Ancient Craft Celebrating Scientific Skill; with Science City's Showcase Event Taking Place Today, HANNAH DAVIES Discovers How Local People Are Learning about Cutting-Edge Research

Article excerpt

UPSTAIRS at Chillingham Road Sports & Arts Centre, Newcastle, a group of women are studying the design for a wonderfully ornate zebra fish.

They are painstakingly cutting out small squares of glass to create a beautiful mosaic, which residents of Heaton will be very familiar with as the group's mosaics as they are dotted about the area.

Nothing so remarkable about this mosaic then, apart from the fact that the zebra fish is one of the most studied in the world and the mosaic represents a coming together of community, art and science.

"Amazingly, the zebra fish can regenerate its own heart," says Steph Wallace, leader of the Women's Mosaic Group.

This makes it hugely interesting to scientists studying the human heart and conditions such as heart disease.

Steph adds: "It is absolutely fascinating. When we talked about the design, most of the group went home and 'googled' zebra fish.

"For most of them it was their first bit of scientific research for decades."

The group are taking part in today's Science City Showcase. Science City supports groups and businesses which focus on stem cell and regenerative medicine, ageing and health and sustainability.

It has supported projects from all over the region and their first showcase today, at Newcastle's Centre For Life, will show examples of the best science in the region.

Taking part is the Women's Mosaic Group, based at Chillingham Road Primary School.

Steph got the mosaic group involved in creating a mosaic to show the importance of stem cells.

She also organised craft sessions where she got locals from the East End of Newcastle to create hearts, as one of the most important uses of stem cells is fighting against heart disease.

Steph explains: "I chatted to a friend of mine, Professor of Microbiology Rob Taylor, who helped me to learn some basic facts.

"I made up a book of simple explanations and newspaper cuttings on stem cells so I could chat to people while they were doing craft projects about the science behind stem cells."

The hearts created in the craft projects are in display in Newcastle's East End Library. Artist Andy McDermott is now using the ideas from 24 of the hearts created and turning them into a sculpture for Chillingham Road School.

The mosaic group meets every Thursday and they are creating a new mosaic for the school based on stem cells.

Steph explains: "I explained to the women what I'd learned and they made this design together.

"It included the words 'healing' and 'regeneration' for the trunk of the tree."

The women also designed five circles depicting ideas behind stem cells - two designs with the zebra fish, two with hearts and one with an eye.

Steph says: "Scientists in Newcastle discovered you can take skin cells, turn them back into stem cells and repair eyes with them, literally restoring people's sight."

Creating the mosaic has made all the women in the group aware of the science behind stem cells.

"When we were looking at the design some of the women went home and researched the zebra fish to help them with the design.

"Then other women brought in other pieces of research they'd found, images as well as science to include in the design.

"I've had people come up to me and say, 'Since we did the workshop I saw something on TV.' They're a bit less scared of the science now they're watching something and following it through.

Gill Hulme, 44, of Heaton is a full-time mum to Lauren seven and Nathan six.

She says: "A friend told me about the mosaic group and I've been coming here about three years "I knew a little bit about stem cells as I was a laboratory worker in London, and I'd been reading up on it again since this project came up.

"Doing this project has re-sparked my interest.

"Stem cell research has come on hugely since I was last interested in it. …


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