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On 2 March 2022, Dr Katherine Brimblecombe visited two primary school classes (ages 8-11) as part of their “Science week”. Read her interview to learn more about public engagement with school children in the local Oxford community.

Katherine BrimblecombeHow did you hear about it? 

My son attends to school, and as part of their weekly newsletter they asked if any of the parents were interested in talking to the children about being a scientist, so I said yes!

What was the session like?

I spoke to two classes of around 20 children aged 8-11 for 45 minutes each.

How did you prepare for the session? 

Before the visit I spoke to the teacher who told me that the younger children had been studying bones, and could I talk about bones at all. As a neuroscientist my first instinct was to say no! However, I thought this was an ideal opportunity to demonstrate that science is about sharing knowledge rather than just knowing stuff.  I sent out an email to the department about borrowing some model brains and skulls and so many people offered to help, I was amazed and very grateful! Barbara Kirby at the MSTC was incredibly helpful and I’m very grateful for her generosity.

What did you talk about?

We started with some general questions: what kind of people are scientists? What makes a good scientist? I was keen to address any stereotypes that the children might have, however they were incredibly open minded, so that was nice! I used this as an opportunity to ask the children to teach me what they knew about bones. I own a small digital microscope and was fortunate enough that Professor Cragg had in her personal collection a number of teaching slides including some bone samples. The children loved seeing the bone down the microscope and we discussed how much bigger the pictures were than the sample “in real life”. And imagined how they would cut the mm on their rulers in 1000 pieces. We also discussed why the samples were pink or brown and we spoke about needing contrast in microscopy and the children suggested what they thought would be a good stain (coffee and food colouring were the top suggestions).

I then asked the children if they knew what type of scientist is a neuroscientist? With a few hints from my models they figured out it was brains! I was quick to reassure them that the models were indeed plastic, after a few shocked faces! We looked at how messages were sent between neurons and the spine model and again I was fortunate to have a slide of stained myelin from a spinal cord.

I had set up three stations for the children to visit in turn 1) try on lab coat and goggles for a photo, 2) have a closer look at some pre-prepared micrographs on the screen 3) closer look at the models with me, where I would pipette 20 uL of water on their hands. They thought this was brilliant! And got so excited working out the fraction of their drink/medicine/puddle was in the pipette. The model skulls were a great hit, and especially when looking at structure of the nose, seeing why the COVID swab hurts if you go up your nose rather than straight back! The children also noticed one model had a rotten tooth with an inflamed nerve, so we all decided to brush our teeth extra well that night!

It was a really enjoyable and energising experience. I am pleased that I had all the props and models, and I’m very grateful for everyone who shared their resources with me.

Resources used by Dr Brimblecombe for the Science Week

  • A collection of outreach resources: a digital microscope and computer, mounted tissue specimens, model brain, skill and spine, lab coat and googles, and a pipette.Digital microscope, and computer
  • Various mounted tissue specimens – kindly lent by Professor Stephanie Cragg
  • Model brain and skull – kindly lent by Professor Zoltan Molnar and Associate Professor Francis Szele
  • Model skull and spine – kindly arranged and lent by Barbara Kirby at MSTC
  • Lab coat and goggles
  • P20 Gilson pipette and tap water in a falcon – kindly lent by Professor Stephanie Cragg

 

Visit Dr Katherine Brimblecombe's profile.