Every year schools from all over the East of England compete to grow the best crystals of potash alum. The competition, sponsored by the LMB and the Cambridge Crystallographic Data Centre is aimed at encouraging a whole new generation of scientists.
All the crystals produced are displayed at the Cambridge Science Festival in March and students from the winning schools are then invited to the LMB to see some science in action. This year students from Laxton Junior School, Peterborough, Putnoe School and Putnoe Lower School, Bedford and Barclay School, Stevenage visited the LMB.
The visits started with an introduction to the laboratory, explaining how and why scientists are studying the molecules of life. The students, aged between 8 and 14, were then split into small groups and given some hands-on experience of science. The students found out about DNA and extracted DNA from bananas and strawberries. They then tried chromatography, separating food dyes with filter paper and gel filtration. They also learned about proteins, looked at protein crystals under microscopes and experimented with 3D graphics of proteins on computers.
The children were really excited by their visit. Edmund, aged 10, commented: “We all agreed that the amount of effort and work going on at the MRC was humungous. The day was very exciting and it was absolutely brilliant to see real science in action!!!”
Sue Pearson, one of the teachers, said: “The children were very excited to come, and the visit fully lived up to their expectations. We count ourselves very fortunate for having such a wonderful opportunity. Thank you for all of the hard work you put into organising it, and please also pass on our thanks to the guides and demonstrators. Their passion for their work came across very strongly, and was really inspiring for the children.”
Schools hoping to enter the competition next year should keep an eye on the LMB’s website for details in the autumn.