By David Snowdon, biology student at Imperial College London and science communicator.
Articulated hands, bizarre heart facts and a Velcro organ assembly competition; these were some of the interactive activities on offer at the Society of Biology stand at the Science4u Schools Science Conference at the University of Westminster last month.
The theme for the conference was ‘Science for Survival’, and many of the students came to the stand fresh from a harrowing talk about parasites manipulating their hosts. More broadly, the theme enabled the 250 secondary school students to learn about topics such as antibiotic resistance and food and water sustainability.
Visitors to the Society of Biology stand were shown models of the heart and learnt about its crucial role in the fight or flight response. Some fascinating heart facts were also on offer, including the fact that a hummingbird heart can beat up to 1,260 times per minute, octopuses have 3 hearts and a Burmese python’s heart can grow by as much as 40% after a particularly large meal.
An element of competition was introduced when the topic shifted from hearts to the other internal organs. After correctly identifying the major organs in our handy mannequin, the eager participants were timed while they arranged a set of Velcro organs on a wearable felt apron. The students strived to represent the positions of the organs in the quickest time possible (while remaining anatomically accurate of course). This activity gave the volunteers a chance to elaborate on the roles of various organs in diseases, and some of the recent advances in improving the survival rates for these conditions.
After posting their times on the leader board, participants had the chance to take part in a particularly ‘hands-on’ activity. Making articulated hands was a fun way to teach participants about the anatomy and functionality of our most useful extremities. After drawing around their hands on pieces of card, the students then attached straws to represent the bones in the hand. Lengths of string were then threaded through these bones to play the role of the tendons. By pulling on the tendons in the wrist area, each of the fingers could be manipulated individually, mimicking the role of the muscles in the wrist as they control the movement of the fingers. As well as informing the attendees about the operation of the hand, this activity gave an idea of just how many bones there are in each hand and how each of these bones needs to be controlled in order to facilitate the most basic motor skills.
Importantly, the event also gave the volunteers a chance to talk to the students about career opportunities in the field of biology and how to turn an interest into a career. I was able to shed some light on the experience of studying biology at university, and although the students were still a few years away from making their A-level choices many were interested in the path to pursuing science in higher education. Events like these are a great way for students to get informed about the opportunities available and, just as importantly, to be inspired by the science on offer.