Last month our latest event Memory Makers took place at the At-Bristol Data Dome (the big silver ball on Millenium Square). In full dome 360 projection, we featured an exclusive look at the game Cascade and how it’s transforming what’s going on in the brain of someone with Alzheimer’s into a gaming experience like no other.
In an immersive walkthrough session we heard from researcher Jody and developer Gaz on how the hallmarks of the disease lent themselves perfectly to a game medium. The thoroughly engaged audience then asked some thoughtful questions and we got into the details of the amyloid hypothesis and the process of game development. It was, as one attendee put it, ‘informative and visually amazing!’.
The audience also got to explore more of their brains through (jelly) tissue dissection, freaky audio illusions, and the gameshow stylings of Head 2 Head – see the packed leaderboard in the pics and try to spot your score if you were there.
For us, the most positive outcome was how excited the team behind the game were about the possibilities of taking the Cascade full dome 360 projection experience to new places. Who knows, Cascade could be coming to a planetarium near you soon…
Huge thanks to Jody, Fayju Games, Ruth Murray and At-Bristol, plus our lovely volunteers for all their hard work. Thanks also to the Biochemical Society for funding the event.
“I cannot persuade myself that a beneficent & omnipotent God would have designedly created the Ichneumonidæ with the express intention of their feeding within the living bodies of caterpillars …”
This statement from Darwin is often quoted in discussions about his changing relationship with religion as he developed his theory of evolution. 150 years later, the ichneumonidae in question are taking a step towards shedding their demonic reputation by inspiring a new approach to neurosurgery.
The ichneumonidae are a subfamily in possibly the largest group of animals in the world – the parasitoid wasps. Estimates of the total number of ichneumonidae species alone reach up to 100,000 – more than all the vertebrate species in the world. The wasps gain their name because they brutally kill their host species, as opposed to parasites which drain the resources of an organism without causing significant harm. Indeed, life histories of the parasitoid wasps are close to the stuff of nightmares.
The extremely high diversity of ichneumonidae has arisen because each species of wasp has evolved to target just a single type of prey, and to do it as efficiently as possible. Each species is distinguished by its specialised weaponry or tactics that allow them to tackle their prey in their niche habitat or lifestyle. For example, Lasiochalcidia igiliensis’ chosen host is the antlion larva, a ferocious predator in its own right with vicious jaws that it uses against a range of arthropod prey, even spiders.
The seemingly fearless L. igiliensis has been observed to bait the antlion larva, encouraging it to attack the wasps itself. At the point of attack, the wasp will use its powerful legs to prise the jaws of the antlion open, whilst simultaneously depositing an egg into the antlion larvae’s throat. There the egg will incubate, feeding on the antlion from the inside, until the time for metamorphosis comes. At this point the wasp will burst out from the antlion, not unlike the infamous scene from Alien.
Strategies in other species include a fibrous mesh that traps air allowing the wasps to dive down and reach caddis fly in their underwater habitat, and a hormone invisibility cloak that allows the wasps to live within an ants nest, even up to adulthood, without detection. These guys are the Q Branch of the insect world.
Here at Rising Ape we can vouch from experience that great ideas happen when you put a bunch of scientists from different backgrounds in a room, and maybe give them a bottle of wine. This seems to be what happened in the case of Dr Ferdinando Rodriguez y Baena, a medical engineer who found himself inspired by a serendipitous dinner party conversation with zoologist and biomimetics expert Julian Vincent.
Vincent described how the parasitoid wasp species Megarhyssa macrurus, is able to use her egg laying tube to drill down into tree bark, where she deposits her eggs onto the larvae of the pidgeon tremaz horntail (how did this come up as a topic?! Over dessert?). This is possible thanks to a complex structure of three tubes that can bend and flex as the wasp drills, allowing her to position her eggs with pinpoint precision.
This elegantly specialised structure gave Baena the idea for a new style of needle that mimics the ovipositor. The design allows surgeons to control and manoeuvre the needle inside the patient, navigating around sensitive and fragile parts of the brain. This minimally invasive surgical procedure could even allow surgeons to deliver drugs to very specific areas in the brain, potentially treating diseases such as brain tumours and Parkinson’s. By saving lives for a change, the ingenious ichneumonidae wasps could be about to improve their reputation. Who knows, even Darwin may have approved.
Last month, Rising Ape took Your Choice: The Game to a field in the heart of Green Man Festival as part of the famous Einstein’s Garden, an area of the fest dedicated to exploring science, nature and other wild ideas.
Each day, at 2.30pm sharp, makeshift cancer research groups sat down in the Garden’s workshop dome to play the board game element of Your Choice and got to grips with choosing the direction of their research. More than 60 people get involved over the weekend, working together in their teams to make the most of their resources, beat cancer sooner and get to the top of the scoreboard. In the end, Team Maroon and Green won the comp by a single point (!) to win the prizes on offer.
Before starting the weekend, we had some questions about whether Your Choice would work as a purely facilitated game, without the powerful monologue performances… And at a music festival. These questions were answered and, what’s more, we learned some new things about the game.
Question 1: Who would play it? Here was our first surprise: The audience was much more diverse than we expected, and the game worked well for everyone! We had teams of children, families, couples, people likely under the influence of some interesting substances… The most pleasant surprise was that children as young as 12 were really grasping the idea of how to play and we had a few younger than that who were into the dice rolling and gem spending. It got very competitive.
And while we thought people with a relationship with cancer research would be interested, in fact most of the teams we spoke to had little or no previous knowledge of cancer or cancer research. We got people involved by setting up an example board at the front of the workshop dome next to the high score board, and asked anyone who stopped for a moment if they wanted to play a game. It’s hard to resist the lure of a crisp deck of cards and a pile of shiny gems.
Question 2: Would people stick around? Yes. All the teams playing the game were fully engaged for the whole forty minutes of play time. Although there was an option to leave after the first 20 minute section, everyone wanted to carry on and finish the second section.
This meant some teams were engaged with the activity for nearly an hour solid, even with all the distractions available at a music festival! It was commented on by Einsteins Garden staff that it was unusual to see people stay for so long in the workshop dome and it’s great to see that, as hoped, the game can hold attention without the monologue breaks.
Question 3: How would people deal with the theme? There were several moments in games where people, parents mainly, talked to the rest of their team about the types of cancer that had occurred in their family and it was nice to see these conversations happen naturally through playing.
And there was more food for thought. Interestingly, we had several questions about whether it was possible to buy the game at the festival, and a teacher said they would love to get hold of it for their biology class. Making the game available to a wider audience is something we will definitely be interested in exploring with CRUK.
So engaging music lovers with cancer research in a wet Welsh field? Check! Thanks to everyone who made the weekend possible, especially Will, Maddy of Einstein’s Garden and the workshop dome volunteers. We look forward to the next outing for Your Choice. Could it be in your area?
On 27th September, Rising Ape enters the At-Bristol Planetarium dome to bring you a unique journey into a truly mysterious world: Your own brain.
In partnership with Fayju Games and the University of Bath, Memory Makers will be an evening of unlikely experiences inside your mind. Come along to find out how much your brain can really remember, how easily it can be fooled, and how local researchers are trying to better understand and treat dementia.
Taking in jelly brain dissections, competitive memory games, and an exhilarating 3D preview of upcoming VR game Cascade, developed in collaboration with neuroscientists — plus a bar and the classic At-Bristol exhibits. Altogether, the evening promises to be a night you’ll definitely want to remember.
Antimicrobial resistance is one of the biggest challenges faced by the healthcare industry. The evolution of superbugs such as MRSA is evidence that the arms race between antibiotics and bacteria is not a sustainable strategy for preventing infection and keeping patients healthy. Bacteria are able to make infinite changes to their DNA, but there isn’t an infinite supply of new drugs available to target them. Scientists looking for alternative methods to tackle the spread of disease causing bacteria have turned to the natural world for inspiration.
Bacteria in hospitals spread through contact. If a person touches a surface that hosts bacteria, they can pass it along next time they touch a piece of equipment, or a patient. So could making surfaces inherently resistant to bacteria be an effective way of stopping the transfer and spreading of disease?
Traditional approaches to keeping surfaces sterile involve using some sort chemical agent, for example treating socks with silver to keep smelly feet at bay (equally effective against vampires). The disadvantage of chemical treatment is that protection is short lived, and needs constant renewal. Research suggests that silver nanoparticles in socks last not much longer than a few washes, as the silver is rinsed out into the environment where it becomes a poisonous threat to wildlife.
In a paradigm shift in strategy, scientists have proposed a new mechanical approach to keeping surfaces clean. Taking inspiration from the sea, they want to develop a texture that prevents bacteria from spreading by discouraging microbes from settling in the first place.
Place almost anything underwater and it won’t be long before a thin film of green slimy phytoplankton will start to settle. This plankton is the trigger for a chain reaction of settlement, as larvae of adhesive animals such as anemones and barnacles will soon follow. This has long been a problem for the shipping industry as fouling like this on ship’s hulls creates a huge amount of drag, slowing down the vessel and adding fuel costs. Even whales, despite their constant movement, will succumb to the nuisance of barnacles and parasites.
But scientists observed that sharks remain clean and crust free, even into old age. For a long time it was thought that sharks move too quickly through the water to give anything any time to settle. Closer inspection of the surface of their skin provided an alternative answer. Sharks are covered in specialised scales called dermal dentacles.
Dentacle means “small tooth”, a name derived the dentine tissue from which they’re made and the same found in your teeth. Dermal dentacles are highly textured, and when meshed together they form an extremely complex surface, full of micro mountains and canyons. This surface appears to be too unstable for any bacteria to settle and establish a community effectively.
Without the base layer of microscopic organisms, the bigger problem of larger, fouler organisms cannot develop, and the shark remains clean and smooth. This evolutionary advantage then helps the seas’ top predators move swiftly through the water in pursuit of their prey.
Shark skin is already well studied, and has inspired a range of products, famously the Olympic grade swimwear that can reduce drag and shave milliseconds of a swimmer’s time. To use it as a surface for hospitals was the idea of Anthony Brennan, founder of the company Sharklettm , who have trademarked a textured pattern based on the structure of sharkskin. The company claims that Sharklettm surfaces harbour 94% less bacteria than standard worktops and equipment.
Installed in places such as drawer handles and even surgical equipment, Sharklettm could be a cost effective way of reducing the spread of bacteria, as well as use of antiseptic and not to mention the time staff spend cleaning surfaces. What has evolved over millions of years could be a solution to a very pressing 21st century issue.
Running our events, sometimes you know how things will go and sometimes you just have to trust it will work. Sometimes you’ll even be surprised. Running our events in a field at a music festival? You’re guaranteed all three possibilities.
The Rising Ape team took two different interactive events to Einstein’s Garden, the magical centre of Green Man Festival, and both delivered heaps of expected and unexpected outcomes. After last year’s first foray, we really wanted to step up and push what we could offer the good festival goers of Green Man. Without too much modesty, and mainly thanks to those same excellent punters, the weekend surpassed those (un)expectations!
On the Friday, The Audience took over the Omni Tent in a blaze of anticipation and mystery. The newly created theatrical experience full of smartarse AI, hand held LEDs and mob mentality was designed to connect and confuse it’s titular audience (in the best possible way). It certainly succeeded! We’ll leave off talking about what actually happens for now as we don’t want to spoil the experience too much. We’re excited to be planning more performances this autumn, however, so maybe you should come see for yourself…
And Your Choice came along for the ride as well. Our team-based experience themed on cancer research, and developed with CRUK, was transferred to a completely new style of venue, a giant dome, where it ran as a daily gaming session. It was fantastic to see the game engaging people from all ages and backgrounds over the weekend, with players taking on their different roles within research groups and being totally focused on working together to beat cancer sooner. Read more on what we learned about Your Choice here.
We really want to thank Will, Maddy, Ellen who organise Einstein’s Garden, and everyone else, sound deskers, workshop assistants, who helped us produce the events to their full potential. We look forward to working with you again next year!
Woop woop! The Rising Ape is waving his favourite mango around his head which means, if we consult our English to Ape dictionary, that he is returning to Einstein’s Garden at Green Man Festival for a second year! Hooray!
What’s he doing now? Oh dear, well that’s not very mature at all. Naughty Ape. Although, apparently, those gestures do translate into the fantastic news that there will be TWO Rising Ape events at the festival this year, so even more hooray!
Yes, there’ll be two different Rising Ape experiences in the Garden for 2016: The fast-paced excitement of Your Choice: The Game, and the mysterious immersive theatre of The Audience (Oooooooooh).
Located right in the beating heart of the Festival, Einstein’s Garden is the arena of choice for those seeking weird, unlikely and downright indescribable encounters with science, scientists and people dressed up as robots claiming to be scientists.
We’re proud to be bringing two of our most progressive events yet to this special place. Stop by the workshop dome everyday to play Your Choice: The Game and try to beat the high scores of other teams of role playing cancer researchers.
Then make sure to RSVP for your invite to The Audiencein the Omni Tent, the theatre show where you and your fellow humans will get to prove what you can do together in the potential present of our future… With glowsticks. More on that pretentious nonsense soon, promise.
All in all, it promises to be a very special weekend of music, mayhem and maybe even maths? Head here for more info on the Rising Ape shows, and all the other wonderous acts and events taking place between 18-22 August at the best festival in the country located deep in the Brecon Beacons, just past Crickhowell, where they burn a huge green man effigy on the final night and Charlotte Church is running the karaoke.
Hope to see you there (especially in the karaoke)!
Once again, we’re excited to be collaborating with the Bristol Improv Theatre and the Cardiff Cancer Research UK Centre. Most of all, we’re excited for you to try competitive cancer research for yourself. So grab your usual pub quiz team, or join another friendly group on the night, and we’ll see you there!
Rising Ape Presents… Your Choice / Chapter Arts Centre, Cardiff / 7.30pm 23.05.2016
Cancer research is done all over the world. Sometimes even in Bristol’s theatres…
Back in January, a lovely audience flooded into a temporary CRUK-funded research centre in the basement of the Polish Ex-Service Mens’ Club, otherwise known as the Bristol Improv Theatre.
There, they donned white lab coats and settled down in their teams, dubbed ‘research groups’, for the evening. Some teams had come together and others were made with quick introductions to new ‘colleagues’. Everyone was there to be part of the first Rising Ape Presents… Your Choice, a night of games and theatre based on the choices people make in cancer research.
Throughout the evening there was high stakes dice rolling and tough decisions, there were moving verbatim performances of interviews with patients, there were fluffy and colourful cancerous cells. And there were even prizes.
But before all of that the new research groups sat down at their tables, got acquainted and turned to the first order of business before starting to play the game: drawing cards and finding out who in their varied team they were and what special skills they each had.
“I’m a professor, I get double points! We get points?”
“I’m an interdisciplinary researcher, I can do research in any field. Sounds awesome.”
“I’m an undergraduate… And none of the research in my hand is worth any points? That’s not fair!”
“We might need to get your research to the professor, then”
The groups were learning fast. They were then told by the disembodied, but all knowing, Voice of Progress that their task was to travel around the game board and use their limited resources to do as much research as possible. The end goal? Maximise their science reputation points to come ahead of the other teams.
Eagerly, the groups set to their task, racing to the lab spaces on the board. Once there, they were able to splurge their grant money (in the shape of shiny gems) to draw research cards, and then cross their fingers that they could roll a high enough number to allow them to acquire the treatment or benefit on the card, along with its precious science points. Would they spend their money equally on all the possible areas? Or would they focus their efforts on New Treatments, and ignore Better Understanding of Cancer? Tough choices had to be made.
“Publication rejected? Oh no, we’ve lost ten points!”
“Discard a treatment card? What should we lose? Improved Chemotherapy, or Prevention of Side Effects?”
Smarter teams made the most of the ability to meet up on the board to trade cards. Thinking tactically and collaboratively helped these teams overcome what fate had dealt them. Using each individual’s skills for the greater good was key to success and more than one team managed to put all the blame on the Undergraduate or have the Fundraiser working hard to gain gems as fast as possible from the centre of the board.
As time to use their grants ran out, the groups moved faster and faster around the board, rolling, swapping and chatting as they went. All too soon time was up: the dice fell silent, the lights dimmed and the first monologue began.
“You’re taking all that information in, ‘I’ve got cancer. I‘ve got an aggressive form of breast cancer. And now you’re giving me options? Three weeks ago I was dancing on the tables in Benidorm!’”
Listen to the clip above to hear Research Nurse Jane talk about the moment patients find out about a clinical trial.
Jane works at Velindre Cancer Centre and her story highlighted that even when a choice to be part of a trial may be logical, people have strong personal emotions that have to be taken into account.
After Jane’s monologue the research groups broke out for drinks and discussion about their experiences of the first half. Awaiting the teams in the bar was the chance to make their very own cell, not out of DNA and proteins, but from brightly coloured wool and card.
Everyone jumped straight to it, wrapping wool around and around like their imaginary grant funding relied on it. There were a couple of different methods available, allowing for either carefully made uniform cells to form, or fast growing scrappy blobs, calling to mind a cancerous growth. An acute scissors shortage was overcome to finish them all off and they were hung up on the threads around the theatre by tags containing peoples’ thoughts on cancer research after the first half.
After sitting down for the second half, the lights dimmed again and we heard the story of Elise, a clinical trials patient taking part in research at Velindre, and her thoughts on the choices she made.
The fact that I’d have to come in and have Herceptin anyway, well it tied in with that, because I’d have to come in every three weeks, well I might as well have the trial, because I’d be here anyway.
Listen to the clip above to hear Elise explain why being part of her trial made sense for her.
After the monologue, the research groups were faced with a completely new, red-themed board. On it were the parts of the body where cancers are most often diagnosed. The Voice of Progress again boomed through the room and introduced the rules for the second half: “Move. Kill. Diagnose.” The overall aim? To use all the research and treatment cards the teams had collected in the first half to kill as many cancer cells as possible in 20 minutes.
With each move to a space the researchers could kill cancerous cells there, but with each dice roll they diagnosed more. Who could clear out cancer from whole areas of the body, and who would be overwhelmed? The teams again had to make the most of their unique abilities, ensure they had the right cards in the hands of the right professions and coordinate their movement cleverly around the board.
Some of the teams came into their own in this round, focusing fully on their task and racking up piles of red cancer cells by the roll. With just a minute to go, the activity in the room was at fever pitch, move to a space, roll to kill, roll to diagnose. A 5 second countdown echoed around the room and then the lights dimmed for the final time, coming up on the third performance of the night: Judy, a patient in a clinical trial at Velindre.
Listen to how Judy keeps her friends and family lighthearted through her clinical trial treatments.
After Judy’s story (and while the scores were totalled) the audience heard from Helen Frost, CRUK Research Engagement Manager. Her words brought home the real impact on peoples’ lives from the huge advances in cancer treatments and the central importance of clinical trials to this success. Then with the scores counted, checked, found to be wrong, and then rechecked… Finally, the first ever winners of Your Choice were announced…
To much applause, Team NRR (Not Real Researchers) were pronounced the the evening’s champions! Thanks to a dominant second round performance and a mightily impressive score of 160-odd, NRR narrowly beat their nearest rival research groups. For their efforts they picked up an entire carrier bag of prizes sourced from local CRUK shops, including snazzy branded badges and a portable version of teenage sleepover classic Twister. Understandably, they were overjoyed.
So with the winners crowned, the actors’ bows taken and an evaluation form filled in by each audience member, the night came to a close. If you were there, we hope you enjoyed it.
Looking back, our aim for this project was simple to state, more challenging to pull off: Engage the audience actively with cancer research and make sure they have a good time doing it. From the start we knew we wanted the audience to hear the real stories of people involved in clinical trials and leave with an awareness of what choices are being made everyday by the thousands of people involved in cancer research, from academic researchers to patients to nurses. We felt a team-based board game, literally built around their real words, would prove a powerful way to for the audience to connect with this subject.
Making this actually happen took four months, multiple journeys to Wales, many late night Slack updates, and countless team pow-wows at Bristol’s Watershed. But, thanks to the efforts of amazing patients, dedicated CRUK staff, the lovely Bristol Improv Theatre, some truly incredible actors, and a wonderful, enthusiastic audience, happen, it did. From our own side, we have learned a huge amount from the experience, so thank you, everyone.
What’s next? Already, there are plans taking shape to take Your Choice to new places and in new directions. We’re extremely excited about what’s happening so keep an eye out for announcements here in the not-at-all-distant future. And, in the meantime, if you have any feedback thoughts on the above, or new ideas that you’d like to tell us about, drop us a comment below or email firstname.lastname@example.org, we’d love to hear from you.
Your Choice is a unique night that combines moving performances of personal clinical trial stories with challenging role play games that put you and your team in the hotseats of cancer researchers.
Rising Ape Collective, in collaboration with Cancer Research UK, have been busily gathering the stories of the people closest to clinical trials — cancer patients, researchers and nurses — so you can experience them for yourself. And there’ll be prizes!
Why do clinical trials matter?
One in two people will be diagnosed with cancer during their lifetime. Whether you develop it yourself, or it takes hold of someone close, it’s a sad reality we all must face.
But, crucially, the future is brightening all the time. Half of people diagnosed with cancer today will survive, and that’s down to the work of countless scientists, doctors and nurses who tirelessly lead the fight against cancer. But the new treatments they develop wouldn’t be possible without the patients who choose to participate in vital clinical trials.
Clinical trials provide the evidence to drive forward research into treatments for cancer by discovering which therapies work best. By choosing to opt in to a trial, patients choose to further our collective knowledge of cancer, so we can beat it sooner.
Your Choice is all about celebrating the extraordinary contributions of these everyday people. Come down with your team to the Bristol Improv Theatre and discover the choices everyone is making about cancer.
Doors open at 7.30pm. Tickets are £5-£7. Follow the link below to book yours in advance: