Edge Hill University takes high tech genetics laboratories into colleges

Edge Hill University has taken portable genetics labs into colleges to show pupils how easy, fun and fascinating biology can be.

The scheme is targeted at colleges in working-class communities and is all part of the university’s commitment to expanding opportunities and promoting careers in science and engineering.

Funded by a Genetics Society public engagement grant, the Portable Genetics Initiative sees Edge Hill’s biology experts take revolutionary briefcase size genetics labs into colleges so that students can carry out a DNA amplification experiment using specialist equipment and techniques.

Leading the project and teaching the genetics lessons is senior lecturer in microbiology, Dr Cher-Pheng Ooi. 

Students learning with Genes Labs

Explaining the idea behind the project he said: “We are keen to break down barriers and show the pupils how genetics works on a practical level.

“I think some people see geneticists and scientists as wizards working a kind of magic, but I want to show these young people that you can perform some incredible genetic experiments with some specialist equipment and an understanding of the underlying principles.”

A Genetics Society spokesperson said: “The Genetics Society is proud to fund this public engagement project aimed at taking high-tech genetics laboratories into colleges. 

“By funding projects that bring genetics research into the classroom, the Genetics Society hopes to inspire the next generation of scientists and engage the public in important conversations around genetics and its impact on society.”

The first lessons were taught at Cardinal Newman College in Preston where Dr Mohamed El Mohtadi, Dr Jayne Charnock and Dr Cher-Pheng Ooi from Edge Hill University introduced sixth formers to the amplification and visualisation of genes.

Dr Cher-Pheng added: “Ultimately, we want pupils to experience this for themselves to spark interest and help them envision a career in STEM. All the learning can come later, for now, all they have to do is have an interest in genetics.

“It’s also about making a more diverse workforce and opening up science to different kinds of people, these pupils may well be standing where I am one day.”

Jennifer Sixsmith, teacher of biology from Cardinal Newman College, said: “Our BTEC students really enjoyed the portable genetics session led by Cher-Pheng. 

“They were given hands on experience of genetic technology they had been studying in lesson and have managed to make links between the theory and the practical application of the science more successfully as a result.

“The sessions were engaging, interactive and entertaining, and we are looking forward to inviting Cher-Pheng and his team back again in the near future.”

Many more events are planned in colleges across the region in the hopes that a new generation of scientists will be inspired to study biology at university.

For more information about courses at Edge Hill University, click here.

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