Science Cakes

Great Science Cake Off Explained – Liverpool

This month saw the first ever Cancer Research UK “Great Science Cake Off”…no prizes for guessing what well known television program that might be based (loosely) on. Researchers, clinicians, volunteers and staff from around the UK entered regional and nation competitions to find the best science cake that met the criteria of being imaginative, decorative, tasty and – most importantly – “sciencey”. 

Cakes have been tweeted, and pictures collated, and now my aim is to answer your questions around “what exactly is that cake demonstrating?”. I’m going to investigate the science behind more than 50 edible wonders over the course of the next few week. This is the Great Science Cake Off Explained blog series, and today we are looking back at the cakes from our Liverpool CRUK centre (you can view all the 2013 entries on pinterest).


Bench to Bedside cake from CRUK Liverpool. A joint effort by the Liverpool Cancer Trials Unit Staff.

Our understanding of what causes cancer has improved enormously in the last 30 years, and has saved more than half a million lives in this time. One of the latest discoveries is the amount of variation there between types of tumours and research in Liverpool is concentrating on “personalised” medicine. This research aims to develop treatments based on the genetic make-up of an individual’s cancer.

Other areas of expertise at the Liverpool centre include pancreatic cancer, head and neck cancers, eye cancer, childhood cancer and blood cancers (leukaemias and lymphomas). Researchers there are also focusing on how to improve the surgical and radiotherapy techniques used to treat cancer and the Liverpool Cancer Research UK Cancer Trials Unit leads national and international phase III cancer trials aiming to take the research all the way from the bench to the patients bedside. This was the subject of the first cake from researchers at CRUK Liverpool featuring a CRUK researcher – identifiable from some impeccable logo detailing on the labcoat – working at a bench developing new cancer medicines.

This first cake includes a -80 degrees Celsius freezer; in which samples are stored, a specialised “hood”; to work with hazardous materials, scales, Bunsen burner, a vortex; for spinning samples, lots of bottles and flasks with colourful chemicals and even some tests tubes in a holder. This cake shows how CRUK researchers are using results they get at the lab bench to create new cancer medicines; taking research all the way from the bench to bedside.

The second Liverpool centre cake also features a lab bench – with some amazing wood panelling – and researchers wearing lab coats. The cake has a bunsen burner, microscope, bottles, flasks and lab book – all the essential equipment that can be found in most science labs. This entry also has a rather large eye looking up at one of the scientists which might represent the world leading research into eye cancer that is happening at the Liverpool centre.

CRUK research cake

CRUK research cake from Liverpool by Carrie Duckworth

The cake is surrounded by posters from the recent NCRI (National Cancer Research Institute) conference. I love this feature of the cake as it is something that scientists rarely talk about when explaining how research is done. Conferences are where scientists go to share their research, meet collaborators and generally help progress scientific understanding. At these conferences posters and presentations allow researchers to see and ask questions about the latest research. You can find out more about the 2013 NCRI conference and even search through all the posters that were presented – including those detailing CRUK funded research – here.

So that’s it from Liverpool, two amazing cakes demonstrating some big science ideas – and incredible patience from the researchers that modelled that icing. This blog will continue as we look at the entries from CRUK centres in Manchester, Birmingham, Glasgow, London, East Scotland, Cardiff, Southampton and Oxford and delve into the science behind tumours, viruses, cells and microscopes. Can’t wait for the next post? You can view all the entries on Pinterest and read more about the Liverpool round of the cake off on

@Beckieport is a CRUK funded PhD student in the final stages of her doctorate studying how viruses cause cancer. If you want to know more about the research and events happening at CRUK Liverpool you can follow Emma (the research engagement manager) on twitter, @CRUKLiverpool, or find out more about their world class research on the centre website. As always comments and suggestions on this blog are encouraged. This is a personal blog and is not endorsed by CRUK – however I hope you will like it anyway.


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