Working as a Postgraduate Demonstrator at Manchester Museum

Our team of PhD students that work as postgraduate demonstrators  delivering workshops are an important part of the Secondary and Post-16 Science programme at Manchester Museum.  Their enthusaism and science communication skills really bring the sessions to life, as well as giving the students access to young scientists  that can act as positive role models for the students visiting the museum.  Rebecca Brading, a PhD students in Faculty of Life Sciences at University of Manchester joined our team in September 2011 and has written a blog post about her experience below:

Becky in action

When I first began my PhD, Alexa Jeanes from the Manchester Museum gave a talk about working as a demonstrator. At the time, I knew that I enjoyed working with secondary and post-16 students through my work as a STEM ambassador, and I was beginning to realise how much I liked talking about science. Working as a LifeLab demonstrator sounded perfect for me, and I was lucky enough to be invited to a group interview. However, this included giving a talk to the rest of the group about my PhD- something that I found very nerve-wracking at the time.

During the interview, a current demonstrator called Liz Granger gave a talk about working in the LifeLab, and she told how working there had completely changed how she felt about public speaking. Having worked as a demonstrator for a year now, I have to say that I completely agree- now my biggest problem with public speaking is remembering to stop talking at some point!

It is not just my confidence that has massively improved, it is also my ability to organise and plan sessions, think and adapt on my feet, and help students to learn without just giving them the answer. I have realised just how much I enjoy working with this age group- my experience has been of witty, creative and massively enthusiastic young people.

Something that I wasn’t expecting is how inspiring it can be running a LifeLab session. Seeing how eager and determined the students are, coupled with how interested they can be in my PhD research, really rejuvenates my enthusiasm for my own project (which is helpful when things don’t go so well). 

Students in the Lifelab

Working at the Manchester Museum has opened a new world of opportunities for me within life sciences, and I now also work as a Widening Participation Fellow for the University of Manchester, as well as being involved in other study days and open days at the Manchester Museum. It can be difficult trying to juggle all these different roles with doing my PhD, but the rewards more than make up for the challenges. It has been a fantastic experience so far, and I am always looking forward to delivering my next  workshop at Manchester Museum.

You can find out more about Becky’s PhD research at her blog:


Discovering Diabetes A-Level Study Day with CADET

Students working with researchers on the ‘Dragons Den’ task

Giving students access to the fascinating cutting edge research that happens at the University of Manchester is a key priority for the Secondary and Post-16 science programme at Manchester Museum.  So when i was approcached by Elizabeth Pawson, a postdoctoral researcher in a research instutite called CADET (Centre for Advanced Discovery and Experimental Therapeutics) to help them develop an A-Level Study day about their research on diabetes i jumped at the chance.  Below is a blog post written by Lizz about their experience and the study day which took place on 18th October:

14 members of CADET (ranging from PhD students to professors) took part in the first Discovering Diabetes Study Day on October 18th. The study day, which was developed and designed by researchers at CADET, in collaboration with Alexa at Manchester Museum, to specifically complement the A ‘Level syllabus and was attended by AS and A2 Level students from Cardinal Newman College in Preston and Salford City College.  The study day enabled students to find out about diabetes, diabetic complications and how diabetes research is carried out whilst working closely with the range of scientists and clinicians who work at CADET.

Students presenting their 'pitch' to the DragonsAfter an opening talk which introduced the students to diabetes and to the role of CADET within the University, the students then participated in a “Dragons’ Den” style activity. In this the students worked in small groups and learned about different secondary complications of diabetes, how they are investigated at CADET and how scientific research is funded. They then had to pitch for future funding for research into the different complications, with the chance of winning £1 million. As shown by the evaluation at the end of the study day, the students very much enjoyed this activity and as such were very vocal during the pitching process! They were also very interested in learning about how academic research is conducted and felt that this session provided them with new insights into scientific research careers.

In a second activity the students were taught about the different technologies that CADET scientists use regularly as part of their research. The students had a work book of data and analysed results from a series of experiments with the aim of identifying biomarkers of importance in diabetes. They then had to decide which molecules could be potential future therapeutic agents and justify future research into their role in the disease.

Winning group

Evaluations carried out at the end of the day showed that the over 90% of the students felt the day directly contributed to what they were learning in college and felt that had a better understanding of diabetes research. In addition they were keen to study science at degree level and found the interactions with the scientists a useful and invaluable experience. Moreover the staff who attended with the students recommended that the day is repeated again next year. The researchers at CADET thoroughly enjoyed themselves too, and are currently working on extending the study day so that more students can attend. Then next day is scheduled for March 2013 and will hopefully become a regular, biannual event.

Researchers from CADET

 Some comments from students who attended the day:

“ ..Really enjoyed the Dragons’ Den session as it was a good insight into the real scientific world”

“..New found knowledge was very interesting and relevant to my future interests and courses…”

“The workbooks will be very useful in future study”

 “I not only learnt about the effects of diabetes but also about how funding is gained for research”

 “I learnt a lot and would really like to do more events like this”

“Everyone is nice and helpful”

“It was fun, hopefully coming back soon”

 “I really enjoyed working with scientists and asking them questions, that was the most important and interesting part”

Working with scientists investigating biomarkers of diabetes

Our engage with the experts A-Level Study days are always very popular and this one was no different.  It was fully booked within a couple of days of the date being advertised on the website!  We are delighted to annouce that we will be running it again on 21st March 2012, so if you would like to give your students the opportunity to take part and work with the scientists, please do get in touch.

Alan Turing: Maths and Morphogenesis workshops

Want to know how maths is applied to the real world? Bring your KS4 students to our Alan Turing: Maths, Modelling and Morphogenesis maths session that accompanys our Alan Turing and Life’s Enigma exhibition to find out. Led by University mathematicians, this workshop explores mathematical modelling, and enables students to find out more about the pioneer of biological mathematics who lived right here in Manchester: Alan Turing and how he used maths to investigate the secrets of life. The 2 hour session is available at selected times on Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays until 15th November 2012.

For AS/A2 biology and Maths students, we are running A-level study days that would be perfect for them to understand the link between these two subjects. One of our Engage with the Experts A-Level study days Alan Turing: Maths and Morphogenesis works with University researchers to unlock the mathematical mystery behind patterns in the natural world and discovers how Alan Turing began to tackle this problem. It is a full day (10am-3pm) on Monday 15th October 2012, Monday 22nd October 2012 and Tuesday 13th November 2012

If you would like any more information or would like to make a booking, please contact Alexa on or 0161 3061764.

Matrix in the Museum 2012

Making a Cartilage model

On 10th, 12th and 13th July, the Manchester Museum hosted our annual ‘Matrix in the Museum’ events which are run in partnership with the Wellcome Trust Centre for Cell Matrix Research in the Faculty of Life Sciences.    This year we had three schools visiting over the week; Stretford High School, Manchester Academy and All Hallows RC High School, all bringing year 8 classes to take part in the days’ activities.

The students were split into 5 teams for the day; Team Mucus, Team DNA, Team Cell, Team Cartilage and Team Matrix, all with a research scientist as their team leader.  The day started by having a tour of the research laboratories in the Michael Smith building.  The students get to see real scientists at work and find out about the work that they do. It was then over to the Manchester Museum to complete their team challenges! 

 Each team had a different challenge to do about their respective area of research i.e. team name, from making a model, to writing a song/poem or rap to preparing a presentation to show the rest of the class. The students worked brilliantly to complete these challenges, coming up with some fantastic ideas and creative ways to showcase what they have learnt.  After lunch, during their final preparations, two  ‘judges’ or Professor and research group leaders came round to talk to the students about what they had been doing over the course of the day. 

Team DNA (Team Pro) from Manchester Academy with Dr Keith Brennan and Dr Pat Caswell

It was then time to show off the work they had been doing.  Each team presented their topic to the judges and the rest of the group and demonstrated their model and song/rap/poem.  The judges then had to pick a winner – itwas often a very tough decision with all groups performing really well and showing how much they have leant from the day.  A special mention has to go to Team DNA or Team Pro as they were known from Manchester Academy whose constant energy and enthusiasm throughout the whole day was just fantastic!  It was a brilliant few days and I hope the students enjoyed as much as we did!

Thank you to all students, researchers and PI’s that took part which made it such a successful event.

Cells, Senses and C.Elegans and GCSE Body Experience – collaboration with undergraduate students from FLS

Students finding out about the digestive systemBack in March, we hosted two special days aimed at KS4 and A-Level students.  We had been working  closely with 3rd year undergraduate students from Faculty of Life Sciences from University of Manchester who had been developing activities to be delivered in the museum during these bespoke events. 

The first one, on 9th March was entitled ‘GCSE Body Experience’ where 80 students from St Peters RC School, West Hill School, Rydal Penrhos School and St James RC School attended  The students took part in workshops exploring different parts of the body, from eyes and ears to gut and immune system.  Some comments from teachers that attended are below:

“Well researched, well presented in a logical progression.  Challenged students and extended them. Students were engaged and on board”                      Teacher, Rydal Penrhos.

The A-Level event ‘Cells, Senses and C.Elegans’ was a couple of weeks later on 22nd March. 85 students came along from Holy Cross College, Cardinal Newman College and Sedburgh School.  The workshops included topics such as HIV, embryonic development, C.elegans and oogenesis.   Some teacher comments about the event are below:

“The students were fully engaged and could relate to a lot of the content as well as gain further insight into the subject”     Teacher, Cardinal Newman College

“Excellent materials and presentation. A totally new topic which made my students think!”    Teacher, Sedburgh School

James, one of the undergrads involved gives his thoughts below:

“My initial thought was that the museum would be an easier choice, until I realised I would have to interact with GCSE and A-Level pupils which I haven’t done since I was one of them! It became daunting very quickly but after working with the museum staff and developing a resource which I was confident in, my jitters subsided…slightly. Each group and especially each year group was very different and it required lots of on the spot thinking – something which became easier the more time I did the activities. From the responses I got, the students had a great time, not just at my session but at all the sessions. I learnt a lot about myself and about how to overcome obstacles, and ended up with sessions that I am proud of!”       James Topham, 3rd Year undergraduate at The University of Manchester

Overall, it was a really successful event in which both the students delivering the activities and students attending both really enjoyed the events.   We will be running these days again next year, so look out for them being advertised if you are interested in bringing your students to this unique day.

Some pictures of the events are in the gallery below:

GCSE and A-Level Geology workshops

During the past few months, we have seen a surge of interest in our GCSE and A-Level Geology offer.  It is great to see students fascinated by our specimens and engaging with museum experts, such as our Curator of Earth Sciences David Gelsthorpe. We have a selection of different geology workshops that can be tailored to meet the needs of specific groups, from Understanding and Interpreting Fossils, Trilobites and Exceptional Preservation.  For the full menu of session available, please see our website.  Workshops can also be supplemented with wow-factor fossil session and gallery tours as required. 

We have welcomed Altrincham Boys Grammar School, Aquinas College and Balshaw High School to the museum over the past few months.  Below are a few pictures of the workshops in action.  If you would like to book any of our Geology workshops, please do get in touch.

Alan Turing and Life’s Enigma Exhibition

Our latest exhibition ‘Alan Turing and Life’s Enigma’ opened at the end of March.   The exhibition coincides with 2012 Turing Centenary Year, celebrating 100 years since Turings birth. Alan Turing is known to most people as a mathematician and pioneer of computing, as well as being a significant part in the solving of the Enigma code at Bletchley Park during WW2.  However the main focus of this exhibition is his work relating to biology, specifically to his fascination of how pattern, shape and form appear in nature, in a process known as morphogenesis.  In 1952, Turing published this work in a paper (The Chemical Basis of Morphogenesis) describing a model showing how these patterns could develop from the interactions of two chemicals. The new exhibition combines material used by Turing during his research time in Manchester with objects from the Museum’s extensive natural science collection.  The exhibition is in our 3rd floor exhibition space and runs until 18 November 2012.

As with all our exhibitions, we are developing a learning offer to allow students to explore further the ideas in the display.  Due to the high level content, we are planning a KS4 workshop and a series of Turing related A-Level Study Days, during the summer and autumn term.  Initial details of the workshops are below:

Maths/Science Turing workshop for KS4 – 2 hours, £75

This hands- on, interactive workshop will allow students to explore the scientific contribution of Alan Turings work.  Students will investigate how codes were used in early computing, the numerical patterns found in nature, and how it links to the Fibonacci sequence.  Though facilitated  learning on the new ‘Alan Turing and Life’s Enigma’ exhibition and getting up close to the museums collection, this session shows applications of maths to the natural world and cleverly links both science and maths curriculum.

Turing A-Level Study day, part of Engage with the Experts series (Full day) £150

Through a series of talks by University of Manchester Academics, hands – on activities and debates, your students will discover how their A-Level studies relates the last work of the famous scientist Alan Turing.  They will find out more about embryonic development, morphogenesis and pattern formation in living things and the Maths behind ‘Patterns in Nature’. 

We will be offering a few sessions free of charge during the trial phase (May/June/July), so if you are interested in this offer, please do not hesitate to get in touch.

You can get involved with your own Turing experiment, by growing a Turing Sunflower

The Colour of Nature – Real World Science Shared National Project

The Secondary and Post-16 Science programme at The Manchester Museum is part of the Real World Science (RWS) partnership with 4 other museums nationwide, including the Natural History Museum. The RWS partnership aims to develop and deliver engaging learning activities for secondary students that enrich and extend the science curriculum. 

Over the past year, we have been developing a workshop for KS3 that will run across all 5 venues, forming a Shared National Project (SNP).  The inspiration for the SNP came from our very own Nature’s Palette session.  ‘The Colour of Nature’ is a one hour workshop that aims to marry appropriate physics and biology content for KS3 students looking at colour in the natural world.  It focuses on the properties of light and the physical nature of ‘colour’ and then the huge variety of adaptations associated with colouration of organisms.  It is a specimen rich, hands-on workshop that encourages students to use their own observations as evidence to form conclusions and uses video case studies of different scientists to provide interesting examples of science at work in a career context.  You can see the video of our Curator of Herpetology Andrew Gray below which is used in the workshop:

The session is in the final trial stages and will be a permanent addition to our programme from Easter, complementing the existing Nature’s Palette session.  If you would like to book The Colour of Nature for your students, please do not hesitate to get in touch with me here.

Planet Dinosaur

From 1st to 9th October, a herd of 6 spinosaurus’ took residence in our Living Worlds gallery as part of the BBC’s Planet Dinosaur tour.  To make the most of this opportunity, we developed an associated workshop for KS3 students which over 175 students took part in last week. 

The Curator of Earth Sciences, David Gelsthorpe and myself devised two additional workshops which complement the BBC’s ‘Build their own spinosaurus’ activity that utilised parts of our palaeontology collection.  In the workshop, students became paleontologists and investigated real fossils deciding out of 6 different specimens which one was a real dinosaur egg and which one was a real dinosaur bone.  In addition, students measured and analysed a trackway of dinosaur footprints to figure out what it told us about dinosaur behavior.  This workshop enabled students to get hands on with the fantastic objects from our collection and find out more about the research work that paleontologists do within the university. 

Since the spinosaurus are no longer with us, they have continued on their journey round the country up to Newcastle, we are going to continue to offer the Dinosaur Footprint and Paleontology skills making a 1 hour investigative dinosaur based workshop.  Please get in touch if you would like to book it.

Lifelab on Film!


Student hard at work in Lifelab

Find out more about the kind of  science workshops that take place in our Lifelab at The Manchester Museum.  Click on the different session names to watch some brand new short films about the lifelab and the science programme that takes place there.

PCR,  Forensics,  A-Level Study Days,  General Lifelab workshops.

These videos are currently being displayed in the Lifelab to show visitors what this dynamic space is used for.  The films were made by Alejandra Silva who has done a great job in showing the energy and enthusiasm of the students taking part in the sessions. We hope you like them!