stem cells in their environment

The One Day Scientists: Primary School Children take on Stem Cell Research

04 May 2016
Inês Sequeira and Patrick Murphy (Burdett-Coutts Primary School, London)

 © Terry Petrou / CSCRMLast month during science week, a group of primary school children visited the Centre for Stem Cells & Regenerative Medicine at King's College London. Ten children aged between six and eleven years old, from Burdett-Coutts Primary School in Westminster, were invited to the Centre to become scientists for the day and learn about stem cell research.

The children started their visit by watching the movie "A Stem Cell Story", an engaging 15-minute movie during which several world-renowned scientists on stem cell research are interviewed, followed by an introduction to stem cells. This gave them an inspiring welcome into the world of stem cell research.

Their next stop was the lab in the Stem Cell Hotel, for some hands-on science! Here they extracted DNA from strawberries; they became pathologists and analysed skin sections through the microscope, identifying dysplasia in the skin; and witnessed the wonders of supercooled solutions. This not only gave them a glimpse of life in the lab but also enabled them to start understanding the difference between a tumour and normal tissue, as well as the concept of the DNA and the way it is wrapped inside a cell nucleus.

 © Terry Petrou / CSCRM

Following the experiments, we held a short Q&A with the children. We were amazed by the way they were able to discuss what they had learnt, and their depth of questioning was what you might expect of children twice their age.

By the end of the session, it was hard to know who was more inspired: the children who were so full of awe following their brief encounter with scientific research; or the scientists themselves, who were overwhelmed by the children's enthusiasm and ability to engage with the experiments and complex concepts behind them.

As they left our Centre at Guy's Hospital, dressed in their white lab coats, with heads held high and full of aspirations for the future, it seemed apt that they should bump into Professor Fiona Watt. Through their buzz of excitement they were instantly recognisable as the group of young scientists who had just been visiting her lab.

Can children ever be too young to be inspired to be scientists of the future? According to this group of children, the answer is a categorical "no!"

 © Terry Petrou / CSCRM

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