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The 12 winners of the inaugural University of Oxford's Vice-Chancellor’s Awards for Public Engagement with Research were announced on Friday 1 July by the Vice-Chancellor, Professor Louise Richardson, in a ceremony at Merton College.

Matthew with Sarah Loving

The 12 winners of the inaugural Vice-Chancellor’s Awards for Public Engagement with Research were announced today by the Vice-Chancellor, Professor Louise Richardson, in a ceremony at Merton College.

Matthew Snape has been recognised for his radio project ‘Pikin to Pikin Tok': communicating with children in Sierra Leone about Ebola vaccines

The Awards recognise excellence in Public Engagement with Research across three categories: Projects (either for Collaboration, Consultation or Communication purposes); Early-Career Researchers; and Building Capacity.

The Vice-Chancellor said: “We want to create a climate in which we can embed public engagement even more deeply into our research practices…Our aim is to ensure that Oxford acquires a reputation for engaging the public that equals our reputation for research. I encourage you to take inspiration from the inaugural winners of the University’s Public Engagement Awards and reflect on opportunities to engage the public with your own research.”

Together with producer Penny Boredom, Dr Snape created a 30 minute ‘Ebola Vaccine Special Broadcast’ in Sierra Leone that addressed questions about immunisation and Ebola vaccines raised by 12 year old Abibatu.

The presentation ceremony was fascinating as the successful applicants were drawn from such different areas of research, ranging from trying to understand a 13th century view of science, art as a tool for understanding the neurophysiology of vision and an assessment of the positive impact that refugees can have on society. It was great to be able to represent the Department of Paediatrics to colleagues who share our interest in public engagement with science, and the many positive comments I received afterwards re-inforces the appreciation of the work we do. - Dr Matthew Snape

The radio programme, which is part of the Pikin to Pikin Tok (Child to Child talk) project, was a collaboration between the UK human rights agency Child to Child, their partner in Sierra Leona (the Pikin to Pikin movement) and the Oxford Vaccine Group, part of the Department of Paediatrics. The programme was created by Penny Boreham and Dr Snape. It was translated into the local language Krio and presented by storyteller Usifu Jalloh.

The broadcast was aimed at children aged 10 – 18 years and their adult carers in the Kailahun region, the area where Ebola first took hold in Sierra Leone and is the most impoverished area of the country. The radio station on which the programme was broadcast has over 520,000 listeners in Sierra Leone, with further listeners over the border in Liberia and Guinea.

The team addressed questions arising from an interview between Keziah Gbondo (a local journalist) and Abibatu, a 12 year old girl living in the midst of an Ebola disease outbreak. "It provided us with a fascinating and important insight into what information is most relevant to local children," said Dr Snape.

"The purpose of producing the broadcast programme was to increase awareness and understanding of the progress towards vaccines against Ebola virus in school aged children in Sierra Leone. We hope that this awareness and understanding will engender more confidence in immunisation programmes in general and, should it be required, any Ebola disease immunisation campaign."

Questions from Abibata included whether the vaccine had been tested in children and what its ingredients are. You can listen to the broadcast here.