MRC CNGG scientists deliver ‘The Library of Imagined Genes’ to Green Man Festival 2016

25 August 2016

The library of imagined genes used ink chromatography as a metaphor for DNA analysis.

Scientists from Cardiff University’s MRC Centre for Neuropsychiatric Genetics and Genomics join Einstein’s Garden at Green Man Festival, to deliver a library like no other.

Einstein’s Garden makes and curates playful experiences inspired by science and delivered at Green Man Festival. Beginning 5 months ago the Einstein’s Garden Curators invited MRC CNGG representatives to take part in the event and talks commenced on how they could engage the public in genetics and mental health.

Research Associate, Antonio Pardinas reflects on those initial meetings: “The experience made me even more aware of how useless our everyday jargon is in communicating science. At one instance we couldn't even agree on a consistent definition of gene.”

Collaborating with Dorset based Angel Exit Theatre, the group explored how our stories are shaped not just by actions and choices, but also by our genes.

Antonio added, “The fact that we started our conversations with them saying that they wanted to do science communication without involving ‘lab coats or PowerPoints’ was very refreshing.”

ink blotting

PhD student Hayley Moulding explains the difficulty in communicating genetics and that light bulb moment when it all came together.

She says: “I conceived the original idea of using fictional characters stories. We were all throwing ideas around using metaphors relating to storytelling but couldn’t think of the money maker answer.”

“Antonio ingeniously had the idea of using ink chromatography as a metaphor for DNA analysis. The separation of the different inks and colours would signify the genetic analysis and genetic variation we see, relating the ink and the books, to the genetics and mental health.”

With a premise in place, the scientists and creatives worked together to deliver an interactive workshop for the public.

Over the 4 days of Wales’s largest arts and contemporary music event, the team invited festival goers to browse amongst books and a biobank containing ‘genetic samples’ of the world’s most famous fictional characters.

Research student, Emily Baker said "It was a great experience to see the public get so involved with the workshop and ask some really insightful questions about genetics."


Dr Samuel Chawner explains The actors brought the library of imagined genes alive and helped break down that initial barrier of engaging with festival goers. They had a teleporting telephone which they used to contact characters from fiction and then their DNA ink sample would appear. Festival goers could then create a book cover and blot their ink sample to reveal their character's 'genetic code'.”

He added, “The engagement experience opened lots of conversations with children and adults about genetics, mental health and bio banking.”

Hayley said: "Getting to be in a fun-filled environment, relaying the relationship of mental health and genetics to children, parents, party-goers and grandparents was both a surreal but unbelievably rewarding experience."

The team enjoy a well earned break from the library.