Students get stuck into workshops at Science Outreach Centre
Easter Bush Science Outreach Centre gives school pupils and community groups hands-on experience in a real laboratory setting.
Low-level whispers and hushed giggles spilled into the laboratory as the secondary school students put on their lab coats and made their way to the tables. Apprehensive at first, but as the workshop on PCR progressed, you could feel the confidence (and laughter) levels of the teenagers rising as they learned how to pipette, centrifuge and extract their own DNA. By the end of the day, faces were plastered with smiles.
The scene being described here is the Easter Bush Science Outreach Centre (EBSOC)’s PCR workshop for Higher level students called “A Question of Taste”.
Getting hands-on with real-life science
Students learn how to genotype their own DNA using PCR to find out if they have the gene (TAS2R38) which allows them to taste a specific ‘bitter’ compound called PTC (Phenylthiourea-Phenylthiocarbamide).
The whole workshop is hands-on, allowing the students to make good use of this purpose-built facility. The Centre uses research-grade laboratory equipment to deliver interactive, curriculum-linked learning experiences for pupils from 10 to 18 as well as workshops for community groups of all ages.
What makes this center unique is that these workshops are not only specifically designed to complement students’ in-class learning, but also give them real experience of what a life in the lab is actually like, in line with the Scottish Government’s Developing the Young Workforce Strategy.
The Centre has played a huge role in inspiring young people to get involved with science or to continue it into further study. Surveys from the students suggest that the pupils found the workshop to be fun, informative, inspiring, interesting, enjoyable and thought-provoking.
Eighty percent of students said the workshop provided an opportunity to develop their hands-on practical skills, 70% said the experience made them think working in science might be interesting and 100% reported that the workshop will help them with school science class.
The day was amazing, learning how your DNA and all the equipment works was mind-blowing. I was thinking of doing nursing, so today has definitely pushed me more towards that path.
I found the workshop very interesting. I learned a lot and have a much better understanding of PCR. I really enjoyed the practical work.
I thought the workshop was really good. Everyone got to get hands-on which was nice as we don’t usually get to do that at school and the whole day flowed very well.
Public engagement skills for scientists
It is not only the students that benefit from these workshops, the scientists that help out gain a huge amount from them too. Public engagement with science is becoming an ever hotter topic and EBSOC provides the perfect platform for scientists to come down and get involved.
Scientists get the opportunity to engage with the public, share their knowledge and practice their communication skills. In addition, giving students opportunities to work beside and speak to professional scientists can be invaluable towards their understanding of what a career in science actually looks like. Of the students surveyed after the workshops, 100% reported that they enjoyed talking to the scientists from Roslin.
I really enjoy this workshop. Interacting with young people is always great fun. It’s nice to see their reactions to something you take for granted and reminds you science can be quite fun!
A range of workshops
There are a number of different workshops provided at EBSOC. The most basic being “Dolly, DNA & Me” aimed at P6-S1 pupils. During the day, students look at their own cells under a microscope, learn about what DNA is and how scientists use it.
The most advanced workshop is the “ELISA Masterclass: Flu Fighters” designed for Advanced Higher students. During this, students learn about avian flu, see how ELISA works, carry out standard dilutions and see the world of work in scientific research.
We are really proud of the work we do here at EBSOC. We love working with young people and seeing them, along with the scientists, enjoy the workshops and have fun doing real-life science.
Text by Science Communication MSc Student Alex Bradie.