Almost 1300 children took part in the Mini scientist activity in the MRC Lab at the City Arts Centre during the Edinburgh International Science Festival in April. They dressed-up in mini-lab-coats and safety specs, grabbed clip boards for their notes and peppered MRC scientists with their questions and ideas in response to the five activities on offer.
PhD and Masters students, research assistants and postdoctoral research scientists from the MRC Human Genetics Unit were among the 30 MRC volunteers who took time out of the lab to demonstrate the activities to visitors.
The MRC HGU activity DNA Sequencing Bracelets introduced the principles of DNA base pairs and of gene alleles: alternative forms of the same gene. Demonstrators showed visitors how to match-up beads representing base pairs to make a double stranded DNA bracelet that reflected their own hair and eye gene sequence.
Each activity in included in Mini Scientists is designed to be fun and to teach some basic principles about science and research. Scientists from all of the MRC units and centres in Scotland took the opportunity to take part as demonstrators and boost their science communication skills.
Adult audiences weren’t left out of the fun. This year, 87 people attended a talk titled ‘Why we have five fingers and toes’ delivered by HGU Professor Bob Hill, he described the evolutionary steps behind the development of human hands, feet and limbs with some interesting comparisons with other mammals.
Feedback from the parents and from the children who took part in MRC events at the festival was excellent and staff at HGU are already planning for 2012.
"The most fun part is when a kid asks you a random question and you get to go off on some obscure tangent about really exciting new science.’’