RSE honour for Dundee public engagement expert

Published on 4 December 2023

A University of Dundee expert in microbiology has won a prestigious award for sharing her knowledge with local schools.

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Professor Nicola Stanley-Wall FRSE, Professor of Microbiology within the University’s School of Life Sciences, has been awarded the Senior Public Engagement Medal by the Royal Society of Edinburgh (RSE).

She was officially presented her award at the Dundee Science Centre on Thursday, fittingly while working with students from local schools as part of the Magnificent Microbes initiative she co-created with the venue.

Already a Fellow of the RSE, Professor Stanley-Wall, together with many other scientists and public engagement professionals from the University of Dundee, has worked with both schoolchildren and teachers to create classroom resources. 

“I would say I was very underprepared for how a classroom works” she said. 

“When you ask a question, you get a lot of responses, which is lovely and really engaging, but then you must bring the room back to focus to be able to move onto the next point. 

“While this was a challenge, I enjoyed it, and I liked introducing pupils to the world of microbiology, one that they might not have thought about before.” 

As Prof Stanley-Wall continued to work more within schools, her level of preparedness and ability to engage with people grew. 

“In 2010 we formed the Division of Molecular Microbiology, and I thought it would be nice to do something as a team and engage local schools with the research we do. We partnered with Dundee Science Centre and ran a two-day event called Magnificent Microbes. We focused on all the brilliant, largely unknown things that microbes do for our bodies and for the planet,” Prof Stanley-Wall explained. 

“Since then, we've run Magnificent Microbes every other year. Each time, we've updated what we do so we can share the latest research and make sure it's relevant and well-tailored to our audiences.

“We also talk about how science is a hugely collaborative effort. It would not be possible for scientists to do their research or engage with people without input from a wide range of professionals across the University. This includes cleaners, security staff, administrative staff, and public engagement professionals to name but a few.” 

Professor Stanley-Wall added that once people are engaged with the subject, a vast variety of questions can come forth, both about the dangers of microbes and the benefits. 

 “There are all sorts of questions, and you have no idea where the people’s minds are going to take them, the topics can range from space to cancer to everyday life.

 “I personally like to get people thinking about how they use the products made by microbes in the home. We can talk about how microbes help you digest food, how they help give you nutrients that your body can’t make or might be used in the breaking down of plastic in the environment. Microbes even make many of the antibiotics that are then used against bacterial infections.”


Jonathan Watson

Senior Press Officer

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