Engaging schools in bench research
Virtual Lab was an interactive web-based platform – developed by the CSC’s Public Engagement Facility – that allowed anyone, anywhere in the world, to participate in real biomedical research online. The aim of the website was to increase confidence among young people to discuss science; to provide experiences in support of their university applications and career development.
Students became Virtual Apprentice Scientists and explored contemporary research questions linked to the National Curriculum. Virtual Lab experiments and activities were designed for use in a variety of educational contexts, from school lessons to after school clubs. Students engaged with the investigation on their own or through an organised workshop in school.
Two pilot experiments had been carried out to test the platform and evaluate its usage and enrichment through the Virtual Lab Ambassador Scheme. In 2010, local schools helped scientists in the Cell Cycle and Lymphocyte Development groups at the MRC Clinical Sciences Centre to investigate mitosis and stem cells.
Early-career MRC scientists were trained to take the Virtual Lab stem cells pilot into schools. They ran workshops to engage students in the experiment and associated activities. A range of supporting resources have been developed for the stem cells pilot experiment, including downloadable classroom activities and a Teacher Handbook which provides information about how to use the experiment and resources.