Collaborative project launched across EMBL member states invites teenagers to discover the wonder of proteins

New project will help inform and educate young people about the important roles proteins play in nature, health, and disease, as part of EMBL’s 50th anniversary celebrations

Unfold your World is a science and art project being launched to celebrate EMBL's 50th anniversary. Credit: Creative Team/EMBL

By Sally Hall, EMBL Science Education and Public Engagement office

This week sees the launch of a new EMBL public engagement project focused on nature’s molecular wonders – proteins. 

Unfold Your World is a science and art project for 14–18-year-olds, open across all EMBL member states from now until 31 August. 

It’s the first time EMBL has rolled out an educational outreach initiative on this scale. 

Developed as part of EMBL’s 50th birthday celebrations, Unfold Your World encourages young people to reflect on the beauty of protein structures and the important role proteins play in our bodies and nature. With these reflections in mind, participants then create artworks to be submitted online. 

Two outstanding artworks per member state will be selected to each win a redeemable voucher worth € 100. Selected artworks will then be displayed in the World of Molecular Biology exhibition at EMBL Heidelberg later this year, and all submissions will be displayed in an online gallery. 

EMBL developed this Unfold Your World moodboard, to help participants in the competition brainstorm for their projects. Credit: Creative Team/EMBL

Unfold Your World has been developed as a collaboration across EMBL sites, building on the long-standing success of the PDB Art project, led by a team at the EMBL-EBI Protein Data Bank in Europe (PDBe). While the PDB Art project works closely with individual schools, Unfold Your World is open to all 14–18-year-olds, using a range of specially developed online resources to enable young people with little or no scientific knowledge to participate. 

PDBe’s Deepti Gupta, who leads the PDB Art project, and David Armstrong, Outreach and Training Lead, worked with Efraim Culfa and Naëmi Kuehn from EMBL’s Science Education and Public Engagement (SEPE) office in Heidelberg to develop the new project together. 

From Gupta’s perspective, the collaboration has enabled engagement with new audiences. “Working together across sites meant we could tap into lots of resources at both ends,” she said. “This has made the project so much stronger and means it can reach more people.”

For Armstrong, the strength of the project lies in how it has been embedded at all levels. Started with interest from EMBL Director General Edith Heard, it was further developed by EMBL-EBI Senior Scientist Sameer Velankar and Head of SEPE Agnes Szmolenzsky, and then it was subsequently rolled out collaboratively across EMBL sites.

The PDB Art project has produced artwork like this piece by Natalia Heirman.

Szmolenzsky welcomes the chance to unite EMBL’s science education and public outreach work. Linking to networks of teachers established through SEPE’s teacher training and ambassador programmes, creating resources that spark young people’s interest in life sciences, and using The World of Molecular Biology exhibition to engage with new, diverse audiences are all key to the project’s ambitious scope. 

She said, “Unfold Your World offers an opportunity for lots of young people to enjoy reflecting on the beauty of protein structures and the pivotal role played by proteins in the body and nature, and to create something they can be proud of and feel they want to share.”

Participants can access resources, join drop-in tutorials, and get inspired by other young people’s art via the Unfold Your World webpage, which also hosts a portal for submitting artwork. 

Tags: education, embl50, outreach, protein, protein data bank, public engagement, sepe


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