12 May, 2017
The request came in from the local primary school – do we have any images that the school could use for a Year 5/6 project? Well, yes, we have a lot of images. Thousands of images. Big ones, small ones, pictures in black and white, pictures in colour, pictures of cells, pictures of tissues, pictures of beauty, pictures of indescribable blobby things. So, what to send? How about a smorgasbord, and an invitation: instead of picking from our picture buffet, why don’t you bring the children here and create something yourselves?
A few months later, 26 children arrive anticipating…well who knows what they are anticipating. They often pass the Institute buildings whilst wending their way up the road to the village church, but very few have seen what goes on within these walls. Surprising, perhaps, while many of the children have parents who work at Babraham, few have actually ventured into the lab buildings.
We set up four microscopy-based activities. Comparing wild-type and mutant C. elegans to explain the value of using a model organism, and the concepts of genotype and phenotype; examining a sample of school pond water to see what microscopic monsters lurk beneath; using the PE team’s teaching microscopes to scrutinise and draw some random samples the children have brought in; having a go at fluorescence microscopy to understand the benefits this technique provides to Babraham researchers.
Of course, these activities don’t create themselves, and a lot of time and effort has gone into planning the morning, but the palpable levels of excitement and the ‘Ooos’ and ‘Ahhs’ as we walk into the darkroom environment of the fluorescence microscopes confirm that the effort has been worth it. And at the end of the morning the children have successfully acquired many pictures for their project. But perhaps more importantly, they have also gained some awareness of what we do here at Babraham, and why tools such as microscopes play an invaluable part of our research.
This term the children will use their pictures to create banners for a science festival at Ely cathedral. Hopefully they won’t be featuring any indescribable blobby things!
Many thanks to Hanneke Okkenhaug, Fatima Santos, Fabien Garcon, Amy McQueen, Laetitia Chauve and the Public Engagement team for their help organising and running the event.
12 May 2017
By Simon Walker