Talking PhDs and poster judging at St Michaels CoE School Science Fair

Talking PhDs and poster judging at St Michaels CoE School Science Fair

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.

Natalie and Rosie with the poster winner

Overall, it was a very successful day and Rosie and I very much enjoyed encouraging and engaging with the next generation of scientists.                 

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VG&M ‘Marvellous Molecules’ Summer Science Club

VG&M ‘Marvellous Molecules’ Summer Science Club

Guest post by Victoria Harman, Centre for Proteome Research at the Institute of Integrative Biology

On Tuesday 28th August, six members from the Centre for Proteome Research held a Victoria Gallery and Museum Summer Science Club session for local primary school children. The session, entitled ‘Marvellous Molecules’, began with a messy activity where the children were able to explore the components of ‘blood’. We used water beads, ping pong balls and square pieces of sponge to represent the red blood cells, white blood cells and platelets, respectively. The three components were bathed in water to represent blood plasma. All four components were correctly identified by the children and they even knew all the functions!

We then went on to explain that blood cells contain DNA sequences and that these sequences can be used to make proteins in our body. The children each selected a blood cell from the ‘blood’ mixture and opened them to reveal a laminated DNA sequence that coded for a different protein from different organisms. For example we had the DNA code for a protein in the venom of a cobra and the protein that causes oranges to ripen. Using this code the children could create DNA code bracelets where each nucleobase corresponded with a particular colour of bead. After creating the parent strand, using base coding pairs, the children were able to create the daughter strand.  The children enjoyed this so much some made up to three bracelets!

Next we moved onto ‘DNA whispers’. This was a Chinese whispers activity using sentences about DNA to explain how it can sometimes be copied incorrectly causing errors. Some changes often don’t cause a problem, however, other errors (or mutations) can cause genetic diseases such as sickle cell anaemia. One of the sentences used in the game was “Even identical twins don’t have identical DNA” which got changed to “Even identical twins don’t have DNA”, proving a point about how small changes can have a big effect on the meaning of the sentence, or in terms of proteins, their function. We explained about sickle cell anaemia and the children were able to mix some blue water beads into the ‘blood’ mixture, representing the less oxygenated sickle cells. We explained that people with sickle cell anaemia can experience pain, but using some ‘marvellous molecules’ we can treat these symptoms. We looked at the structure of three of these molecules; paracetamol, ibuprofen and aspirin and got the children to make the structures out of paper and pipe cleaners.

We finished the session by asking the children questions about what they had learnt during the session. They were able to answer every question and were awarded with stickers for the correct answers.

We were all very impressed by the knowledge and enthusiasm of the children that attended the session and we look forward to helping out again next year!

 

 

 

Shrewsbury School visit

The Lower Sixth Biology visited the Institute for Integrative Biology.

With a world-class biological research facility only a couple of hours away, it would seem silly for us not to pay them a visit each year, and once again we were generously hosted by Professor Alan McCarthy – Head of Undergraduate Admissions for Liverpool’s School of Life Sciences (and Shrewsbury School Governor). In the morning we heard talks giving overviews of the key technologies we would later be seeing.

You can read the rest of their visit report here.

 

 

 

Beyond the Cell – Centre for Proteome Research Science Club @VictoriaGallery

fake blood, mucus and saliva

Guest post by Victoria Harman, Centre for Proteome Research

Five members of the Centre for Proteome Research ran the first of six science club sessions hosted at the Victoria Gallery & Museum.  The session was entitled “Beyond the Cell” and was attended by 13 students aged between seven and 10. We started out the afternoon by introducing the students to the concept of our DNA being stored in the nucleus of our cells – to accompany this idea the students extracted DNA from strawberries and made DNA models from sweeties. We then talked about DNA being the code for proteins and how there are different types of proteins in our bodies. The studentsimg_4462 matched descriptions of proteins to the types of “sample” were that protein might be found. We also used jelly beans to demonstrate how different amounts of proteins, or the presence of a new protein, could help us to diagnose a disease. To round off the afternoon the students tried out three different analysis techniques – testing the pH of household solutions using red cabbage indicator, running dyes and inks on paper chromatography, and measuring the travel time of differently weighted marbles on a model mass spectrometer. We really wanted to encourage the students to ask as many questions as possible and try to think like scientists, any they absolutely loved the hands-on activities, especially those involving sweets!

 

 

Judging at North West heat of the Big Bang Competition

This post has been written by Rob Beynon. If you are interested in the Big Bang North West, check also this other post detailing many contributions our students and post-doctoral researchers made to the event, including some more judging by Rebecca Jones and Beth Levick.

VictoriaHVictoria 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.

What’s involved? Judge are allocated a judging partner and about five projects to assess 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 student’s 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”.

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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 recognizes exceptional hard work, determination and enthusiasm from a student or team.

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.

 

Biochemical Society Scientific Outreach Grant award for Centre for Proteome Research PostDoc

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Dr. Guadalupe Gómez Baena, a postdoctoral research associate in the Centre for Proteome Research in the Institute of Integrative Biology has won a Scientific Outreach Grant from the Biochemical Society to support the costs of running a Science Club titled ‘Learning to think like scientists’ at New Park Primary School. The club will run during the academic year 2016-2017 and is aimed at promoting the understanding of the scientific environment in primary school children.

Engaging children in science at an early stage is important, not only to assure a solid foundation for the future scientific generation, but also to develop significant skills and attitudes important in learning and understanding. The club will demonstrate why science is important and what is it like to work as a scientist, while teaching basic aspects of science and research.

The Centre for Proteome Research is actively involved in a number of activities aimed at disseminating the importance of science.  This activity will be delivered by members of Centre for Proteome Research who are registered as STEM ambassadors.

Proteome Research at Winstanley College

To inaugurate our outreach blog, let’s share again some good recent news. The press release below was originally published on the Institute website on 27 March 2015 (updated with hyperlinks). Note: The Royal Society Partnership Awardhelps schools to run exciting and innovative projects in partnership with a professional scientist or engineer.


Royal Society Funding Award for STEM Partnership

The partnership between Winstanley College and IIB’s Centre for Proteome Research (CPR) has received recognition with a Royal Society Partnership Award.

The grant was awarded to Winstanley College’s STEM Coordinator Dr Jen Platt-Skerry (a former IIB student) and CPR’s Prof Rob Beynon for their project entitled ‘Proteome Research at Winstanley College’.   The grant will allow students access to advanced instrumentation in CPR for their own projects. This is in addition to a recent Royal Society of Chemistry grant for gel equipment at Winstanley College.

The project is highly interdisciplinary, covering Biochemistry in particular, a subject that is not formally taught to students at this level.  It will highlight the advantage of linking Chemistry and Biology and also Physics and Mathematics. Students will be encouraged to understand a little of the physics behind a MALDI-TOF mass spectrometer and they will start to understand Maths and ICT behind the search engines that are used to identify previously unknown proteins.

The Centre for Proteome Research (www.liv.ac.uk/cpr) is very enthusiastic about being involved in widening awareness of our research, and in raising aspirations for young scientists to become the next generation of researchers.  Twelve members of CPR have now signed up as STEM ambassadors in order to take part in this worthwhile and important activity.