Science week in Mosspits Lane primary school, 6-7 March 2017

As part of her honours project Mary Roughley visited Mosspits Lane Primary School in Wavertree, Liverpool, during Science week. She has spent an afternoon with each year 6 class and engaged with the pupils on topics such as scales in the universe, the concept and calculation of magnification and the power of using microscopy in biology. As part of her honours project, Mary has planned the session and developed the supporting worksheets and instruction protocols. After a short presentation, the whole class went out onto the playground to collect their own live samples to view under the microscope, the class were then split into three groups to rotate between the three exercises that were organised. The most popular activity was collecting and viewing their samples. The pupils were given magnifying glasses and also had access to the Zeiss stemi labscope to enable them to examine their specimens. They collected insects, worms, leafs, bread crumb, aphids, hairs…They really enjoyed this activity and were fascinated and very excited by what they could see with a microscope: worms digestive tubes, tiny unsuspected hairs on insect legs and “a starry night sky” (salt imaged with transmitted light)!

The pupils also made their own magnifier using water in petri dishes. They learnt how to calculate magnification and used this knowledge to calculate and compare the magnification of a magnifying glass and the magnifier that they made. They realised that their magnifier made with a drop of water was as good as a commercial magnifying glass.

For the third activity, the pupils used the schools computers and an online programme to learn more about scales. The software showed objects of different sizes ranging from galaxies to a proton nucleus. This activity reinforced the idea that microscopes are essentials to biologists, as many things are much too small to be seen with the naked eye. This is what Mary says about her experience: “I received excellent feedback from the pupils. They thoroughly enjoyed the session and some mentioned that they would like to become biologists. They particularly enjoyed using the microscope and collecting their samples and a number of pupils said that the only bad part of the session was packing away! As a proof of the success of the half-day, the teachers had to fight for the children to go out at playtime. They preferred observing their samples under the microscope. I have personally really enjoyed delivering the sessions, I found the experience very rewarding especially when the pupils said they wanted to be biologists! The experience has also made me consider teaching as a career.” This is what the children wrote about the session: “‘I wish the session was longer!!; I liked seeing the intestines in the worm, it was gross but cool!; The bacteria in the pond water was really cool.” It was a very enjoyable experience at all levels: for the children, the teachers, the undergraduate student involved and me, the academic supervisor. Thank you to Mosspits Lane to have worked with us on this project.

Violaine Sée, IIB

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“Microbes around us” outreach event with Northwood Primary School, 15.03.17

Written by Jo Moran

Last week Mal Horsburgh and I welcomed Northwood Primary School to the IIB, where they undertook activities to teach them about the microbes that surround us all every day.

In the morning, the students used light microscopes to identify different bacteria that they would come across in their everyday lives. In the afternoon session, the students were taught about viruses, and made their own bacteriophage 3D paper model. The students were extremely enthusiastic, and really enjoyed the chance to use scientific equipment. Over lunch, we encouraged the students to ask questions to the scientists who were demonstrating to them. My favourite questions included “how long does it take to become a scientist?”, “how do you know when you’ve really proved something scientifically?” and “what’s the most embarrassing thing that’s ever happened to you in the lab?”

Although the event was run by Jo Moran, Renze Gao, a Biological sciences honours student, designed and developed all of the activities and resources for the day for his honours project. Renze hugely enjoyed working out how to make what he knew about microbes accessible to 10 year olds, and is considering doing something similar in his future career.

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Family Science Fair at Ness Gardens, 11th March 2017

Iain Young and Laurence Anderson were talking to visitors to the Family Science Fair about Aquaponics today.

Laurence’s PhD springs from our partnership with Farm Urban www.farmurban.co.uk: an SME founded by two University of Liverpool PhD Graduates: Paul Myers and Jens Thomas. Paul Myers (winner of the 2016 Duke of York Young Entrepreneur prize) said: “Farm Urban take science fresh from the lab and implements it in aquaponics systems in the heart of Liverpool”. “The partnership between Farm Urban and the University of Liverpool helps us to develop and test the most efficient ways to grow food in urban environments”.

Aquaponics provides a focus for inspiration and a narrative for healthy eating and environmentally sensitive food production, which we have used to engage schools, residents’ associations, hospitals and other universities and to develop education and research around sustainable urban living.

Laurence Anderson brings aquaculture and plant growth trial experience from the recent BiFFiO (testing the potential of aquaculture and agriculture waste streams for biogas production and fertilizer: www.BiFFiO.com) and RAZONE (using ozone to improve aquaculture water quality: www.Razone.no) projects.

iain young ness gardens march 2017

BES Roadies: Who’s poo?

by Jo Griffin

We busk a little differently to most people. Having assembled from various locations around the UK, warming up with hot drinks in a pokey central London Starbucks, we play our favourite game. When you check out the next BES Annual Meeting (you know you want to), be sure to keep your eyes peeled for it. It will change your life.

As a BES Roadie, I’ve received public engagement training, helped develop busking activities and had the opportunity to attend music festivals and science festivals across the country. The end goal being to better my science communication skills and inform people outside the world of science on diverse matters such as ecology, and the research I conduct for my PhD.

BES roadies

These activities are great for engaging people and spreading the word of ecology, however, there are communities that we are still struggling to reach. As stated in the BES ‘Making Ecology for All’ report from 2013, members of BAME (Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic) community are significantly less likely to be in a STEM profession when compared to White counterparts. In 2010/11, BAME individuals made up 16.7% of all biological science students. This is an underrepresentation when compared to both the total for all STEM subjects, 20.1%, and for all subjects, 18.4%. There are no excuses for this gap; in the 21st century I am appalled that recent figures published by the Higher Education Statistics Agency reveal that no British University is employing a Black academic in a senior management role. This must change.

Now back to our London ‘Poo Game’ trip. The Windsor Fellowship has collaborated with the Royal Society to provide a mentoring scheme for Year 13 Black students living or studying in Greater London, who are studying STEM subjects. This is where we, the BES Roadies, come into the picture. We were given a one hour slot during a day long workshop, to communicate ecology to the students. Jessica opened the session with a brief introduction to the BES and the importance of science communication. We then split the cohort into four groups and took one group each to demonstrate our busking activities. Karen got to play ‘Pollinator Top Trumps’, Arron had ‘Who’s Poo?’ Jessica was on the ‘Mushroom Game’ and I demonstrated the use of taxonomic keys using the ‘Festival Animals’ busk that we took to Wychwood festival back in June. The students rotated around the different activities before reconvening in the seminar room where I then gave a short talk on my research.

I am used to communicating my work to academics back in my University department and at the odd conference. Entertaining a room of A-level students however, was a pretty terrifying prospect. When I asked if anyone had heard of the term ‘symbiosis’ some students nodded their head with a vague look of recollection whilst others shook their heads. Using examples such as corals, the bobtail squid, nitrogen-fixing bacteria in plant roots and deep sea tube worms, I got the students on board with the concept. Explaining the use of fruit flies and their symbiont to study host-shifts was a little trickier, I was nervous that this was where I might lose them. To my surprise, I was bombarded with questions. From the development and maintenance of symbioses and coevolution to the nitty gritty techniques I used to achieve my work and collect data, these students were the most inquisitive and enthusiastic audience I have ever had. It was an enormous pleasure to spend time with them. If I haven’t persuaded them that parasites and mutualists are just about the coolest things to study, then at least they will have left the session with a broader understanding of the term ecology. I hope that we will continue to engage with a diverse range of communities in the BES and look forward to reuniting with the Roadies for more science communication.

If you would like to become involved with the BES Roadies, please see upcoming public engagement and training events on the BES website: http://www.britishecologicalsociety.org/learning-and-resources/public-engagement/

Brainiology Event

Brainiology Event

Guest Post : Tom Butts, University of Liverpool

The School of Life Sciences held a ‘making the brain’ workshop in the Liverpool World Museum on Saturday 21st January as part of the ‘Meet the Scientists: Brainiacs’ day. Members of the public (and more to the point, their kids) came along and had a go at a number of activities all designed to get people thinking about the brain, how it works, and how it has evolved.

The first activity was to ‘build a brain’, where people had to assemble a 3D life-size anatomical model of the human brain. The second was ‘evolving the brain’ and involved arranging a number of animal photographs on a large phylogeny (of vertebrates). The final part was to try and match up the pictures of the animals’ brains to the correct animal on the phylogeny as a way to think about how brains have evolved. I had some cracking volunteers, including postdocs, PhD students, Masters’ students, and undergrad students from across the biological diaspora in Liverpool, and it was a cracking day had by all. Though knackering. I now have even vaster levels of respect for primary school teachers.