research that Race For Science is funding.

    For example, when I did my PhD, I spent a lot of time investigating the PI3K pathway. Believe it or not, this picture below is a highly simplified version of it. This is a kind of emergency pathway some breast cancer cells could switch on when a common drug called Herceptin was used. We were trying to block this pathway, so that Herceptin would keep killing breast cancer cells and patients wouldn’t have their cancer come back. But if you block a single protein, it’s like putting a roadblock in front of a car being driven by a particularly belligerent motorist. It will try to plough through it. If it can’t do that, it will try to go around it, usually by finding other proteins to switch on when a drug turns a protein off.

    Simplified(!) PI3K Pathway. Reference: Elster et al, Breast Cancer Research and Treatment, 2014

    Luckily, scientists have come up with many clever concepts to shut down this kind of drug resistance (the study I was part of led to a clinical trial). Science is highly detailed. But looking at the big picture, it’s not unlike tracking your way through a maze.

    A lot of the work which happens in biology labs is abstract. In a common technique called a western blot, for example, you spend a few days and then get a band to appear on a piece of film. The band tells you a specific protein is present in whatever you have been working with, whether that was a piece of a real tumour a patient had donated, a piece of non-cancerous tissue, or cells artificially grown in the laboratory. You then have to think about what that protein might do, how there’s more or less of it in cancer than normal cells, and how that might change the behaviour of cancer. It’s a bit like those ancient maps – or filling in a crossword. You do research to find answers to unanswered questions, and when you get a clue or a new piece of information, you relate that to what’s already known to make sense of it.

    Our PCRC scientists have important puzzles to solve. Christine is trying to train the immune system to fight cancer, while Magali is decoding how prostate cancer spreads, with a view to stopping it spreading beyond the prostate. Aamir is working out whether drugs used in other diseases can be “repurposed” as a new and low-cost treatment for cancer, and Matt is working on new prostate cancer lab models, kind of like decode keys which should speed up the process of getting new treatments to men with prostate cancer.

    An immersive game and a real-life laboratory might seem like worlds apart. I’m going to be a bit cheeky and say that Race For Science strikes me as being a p-value of less than 0.05 more fun than most of the routine things I did in the lab (sorry, that’s a joke for the scientists – and admittedly not even a particularly good one). But at the end of the day, both are contributing to a better future for men with prostate cancer and the families of those men, and both are doing it by solving puzzles.


  9. The Science of WINNING Race for Science

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    We have a guest writer today! Our Communications Research Executive Naomi Elster walks us through the benefits of events like Race for Science, and gives us some science-approved tips on how to win the game.

    The science of WINNING Race For Science

    We all love our smartphones, right? Ever felt something a bit like panic or dismay when you know you’re hours away from a charger, and your phone buzzes to tell you you’re on the last 14%? Felt as though you could never switch off? Turned up to a social event where everyone’s on their phone all night, so no one really talks to each other?

    It gets worse, unfortunately, because Canadian scientists studied over 600 people in three separate studies and came to the conclusion that many people’s brains are actually getting lazier thanks to their smartphones, as people who generally rely on intuition rather than logic for thinking fall into the habit of searching on their smartphone for information they already know.

    But it doesn’t have to be that way: imagine an immersive event where your smartphone actually brought you closer to the people around you, as it challenged you all to solve puzzles and overcome mental challenges. Wouldn’t that be fun?

    Race for Science is just that event: immersive, challenging, what you get when you mix a scavenger hunt with an escape room. Your team will be summoned to missions and sent clues via your smartphones, and besides being a lot of fun, cracking codes has benefits. Some research suggests that boosting activity in the part of the brain linked to thinking and problem-solving might decrease anxiety. And the type of curiosity associated with exploring new environments and learning new things – exactly the kind of person who would love Race for Science – is associated with creative problem-solving and a study from Oregon State University’s Department of business suggested companies looking for employees to fill complex jobs should be choosing people with this trait.

    And because it’s nothing new that the right level of healthy competition is great for any business, let’s see if science can give us any tips to help WIN the race.

    Choose the right team and stay in tune.

    The American Psychological Association found that groups of three, four or five people did better at solving complex problems than the same number of even very good individuals. This kind of “collective intelligence” can be better when there are more women in a group, according to one study. This might be because the women in the study were thought to be better at reading their teammates’ emotions and communicating. The same study found that teams where one member dominated didn’t work as well.

    Think outside the box.

    Usually, folding paper at a conference is a sign of boredom, but in 2002, the prestigious meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science held a session on how origami could help the study of science and maths. Or, to take the metaphor literally, you could look at how Kenyan hyenas behaved when trying to get meat out of a puzzle box: the ones which got their dinner were the ones who weren’t afraid to approach new things (none of them had ever seen a puzzle box before) and tried the most solutions.

    Don’t sit still.

    In 2009, a study at the University of Illinois became the first one to show that body movement could influence problem-solving: people who were told to solve a problem while swinging their arms were more likely to succeed than people who were told to stretch. And more recently, in 2016, a pair of psychologists discovered that being able to use their hands helped another group of people to solve a problem.

    Don’t fixate.

    Researchers at Goldsmith’s College, London, studied brain scans while volunteers solved problems and concluded that focusing too much on one thing could trigger a mental block. And while it’s not exactly in the spirit of Race for Science, and won’t help the missing Doctor Smithkins, who may well be running out of time, “sleeping on it,” might help, as science suggests that creative problem-solving is enhanced by REM sleep.

    Read Naomi’s other post about how problem-solving in Race for Science are not so different from problem-solving in the lab here.

  10. Locked in an office? For charity?! (A Chat with Chris Gissing)

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    Who would have thought that locking people in a room could raise money for charity?

    Chris Gissing, for a start! He’s one of the brilliant people creating an activity for Race for Science. Chris is a Director at Citrix, but he’s also an avid escape room fan. I’ll talk more about Citrix’s sponsorship in a future post, but for now here’s my interview with Chris about escape rooms, charity events, and Race for Science.

    Jess: How did you get into escape rooms? What do you like about them?

    Chris: Like most people who love Escape Rooms, I got “into” them by playing a local one. In this case Secret of the Tomb at Cambridge Escape Rooms. Our team of 5 smashed into the top 10 on our first ever escape, and that was that! I’ve since gone onto play over 80 different rooms, and designed multiple escape room experiences and puzzles. I particularly love playtesting and providing feedback on how rooms flow. I love the different ways designers think, and getting into someone else’s mindset to solve their rooms. It’s also a whole hour where you don’t feel the temptation to look at your phone 🙂

    Jess: What was Ominous Office? Tell us about the experience of developing Ominous Office:

    Chris: The Ominous Office was a charity room based around the theme of a rogue AI. Hosted at the Citrix R&D offices in the Cambridge Science Park, we took over a meeting room and created a dystopian escape room centred on AI and IOT.

    Jess: What inspired you to create the pop-up?

    Chris: The local Children’s Charity Week was looking for local businesses to support their campaign to raise funds for micro-charities across our local area, focused on helping kids and their families who are in need of some extra support. A great cause, and a hyper-local charity in terms of where Citrix is based in Cambridge.

    Jess: How did it go?

    Chris: We raised over £8000 for CCCW, and managed to encourage dozens of teams to try our escape room experience. We had some very competitive teams, all trying to make the leaderboard as well as beating their colleagues.

    Jess: What made you want to get involved with Race for Science?

    Chris: The Race for Science is obviously a great idea, and it’s a charity I am very happy to support at a personal level. We feel that lending our expertise to help make the event a success and a regular activity in Cambridge has a lot of appeal.

  11. Designing a brand for a brand-new event: An Interview with Alchemy Digital

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    See this beautiful website you’re currently looking at? Someone needed to design that from scratch. When we first met with Alchemy Digital – our wonderful website designers and builders – we had decided on very few details for Race for Science. In fact, it was my second-ever day of work, and I knew almost nothing about the event! I asked Will Morris from Alchemy to explain how his team developed the website and brand guidelines, and why he’s excited about Race for Science.

    Jess: Talk me through designing the brand guidelines and website wireframes for Race for Science.

    Will: When creating the Race for Science website, there were two main challenges we needed to address. Firstly, we needed to make this event seem exciting and fun.

    This event is about capital S-Science, which can be quite a serious affair. We realised was that the brand needed to have a little bit of silliness to counteract the serious science. The event is supposed to be fun and entertaining – you’re not doing boring graphs at work!

    We wanted to create some level of immersion, and connection to the activities you’d be doing on the day. In other words, we wanted the website to be “in-universe”.

    The second big challenge was that Race for Science has never happened before, and when we met back in December 2017, very few specific details had been decided for the event. We didn’t want to give anything away that hadn’t been decided, and crucially we had no photography we could use to show people what the event was like and how fun it was going to be. This could have made things quite difficult, but we realised we could use it to our advantage. A rough idea started to form: a scientific conspiracy wrapped up in secrecy.

    That realisation opened up a few gateways for us. It meant that we didn’t have to have photography. You should almost feel like you shouldn’t be reading this document – maybe it’s a classified fax from the government (remember faxes? Remember the government?!?!)

    That led to us using the facsimile/typewriter, anatomical diagrams and blueprints throughout the website.

    Some Shutterstock anatomical diagrams

    Of course, we had to balance that sense of mystery against the need to communicate what the event actually is and how to book tickets. We decided to give up a little bit of user experience for the sake of the brand by having the typewriting bit of text at the top of the homepage, before they scroll to the menus.

    We wanted to target early adopters; it’s a brand new event, and we wanted people who aren’t afraid of trying new things leading the way like to step into the unknown. So the suggested copy emphasized how new and unprecedented Race for Science is.

    Some early Race for Science logo concepts

    The wonderful logo we ended up with!

    Jess: Talk us through the process of developing a new website generally. 

    Will: All of our projects always start with strategy. We work with a lot of small, online-only businesses, and so the business strategy is often entirely online. This makes our job extremely important for the overall success of the business.

    Digital strategy means really understanding the objectives of the organisation. What do you want the website to do for your business (or in your case, your charity)?

    Jess: That was really tricky with us at Prostate Cancer Research Centre because no one really knew!

    Will: Exactly! The next step is who is your audience (getting very specific), and what are their objectives? We are pushy about nailing exactly who your audience is and then we cater specifically to that audience.

    We also need to know what the website needs to do over the course of a year, and how the content will change over time.

    Normally we would do wireframes, blue to remind people of architectural blueprints, no branding, pure user experience.

    Image from the PCRC website wireframes

    Because you guys were working with a limited budget, we decided to take a big risk: we skipped the wireframes step and created a fully branded website for you guys.

    The original text that Alchemy suggested for the website! It reads: “you have been personally selected to join a brand spanking new breed of fully awesome intellectual challenge.” 😛

    Jess: Why did you want to work with us on this? Why were you excited about Race for Science?

    Will: Three reasons.

    1) We love a design challenge. Designing things that are easy is no fun. This was definitely not easy!

    2) Also, there isn’t anything like this. It’s rare to find something genuinely new. It had a very unusual brand story, we had very little information to work with, and no photography to work with as I already mentioned.

    3) We love the internet. We all fell in love with it 20 years ago. BUT, there are lots of ways to abuse and take advantage of the internet, and we don’t often get the chance to do good online. And in this instance, we wanted to contribute to a cause that we all felt passionate about. We got the opportunity to generate buzz and enthusiasm for something that might save somebody’s life. That was very exciting to us.

    Jess: The process worked out so well, that you ended up designing our brand new website! Do you want to say anything about the process of working on the main charity website?

    Will: After working with you on Race for Science, we really wanted to work with you guys on the main site. We knew you were all good bastards, you guys had strong opinions, and sometimes you guys were wrong about things but you were always willing to listen.


    You can check out the beautiful new PCRC website here, and go have a look at Alchemy Digital!

  12. On the Origin of Race for Science: An Interview with our CEO

    Comments Off on On the Origin of Race for Science: An Interview with our CEO

    So where did this crazy idea for an immersive scavenger hunt fundraiser even come from?? I sat down with our CEO Oliver Kemp and asked him exactly that question, as well as why he loves immersive events and what Race for Science could mean for the charity sector.

    Oliver (furthest left) and some of our team complete a Sherlock Holmes-themed escape room together!

    Where did the idea for Race for Science come from?

    It came from a combination of things. My wife was playing Room – the room game – on her iPad, and she said how much she would love to do that game in reality. And I thought – what a great idea! We’d always enjoyed doing escape rooms and immersive events, so we’d done things like Secret Cinema, escape rooms, 4-5 times, and I thought “why not combine those two things”? There is an overlap between the audiences for both immersive events and escape rooms.

    I suppose I was also aware that it was also something where the market share was increasing and I wanted our charity to get involved.

    Which immersive events have you loved? Why?

    Secret Cinema Star Wars was my first great experience of an immersive event. I just thought it was so well done, and it had such a high level of quality. It separated itself from the all the other ones out there. It also showed me that there was an audience out there that would be willing to pay that additional money to have an event that was so immersive that you felt at some point during the night that you were in a completely different world. I think that’s an incredible thing to have achieved.

    I also enjoyed the ones they did under Somerset house. And everyone turned into zombies! It was a very dark experience, in a big sprawling space. I think it’s a really great way of getting you to interact with your friends and it’s such a positive experience. So many times when you’re socialising, you’re with your mobile phone and not interacting properly. Immersive events bring out the best in you and your friends.

    You had just recently become CEO when you came up with the idea for Race for Science. What direction were you hoping to take the charity in at that point and how did Race for Science fit into that plan?

    The board of trustees had decided they wanted the charity to grow dramatically over a 5 year period. That is very significant growth, and that requires you to do some things that are… unusual. You can’t just do the normal fundraising things! You have to look a bit further afield than just going with the usual trusts and foundations, corporate fundraising, etc. I wanted us to innovate and think outside the box.

    What was great was that the fundraising team had really great feedback and were fully on board with trying new things, because they knew what they needed to achieve. They didn’t want to carry on doing the same old type of events, they wanted an event that separated ourselves from the rest of the pack wanted to do something different.

    Why do you think Race for Science is a good idea for our charity Prostate Cancer Research Centre?

    First of all, it pushes us to come up with projects that are more creative, and see them through to fruition. It’s a great project for the staff team to be involved with, it’s an incredibly difficult thing to go through that kind of process, and will teach everybody who is involved with it an incredible amount. Also, it has huge potential to grow in years two and three and four. We can use all of these new skills we’ve learned, and we can use all of these materials we’ve created. We’re hoping to expand the event to other cities around the UK as well, which means we will we have an amazing opportunity to increase our ability to raise money for prostate cancer research.

    Why do you think Race for Science is a good idea for the charity sector as a whole?

    I’ve been involved in fundraising for almost 20 years now, and I started out in events fundraising. I’m incredibly bored of some of the typical events that charities run! We were doing treks to Nepal in 1999, we’re still doing them now, people are tired of giving people money to go on a nice holiday, people are bored of their mates asking them for money to do yet another run. Why do we have to be the sector that is so far behind everyone else, rather than coming up with new interesting things for people to be involved in? I think if we can nudge the charity sector just a tiny amount, to do something new and exciting, and to get people to think of the charity sector in a slightly different way, that’s a great thing.

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