DNA detective finds fun ways to demystify science

She is the chief medical scientist and associate professor at the University of Stellenbosch and an independent science communication consultant.

Corfield translates science-speak into digestible language using a variety of innovative and participative methods. She not only engages with the public but also assists ­science communicators by holding training workshops and providing print, electronic and DVD resources.

In 1999, while working for the South African Medical Research Council, she was asked to present lectures at the Grahamstown science festival. "I didn't want to give a talk where the audience sat listening," says Corfield. So she created a DNA Detective workshop that was so popular she runs it every year.

Her outreach work includes workshops and exhibitions. The workshops look at DNA science and its application in genetics and forensics; the science behind the HIV virus and mode of infection; the science of the TB bacterium and the use of antibiotics; genetically modified organisms; and the neurobiology of tik addiction.

Exhibitions cover topics such as the science of TB and antibiotics, and skin in health and disease. These feature characters such as Mr Coffit, who sprays people with water droplets to illustrate how TB is spread.

Bridging the gap
Corfield uses role play, comic strips, detective games and Lego blocks, among other activities. She has also created murder mystery events that look at DNA profiling and raise ethical, societal and legal issues around the topic.

In 2009 she received funding from the Wellcome Trust to explore the use of science centres as the bridge between scientists and the general public. This prompted the creation of A Handbook for South African Biomedical Science Communicators as a tool for sharing her ideas. (Find it on saastec.co.za.)

"Science centres tend to focus on the whizzes and bangs of physics rather than biological or medical science because it's more difficult to manage the equipment around biomedicines," says Corfield. "I wanted to show that a biomedical theme is possible with simple and easily resourced materials and that it can be done in a sustainable way."

Corfield also works with the DNA Project, which uses her DNA mystery events to create forensic awareness. (The DNA Project calls for the expanded use of DNA evidence in conjunction with a national DNA criminal intelligence database.)

Corfield's academic career has centred on human molecular genetics, particularly with selected inherited heart diseases. She has degrees in biology, cellular biology and biotechnology. She is currently the vice-chair of South African Women in Science and Engineering and serves on several NRF committees.

We make it make sense

If this story helped you navigate your world, subscribe to the M&G today for just R30 for the first three months

Subscribers get access to all our best journalism, subscriber-only newsletters, events and a weekly cryptic crossword.”

Related stories

WELCOME TO YOUR M&G

Already a subscriber? Sign in here

Advertising

Latest stories

Tunisia struggles to grow more wheat as Ukraine war bites

Since the Ukraine war sent global cereal prices soaring, import-dependent Tunisia has announced a push to grow all its own durum wheat, the basis for local staples like couscous and pasta.

Democracy under serious and sustained attack from within the US

Far-right Republicans and the conservative supreme court are working on a carefully laid plan to turn the US into a repressive regime

Grilling for UK leader Boris Johnson after top ministers quit

The prime minister has faced lawmakers' questions after two of the most senior figures in his government resigned. The finance and health ministers said they could no longer tolerate the culture of scandal

Declare an ‘energy emergency’, says National Planning Commission

The commission said the goals of the National Development Plan, which it is charged with advancing, ‘cannot be achieved without energy security’
Advertising

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…
×