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For British Science Week, members of the MRC WIMM visited a local Oxfordshire primary school for an interactive science day – one of the first of its kind since the start of the pandemic.

Three DPhil student volunteers from the MRC WIMM playing with slime at Freeland CE Primary School. From left to right: Grace Meaker (Wilkinson group); Norah Alrishedan (Bodmer group); Maya Pidoux (Dong group). © MRC WIMM
Three DPhil student volunteers from the MRC WIMM playing with slime at Freeland CE Primary School From left to right: Grace Meaker (Wilkinson group); Norah Alrishedan (Bodmer group); Maya Pidoux (Dong group).

On Friday March 18th, a full day of interactive science activities was held for the students at Freeland CE Primary School, near Witney, Oxfordshire, in honour of British Science Week. The MRC Weatherall Institute of Molecular Medicine (MRC WIMM) was delighted to take part, delivering a session on immunology for every class in the school.

For Key Stage 1 (ages 5-7), the aim of the session was for the children to understand that there are many ways that their bodies can protect themselves from germs, and to be able to name a way their immune systems can do this. The session involved stations each run by different volunteers from the MRC WIMM – including role play, stuffed toy cells, and more.

“One of the stations was slime, which the children were very excited about”, Maya Pidoux, a DPhil student in the Dong group, told us. “They got to feel it and guess what it was – some of them thought it was real snot! After discussing the importance of snot to their health, their perceptions of snot went from ‘ew, gross!’ to ‘wow!’. It was really cool to see them actually learning something through playing.”

The session designed for Key Stage 2 (ages 7-11) built upon these activities, additionally aiming for knowledge of viruses and bacteria as types of germ, as well as an understanding of the acquired immune system. The concept of an acquired immune response was demonstrated through an exercise of sorting a variety of pom-poms using tweezers, once with eyes closed and once with eyes open, mimicking the immune system encountering a pathogen for the first time versus a pathogen it’s met before. The volunteers finished the session by demonstrating the importance of hand washing using a cream that glowed under UV light.

The opportunity to volunteer for this event was shared by the MRC WIMM’s Public Engagement and Communications Officer, Dr Catherine Seed. Grace Meaker, a DPhil student in the Wilkinson group, had tutored GCSE and A-Level students in the past, enjoying the teaching aspect in particular. She had also previously enjoyed a similar public engagement session when she was younger – so when she saw Catherine’s email, she knew she wanted to get involved.

Freeland CE Primary School, near Witney, organised the science day with a number of departments from the University of Oxford. In addition to the session run by the MRC WIMM, the Departments of Chemistry, Biochemistry, Experimental Psychology, and the Wellcome Centre for Human Genetics also ran sessions to drive enthusiasm about science in the children and show them what it’s really all about.

“The teachers at Freeland CE Primary School were amazing at organising and facilitating the day”, Maya Pidoux told us, “Bringing together 5 departments from the University of Oxford to inspire 5 classfuls of children made for a fantastic day that I am honoured to have been able to contribute to.”.

Reflecting on the day, Grace Meaker told us, “It was exciting and rewarding to help the kids know that they can be scientists too, both now and in the future”, showing strong intent to remain involved in public engagement during her DPhil and beyond. Grace also told us about how much the pupils showed intellectual curiosity by the end of the day – asking questions during the Q&A like “Why do other people yawn when someone yawns?”.

The MRC WIMM remains committed to engaging the public, of all ages, in science and specifically in our research of immunology, haematology, and computational biology. If you want to get involved in public engagement, contact the MRC WIMM’s Public Engagement and Communications Officer, Catherine Seed, at catherine.seed@imm.ac.uk

 

Written by Inés Momodu-Herrero, as part of the Oxford Careers Micro-Internship Programme (MIP)

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