Young biologists enjoy DNA discovery day at the Babraham Institute

Secondary school students from Cambridge have been swapping classroom science for real life lab experience! Life science researchers at the Babraham Institute invited Year 8 students to apply to take part in an Innovators-level Cambridge LaunchPad event. Students from Swavesey Village College and Netherhall School learnt how to extract DNA from soft fruit, using a standard process that has been used in classrooms for over 10 years. They were then challenged to maximise the amount of DNA yielded by altering and improving the extraction process and produce a poster or report to present their findings.

Michael Hinton, Web and Outreach Officer at the Babraham Institute, said:

“I was impressed by the attitude of all the students during the activity day at the Institute. Though faced with advanced lab techniques and areas of science that are not covered by the curriculum the students carried out all the activities to a very high standard.”

The teams that most impressed the judges with their projects attended a hands-on STEM activity day at the world-leading Babraham Institute, where they had the opportunity to work in the laboratories and learn more about DNA.

A Year 8 student from Swavesey Village College, said:

“My favourite activity was loading the gel because it was challenging as you had to be so precise, but using the equipment was really fun. It has been a great chance to use equipment that we would never use at school. I like STEM because it’s our future, it relates to everything that we do, plus you get to do awesome practicals!”

As well as developing new practical skills, the students learnt about the routine procedures polymerase chain reaction (PCR) and agarose gel electrophoresis. The first is used to amplify DNA and the second separates DNA molecules based on their size. Together, these techniques are used to see whether DNA samples contain mutations of a particular gene.

Elizabeth Hampson and Carolyn Rogers, PhD students at the Babraham Institute who designed and delivered the activities, said

“We were really impressed with how engaged the students were throughout the day. It is great to see their enthusiasm about entering the world of STEM and to give them the chance to see how what they’re learning now relates to their future careers.”

The Cambridge LaunchPad programme, which is managed by Form the Future CIC, aims to educate and enthuse young people with STEM subjects outside of the classroom. The programme also aims to address some of the diversity issues that exist within STEM industries, such as the gender imbalance by introducing the students to inspiring female role models.

Molly Askham, STEM Outreach Assistant from Form the Future CIC, said

“Today has been such a good chance for the students to take what they have learnt in school and see how it relates to the real working world. The Babraham Institute had a great team of PhD students who ran the activity day, and it was really good to see how the Year 8 students took this opportunity to ask questions on the different pathways into careers in STEM.”

If you wish to find out more about our STEM outreach programmes and to be involved in our Cambridge LaunchPad next year, please contact us at cambridge-launchpad@formthefuture.org.uk.

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