On 2nd & 3rd July, Rob, Elsa, Jess, Lorna and Tim ran a series of 12 workshops for around 200 11-14 year old schoolchildren as part of the University of Manchester Science Stars day ( Visit this Event! ). This was an activity of two halves. Firstly, Elsa gave a brief and interactive presentation about the structure of DNA, which then lead to our “Sweet DNA” activity (using sweets and cocktail sticks to build a double helix model). This activity introduced the concepts of the double strand, and complementary base pairing of DNA. In some cases, the children had already learned about these topics. However in many cases these ideas were something totally new. Regardless, the children told us they had a lot of fun doing this activity and they felt they had learned a lot.

Next, Rob gave another brief presentation, this time describing our project and explaining the current ways that palm oil is obtained. This then led nicely on to group discussions about what the children would like synthetic biology to be used for, and any ethical implications these ideas may raise, with the team making their way around the groups for more in-depth discussions. As expected, some wild ideas were thrown about. However many of the children had a very mature attitude to the subject and came up with some brilliant concepts and well thought-out ethical ideas. We're sure the future of synthetic biology is in safe hands!

Both pupils and teachers alike enjoyed the workshop, with many children commenting on how “this [was] better than science class”, “this was the best workshop so far” and that the Sweet DNA helix “was so cool”! Several of the teachers also sincerely thanked us for the workshop, and said that they were going to use the activity again in their classes to teach about DNA. The second half of the sessions was also productive, with pupils eagerly sharing their ideas on what synthetic biology would best be used for. We had some very interesting suggestions come up, including the re-engineering of plants to make them cold-resistant and using the cancer-resistant genes from the naked mole rat to look into cancer prevention. A feedback form was distributed and we got a great response!
The schoolchildren and teachers alike were asked whether they agree or disagree that the Science Stars workshops we delivered were interesting/informative/something/something. Below are the results: