Launching Challenge Projects in the Netherlands
As I have been an animal technician in the Institute’s Animal Unit (BSU) for just over a year I was really pleased to have the opportunity to take part in the latest visit to Sophianum School to run projects for their Technasium students. Technasium is a Dutch education program which aims to draw together students and industry. It started in 2004 and now around 90 schools throughout the country take part each year.
I enjoy talking about my work in the BSU, having already had an interview published by the IAT which described my career and daily working life. My role involves routine mouse husbandry such as breeding, weaning and performing health and behaviour checks, as well as routine changing of consumables, enrichment and caging and environmental monitoring. I started at the Institute after finishing my University MSc. course and have loved becoming a part of the animal technician and wider scientific community, both within and outside the Institute.
I joined Boo, Dorottya and Mike, for a short visit to the school (in the south-east part of the Netherlands), where we presented challenge projects to their 15/16 and 16/17 year old students 2018 and ran a workshop to explore the ethics of the use of animals in science. We also spoke briefly to two classes 13/14 year old students, who will be choosing whether to follow the Technasium stream in.
On the Thursday afternoon and the Friday morning we introduced our challenge projects to 15/16 year old students. Mike gave an overview of the Institute’s history and research to each class and explained the Institute’s commitment to be open and transparent about its work.
Boo, who is a keen programmer, challenged the students to build a working LEGO model of the cage wash robots we use in the BSU. It’s a challenge which last year’s students enjoyed and so we were requested to repeat it this year. We hope that in the future we will share the instructions with other schools or build our own version to take to science festivals and other events.
I introduced the second project, which is to design a novel idea to help animal technicians check the top and bottom rows of mouse cages in a rack. We check every cage at least once a day day to ensure that the mice are healthy and appear to be behaving normally. At the moment we use step stools to check the top rows and have to kneel down to check the bottom rows and both these methods can cause some ergonomic issues. As an animal technician I would certainly appreciate a solution to this issue!
The third project, introduced by Dori, challenged the students to either adapt our existing animal facility or design a new facility which would allow public groups to visit without compromising animal welfare, safety and security. Whilst we already have an award-winning live camera system which provides a live - virtual tour it would be amazing to see buildings of the future built that allow for even better accessibility. We also joined several Dutch companies to pitch more advanced and longer (20 week) projects to the 17/18 year old students, these projects included; building a lab robot to maintain colonies of C. elegans in agar-filled petri dishes, something that takes up a lot of time in Boo’s lab, a study of the advantages and disadvantages of using yeast as a model organism in research and to develop a science festival exhibit to explain Epigenetics.
It was fun talking about the work we do at Babraham, even though it was my first time presenting to larger student groups. This was challenging, but also enjoyable at the same time, even if I was slightly embarrassed that their English was so much better than my Dutch! I look forward to welcoming the winning students to Babraham in January and hope to be a part of this project in the future.
Boo, who also developed challenges for the previous visit to the school, said:
“I felt the students listened and understood each of the four challenges we were offering exceptionally well this year. As well as presenting the four projects, we also took part in an hour of ‘speed dates’ where students sat with the companies in small groups to ask further questions about the challenges they were interested in. It was nice to have so many students excited about all of our challenges and asking such great questions. Some students had already come up with ideas of potential solutions! Overall I can say I was very much impressed by the students at Sophianum, and I look forward to seeing their updates and the innovative solutions they create for our challenges.”
Since we returned from this visit the project was recognised by an Internal or Sector Engagement Award at the Understanding Animal Research Openness Awards - well done to all involved!