New initiative uses ground-breaking science to inspire creative writing

Shey Hargreaves getting hands on with plant research at the Osbourne laboratory at the John Innes Centre

Scriptwriter Shey Hargreaves was invited to the Osbourn laboratory at the John Innes Centre as part of the Translating Science project - Credit: John Innes Centre

Norwich Research Park has teamed up with the National Centre for Writing (NCW), based in Norwich, to launch a project called ‘Translating Science’. It aims to engage more people in science through creative writing that has been inspired by some of the research conducted by scientists working at the Park. 

Translating Science paired several established writers and poets with researchers at the various institutes based at Norwich Research Park. The writers each spent time with a nominated researcher who explained their work and discussed the real-life applications. Following these meetings, the writers used the science as their inspiration to create a literary piece.  

Broadly speaking, the research that the writers based their pieces on were focused on the themes of Healthy Plants, Healthy People, Healthy Planet. 

The initiative is being led by Chris Gribble of the NCW and Prof Anne Osbourn of the John Innes Centre, who has engaged people in science through arts and writing projects delivered by the SAW Trust, which she founded.  

Prof Anne Osbourn of the John Innes Centre

Prof Anne Osbourn of the John Innes Centre is leading the Translating Science project - Credit: Royal Society

“Science is more important to the future of the human race now than it has ever been, whether that’s saving our planet’s ecosystem, keeping people healthy as they grow older or making sure we have enough crops to feed the world,” said Prof Osbourn. “We want to get people excited about science, explain how it helps to solve the many challenges we face and influence policy and decision makers to make the right choices. 

“It has been a very rewarding experience to work alongside these illustrious writers and to see their interpretations of the work that we do. I really hope that this partnership will help us to reach broader audiences in new ways and to raise awareness of how science and research can have a significant impact on creating a more positive outlook for the future of our world.” 

Scriptwriter Shey Hargreaves wrote three poems that explore the discovery and development of new medicines from plants. Her inspiration was the ground-breaking research that Prof Anne Osbourn has led over many years. During the project Shey visited the Osbourn laboratory and had a tour of the glasshouses.  

“Writers are always looking for inspiration and to have such a wealth of fascinating research at Norwich Research Park to generate ideas is fantastic,” said Shey. “It is only when you speak to someone like Anne that you really realise the seismic difference the researchers’ work can have on the future of our planet.  

“Not only am I truly inspired by it but I also feel compelled to share her knowledge and expertise through my poems. I hope my writing can help articulate what Anne is doing and that I can continue to create further pieces that will be inspired by this sort of research.” 

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Other literary works included five short stories under the title “Orange”, written by novelist Megan Bradbury. She chronicled her journey of learning at the Quadram Institute, focusing on Prof Pete Wilde’s research into food structure, with colloids and digestion at its heart.  

Peggy Hughes, executive director at the National Centre for Writing

Peggy Hughes, executive director at the National Centre for Writing - Credit: National Centre for Writing

Peggy Hughes, executive director at the National Centre for Writing, said: “We are delighted to be working in partnership with Norwich Research Park to celebrate the ground-breaking work happening there. The researchers and writers have collaborated to produce work that is thrilling, thought-provoking, intriguing and vital. We're so pleased that readers will be able to encounter it and to see this research with, and through, new eyes.” 

All of the work created by the writers is available for free download on the NCW website

Translating Science extracts 

  • An extract from one of Shey Hargreaves’ poems, which were inspired by Prof Anne Osbourn’s work in developing new medicines from plants: 

On a late summer afternoon 

the professor and her senior researcher 

drive home to Norfolk from Kew Gardens, 

a swaying triffid in the back of the car. 

Its tendrils softly touch the tops of their heads, 

The tips of their ears. 

They turn up the radio, and wonder 

what green gold 

this new specimen might grant them; 

its secrets, with curious coaxing 

and gentle hands, 

unspooling across the greenhouse floor. 

  • An extract from one of Megan Bradbury’s short stories, which were inspired by Prof Pete Wilde’s research into food structure: 

I began collecting the facts. I asked the scientists what they knew. They spoke about understandings and connections. I realised art and science were the same. 

I learnt, 

Nutrients are essential. 

Foods should be consumed slowly. 

95% of what we eat relies on soils. That is, the foundations we lay down. 

Food with a complex structure has more to give. 

Simplicity is killing us.