Manchester gets the science bug

University scientists are celebrating their best ever annual community Open day which took place last weekend.

The team welcomed hundreds of people from across the city, keen to see where some of the country’s leading life scientists work.

Highlights included coding a Superhero, making DNA cookies, £1m robots, touring the labs, maggot painting and seed planting.

One family wrote to the University, thanking the team for an ‘amazing’ event, praising them for giving the opportunity to show children from local communities what the inside of a University looks like and hiow researchers work.

The free event was held in the Michael Smith Building at the heart of the University campus.

Also on display were creepy crawlies and microbes, insects and amphibians.

Organiser Natalie Liddle said:

“We were absolutely delighted with the turnout which made all the hard work worthwhile.

“It’s so special to be able to open our doors to the public, so they can see what we do and learn about the research we carry out.

“Our mission is to inspire- as well as entertain – to get the message across that a career in science is achievable for people in so many different walks of life.”

Tuesday Feature Episode 39: Charlotte Alcock

After a fortnight break, the Tuesday Feature returns with UK/EU Recruitment & Marketing Officer Charlotte Alcock. Find out about her interesting role here:


Please explain your role here in the Faculty.

I am a Recruitment and Marketing Officer (UK/EU) for the Faculty of Life Sciences. My main aim is to inspire people to apply for Life Sciences courses here at Manchester. To achieve this there are lots of different activities I get involved in including: writing for the website and prospectus, managing our social media and video content, arranging open days and giving talks about our courses. The part of the job I enjoy the most is planning exciting activities for school pupils who want to come in and visit our facilities at the University and get involved in some hands on science.

How does your role benefit the public?

I hope that through all the activities my team is involved in we are inspiring the very brightest and best students to come to Manchester and that these students will go on to become scientists that will have a big impact on areas that affect the public. Over the time that I have worked here I have seen our graduates go on to careers as varied as developing vaccines, conserving shark populations, developing crops which are resistant to disease and working as clinical scientists in the NHS.

How did you first become interested in marketing?

I don’t have a background in marketing; my degree is actually in Biological Sciences right here at The University of Manchester (longer ago than I care to remember!). When I saw this job advertised I saw it as a great opportunity to come back to work at a place that I loved, use my biology knowledge, and inspire more people to come and take advantage of all the brilliant opportunities that are available here. I am lucky to be marketing something that I really believe in as opposed to, for example, the latest style of handbag!

What did you want to be when you were younger?

When I was much younger I really wanted to be a writer.

However, I chose to study Biological Sciences at university as my brother was diagnosed with autism when I was 16. I was really interested in the idea that there were genetic factors underlying his condition and I wanted to understand that better. I think at the time I thought I would become a high flying scientist and make an exciting discovery in this field. But a few years in the lab at university made me realise that although I absolutely loved learning about biology I just wasn’t suited to the work of a research scientist!

So although I’m not living out my childhood dream, I do still get to do lots of writing in my job and I get to write about my favourite subject!

 How has working in Manchester helped you?

Manchester is a great place to work. The Faculty of Life Sciences in particular is a really close knit community. I have always found all my colleagues here to be really helpful and willing to give up their time to support my activities with schools. Working here has given me the opportunity to work alongside inspiring scientists and keep up my interest and involvement in science.

What do you do outside of work?

I have two small children – so although I did used to love and do a lot of yoga, cycling, running and baking – I seem to spend an awful lot of my time these days at the park pretending to be a dinosaur!

The 6th Annual Body Experience

Saturday 19th March 2016 saw the ‘Body Experience’ return to the Manchester Museum for the sixth year running. Over 1000 people poured into the Museum to explore the wonder of the human body through engaging and interactive stands hosted by teams of researchers from across the Faculties of Life Sciences and Medical and Human Sciences.

The family fun day kicked off at 11 o’clock, where people were greeted by student volunteers and where people collected their very own passports for the ‘Body Experience’. If anyone was unsure in which direction to start, Science Buskers were on hand to entertain the public as they passed through reception. ‘Body Experience’ took over the Museum from top to bottom, with opportunities to see and feel real kidneys, build your own spine, explore the wonder of the human brain, children could crawl through a cholesterol-filled artery and make their own mucus! Over 60 researchers took part to share their passion and excitement for their research with the public.

The event was organised by Ceri Harrop with huge support from Shazia Chaudhry, Vicky Grant, and the Photographics Team in the Faculty of Life Sciences.

Feedback from the public included:

-As an adult, fascinating to hear young researchers talk of their interests.

“I’ve got an operation on my hip in a couple of weeks so it was dead informative to chat to the spine people! SOMETHING FOR ADULTS AS WELL AS KIDS”, Alan, 42.

“Both boys (aged 3 and 7) loved it. We also found it very interesting. The students were great.”

“Really enjoyed all of it. Kids were really engaged and actually disappointed when we had to leave!!”

Ceri Harrop, the coordinator for the day, says:

“It is great to host the Body Experience for the sixth consecutive year, and see the support and enthusiasm from both the researchers, student volunteers and the public build year-on-year. Feedback was overwhelmingly positive, with the only negative comments being that it should be a two-day event.

All in all, the body experience was 8 hours, 16 stands, 67 researchers, 15 volunteers, 2 science buskers, 540 passports, one brilliant day!”

 

 

Costa Rican Ambassador visits the Faculty of Life Sciences

costaricanambassadorvisittolifesciencesThe Costa Rican ambassador recently travelled to Manchester to help further the established links between the Faculty of Life Sciences and Costa Rica.

His Excellency J. Enrique Castillo officially launched ‘Learning with Lucy’, a University of Manchester campaign to save one of the world’s rarest frogs.

Lucy Marland, 9, joined forces with The University of Manchester after coming face to face with a Lemur Leaf Frog, kept at Manchester Museum and one of only a few hundred left anywhere in the world.

The campaign aims to educate primary age school children in the UK, Sweden, and in the Guayacan region of Costa Rica, where the frog still survives, about the amphibian and its threatened rainforest habitat.

The Faculty runs a second-year field course to Costa Rica every year where students are able to explore the breath-taking biodiversity of the country.

The Faculty has a long standing relationship with Costa Rica, with the field course running for many years. It is hoped the ambassador’s visit will strengthen the ties between the University and Costa Rica and will open up new doors of partnership.

After his tour of the Faculty’s facilities, the Ambassador said:

“My country is grateful for this contribution from the University of Manchester and the Museum to the protection of endangered species in Costa Rica and to the country’s efforts in environment protection in general.

I look forward to cementing the already very good relationship between The University of Manchester and Costa Rica.”

Professor Amanda Bamford, Associate Dean for Social Responsibility said:

“This University of Manchester project also supports environmental education in primary schools in Costa Rica, where these frogs occur in the wild, not only reflects a genuine commitment to helping conserve endangered species but also provides us with a wonderful opportunity for our undergraduates to exercise their global citizenship.”

School children experiment with science and art

It is often thought that science and art are two opposite ends of the spectrum; whilst science is a strict, results-driven discipline, art is a creative, free expression of beauty – but this isn’t actually the case and there is a growing effort to recognise the similarities between art and science.

This week, scientists Emma Gowen and Ellen Poliakoff from the BEAM lab teamed up with local artist Anthony Hall and Steven Roper from the Whitworth Art Gallery to teach 150 local primary school children about the values of both science and art.

During the day the children learnt about the science of vision and the reasons why we see some art as beautiful and others as creepy.

The day started off by asking children to draw what they thought a scientist looked like versus what an artist looked like. The children then had to guess who was an artist and who was a scientist, which they didn’t always get right. Emma and Ellen then led a workshop looking at why our brains perceive somethings to be creepy and looked at the idea of realism in art.

The afternoon session kicked off with artist, Anthony Hall teaching about the ideas of beauty and how they apply to realism in paintings. It built upon what the children had learnt previously about the science of vision and how our brains perceive what it sees. The group also went around the gallery and applied what they had learnt to real life paintings.

The children then had a chance to create their own art. They produced art which was a mixture of different facial features in order to make something that blurred the lines between reality to see how creepy the pictures made them feel. They then rated the picture on a graph which compared how real the picture looked and how creepy this made them feel.

The day ended with another chance to draw what they thought an artist and what they thought a scientist looked like. As you can see, not only did the day blur the lines between reality, it also blurred the lines between science and art.

blog
images courtesy of Anthony Hall.

Flies can make a buzz in schools

Professor Andreas Prokop and colleague Sanjai Patel say the fruit fly – or Drosophila –  can be used as a modern teaching tool to explain many biological concepts used in the school curriculum.

In a UK first, the scientists based at the University’s Manchester Fly Facility have launched droso4schools – a website with sample lessons and teaching resources for schools.

Professor Prokop said:

Fruit flies are a fantastic resource for schools as Drosophila is the conceptually best understood animal there is.

“It is used by over ten thousand scientists worldwide for cutting edge research, and it is easy to keep in schools for captivating, exciting experiments which bring life into the classroom.

According to the researchers, the flies are easy and cheap to breed;  the equivalent of London’s population can be kept on a handful of laboratory trays.

The project website contains supporting documents and additional information to engage students who want to know more about Drosophila and help teachers who want to use flies in their lessons.

He explained:

“Currently we have resources for teaching classical genetics, statistical analysis of experiments, concepts of nervous system function, the gene to protein concept, principles of enzyme function, genetic variation and Darwinian evolution. All with flies,” h

He has even created a computer game where flies develop from eggs and spawn against time and parasites. To play the game visit https://scratch.mit.edu/projects/74443210

To adapt resources to teachers’ needs, Prokop and Sanjai supervised two PhD students, funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, who worked as teaching assistants in two Manchester schools

The students then developed biology sample lessons in close collaboration with the teachers which can be downloaded from the droso4schools website

The lessons continue to be used in the two schools: Loretto college and Trinity Church of England High school

Professor Prokop added

Flies have all the ingredients to convey conceptual understanding of biology as well as the thrill and relevance of science as a subject and future career perspective.

Surita Lawes, Head of Faculty at Loreto Sixth Form College, who is also a biology teacher, said: “By studying mutations in Drosophila, our students have been exploring how alcohol and human culture affects our genetic make-up. It’s an excellent way for teachers to meet the challenge of revising many areas of the new linear syllabus using a topic designed to spark an interest.”

Tof Apampa, a student at Trinity Church of England High School said:

It was great having the PhD student working with us.  We learnt about what we can study at university and how fruit flys can help scientists explain how the human body works.

Having the flies in the classroom was good fun.  It was so clear to see how the old flies were less mobile then the young ones.

We then learnt how this can help us understand aging in humans.  It also showed in a really clear way how using a large sample size is important when we are looking for patterns in scientific data.


If you want know how and why fruit flies became so important for biology research, Prokop and Patel have even created two very entertaining educational YouTube videos.

For more information visit http://www.flyfacility.ls.manchester.ac.uk/forthepublic/

To download the teaching packs and support information for teachers, visit the droso4schools website:https://droso4schools.wordpress.com

All school resources including computer game and YouTube videos are explained and summarised on this blog: https://poppi62.wordpress.com/2015/08/28/school-flies

Pupils discover new treatment to stop the spread of worm infection

Scientists from the University have been working with inner-city school children, carrying out research into a hulmepupils (1)condition which affects roughly one billion people worldwide. The 29 youngsters, from Trinity Church of England High School in Hulme, conducted an eight-week experiment investigating the development of eggs from worms which infect the gut.

The pupils learnt how worm eggs infect children around the world, causing malnutrition and sickness, and how these infections are responsible for children missing out on education. They treated worm eggs with different substances to try and stop them from developing into worms, with the hope of finding new ways to prevent the spread of disease.

They made an exciting discovery when realising that clove oil reduced egg development by 50%. As clove oil grows in many places where worm infections exist, they may have found an effective natural therapy to reduce the spread of worm infection.

Pupils showcased these results as part of a presentation day for parents, staff, and students at the University. Faculty researcher Professor Richard Grencis presented certificates to all the participants and even had prizes for a few. Ann Flatman, Deputy Headteacher at the school, said:

“The Trinity Community is extremely proud of our pupils and the work they carried out during this Royal Society Research Project. It’s a joy to see pupils engaged and learning practical scientific skills. It‘s extremely important to us that our pupils gain a real understanding of the hardships faced by others within our global community. The fact that they have stumbled across a potential solution to a condition that affects millions of other children worldwide is an added bonus, to say the least.”

Dr Jo Pennock, from the Institute of Inflammation and Repair, said:

“Most of the children and parents had never been to the University and didn’t know much about what scientists did. We hope that by working more closely with local children, we’ll encourage them to take up science as a subject choice and a career.”

Faculty hosts British Biology Olympiad Lecture

cobblecture (1)The British Biology Olympiad (BBO) is a nationwide competition organised by the Society of Biology in which competing students must sit two exams and complete a practical assessment. Four students are then selected to represent the UK in the International Biology Olympiad (IBO) in Switzerland. Alongside the competition, a series of regional events take place around the country. As part of this series, the Faculty hosted the 3rd North West BBO Lecture at the beginning of July.

Attendees included sixth form students from Holy Cross College, Whalley Range 11-18 High School, and Withington High School for Girls. Professor Matthew Cobb, Associate Dean for Social Responsibility, was the invited speaker. He gave a fascinating and thought-provoking lecture on the topic of “Why evolution is true.”

Event organiser Dr Michelle Keown then gave an overview of the Faculty’s sponsorship of the BBO, before discussing details of another Society of Biology competition, known as The Biology Challenges. As the event drew to a close, Faculty lecturers Dr Elizabeth Sheader, Dr Tristan Pocock, and Dr Susan Cochran spoke to the students about degree options in the Faculty and the wide variety of career options that studying biology can lead to. This successful event promoted these challenging and exciting competitions to local schools, while also encouraging and developing the students’ interest in biology.

Loreto College students visit the Faculty

loretocollege (1)In the middle of June, 90 Year 12 students from Loreto College in Hulme took part in exciting and informative practical sessions at the University. The exercises, led by Dr Kathy Hentges, included the dissection of chicken eggs so that the students could study the developing embryo. They then designed experiments that demonstrated how temperature and salt solutions affect embryonic heart rate.

Researchers and lecturers from the Faculty of Life Sciences and the Faculty of Medicine and Human Sciences talked to the students and described the variety of research topics being studied in the University. The students seem to have enjoyed the meetings and practical sessions:

“The session was brilliant – I enjoyed talking to the academics.”

“Overall, the programme was excellent.”

“I really enjoyed it and found it interesting to be involved in the practicals.”

This visit was part of a larger project with Loreto College. Earlier in the year, Dr Hentges, Rebecca Williams, and Joe Timothy visited the college to teach 40 students about gene expression. Through practical experiments the students increased their knowledge of gene expression, PCR reactions, and gene structure. They were also encouraged to use these experiences in their ‘personal statement’ as part of their application to university.

These sessions with Loreto College are part of the University’s Widening Participation (WP) scheme, which aims to increase the recruitment of students from backgrounds that are traditionally underrepresented in Higher Education. The University’s recognition of the central importance of this aspect of our work is reflected by the fact that WP forms one of our core strategic goals. Dr Kath Hinchliffe commented on Loreto College and the WP scheme:

“The activities with Loreto College students are a superb example of how the Faculty is interacting with the local community to fulfil WP obligations. By actively engaging with potential future undergraduates, we raise awareness of the biological sciences, reveal the wealth of exciting career opportunities they provide, and deliver the key message that these opportunities are open to any individual with the potential to succeed, irrespective of his or her background.”

Pupils get a chance to look behind the scenes

The Manchester Institute of Biotechnology threw open its doors to the MIBopendaypublic on Friday 9 November for the first time since its launch in 2006. 200 As and A Level students were given a rare glimpse at life inside the research laboratories and instrumentation rooms on a series of special tours. There was also an opportunity to talk with MIB scientists during the interactive science exhibition in the atrium designed and staffed by researchers.

Sarah Haworth, a teacher from Thomas Whitham Sixth Form said:

“It really was fascinating for students to get first hand experience of a University research facility and it was made all the more interesting by the enthusiasm of the researchers. I sincerely hope you are able to repeat the experience next year as it was the best University visit I have ever attended.”

The event was the final part of a week celebrating the re-launch of the MIB as the Institute of Biotechnology. Building on the open day’s success it’s hoped the MIB will be opened to students as an annual event.

Nuffield Student one of top five young scientists in the UK!

nbriggsNiall Briggs, an ‘A’ Level student, undertook a Nuffield Project in the Faculty of Life Sciences which gained him a place in the finals of the National Science and Engineering Competition 2012.

Nuffield Foundation Science Bursaries offer bursaries each year, for students to work alongside professional scientists. Students in the first year of a post-16 science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) course are eligible to apply for a bursary and spend 4-6 weeks over the summer working on a research project.

Niall who is studying at at Holy Cross College in Greater Manchester spent the summer of 2011 in the lab of Professor Kathryn Else in the Faculty of Life Sciences investigating the immune response to intestinal worms.

He was investigating a particular type of intestinal cell called a goblet cell and looking at the role that the cells’ nuclear receptor proteins played during a worm infection. Niall said,

“In my project I carried out a variety of modern immunological techniques, including immunohistochemistry and other staining methods, but also gained an insight into the world of scientific research and worked at the forefront of immunological research, which for an A level student like me was a fantastic experience.”

Niall entered his project for a Gold Crest Award which he achieved, as well as gaining a place in the finals of the National Science and Engineering Competition which were held at the Big Bang Fair in Birmingham. 360 projects were entered and Niall was one of the five shortlisted for a ‘dragons den’ style judging event. Niall said,

“The judges included Professor Jim Al-Khalili OBE, Vivienne Parry OBE, Professor Molly Stevens and Nobel Prize winning biochemist Sir Tim Hunt. As you can imagine it was a very memorable experience! After an intense few days I was awarded with a ‘Highly Commended’ in the Senior Science and Maths Category, so I can proudly say I am one of the top 5 young scientists in the UK!”

Niall has since received an offer from Durham to study Natural Sciences and hopes to go into research afterwards, something he was not considering until completing his Nuffield Bursary.

Find out more: Science Bursaries for Schools and Colleges