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!
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 students 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!
Guest post by Prof Blair Grubb, Head of the School of Life Sciences
Children aged 7-13, from Merseyside and the Wirral, attended a workshop aimed at discovering what different parts of the body do and how they work. The workshop took place at the Victoria Gallery and Museum. The budding scientists measured how big their lungs are and learned why we need oxygen to live. The youngsters then measured their own heart rate when sitting quietly (not easy!) and then jumped up and down vigorously to see how much their heart rate changed as a result of exercise. The activity ended with a discussion about the brain and what it does – they enthusiastically cut out and made brain hats which show which parts of the brain are involved in sight, sound, movement and sensation. Before leaving they were presented with special rulers, donated by The Physiological Society, which will allow them to measure the reaction times of their friends and families.
Professor Blair Grubb, who presented the workshop said, “I was amazed at the very high level of knowledge shown by the young scientists at the science workshop. They threw themselves into all of the activities with great enthusiasm and asked really good and probing questions. It was a fantastic day and I was really delighted to be asked to participate!”
The Victoria Gallery and Museum
(VGM) started in 2008 as the University’s contribution to Liverpool’s European Capital of Culture celebrations. As well as paintings, sculpture and ceramics it displays objects of historic, cultural or aesthetic value from the University’s science and engineering departments. It receives around 4000 visitors per month.
A few years ago, my search for insects for a school visit led me to the Heritage Curator, Leonie Sedman
. I visited the VGM stores with her and saw shelves of objects once used in the University’s zoology teaching and research.
From this chance meeting came a plan to bring some of them back to public display through collaboration between the VGM and B. Sc. Life Sciences degree students. Four students have worked on their final year projects using this material with Leonie, Lu Vieira de Mello
The team: Luciane V Mello, Nicole Coombs, Sophie Banks, Leonie Sedman, Meriel G jones
The result is thought-provoking exhibits at the VGM about egg collecting, critically endangered pangolins and rhinos – and a witchitty grub embedded in resin for visitors to handle.
From the first two student projects with VGM; Witchetty grubs in acrylic. The students were Lewis Wade and Harriet Passey, both graduated B Sc Biological Sciences in summer 2014.
The museum materials are at the centre, but other objects like a 3D print of a rhino horn (thanks to the School of Architecture/Creative Workshop
), molecular image of keratin and video of live pangolins
put them into a twenty-first century context.
What do the students get from this? Project results that communicate science to visitors, an insider’s introduction to museum curation and the challenge of bringing objects, research and imagination together.