34th Bolton Brownies’ Science Investigator Badge

The Brownies are a guiding group for girls aged 7-10. They complete challenges and activities in order to earn badges, and one badge they can do is their Science Investigator badge. To get this badge, the girls must complete three science or engineering based challenges and get a visit from a Scientist or Engineer. Last week, I visited the 34th Bolton Brownies to help them finish their badge. After the group had sung the Brownie welcome song, I put on my lab coat and safety goggles to tell the girls a little bit about what I do as a scientist and the importance of scientists and engineers in our


Explaining the importance of Science and Engineering

I then helped the group with the final challenge needed to complete their badge – bridge building! Armed with bags of spaghetti and marshmallows and a help sheet from bexscience.co.uk, the Brownies set about building a bridge that could span a 25cm gap. It proved to be quite a tricky challenge as the gap was slightly longer than the length of a piece of spaghetti, meaning that we needed to join two pieces together to get the length. However, I think the hardest thing for some of the girls was resisting eating the building materials!


Materials for bridge building

After 40 minutes, we had three bridges waiting to be tested. To test the bridges, a girl from each group donned a hi vis vest and a hard hat (safety first with our budding engineers!). Weights were gently placed on the bridges until they collapsed. One bridge had suffered a collision with a Brownie during construction and so could only hold 200g when tested. The other two bridges managed to hold 800g and 1200g, quite an impressive feat for spaghetti and marshmallow constructions!

After a quick clean up, the girls were all awarded their well-deserved Science Investigator badge. To thank me for my help, I was also awarded one which will take pride of place on my lab coat! The girls seemed to really enjoy making (and breaking) their bridges and some of them were really keen to tell me about the vinegar volcano they had made the week before. The Science Investigator badge seems like a really good way to introduce science and engineering to young girls, allowing them to participate in a hands on way that isn’t always possible in a classroom. I was honoured to have been asked to help with this badge and I look forward to any opportunities to help other Brownie units to complete it!


My badge

Shrewsbury School visit for Life Sciences Technology Day @tsm_biology

Guest post by Dr Torin Morgan, Head of Faculty, Shrewsbury School

Shrewsbury School

RAJC and his set listening to PhD students explaining the use of mass spectrometry to identify proteins at the University of Liverpool’s Centre for Proteome Research

On Friday 6th November all Lower Sixth Biologists took a day out to visit the University of Liverpool’s Institute of Integrative Biology. We were hosted by Professor Alan McCarthy, one of the UK’s leading microbiologists and the Head of Admissions and Recruitment for the School of Life Sciences (and also a Governor of Shrewsbury School).

Biosciences in the 21st Century are increasingly focused on understanding the information contained inside living cells in the form of DNA (the ‘genome’) and proteins (the ‘proteome’).  Pre-U Biology places great emphasis on practical applications and so this visit was a tremendously valuable opportunity to for us to see the cutting-edge technology being deployed by this world-leading research department.

In the words of some of our pupils:

“The trip to Liverpool University was an interesting and memorable experience. We had a full morning of lectures before attending tours. The lectures were pretty fascinating, even though the topics the speakers touched on were slightly above our understanding. The final lecture by Prof Rob Beynon (Head of Biochemistry at the University) really caught my attention, as I never knew proteins play such a major role in sustaining our lives. After a brief break, we were taken on tours. We saw some high-end technologies being used by both researchers and students. Quite a few of us were astonished by how expensive the equipment was (£800,000 for a next-generation DNA sequencer!). In the final tour, we met Mike – a student who was about to get his PhD in biology. Apart from explaining how he managed to crystallise proteins to study their structure, he told us what being a student at a university is like and gave us some useful advice on how to make the most out of it.”

“The lectures were on a variety of topics. Most were about the advanced techniques used to understand the processes going on inside cells; there was also one by Dr Raphael Levy on the way evidence is misused by the media (especially the Daily Mail!) to report and distort news of scientific discoveries. He reminded us to always ask for evidence! (http://askforevidence.org/index)”

“I found the tour of the x-ray crystallography laboratory especially interesting. Researchers can now generate a three dimensional image of a molecule by using x-ray crystallography. The molecule causes x-ray beams to diffract in different directions and this data can then be used to construct and image of the molecule.”

“One aspect of the day that I found particularly interesting was cell imaging. Following a colourful and inspiring lecture delivered by Dr David Mason, we acquired a new understanding of how we can view cells and observe their features. The lecture certainly lived up to its name, ‘Seeing the world in 5-dimensions’: after covering the obvious first 3 dimensions, XYZ, a splash of colour and the element of time brought the images to life.”

“The most incredible technique I saw was laser capture microdissection, in which an individual cell was shown being cut from a sample using a laser before being propelled (again by the laser) into a waiting test tube. This tiny, targeted tissue fragment could then be subjected to DNA sequencing!”

Whatever their level of interest in Biology, the pupils will find themselves thinking back to the trip over the coming days and months, and, as it keeps resonating with theory in their Pre-U course, their appreciation for what they saw will grow.

The Quest for Immortality @merseysci with @jpsenescence

Guest post by João Pedro de Magalhães, Senior Lecturer in the Institute for Integrative Biology

Pedro Sci BarJP Scibar

Liverpool SciBar is literally science in a bar (or pub).  It takes place in the first floor of the Ship & Mitre.  I gave a presentation on ageing and potential implications to society of retarding human ageing.  There were ~25 people in attendance (the maximum capacity is 30), so it was a good house.  The audience was a mix of young and old, University students and non-experts, men and women.  There were loads of excellent questions, from concerns about the implications of longevity therapies, to questions about diet and health, and even questions about what is possible to learn nowadays about ourselves from genetic testing.  (As an example, I told of how my dislike of coriander has a genetic basis.)  My presentation ended up being almost an extended discussion, which made it thoroughly enjoyable.