Hawk this way

by Ruth Garde

Though saliva is essential to our oral wellbeing, most of us pay little attention to this most mundane of human secretions.

But our language suggests how critical it is both to our culture and bodies: ‘Spitting image’; ‘I could spit’; ‘swapping spit’; ‘licking one’s wounds’; ‘I spit on your grave’ are just a handful of expressions encapsulating the many uses and abuses of saliva.

‘Hawk this way’ shone a spotlight on spit by looking at the language, history, science and culture of saliva – its role in speech, taste and digestion, its potential as a forensic and diagnostic tool, and its central place in our health and identity. It explored how saliva arouses conflicting feelings of attraction and repulsion. and uncovered the origins of the spit-based phrases we use every day. It also invited the audience to take part in playful participatory activities.


Ruth Garde is a curator and writer focusing on the intersection of art and science. Over the last thirteen years Ruth has worked on a variety of curating, writing, research and public engagement projects at Wellcome Collection. These projects have been interdisciplinary in nature, bringing art, culture, science and well-being together in exciting, challenging and often playful ways. Most recently Ruth co-curated the Wellcome exhibition “Tibet’s Secret Temple” which ran from November 2015 to February 2016.

TWITTER: @ruthgarde


Prof Gordon Proctor received his PhD in Biomedical Sciences from the University of Sheffield.  He is Head of the Mucosal & Salivary Biology Division at King’s College London Dental Institute and was previously appointed as a Professor of Salivary Biology in 2006 having been a Reader in Secretory Biology, University of London from 1998-2005.  Gordon has published extensively on the stimulation of salivary gland secretion and the composition, properties and function of saliva in health and in disease.

Jack Houghton is a Postgraduate Research Student working under the supervision of Prof Gordon Proctor and Dr Guy Carpenter. His research is focused on how chemicals that stimulate particular proteins on the surface on cells affect the salivary glands. It is anticipated that this will lead to the identification of products that can alter mouthfeel and salivary secretion. Before his PhD, Jack worked as a Research Assistant in the Salivary Research Unit and as a Bioinformatician for the Proteomics Unit. He earned his degree in Biochemistry from the University of Liverpool, where he worked on the improvement of salivary analysis.

Lucy Blandford studied Biochemistry at the University of Bath. Following her degree, she completed an MSc at The University of Reading in Nutrition and Food Science, where she furthered her interest in gastrointestinal microbes and their relation to health and disease. Before starting her PhD at King’s College London, she worked for a year at a biotechnology company (ImmBio) in Cambridge. Lucy’s PhD project focused on the the role of carcinogenic bacteria Bacteroides fragilis and Fusobacterium nucleatum in colorectal cancer.

Matt Blakely studied Biomedical Science at University of Warwick, with a final year project studying the factors influencing the emergence of diseases spread by animals such as mosquitoes. After graduation he worked in pharmaceutical quality assurance in microbiology at AstraZeneca.  Matt’s PhD project is focused on looking into the role of vitamin-binding proteins in human saliva, and determining the impact that oral health may have on vitamin status throughout the body.

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