46 year 12 pupils and 4 teachers from Shrewsbury School visited IIB on Wednesday 8th January to discover the amazing technology and facilities we have within the institute. The day organised by Dr Jill Madine began with an unmissable opportunity to promote UG courses at Liverpool from Dr Andy Bates, School of Life Sciences. The pupils then learnt about a wide range of applications using the available technologies from Dr Marie Phelan, Dr Linda D’Amore, Dr Gareth Wright and Professor Pat Eyers. In the afternoon the students got to see the facilities up close and ask questions during tours of Barkla X-Ray laboratory of Biophysics, NMR Centre for Structural Biology and Centre for Genomic Research from PhD students Liam McCormick and Kangsa Amporndanai.
As part of the volunteering undertaken by Dr Eva Caamano-Gutierrez with the charity The Girls’ Network we hosted a group of girls from Holly Lodge College and showed them how the real life of scientists looks like.
Our aim was to showcase the multidisciplinary and collaborative research that is undertaken in the institute while trying to encourage all the girls to pursue further education, especially in scientific fields.
Arriving just after 16:00 the groups of 19 girls and a few curious mentors arrived to the IIB and were greeted by Dr Jill Madine, Dr Marie Phelan and Dr Eva Caamano. They took all the girls to visit the Biochemistry labs, the NMR Centre for Metabolomics and the Bioinformatics office where both the CBF and the CGR are hosted. Our message was clear: we work on very cool projects, we only succeed working together as a team, our jobs are hard but flexible and overall science is really exciting!
The cherry on the cake was put on by our software developer Dr Tony McCabe who showcased a number of software solutions applied to life sciences that really brought the ‘wow’ factor into the conversation.
The girls were interested in multiple aspects discussed during the visit ranging from specifics of an academic career, including what is a PhD? Or do you get paid while doing one? To being surprised about the fact that Charities such as the British Heart Foundation fund many different research projects.
Following this visit we had our last mentoring session for the academic year. When the girls were asked what they think they can they achieve in their lives they all answer unison “Anything”.
We are doing something good here. Let’s keep them coming in future years!
Guest post by Natalie Koch, PhD student in the Centre for Proteome Research
On Friday 15th March, Rosie Maher and I attended St Michaels Church of England High School for their yearly science fair. The morning session began with both of us giving presentations explaining our personal journeys towards a PhD to a group of year 9 female students. Rosie presented first and began by explaining what a PhD is as many of the students hadn’t heard of a PhD. Rosie followed by talking about her journey from leaving school to starting her PhD. Rosie also highlighted extracurricular activities and work experience that helped her obtain her PhD position and that this is something the students could start thinking about now for their future. Rosie went on to talk about her current research as a PhD student and explained how she is helping to develop a diagnostic test for people with reflux aspiration using proteomics and mass spectrometry.
I presented next, describing my own journey from school to becoming a PhD student, including my time spent volunteering abroad. I explained what my PhD entails and how I am using a new technique to extract information from faeces to help with population monitoring of small mammals. I also highlighted what else we do as PhD students away from the lab including publishing papers, presenting posters and talks, attending conferences and developing new skills. I then went on to explain what potential careers paths other than academic research are available after studying a STEM degree, in particular studying biology. The students were then able to ask us questions. I believe they were particularly encouraged to know they did not have to excel in every scientific topic they covered in class to be able to pursue a career in science. They were also reassured that Rosie and I had experienced setbacks on our journeys towards a PhD. We emphasised that we did not know everything about our particular field of research before starting our respective PhDs. We explained that we are still constantly learning, and that this is the main theme of a PhD to learn new skills and techniques! We explained that both of us have followed our passions and that has taken us to where we are now and we would encourage them to do the same.
During the afternoon session, Rosie and I took part in judging poster presentations at the science fair along with the help of a previous winner. Around 20 students from year 8 to year 11 volunteered to present a poster on a scientific topic of their choosing. The posters were displayed around the school hall, as you would see at a scientific conference. The students’ parents also attended and were able to walk around the hall viewing the posters and asking the students questions about their chosen topic. As judges, we were asked to mark each student out of five on their presentation skills, knowledge of their topic and poster creativity. We viewed the posters separately, approaching each student who then presented their poster and answered any questions we had.
After all of the posters had been marked we collectively chose three winning students for 1st, 2nd and 3rd place. The winners were those who showed a high level of passion and knowledge for their respective topics. The winner’s topics included the effect of mobile phones on our brain and eyes, current advancements in biotechnology and how artificial intelligence works.
Overall, it was a very successful day and Rosie and I very much enjoyed encouraging and engaging with the next generation of scientists.
Convincing school pupils that scientists are actually ordinary people is no small feat, but scientists from the IIB, along with the social enterprise Farm Urban have been doing just that.
Farm Urban, in conjunction with the University of Liverpool and funded by Shaping Futures, have developed a 12 week STEM club called the Future Food Challenge, where pupils form their own social enterprise to try and help fix the world’s food production problems using high-tech growing technologies such as aquaponics and hydroponics. Before starting the program, the pupils were invited to an introductory day at the Department of Engineering on Wednesday 6th February, where they were built their own mini aquaponics system and were given talks and advice by local business leaders about how to set up their own business. Matt Murphy from the Engineering Department, who helped to organise the day, also gave a talk to help the pupils understand the design and engineering problems they might face.
As part of the day, pupils took part in a Scientist Speed Dating session, where groups of 6-10 pupils got to sit down with a real life scientist and ask them questions about their work, and how they’d ended up in their job. The idea was to break down some of the barriers preventing the pupils seeing themselves as capable of being scientists and show them that some of the scientists had similar life experiences to their own.
Laurence Anderson, Hannah Davies, Jens Thomas and James Torpey from the IIB all took part. At first, students and academics were eyeing each other with some trepidation, but by the end of each session, the groups always had to be forcibly moved on as everyone was getting on so well and didn’t want to stop the conversation. The scientists had to contend with a bewildering array of questions, from what their most important experiment was, to what their favourite food or colour was, and although they were sometimes stuck for answers (I’m still not sure what my favourite colour is) the day went incredibly well.
We hope that the day and the program will broaden the horizons of the pupils and show them that they too could be scientists and entrepreneurs, just like the people they met on the Future Food Challenge.
IIB’s Iain Young, who helped to develop the programme and is now at the Institute of Clinical Sciences, was shortlisted for a public engagement award for his part in creating the Future Food Challenge.
On Friday 15th March 10 chemistry A-Level students from Range High School visited the Institute for the annual Analytics Day held in the NMR Centre for Structural Biology organised by Dr Jill Madine and Dr Marie Phelan. This visit has been an annual event for the past several years which the students look forward to in order to gain enhanced understanding of NMR to help with their A-level courses and also provide an opportunity to chat with PhD students about what is involved in University life and academic research. The students were given lectures on the basic applications of mass spectrometry and NMR from Stephen Moss (School of Physical Sciences) and Dr Marie Phelan. This was the followed by practical workshops where the students carried out chromatography and learnt to prepare and run NMR samples along with how to interpret the data. Prior to their visit, as part of a school practical, they have made salicylic acid – a precursor for aspirin. We obtained these samples and collected NMR spectra of their products ready for analysis on the day. This enabled them to establish how successful their synthesis had been and compare their results across the class, with previous years’ students (and to the teacher!). The pupils response at the end of the day was that they had learnt a lot and they can now ‘do’ NMR. Watch out for future budding NMR Nobel Prize Winners inspired during British Science Week in IIB!
Pupils were assisted on the day by Michelle Tan, Adika Sen (visiting interns in the NMR Centre), Zain Ghanameh (IACD), Jeremy Chazot (IACD) and James Torpey (IIB).
Guest post by Rosie Maher, IIB PhD student
This summer I welcomed a 16 year old student from The King’s School Chester who took part in the Nuffield Research Placement Scheme. Before starting her placement Charlotte had plans to apply for medicine after finishing her A-levels but was curious about other medical related professions within biomedical science and biochemistry. Charlotte was appointed a position with myself, working in the Centre for Proteome Research within the Institute of Integrative Biology. Her four week project was titled “Identifying Proteins in Saliva to Diagnose Disease” and was a continuation of work that I have completed for my PhD.
During Charlotte’s four week stay she learnt three techniques that are used routinely in our lab; SDS-PAGE, zymography and western blotting. By the end of her placement she had produced some very interesting novel data, complementing the work that I have completed. It was a great experience to teach and supervise Charlotte, especially in an area of medical related science that she hadn’t heard of. I am now looking forward to her presenting this data at the Nuffield Celebration Evening in October.
An innovative schools outreach programme that encourages students to think about sustainable food production is set to return after a successful first run earlier this year.
Future Food Challenge, a 12 week programme delivered by social enterprise Farm Urban and the University’s Institute of Integrative Biology, challenges Year 9 students to think up new ideas for growing food in urban environments using aquaponics – a sustainable method of raising both fish and vegetables.
The programme, funded by Shaping Futures, the Merseyside partner for the National Collaborative Outreach Programme (NCOP), gives school teams the chance to immerse themselves in the science of aquaponics with their very own Farm Urban Produce Pod system, before forming their own start-up, developing a business idea and designing and building their own aquaponic food system.
The programme provides students with the opportunity to gain an insight into start-up businesses, social enterprise and how they link into Higher Education activity, whilst developing skills in project management, leadership, finance, teamwork, communication and scientific research.
This year’s finale event, held at Farm Urban’s agri-lab space at the Liverpool Life Sciences UTC in July, gave teams the opportunity to exhibit their work, display their systems and pitch their business idea to a panel of judges, comprised of local business leaders and university academics.
Business ideas ranged from systems for use in primary schools to hospitals and local cafes. The overall winners from Woodchurch High School in Wirral carried out research and spoke to local charities and churches to create a system that would provide fresh food for those accessing food banks. The winning team said: “We have loved our aquaponics journey from fish to free fresh food for everyone. It has made us more aware of food problems people face and how to help them using science.”
Dr Iain Young, University lead for the programme commented: “Teaming up with organisations outside the University can be a really powerful way of delivering public engagement, showcasing our science and involving the public in research. This project gave us the opportunity to partner with Farm Urban to reach hundreds of school children from less advantaged backgrounds. Farm Urban are an inspiration in themselves, promoting local, healthy food production, and they also deliver exceptional events and programmes. I have found the whole experience of working with them on this project very rewarding.”
Farm Urban is now encouraging the Future Food Challenge teams to act as Future Food Ambassadors, sharing what they’ve learnt and inspiring their fellow students to think about what they can do collectively to continue to tackle global food challenges in their own communities.
Registrations for the 2018/19 Future Food programme are now open for schools. Please visit http://www.farmurban.co.uk/future-food-challenge for more information.
Woodchurch High School students were the overall winners for 2018.