By Susan Watts and Paola Colaço Osorio
This summer, two local schools have had a taste of what it means to be a scientist at the LMS. As term drew to a close, A Level biology students came to the Hammersmith campus for an afternoon of talks and demonstrations, then seven returned for a week of individual work experience in laboratories and offices across the institute.
The visiting sixth formers came from Burlington Danes Academy, which is adjacent to the LMS, and whose sixth form biology class took part in the Institute’s “Hearts and Minds” engagement event in June 2016. This was an immersive visual experience for students, research charities and collaborating scientists presented by the LMS psychiatric imaging and cardiovascular teams, and hosted at the Data Observatory at the South Kensington campus of Imperial College London. The event was part of the MRC Festival of Medical Research 2016.
This year’s afternoon event, on Wednesday 21 June, was again part of this annual MRC festival, when open days, debates and other engagement events take place at MRC units, centre and institutes across the UK. Following the fire a week earlier, an invitation was extended to students of Kensington Aldridge Academy (KAA), the school that sits directly next to Grenfell Tower, a half-hour walk from the institute. The summer of week-long work experience placements was arranged with students from KAA.
The afternoon festival event included a talk and discussion on epigenetics, with Peter Sarkies. Epigenetics will be on the A Level curriculum for the sixth formers in the second year of their course, from September. The students also heard about the use of flies as model organisms in biology, with postdoc Jake Jacobson, followed by brief talks and demonstr ations on nematode worm behaviour, and on some of the latest use of technologies such as 3D printing and MRI scans in biological science and medicine.
Over three weeks in July, five students from KAA worked with LMS research group heads. Students had the opportunity to try out new techniques in the labs and experience the day-to-day routine of a research scientist.
“Seeing the cells moving under the microscope, and the fluorescent worms – I found that really cool,” says one student, who worked with another to carry out an experiment on C. elegans worms, a classic model organism used extensively in biomedical research. “With the worms we fed them E. coli that expressed different genes, and we’ve seen the effect that has on them.”
As well as practical work, all the students who visited had the chance to see some of the advanced equipment at the institute. For example, researchers using mass spectrometry in their work explained the technology available. “Mass spec is covered in chemistry A level, so it was cool to see how it’s done right in front of my eyes,” said one student, “I think that was one of my favourite parts of the week.”
The institute also hosted two further students, in the Science Communications and Grants departments. The students learned about how the institute communicates its research to funding bodies and other scientists, as well as the general public.
“What they do in the labs here is obviously very technical, so to be able to get it to across to people without a science background is hard but really important,” the science communications student said. “It’s interesting to learn how you would educate the world about science, and how it appears in the news – I wasn’t really sure how that happened before.’’
During their time in the Communications department, they made a short video trailer to promote Biomedical Picture of the Day, a public engagement project that features beautiful images from recent biomedical research. “BPoD is good because it’s short!” says one student. “If people come across an interesting image they can usually take two minutes to read about the science behind it. It’s a way in for people without a science background.”
The LMS hopes to continue the relationship with the Academy, and plans to host more students for work experience next summer.
Paola Colaço Osorio is the 2017 LMS science communications summer student.