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Opening young minds to bioengineering

A pioneering scheme called The Bioengineering Experience, developed for school children to explore advances in science, engineering and materials hosted a group of ten-year olds from St Joseph’s in the Park returning for their second visit to Queen Mary University of London (QMUL).

3 May 2016

Children learning to make 'worms' with a non-toxic material derived from seaweed that easily changes shape.

Led by Dr Tina Chowdhury from the Institute of Bioengineering (IOB) at QMUL, the Bioengineering Experience encourages children to take part in hands-on investigative activities and meet scientists working in cutting-edge research.

Activities included making ‘worms’ out of alginate, a non-toxic material derived from seaweed that easily changes shape, and ‘pink beans’ using agarose, a common type of sugar. Both types of materials are used to grow tissues found in cartilage and are being used to repair diseases such as osteoarthritis.

One of the children said: “The bioengineering experience has made me think about what I want to be when I get older."

Dr Chowdhury commented on the visit: “Events like the Bioengineering Experience are great for children since it takes the science out of the classroom and gives children a real opportunity to expand their horizon with hands on lab activities. These state-of-the-art techniques are the future of research and are used in the real bioengineering world.”

The IOB scientists explained new ideas about how bioengineering could change the future of medical healthcare. The scientists explained why it is important to stretch cells in soft tissues such as tendon, cartilage and the amniotic membrane. For example, stretching or exercise keeps the amniotic membrane strong and protects the baby as she grows inside the mother’s womb.

When the children were asked to comment on what type of person could be a bioengineer, one child said: “You don’t have to come from a rich background to follow your dreams. A scientist can be anyone who is prepared to work hard and have fun.”

The children made ‘pink beans’ from the sugar agarose, and pulled ‘strings’ which represented tendons

The children made ‘pink beans’ from the sugar agarose, and pulled ‘strings’ which represented tendons

Dr Alvaro Mata, Director of IOB, said: “The bioengineering experience is a unique opportunity for the scientists to share their experiences, and for the children to ask the scientists questions about their work. The event allows the children to see the science behind novel tools that could revolutionise medical healthcare in the near future.”

The project is funded by the RoseTrees Trust and QMUL’s Centre for Public Engagement.

Professor Peter McOwan, Vice-Principal for Public Engagement and Student Enterprise, said “This is a great example of how new research has the power to fascinate and inspire the minds of the next generation. Events like the Bioengineering Experience show that scientists have exciting jobs and are all kinds of people, an insight which we hope will help more people chose these important careers.”

More information

  • To see more photos of the Bioengineering Experience, visit Dr Tina Chowdhury's blog.
  • Find out more about the Institute of Bioengineering.
  • Watch highlights from last year's event

For media information, contact:

Neha Okhandiar
Public Relations Manager
Queen Mary University of London
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