Magazine article The Times Higher Education Supplement : THE

Teens Tempted with the 'Thrill of Discovery'

Magazine article The Times Higher Education Supplement : THE

Teens Tempted with the 'Thrill of Discovery'

Article excerpt

Research in schools scheme offers the chance to contribute to science. Matthew Reisz reports

At the official launch of the Institute for Research in Schools (Iris), held at the Science Museum in London at the beginning of this month, director Becky Parker spoke of her "vision to empower [schoolchildren] to be part of the scientific community". She wanted to see them "experience the thrill of discovery" and "get stuck into big, meaty projects" rather than just repeating experiments that have been done a thousand times.

Her presentation was followed by examples of pupils describing the powerful research they had carried out in areas such as tracking radiation levels in space and at sea (using detectors provided by Cern), the early diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease and the prevalence of diabetes in London's Bangladeshi community.

Parker, head of physics at the Simon Langton Grammar School for Boys in Canterbury (which admits girls in the sixth form), is also a visiting professor at Queen Mary University of London. She has long been a pioneer in getting her pupils to do "real science", a model that the new institute is rolling out across the country.

There are many benefits, she argues, in producing "young people who can speak in public, communicate, code, write up scientific papers. It is really about valuing the potential of young people - normally there is so little scope for them to feel that science is an open field they can contribute to at that age."

'They love getting into this stuff'

Taking part in research promotes scientific literacy and encourages more young people to study science, technology, engineering and mathematics subjects and, perhaps, to pursue scientific careers, she says. Girls in particular "love getting into stuff in this way", one of the reasons Parker believes her school punches "far above our weight in terms of the number of girls going on to study physics at university". Science teachers in schools also tend to "jump at the chance to do something exciting, innovative and at the forefront of research".

The Iris initiative enjoys the support of many academics keen to promote such goals and who are often impressed by the real advances in knowledge being made by some of the teenage researchers.

Matthew Holley, professor of sensory physiology at the University of Sheffield, has worked with pupils at the local Tapton School as part of the wider Wellcome Trust-funded Authentic Biology stream of school-based research.

Here he has helped to oversee a project where "students do cardiovascular research based on a zebrafish model. …

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