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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Halloween Science at the Institute of Integrative Biology

spooky science

Post by Dr Jill Madine

On Wednesday 31st October 2018 IIB and SoLS held the first Institute-wide School Engagement event within the Life Sciences Building. 82 children from Banks Road, Litherland Moss Primary Schools and home-schooled pupils from the local area attended the morning session with 128 Secondary school children from Notre Dame Catholic College, Prescot School, Kings Leadership Academy Hawthornes, Academy of St Nicholas, Archbishop Blanch and St Michaels High attending the afternoon session.

Pupils took part in a range of fun spooky science activities:

  • exploring relationships between skulls and other features of animals (e.g. diet and faeces!) with Michael Berenbrink and PhD student Kelly Ross
  • finding out about blood flow and gravity, how holding your breath slows your heart and which animals that make your heart race with SoLS Terry Gleave and Rachel Floyd
  • making zombie proteins out of magnetic beads with Luning Liu and Fang Huang, assisted by many students
  • looking at model organisms under the microscope with the Centre for Cell Imaging (CCI – Violaine See, Dave Mason, Jen Adcott, Daimark Bennett, Anne Herrmann, Marco Marcello and PhD students Kit Sampat, Hammed Badmos, Rebecca Kelly)
  • finding out how much protein is in the foods we eat including fishing in cauldrons for the answers from the Centre for Proteome Research (CPR – Kimberley Burrow, Jos Harris, Victoria Harman and PhD students Max Harris, Rosie Maher, Iris Wagner, Natalie Koch)
  • pupils could also get up close and find out more about a range of animals kindly provided by staff from World Museum and from within SoLS with Carl Larsen

Additional student and staff helpers including Alice Clubbs Coldron, Lauren Tomlinson, members of Jill Madine group (Hannah Davies, James Torpey and Alana Maerivoet), Louise Colley and Laura Winters were invaluable in organising the day and logistic arrangements on the day.

Chester pupil’s Nuffield placement in the Centre for Proteome Research

Chester pupil’s Nuffield placement in the Centre for Proteome Research

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.

 

 

 

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 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.