- School/Institute/Department: Centre of the Cell, Blizard Institute, School of Medicine and Dentistry
- Subjects: Biology, Medicine, Cells, Life Sciences
- Audience: KS3, KS4, KS5, Sixth Form, GCSE, A-Level, KS2, KS1
Centre of the Cell is a science education centre in the QMUL Whitechapel campus, an outreach and widening participation project, that also has an interactive website that consolidates and extends its content. It is one of the few, if not the only, science centres situated within a working medical research building.
Its interactive 'pod' shows include KS2 – KS5 curriculum-linked interactive games grounded in cell biology and the research happening in the labs below and around the world. These games utilise the latest digital technologies. Many feature footage of scientists describing their work, and involve games based on that research. The interactive games are matched with films of real university staff and students which introduce the concepts of cell biology and medical research.
The Centre of the Cell website features free teaching materials, interactive games and more information on medicine and medical history, extending the reach of the project beyond the geography of the centre.
Their Youth Membership Scheme also offers work experience placements, revision and mentoring sessions, careers workshops and volunteering opportunities for young people aged between 14 and 19. Through this, teenagers have created joint activities with the centre, such as the ‘Spores, Sores and Sickly Bugs’ show and WW1 Whitechapel Medical Marvels Trail Map.
Since opening in 2009, the Centre has welcomed over 100,000 visitors from all over the world and over one million visits to their website. However, it remains deeply rooted within its diverse local communities, with around 50 per cent of all school participants coming from a ten-mile radius of Whitechapel, with 81 per cent of Tower Hamlets primary schools and 100 per cent of Tower Hamlets secondary schools having taken part in their activities.
Embedding a science education centre for the public at the heart of a research building enables an ethos of enthusiastic, targeted two-way communication that permeates throughout the medical school and university. They have involved more than 120 QMUL scientists and clinicians contributing to resources and activities linked to Key Stages 2, 3 and 4 of the Science National Curriculum and cross-linked to the English, Maths, Art, and Citizenship curricula.
The project has five main aims:
- To inspire the next generation of scientists and healthcare professionals
- To stimulate dialogue, interest and excitement about biomedical research
- To raise aspirations, especially in the local community
- To widen participation in further and higher education
- To help improve health and wellbeing especially in East London
Centre of the Cell Director, Professor Fran Balkwill OBE FMedSci, is a leading cancer researcher and science communication expert. The Centre itself has won a number of major awards including the Museums & Heritage Excellence Award for the Best Educational Initiative in the UK and the EngageU Award for the Best Innovations in University Outreach and Public Engagement in Europe. The Centre's innovative practice has been the subject of an academic paper published in the PLoS Biology journal, accessible here.