As part of British Science Week Year 9 pupils from 12 schools in and around Plymouth had the chance to get hands on in the laboratory and see what it is like to be a scientist, when Plymouth University Peninsula Schools of Medicine and Dentistry opened up its research labs.

The SoCool for Science event took place at labs on Plymouth Science Park. Pupils met with research students and scientists at Plymouth University Peninsula Schools of Medicine and Dentistry and spent time on science projects, including extracting DNA from living cells (bananas), fruit fly genetics and how they are used as a model for research into human diseases, and cell culture where pupils had a go at culturing some cells.

In all, more than 150 pupils took part, from: Plymstock School, Ivybridge Community College, Devonport High School for Girls, Notre Dame School, Stoke Damerel Community College, Heles School, St Boniface’s Catholic College, Lipson Community College, Plymouth High School, Tor Bridge High School, Sir John Hunt School and Tavistock College.

SoCool for Science was organised by Professor David Parkinson and his colleagues at Plymouth University Peninsula Schools of Medicine and Dentistry. He said: 

“Science teaching at primary school level has been in the media recently, and as scientists we want to do all we can to ensure that pupils in this age group get the best access to research experience. SoCool for Science is all about encouraging the research scientists of tomorrow. We’ve made the sessions fun as well as educational and are keen to show that scientists are doing research that is relevant to everyone.”

He added: 

“We have students who come to these visits who then go on to do Nuffield projects during their A level holidays, study science and medicine at university and choose scientific careers as a result – so SoCool for Science really does make a difference.”

Christine Parker, UCAS and Careers Coordinator at Stoke Damerel Community College said: 

“Without exception our year 9 students really enjoyed their visit to the labs for SoCool for Science. Extracting DNA from bananas was particularly popular as was sexing the fruit flies under a microscope! Students were interested to hear how the experiments could be applied to the real world and particularly to human health. The students enjoyed dressing up as research scientists and talking to laboratory staff, finding out what they do on a day to day basis. I think it fair to say they came away with a much better understanding as to what scientific research might entail in a lab setting and with a renewed enthusiasm for science in general.” 

John Shellard, Head of Science from Ivybridge Community College, said: 

“The students from Ivybridge Community College had lots to say after their Men in White Coats trip: 'We really loved the hands on activities, especially the liquid nitrogen'; 'It was great talking to research scientists of many nationalities'; 'I never knew we had so much in common with a fruit fly'. Whatever the comment all agreed on the enjoyable and valuable experience.”

Kevin Williams, science teacher from Lipson Community College, added: 

“This was a great day and all the staff and the scientists were excellent in engaging the students. All of the students really enjoyed the experience and asked insightful questions all day (as well as on the trip home and the next day in school!). The students were particularly inspired to see so many female medical science students working in the labs. Thank you to Plymouth University Peninsula Schools of Medicine and Dentistry for a great day that has definitely highlighted opportunities available to our students.”