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The 12 days of the MRC Centenary

by Guest Author on 19 Dec 2013

2013 has been a big year for the MRC, marking 100 years since our founding committee met for the first time to plan the spending of public money on medical research. We’ve achieved much since then, and throughout the year we celebrated the past, present and future of the MRC. Here Centenary coordinator Adrian Penrose provides a snapshot of highlights from our Centenary year, shoehorned into a familiar format …

Twelve groups celebrating

We’ve held 12 events this year in the UK celebrating our Centenary with MRC staff and our wider community. The MRC is a large organisation, funding and carrying out such a range of research, so we wanted to get people together to share their knowledge. Activities included the broadcast of films about past and present MRC research at the London event, hands-on fun activities in Edinburgh, a Centenary Quiz and photography competition in Cambridge, and a special sciSCREEN-style screening and discussion of The Nightmare Before Christmas in Cardiff.

Eleven scientists writing

We shortlisted 11 MRC-funded early-career researchers for this year’s Max Perutz Science Writing Award held at the Science Museum in London. Minister of State for Universities and Science, David Willetts MP, presented the £100 Centenary Prize to Helen Keyworth for her article Running Away from Addiction, while Peter Kilbride won the Centenary challenge of describing where his research area would be in 100 years.

Ten decades discovering

We created an interactive digital timeline of some of the most important of these discoveries, from the discovery in 1916 that rickets is caused by a lack of vitamin D to the 2013 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for three researchers who had all carried out research at the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology.

Nine parliamentarians polling

Nine members of the House of Commons and the House of Lords were among the more than 50 figures in the public eye who responded to our Centenary Poll asking what were the most important medical advances from the past 100 years and what might be the most important discoveries in the next 100. Stephen Fry contributed, “When you think of the deaths by septicaemia and other infections I cannot think of any other more powerfully effective medical advance than antibiotics. Of course, whether they’ll continue to be as instrumental in the saving of lives over the next 100 years is a moot point as overuse and bacillus mutation continue apace.”

Eight films-a-showing

When an organisation has been around for 100 years, it’s interesting to look at how early work is being continued today. We made seven short films doing exactly this, with topics covered including the development of penicillin as a drug and how MRC researchers are trying to combat antibiotic resistance today. A film looking at examples of MRC researchers getting involved in collaboration across countries was shown at an event celebrating 100 years of international collaboration in December.

The Life Game at the Science Museum (Image copyright: Science Museum*)

The Life Game at the Science Museum (Image copyright: Science Museum)

Seven centres gaming**

MRC Centenary Open Week was kicked off with a mini Centenary Festival, the Life Game, held at the Science Museum in London, with games manned by seven MRC research establishments. Around 50 events took place around the UK during Open Week and thousands of visitors enjoyed finding out about MRC science – many for the first time. The open day at the Research Complex at Harwell, for example, offered students and members of the public tours of the complex and opportunities to take part in scientific demonstrations. One visitor commented, “It’s interesting to see how what we learn now will be useful later on and how it is applied practically. The people were really nice too!”

Six scientists speaking

In May the Foundation for Science and Technology organised a one-off debate to celebrate the MRC Centenary. The six panellists discussed what the MRC’s research priorities should be for the next 25 years.

Five media broadcasts

The Centenary year got underway with three short BBC TV films focusing on tuberculosis, flu, and the potential of stem cell therapies. BBC 5 Live featured a two-hour live broadcast featuring our Chief Executive John Savill and researchers past and present In a bumper media year, the MRC Centenary was also the main feature of Quentin Cooper’s last ever episode of BBC Radio 4’s Material World which was aired on the MRC’s official birthday, 20 June. King’s College’s ‘Photo 51’ exhibit, which formed part of their MRC Centenary events, was covered by BBC Radio 4’s All in the Mind. BBC Radio 4’s Today programme also mentioned the Centenary Poll in coverage on antibiotic resistance.

The wiki edit-a-thon at the MRC National Institute for Medical Research (Image credit: Katie Chan)

The wiki edit-a-thon at the MRC National Institute for Medical Research (Image credit: Katie Chan)

Four wiki edit-a-thons

We held four Wikipedia edit-a-thon events throughout the year. These aim to improve Wikipedia entries for female MRC-affiliated scientists and to create articles for those who have been forgotten. We produced an audio slideshow from the first event held at the MRC National Institute for Medical Research in July.

Three science labs

Strictly Science: keeping one step ahead’ was a creative and popular free interactive exhibition exploring the past, present and future of the MRC in three distinct sections. It was staged at Imperial College London in April. In the run up to the exhibition, the MRC Clinical Sciences Centre launched a competition for primary schools to create artwork. They also produced Heroes of Health, an accompanying comic book aiming to help schools learn about the MRC’s past.

Two experiments

Our public engagement programme broke new ground for us this year, with two Medical Research Live projects launched in conjunction with the Medical Research Foundation ― Worm Watch Lab and a Century of Amplified Music, which will run into 2014.

And the Queen opening the LMB

The Queen looks down a microscope at the MRC LMB

The Queen looks down a microscope at the MRC LMB

May saw the new MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology building opened officially by Her Majesty the Queen and His Royal Highness the Duke of Edinburgh. A local school choir welcomed the Queen into the building and the feedback that our Chief Executive John Savill received suggests that they enjoyed the day.

Adrian Penrose



** It’s been pointed out to us that there were actually nine MRC centres in the game, but it’d ruin our Christmas fun to change it…


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