Science outreach: a professor (and a dog) on TV

Prof. Tryfonidou gives a lecture on stage of Universiteit van Nederland, where she demonstrates on a real dog skeleton how back pain can occur
From bench to bedside can be a long way (photograph: Joshua Kloet)

The stereotype of scientists working in the isolation of the academic ivory tower is long outdated. Scientific projects are increasingly built on national and international collaborations, often including partners from industry and patient organisations. An example is iPSpine, an H2020 funded consortium of 20 partners that aims to develop novel material-cell combinations as therapy against back pain. Watch this animation to learn more about the iPSpine project:  

Aside from relationships among consortium partners, also the relationship to the public has to be nurtured on a regular basis. After all, scientific outcomes are not only meant to serve the public, it is also the public (read: the taxpayer) who makes science possible! Therefore, good scientists are committed to outreach, too.

Sometimes, this task can develop into a true adventure, as iPSpine coordinator Prof. Marianna Tryfonidou has recently experienced first-hand. She gave a lecture for ‘Universiteit van Nederland’ (UvNL), a Dutch educational organisation that records lectures from Dutch professors and makes them available on the internet. Continue reading to take a glimpse ‘behind the scenes’ and find out why this lecture turned out quite adventurous. And, of course, enjoy her lecture at the bottom of this page!

Glimpse behind the scenes

The lecture was recorded in Club AIR Amsterdam, a typical night club with an entrance that is easily found by night but less so during the day. Imagine a slightly confused professor, wandering the streets of Amsterdam, asking for the way to a night club in broad daylight. The image in your head will get even stranger when adding the following detail: Prof. Tryfonidou carries a real dog skeleton sized 1,5 m long from head to tail. The skeleton rattles dangerously on the cobblestones and tram tracks of Amsterdam – not the best conditions for a skeleton; especially not for this one, as it will serve as a model to explain back pain. Luckily, only the 13th left rib fell off but did not get lost on the way. Eventually, both professor and skeleton arrived on the stage of UvNL.

Outreach is an art of its own because the story must be compelling, educational and entertaining alike. How do you spice up the story of an intervertebral disc that can break down and end up with a hernia (a leakage of the inner core of the disc, which can cause pressure on the nerves)? As leading researcher in this field, Prof. Tryfonidou needed nothing more than a squeeze for this. And how do you make the story tangible and personal? As veterinarian, Prof. Tryfonidou invited her colleague Maaike who owns an aged police dog named Brit, who also has back pain.

During the official testing of all attributes for the lecture, Britt worked well as a stand-in. Then, it was time for Prof. Tryfonidou and Britt to make a promo of only 15 seconds, facing the cameras. Of course, being recorded is very exciting – not only for humans. And so, 15 seconds turned into hilarious moments, when Britt simply got too excited and started barking every single time Prof. Tryfonidou tried her 15 seconds one-liner! But in the end, both of them did a good job and delivered an excellent lecture. Convince yourself!

Watch Prof. Tryfonidou’s UvNL lecture here



This blog is written by Katja Jansen (RMU communications officer (2019-2020) and PhD candidate in Drug Innovation (2016-2020)).