Inspiring the Next Generation of Scientists

“You mean you can do this as a job?”, asked a wide-eyed sixth grader after a fun-filled day of learning about biology at the Donnelly Centre. Her next question was, “How can I become a scientist?”

Sparking an early interest in science is why we run our youth outreach program that draws dozens of primary and high school students to the Centre each year. Among other events, this year the Centre hosted 30 students in sixth grade from Fossil Hill Public School in Toronto. The event was made possible thanks to our graduate students and postdoctoral fellows who took time away from their experiments to engage with our young visitors, talk about science and help with hands-on activities.

kids learning scienceFossil Hill students (on the left) and Deb Ray giving an inspiring presentation (on the right). The day kicked off with Deb Ray (Hughes lab) giving a fun lecture about the research process itself. Deb stressed the importance of making mistakes—and learning from them— as a driving force of discovery.

The visitors also did their own experiments to learn about genetics. Working with Yuko Arita (Boone lab), Brandon Ho (Brown lab) and Clarence Yeung (Andrews lab), the schoolchildren performed a mating experiment with two different strains of yeast cells, where each strain was expressing a protein that glowed either green or red. From this emerged baby yeast cells that glowed both green and red in an example of how parental traits mix in the next generation.

Our guests also learned about different cells and tissues in the body. Nancy Liu (Morsehead lab) talked about stem cells and how they build different parts of the body, and how researchers like her are working to replicate this process in the lab to grow replacement tissue to treat disease.

kids doing scienceGrade six students from Fossil Hill Public School doing experiments in a Donnelly Centre lab.

Furthermore, our guests learned that studying simple animals can teach us a lot about how the human body works. Jannatun Wnaiza and Jiabao Liu, both from the Krause lab, brought zebrafish larvae and fruit flies which they, and others in the lab, use in their experiments to glean insights about important molecules in cells. And, by comparing normal animals with genetic mutants, such as spotted and completely see-through zebrafish larvae, or flies with red and white eyes, the students appreciated the power of genes in determining what the body looks like— and by extension, the health of an organism.

kids doing scienceSchoolchildren isolating their own DNA during Bring our children to work Day Among other events, we took part in U of T’s Bring Our Children to Work Day, an annual event open to our researchers and staff’ children in grade four and above. The day provided an opportunity for the kids to isolate their own DNA, while learning about the importance of basic research as a foundation for better medicine and society as a whole.

If you are interested in science-learning opportunities in the Donnelly Centre, we would love to hear from you! Or you can visit the Donnelly Centre Youth Science Outreach page on our website.

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