16 March, 2017
We went over to Sophianum school in Gulpen (in south-east Holland) last month to introduce five challenge projects to students as part of the Dutch Technasium scheme. When we arrived we were whisked off to their Technasium classroom space – which is very fancy – and were shown their shiny new facilities.
The following morning, we introduced ourselves and the Babraham Institute to the secondary school students and outlined our three challenge projects to them. The students would form small teams and choose one of the projects to work on for the next 10 weeks, with the winning teams coming to the Babraham Institute in May.
The first challenge was a repeat of a popular project run last year – to design a solution to improve the efficiency of animal care systems in our Biological Support Unit (BSU). The second challenge, inspired by comments made by some of last year’s winning students during their visit to the BSU, was to use LEGO to create a working model of our robot cage-washing system. A copy of the model will be used as part of the careers roadshow developed by the BSU managers.
The third project was to evaluate the structure and content of the Babraham Institute website and compare it to other similar websites in the Netherlands. The Institute’s web team would like opinions from a wider audience to inform their development policy, especially in content aimed at students.
In the afternoon we pitched three projects to sixth-form students. Two of the projects were inspired by the Institute’s Public Engagement programme, and required the students to develop and construct ways of demonstrating the complex principles of Epigenetics and Mass Spectrometry to a non-scientific audience. Successful designs would be further developed by the Babraham Institute for use in public events such as the Cambridge Science Festival. The third project was a repeat of the cage-washing robot challenge.
We were competing against nine local companies pitching projects ranging from virtual reality to improving the efficiency of the local ambulance service. After the pitches a lively series of speed-dating sessions gave the students a chance to further discuss the projects which had interested them the most. The sixth-form students will be working on their projects for 20 weeks, and we were pleased to be invited to come back to the school in June to take part in the final presentations.
As two of our challenges for the younger students related to the Institute’s animal care facilities, we ran workshops to allow them to discuss their opinions on the ethics of the use of animals in science. It was interesting to listen to the debate between the groups of students.
All in all, we had a great time. Once the students got over the initial language barrier they were friendly, enthusiastic and asked relevant questions. All of the teachers were very hospitable and the Principal, Hans Venderbos, was clearly grateful for our contributions to the schools’ membership of the Technasium scheme.
We’re looking forward to chatting to the students via Skype over the next few weeks to discuss their progress with the projects, and being involved with events for the winning teams.
16 March 2017