PhD Students Rise to the LaunchPad Challenge
Recently the Institute was asked to provide a new project for Cambridge LaunchPad, a programme run by Form the Future that aims to educate and enthuse young people about career opportunities in Science, Technology, Engineering and maths (STEM). As first-year PhD students we teamed up to create a challenge activity for Year 8 students at Swavesey and Bottisham Village Colleges and Netherhall School.
We challenged the students to optimise the extraction of DNA from soft fruit and to produce a poster to present their findings. We were really impressed by both the number of teams of students who took part in the project and especially by the quality and creativity of the posters they produced. A group of Institute researchers - including the Director - had a tough job judging the posters, but in the end we selected winning teams and invited them to spend the day in our laboratories.
The day at the Institute gave the students the opportunity to work alongside researchers, experiencing hands-on science in a working laboratory. During a busy day, the students learned how to use a pipette, carried out the Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) to amplify DNA samples and then gel electrophoresis to separate the different components to determine whether the samples contained certain variants of a gene. Though the students were only 12 years old, they succeeded in performing and understanding these standard, though advanced, laboratory techniques. They learned more about PCR using a paper activity and had an inspiring careers talk from second-year PhD student Richard Odle.
We are also grateful to our colleagues - Hannah Demond, Georgie Lea and Piotr Jung - for helping with the lab work throughout the day - it became a great collaboration between researchers from all three of the Institutes research programmes!
It was wonderful to spend the day with such enthusiastic and engaged students! It was clear that the opportunity to visit our labs had made several students think about pursuing STEM subjects at school - we had a lot of conversations with the students about our education and career choices as well as what it’s like to go to university and then work towards a PhD.
One of our favourite parts of this project was seeing the students really enjoying themselves in the labs and getting stuck in with every part of the day. We’re really pleased that the Institute will be continuing to collaborate with Cambridge Launchpad to run our project in 2019. Though it will be coordinated by a team of new PhD students we’re looking forward to helping them to organise it, and hope they have as much fun as we have had.