With the start of another school year, we are recruiting schools and LMB members for our annual Microscopes4Schools (M4S) Competition. M4S is a science outreach initiative which aims to encourage scientific curiosity in children by connecting the microscopic world to children’s everyday lives. M4S was started by Cell Biology Group Leader, Simon Bullock and LMB alumnus, Isabel Torres. The competition is now run by Simon alongside Jon Howe from the LMB Light Microscopy Facility and is facilitated by the LMB Public Engagement Team.
In 2022, despite the struggles of reigniting public engagement post-pandemic, around 600 pupils from 18 schools across Cambridgeshire, Peterborough and Bedford participated in the M4S Competition with some brilliant entries.
During the competition, each school borrows a hand-held digital microscope for two weeks and children take images of biological samples that they have collected. In addition to the introduction of pandemic-friendly postal delivery, in 2022 we offered a Meet the Scientists session over Zoom with each participating school during the two weeks when the children had the microscope kit. The 45-minute call with the school includes an introduction to the competition from the Public Engagement Team and then pairs of researchers from the LMB give a 10-minute talk to share how microscopes work, introduce the work we do at the LMB, why it matters to the wider world, and offer the chance for pupils to ask all kinds of questions.
These online sessions with schools were well-received by scientists at the LMB, with 18 researchers taking part.
“Thanks a lot, it was great fun and I loved the questions. I hope they like the microscopes, too!”, Magda Sutcliffe, Meet the Scientists participant.
“It was really fun! The children were very engaged and had some great questions”, Nathan James, Meet the Scientists participant.
We will be recruiting more researchers across all divisions and facilities who may wish to take part for 2023, sharing the broader range of roles within scientific research to the schools.
In previous years, Prof. Brad Amos, an Emeritus Scientist at the MRC LMB and Honorary Fellow of the Royal Society of Photography has judged the competition. In 2022, we opened the vote to our Meet the Scientists participants for a ‘People’s Choice’ award. The winner was Highfield Littleport Academy, Cambridgeshire who won a classroom poster of their image, Caterpillar Eggs.
“Such an amazing opportunity for our learners, and I was impressed with the way it was made accessible for our setting.” – Teacher from Highfield Littleport Academy, Cambridgeshire.
Our panel of judges will expand further for 2023 and will include all our participating ‘Meet the Researchers’, Shraddha Nayak (LMB Head of Visual Communications) and Madeline Lancaster (Group Leader in the LMB’s Cell Biology Division), in addition to Prof. Amos.
Due to the pandemic, there were some schools who weren’t able to take part in 2021 and instead had a guaranteed slot in 2022. We will now go forward with a newly designed selection criteria which aims to increase competition participation from broader backgrounds. Our selection criteria look at school percentage free school meals, ethnicity, higher education participation and indices of multiple deprivation. We hope this will provide an opportunity for a wider selection of schools to participate, particularly in areas where fewer children may have exposure to science careers, or consider going on to pursue higher education.
We will continue to post the kits to schools as this facilitates engagement with a broader range of schools. ‘Meet the Scientists will also remain in a virtual format but be renamed to ‘Meet the Researchers’ to broaden involvement, as this was popular with the schools and scientists.
Bottom row – 2022 Microscopes4Schools Competition runners up (left to right): Flower Petals, Hemingford Grey, Cambridge. Jay feather barbs, University Primary, Cambridge. Daffodil, Kings Oak Primary, Bedford. Centipede, Newark Hill Primary, Peterborough.