New perspectives on challenge projects in the Netherlands

New perspectives on challenge projects in the Netherlands

New perspectives on challenge projects in the Netherlands

I recently travelled to Sophianum School to introduce the students in their Technasium education stream to the Institute projects for this academic year. I teamed up with Carine Stapel from the Reik research group and Chris Baxter from our animal facility to develop and deliver presentations and workshops.

The Institute’s collaboration with Sophianum school is now in its fourth year and the challenge projects for their secondary school students have always related to the use of animals in research - it’s part of the Institute’s commitment to the Concordat on Openness on Animals in Research and earned the Institute a national award for openness in 2017. This year we are also working with Het College in nearby Weert.

After an introduction to Institute research, Chris engaged students in a discussion about the animal unit, including what a typical workday entails for him, before we all outlined challenges for the students to consider.

These included: designing an animal unit allowing public access to learn about the high standards of care and welfare provided; investigating legislation and opinions regarding the use of animals in research; and building a working LEGO model of a cage washing robot. Students will be working in teams for three months before delivering presentations and models.

Carine commented “I had the opportunity to do project-based work while in secondary school in The Netherlands, so it was great to see the enthusiasm of a new generation of students and help them kick-start their projects.”

We also launched two advanced projects to the 17 year-old students. The first was to build a hands-on activity to explain Epigenetics for a Science Festival. The second was to create an innovative game or puzzle for the Institute’s cell-signalling themed pop-up ‘escape room’, which will be used at the Cambridge Science Festival and other public engagement events throughout England. This challenge was of particular interest to me as I am part of the exhibit development team and the signalling pathway we have chosen to explore relates directly to my PhD.

We also ran workshops on the ethics of the use of animals in research - I enjoy talking about Institute science so this was the perfect opportunity to try out my communication skills in a new setting.

Chris added “I found it very enriching to involve the students in discussions regarding the use of animals in research and gain insight into varying opinion regarding the issue. To see the discussions taking place between the students e.g. talking about their views on the use of different animals in research was a particular pleasure”

I enjoyed the visit immensely, and it was a fantastic opportunity to engage a group of people I had never had the experience of working with before. I was so impressed by the level of English spoken and understood by the students, in comparison to my lack of Dutch!