Initially before taking part in the I’m A Scientist competition I had decided that I would make some short animated videos that would help students with understanding complicated ideas. However during the online chats while I was talking with a few students it became clear that they would prefer a visit to the research labs where I am doing my PhD.
When I won, I got planning with the Education and Outreach Officer, Aoife MacCormac, in the Biomedical Diagnostics Institute (this is the research centre where I carry out my work). I extended the invitation to as many schools as possible that were able to visit and in the end I had 26 students over two days from three different schools; Inver College Carrickmacross, Beaufort College Navan and St. Mary’s CBS Portlaoise.
The visit started with some chromatography experiments where the students investigated what colours were in the coatings of different types of sweets. Following this I conducted a lab tour of the BDI where the students got to visit the different research labs and see some scientists who were conducting their research and using different pieces of equipment.
After this I explained to the students more about my own research on detecting cancer. We carried out a small experiment where all the students looked at different slides of tissue with one or two slides of cancerous tissue. They came to the conclusion that we can’t just rely on using a normal light microscope to identify cancer cells as they’re very hard to differentiate from normal cells.
The students also got a chance to use the fluorescent microscopes with real cancer cells that I had prepared beforehand with fluorescent tags and the nanoparticles that I test in my PhD. This allowed them to see different parts of the cells (nucleus, membrane, and cancer proteins) and an opportunity for them to realise that fluorescence tags can be one way of identifying cancer amongst many others.
At the end the students were presented with certificates of attendance and they had the opportunity to ask any questions they liked about how to become a scientist or the equipment/research that was ongoing in the tour. I think they all enjoyed taking part in the lab visit and getting to visit the labs. Some of the students had some great questions and I hope I helped to convince a few of them that science can be a difficult but very rewarding career path should they so choose.
I had another school that wanted to come and visit, Boyne Community College Trim, however there were too many students interested that I couldn’t have them all at the same time in BDI for health and safety reasons. I went to visit the 30 enthusiastic students and they carried out the same experiments with the chromatography and microscopy. As they couldn’t visit I thought it was only fair that they should be able to see what the labs were like in BDI so I made a video of the different labs (see above) and showed them the labs they would have seen had they been to visit.
Again I would like to thank all the students that voted for me to allow me to conduct this education and outreach day and to thank the team at I’m A Scientist for the money to do this. Overall I thoroughly enjoyed meeting all the students that had participated in the I’m A Scientist competition, those that I visited or came to visit me and wish them the best of luck in whatever they chose to do in the future!
Inspired by Claire’s experience? Apply now for the next I’m a Scientist, taking place 7th–18th November!
Want to know more about Claire’s work at the Biomedical Diagnostics Institute? Watch this great short animation Claire made last year about her fluorescent nanoparticles research.