Sixth formers from Shrewsbury visit IIB

Earlier this year sixth formers from Shrewsbury School visited the IIB, hosted by Professor Alan McCarthy.

After listening to lectures around the IIB’s key research themes, the students were given a guided tour.

They gave this report in their newsletter:

“The research facilities at Liverpool are, without exception, world class. We saw their next generation DNA sequencers, capable of reading an entire genome in just a few days; their ‘GeneMill’ for making synthetic DNA; and a ‘laser capture microscope’ that can cut out a single cell from a thin section and capture it for genetic analysis.

“We visited a humming lab filled with mass spectrometers able to detect in real time the chemical fingerprints that differentiate healthy from diseased tissues. We saw the x-ray crystallography and nuclear magnetic resonance imaging suites that are the workhorses in the ongoing effort to model the actual 3D structures of proteins, and in one case we were shown a novel drug being tested against an intricate virtual model of a mutant enzyme.”

Shrewsbury school visit for blog and log - Jan 17

X-ray crystallography imaging suite

More Neuroblastology success!

This year our fruitful collaboration with Liverpool life sciences UTC has continued and we would like to take this opportunity to congratulate Laura Hurst on the success of her Year 13 Project.

Laura has been working on our Neuroblastology programme at UTC and designed and carried out an experiment to investigate the neuroprotective effect of lemongrass on brain cells in Alzheimer’s disease. Laura has cultivated SHSY5Y neuronal cells, exposed them to amyloid beta protein (protein involved in neurodegeneration in Alzheimer’s disease) and explored the protective effect of lemongrass on these affected cells. Laura has now finished the project, written an excellent report and presented her findings to her peers and the teachers at the school.

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This is her abstract from her report.

This project’s main purpose is to explore the potential neuroprotective effects of lemongrass (Cymbopogon Citratus) and how these effects can be utilised in the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease. The rates of this disease have greatly increased over the past few decades and so the development of new pharmaceuticals is increasingly important to society. To test the hypothesis of lemongrass having neuroprotective effects two well plates were set up with neuroblastoma cultures, one of which had beta amyloid protein (one of the key pathological markers of Alzheimer’s disease) added. Three different solutions of lemongrass essential oil were also added (0.1%,0.5%, and 1%) as well as two control groups containing either F-12 Ham’s nutrient media only or 100% ethanol. The results of the experiment suggested that an increase in lemongrass solution reduced the concentration of cells per mm² but increased the viability of the cells in the amyloid beta protein plate. 0.5% lemongrass solution almost doubled the viability of the neuroblastoma from 37.04% in the media only control group to 68.61%. These results support both the Amyloid hypothesis and the hypothesis established for this project, and so it can be concluded that lemongrass has potential as a treatment to Alzheimer’s disease if further research is carried out.

The school are so impressed they are using her work as a model to show students and teachers alike how science project work should be conducted and reported.

We would all like to congratulate Laura on her fantastic success and wish her luck in her dreams to pursue a career in neuroscience!

In more good news, Dr John Dyer at UTC is involved in the process of arranging an exchange programme to enable students from different schools in Europe to work on extended projects at different sites dependant on their interests. UTC (in collaboration with the University of Liverpool) is hoping to make the neuroblastology project their specialty! So hopefully soon we will be welcoming students from across Europe to learn cell culture techniques and do more exciting experiments.

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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/

Range High School Students annual visit to NMR Centre

On Wednesday 18th January chemistry A-Level students from Range High School visited the Institute for a workshop in the NMR Centre for Structural Biology organised by Dr Jill Madine. This visit has become an annual event which the students enjoy and say enhance their understanding of how NMR can be applied in a research environment.  The students learnt about the advantages and disadvantages of mass spec and NMR from Dr Mark Wilkinson and Dr Marie Phelan, carried out chromatography and learnt to prepare  and run NMR samples and 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!). 

A range of University of Liverpool postgraduate students and postdocs helped with the day providing practical and theoretical advice, including Dr Hannah Davies, Rudi Grossman, James Torpey and Kieran Hand (pictured above).

Christmas lectures

Each year we are welcoming students from various secondary schools to our Christmas lectures. This year was once again a success:

Thanks to Jay Hinton (“It’s amazing you’re not dead yet”), Dada Pisconti (“The secret life of stem cells”) and James Hartwell (“Plants to save the world”) for their inspiring talks and thanks to our young visitors for coming.

Earlier version of Jay’s talk:

11 Nuffield students visited IIB this summer

This past summer, the Institute of Integrative Biology has once welcomed Nuffield students, just, many more than last year. Thank you to Jane Hurst, Michael Gerth, Philipp Antczak, Violaine See, Luning Liu, Dave Mason and Raphael Levy for providing these placements.

 

 

Big Bang NorthWest 2016

The Big Bang North West is a science fair with a variety of companies, stalls and events to excite students from primary school up to sixth form about science, technology, engineering and maths. The Big Bang North West, organised by MerseySTEM, took place last week, Tuesday 5th July, with 5000 students descending upon the fabulous new venue, the Exhibition Centre, Liverpool. This new venue meant all the exhibits were located in one hall with a central stage where various shows would take place, including someone who was screening his bronchoscopy exam! Students from various schools also had the opportunity to present their own scientific projects as part of a National Science and Engineering competition, with quite a varied selection on display.

The School of Life Sciences and the Institute of Integrative Biology were well represented at the event with members taking part in exhibits, judging and moderating.

If you were also exhibiting at the event, please add a comment at the bottom and we will update the page. Thanks!

Institute of Integrative Biology Exhibit

Beth Levick, Gabriel Pedra, Vinnie Keenan

Beth, Gabi and Vinnie ran a game based on a simple SIR (susceptible, infected, recovered) model in the fashion of a Microbe Premier League. Teams battled it out to try and infect the entire population based on random dice rolls in a set time limit. Students loved the game with some returning multiple times to try and beat their friends.

Amy Eacock

Amy took some peppered moths to the exhibit in moth and caterpillar form to discuss her phd work examining how these twig-mimicing caterpillars are able to detect colour and adapt their bodies. Students were really interested in holding the caterpillars although there were screams from some! Amy also had a match the caterpillar to its moth game which went down well with both adults and students.

Lewis White

Lewis brought a selection of animal skulls for students to examine before they tackled his challenging game of placing a number of animals in the correct order on a phylogenetic tree. These included, whales, dolphins, sharks, cats and pandas but it was the primary school children who fared the best!

Rebecca Jones

Becky’s activity involved students and teachers sticking parasites on to the animals they thought those parasites lived in/on. There were some pesky parasites that kept them all guessing though!

Judging and Moderating the NSEC regional heats

Becky and Beth were selected as a judge and moderator for the school projects for the NSEC regional heats.

Victoria Harman

Victoria Harman, STEM Ambassador and member of the Centre for Proteome Research has completed another year as judge in the North West heat of the Big Bang Competition Victoria has been a judge for four years, and has been acting as a head science judge for the last two.

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What’s involved? Judges are allocated a judging partner and about five projects to asses in the morning being given about 20min to speak to each group/individual. The score is based on criteria such as planning, method design, analysis of results, whether the project is the students own idea, and how well it is presented.

There’s quite a lot of pressure on judges – the students have worked so hard over the last academic year on their projects and assessment in just 20 minutes is a big responsibility!

Students dedicate their spare time to produce a project – sometimes individuals, mostly teams. There are juniors, intermediates and seniors categories so there is quite an age span.  As with all competitions there is a range in the standard of projects but every single student or group puts in a lot of hard work. Victoria comments “It’s wonderful to see how proud they are of their work. Some students can be nervous to begin with but in the end they’re all so eager to tell you all about what they have achieved”.

After the morning judging session, the head judges review the scores for the science projects from the morning, and select projects for the shortlist for the nationals. A smaller team of head judges and moderators then meets the students again to review the shortlisted projects before selecting those that will be put forward for the national final. A project is nominated for the Endeavour prize which recognises exceptional hard work, determination and enthusiasm from a student or team.

prize

Victoria says “The Endeavour prize is actually my favorite bit. Considering that science isn’t always about getting the perfect results it’s brilliant to be able to recognize a student or students who have really put their heart and soul into a project”.

If you’d be interested in engaging with the Big Bang Competition, feel free to get in touch with Victoria (vharman@liverpool.ac.uk). She’ll direct you to the right people.

 

Rebecca Jones

I judged the senior category which had some interesting projects ranging from ‘Can mealworms eat plastic?’ to information leaflets on the BRCA gene which could be used in the NHS and online. I also learnt about how environmental issues associated with the Great Barrier Reef can be highlighted to primary school children through an educational toolkit. I also had the privilege of judging and shortlisting for regionals the eventual winners of the Young Scientist of the Year Award from Sandbach High School. Natural Skin Remedies, championed by two girls, had produced and tested a number of different creams to treat eczema. They had carried out a lot of experimental research and presented their work brilliantly. I wish them all the best in the finals next year. Go girls!!

Beth Levick

 I acted as a moderator for the judging, helping to decide which of the teams shortlisted by the main judges would go ahead to the final in March! I met some excellent teams and individuals, with projects ranging from how the length of skis affect your speed, to creating exciting videos of scientific topics using sweets. I was delighted to meet the winner of the “Endeavour” award and discuss her ideas for a greenhouse powered by burning waste. Of the 5 teams that went on to the final I and my partner moderator (also from IIB!) put forward two very clean projects: one on the efficacy of surface cleaners in removing bacteria, and one on commercial bleach products compared to home remedies. The hard work that had gone in to producing some really quality projects was truly inspiring, and all the teams that competed should be proud of the work they put in.

Aquaponics

Jens Thomas

Life Sciences Outreach Society

Juhi Gupta

The University of Liverpool’s Life Sciences Outreach team were back at Big Bang this year. Following last year’s successful workshops, Life Sciences undergraduate students got involved with making sweet DNA models and Breaking Berries in our strawberry DNA extraction workshop! We had a great response from kids and school teachers. And our volunteers had lots of fun too! Thank you to all of the students who helped at the event 🙂

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