Science and society

Public Engagement

The Unit has a comprehensive public engagement programme. This includes:

  • visits to local schools and other organisations
  • participation in the Cambridge Science Festival, where we exhibit every year
  • our annual Open Day
  • involvement in other events for public understanding of science.

Science and Society

The scientific work conducted at the MRC Mitochondrial Biology Unit has served as inspiration for public exhibitions through engagement with artists and designers. Visualization is an integrated part of our research process, and even though we produce state-of-the-art images for scientific use and for journal publications, we strongly believe that through engagement with artists and designers we form valuable ways of making the microscopic world more understandable to a wider public. At the MRC Mitochondrial Biology Unit we are very aware of the importance of artistic interpretation of our scientific ideas and results, and we are highly committed to this kind of public engagement. We have had a considerable degree of success in collaborating with artists and designers, and new projects are regularly planned.

For further information about the activities of the Unit, please contact our Communications Manager, Penny Peck (

Cambridge Science Festival 2014

On 23 March 2014 at the Cambridge Science Festival, scientists from the MRC Mitochondrial Biology Unit (MBU) used posters, movies and computer games, created by Henry Harling, to demonstrate how mitochondrial dysfunction leads to illness and ageing.

Visitors were given an explanation of heteroplasmy - when an individual has mutant as well as normal mitochondrial DNA - which was demonstrated by the Heteroplasmy video game.

Cambridge Science Festival 2013

The festival this year saw the premiere of three new animations. The first animation shows all of the major organelles of the human cell, including a dynamic network of mitochondria that are involved in fusion and fission events. The basic structure of a mitochondrion with the inner and outer membrane and cristae is also explained. The second one illustrates some of the major events of energy conversion at the mitochondrial inner membrane, featuring isocitrate dehydrogenase, Complex I, ATP synthase, mitochondrial transport proteins, the voltage gated anion channel, and hexokinase.

Cambridge Science Festival 2012

To highlight the central role that mitochondria play in cellular energy metabolism, we produced an animation showing the breakdown of a simple sugar molecule; from its uptake in the intestine to the series of energy conversion steps that lead to the synthesis of ATP in the mitochondrial matrix. After the sugar molecule enters the blood stream in the intestine, it is taken up by the human cell and undergoes a series of breakdown reactions in the cytoplasm of the cell to form pyruvate, which is subsequently transported into the mitochondrion (see figure below).

Cambridge Science Festival 2011

Using the three-dimensional structures of the Fo and F1 domains of ATP synthase determined by Professor Sir John Walker and collaborators we constructed an accurate three-dimensional representation of the protein complex in LEGO. The model, consisting of approximately 15,000 LEGO bricks and built to a scale of 50,000,000:1, clearly shows the different functional domains of the complex. Participants were invited to build miniature LEGO models of the ATP synthase and complex I (the structure of which was solved in the laboratory of Dr. Sazanov).

Cambridge Science Festival 2010

Working together with designers Rachel Wingfield and Mathias Gmachl, we explored new ways of representing the molecular world at this year's Science Festival in Cambridge. We invited people to colour a 2.20 x 6 metre mural of a mitochondrial network. Children of all ages and adults engaged in this mitochondrial paint-by-numbers event. The first step was, via a computer test, to find out which colour each visitor preferred.