To commemorate the 25thanniversary of death of Severo Ochoa, the high-school I. E. S. Carmen y Severo from Luarca (Ochoa´s birthplace) has been organising several Scientific Outreach events. Severo Ochoa, a Spanish-American Scientist, was awarded in 1959 with the Nobel Prize in Medicine or Physiology for the discovery of an enzyme which enables the synthesis of RNA.
The Crit Lab took this opportunity to run a series of exciting hands-on activities to increase awareness and understanding about biomedical research. The targeted audience were primary school children and their grandparents, and high-school students from Luarca and surroundings.
Different fun and vibrant workshops were run during 1-hour sessions. Scientists from the Crit Lab and other colleagues from ISPA were leading the activities in the presence of the corresponding teacher at all times. Each activity began with a brief and dynamic talk which was followed by hands-on work. The main focus was the cell and its structure, giving special emphasis to the DNA and how it is packed to fit inside the nucleus. The complexity of these activities increased in accordance with the age of the students, and they were as follows:
- Cell colouring(6-7 years old). A template with the illustration of a cell highlighting the main components was distributed within children to give colour.
- Cell modelling(7-8 years old). 10-centimetre Petri dishes were given to the students together with some play dough of different colours in order to build an animal cell.
- DNA bracelets/keyrings(8-9 years old). Following the pattern of some DNA sequences, children learned about DNA structure and complementary base-pairing using beads and wire to make bracelets or keyrings.
- Origami DNA (9-10 years old). Sticking to the rationale of the previous activity, students were asesk to build a DNA helix using the template designed by Dr. Alex Batemann and provided by yourgenome.org.
- Visualization of cheek cells under microscopes(10-11 years old). Pupils used cotton swabs to get the cells from the inner side of their cheeks, and stained them with food dyes to observe the cells under the microscope.
- DNA extraction from peas(11-12 years old). Using soap, lemon juice, a pinch of salt and a little bit of alcohol, students extracted DNA from smashed peas.
- Blood cells observation(12-13 years old). From just a tiny drop of blood, haematoxylin-eosin staining was used to observed and distinguish different cellular components of our blood.
- Blood typing(14-15 years old). The determination of an AB0 and Rh blood group was carried out after introducing the concepts of antibody and antigen.
- CSI-Luarca (15-17 years old). Simulation of Molecular Biology techniques such as DNA extraction, PCR and electrophoresis of nucleic acids were used to identify the suspect in a murder scene.
The workshops were very engaging and reached over 600 students from 6 to 17 years old (and a little bit older…). As Scientists, this experience has been extremely rewarding. The performed tasks were very different to our daily routine. The positive feedback acknowledges our effort in visiting the school and has given us motivation to participate more often in public engagement events!
We are very grateful to those who funded the event: ISPA, I. E. S. Severo Ochoa, and the Parent Association of the schools who attended the workshops (C. P. Padre Galo, C. José García Fernández, Colegio San Miguel de Trevías, Colegios Rurales Agrupados de Luarca, I. E. S Carmen y Severo Ochoa and I. E. S. Elisa y Luis Villamil (Vegadeo).