Science Up Close at Harwell Campus
A busy week for Harwell Campus saw 1,600 school students visit the STFC on Wednesday 8 July 2015, the simultaneous opening of two new space centres by the European Space Agency and RAL Space on Friday 10 July, and culminated in 16,000 visitors attending the Harwell Campus Science Up Close open day on Saturday.
Science Up Close was the first event of this scale in over a decade on the Campus, and allowed visitors to learn about much of the research on site, from tours of the Diamond Light Source and STFC’s Central Laser Facility, to the opportunity to get up close and personal with a huge cast of a Gorgosaurus dinosaur skeleton or taste samples of ice cream snap-frozen using liquid nitrogen. MRC Harwell was present at the schools event on Wednesday and the Open Day on Saturday, demonstrating aspects of our work for the public.
On Wednesday a group of our PhD students ran a workshop at the Research Complex at Harwell (RCaH) for two groups of 20 A-Level pupils. The pupils took part in our Diagnosis DNA activity, first pioneered at the British Science Festival last September. After loading their agarose gels, the pupils waited for the gel electrophoresis experiment to run so they could diagnose which children in our fictional family had inherited their father’s faulty copy of the Huntington’s gene. Whilst they waited to see the results, we carried out the ever-popular strawberry DNA extraction procedure with them, answered their questions, and discussed their potential career choices. We were impressed by how intelligent the questions we were being asked were, although it did mean we had to answer some of them with “let’s Google that”! The feedback from the schools was equally pleasing, with one pupil saying that the event had “actually made me rethink my future”.
The main event of Science Up Close was undoubtedly the open day on Saturday. Of the 16,000 members of the general public who came along to the campus to see what the resident scientists were up to, around 1,500 made their way to the RCaH lobby, where MRC Harwell volunteers awaited. Here, we ran a stand with two main activities: a jigsaw puzzle to explain the work of Mary Lyon, and a variety of sand-filled plastic fruits which we used to demonstrate the weight of certain animals' brains. Did you know that the brain of a dolphin weighs about the same as an adult human’s brain, and that both weigh the same as a pineapple? The tortoiseshell cat puzzle was particularly popular once again, and visitors also thought that “it was great to see so many women in science”.
Of both events, Nanda Rodrigues said “it was fantastic to meet such enthusiastic members of the public and young people who wanted to pursue science as a career”.