Science and sandwiches

Packed Lunch: Daniel Glaser with Rachel Armstrong

Packed Lunch: Daniel Glaser talks to Rachel Armstrong

Turn up with your lunch at Wellcome Collection and you might even encounter someone whose work is the science of sandwiches . Events Officer Jenny Jopson explains what our Packed Lunch events are all about.

We’re lucky at Wellcome Collection to be so brilliantly located – despite being situated on a road with the dubious reputation of being the most polluted in Britain, we have the good fortune to be in an area with an unprecedented density of great scientists carrying out exciting research, at internationally renowned institutions such as University College London, the Royal Veterinary College in Camden, and Birkbeck to name but a few.

It was with this fortuitous fact in mind that we came up with the idea for Packed Lunch last summer – a series of events that would draw on the wealth of talent in our local area and showcase some of the brilliant scientists making discoveries on our doorstep.

We decided to hold the events at lunchtime specifically to target local audiences: people who live, work or study near Wellcome Collection and who might not be able to attend our regular evening events. Places like UCL and Birkbeck already held successful lunchtime lectures, so we knew there was a definite appetite for getting away from the office or library and doing something interesting at lunchtime.

We wanted to make our events different from these existing series, so Packed Lunch features scientists in conversation, talking to our facilitator without the aid of slides or visual aids. It’s a more accessible and informal format than the standard lecture, more like a discussion you might hear on the radio. To that end, we decided to record each event and release it as a podcast, so that the events could reach a wider audience. We wanted to make it as informal as possible, so the events are drop-in, no booking required, and people are encouraged to bring their sandwiches to munch on as they listen.

So, with the defining features of the series in place, I started approaching local institutions for suggestions of speakers (defined as ‘local’ by the highly scientific method of getting a map, drawing a circle of 1 mile radius around Wellcome Collection and seeing which institutions fell inside). I interview prospective guests over the phone, and then if I think their research fits with the ethos of the series, I invite them to come and speak. I look for subjects that are interesting, relevant to our audience’s lives, and possibly slightly quirky.

A year on from the inaugural Packed Lunch event, the series is going strong, with standing room only at the last event (which featured UCL physicist Jonathan Butterworth talking about his other day job, at CERN). We’ve had dinosaur locomotion, clever viruses, living buildings and the science of optimism, and I’m excited about what’s to come. People now come from much further afield than we initially expected them too (France, in one case! Although not specifically for our event, alas), but I think that we’ve succeeded with our original aim to showcase the great work being done right here in NW1. Long may it continue.

Our next Packed Lunch features Professor Jane Wardle talking about food on Friday 18 June. To catch up with past Packed Lunch events, you can listen online or subscribe to our podcast.  If you are a scientist working locally and would like to be considered for a future Packed Lunch event, please email me at

Jenny Jopson is Events Officer at Wellcome Collection.

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