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Synapse: Bringing Immunology and young women together

Jill Johnson (London) was awarded a BSI Communicating Immunology Grant to run a one-day workshop for Girl Guide units at Imperial College London. Here she tells us more about the event:

Synapse was a one-day workshop event held at Imperial College London on 7 June 2015. In biology, a synapse is where two cells come together and communicate with each other. In the same way, this workshop brought girls aged 10-17 together with scientists for a day full of science communication, fun and learning. The participants were girls from Girl Guide units in London (8th Hanwell Guides and 8th Acton Guides). Synapse allowed the girls to experience immunology through hands-on activities in the Wohl Reach Out Lab at Imperial College London as well as through direct engagement with scientists currently working at the university. This event was designed to foster interest in science in general and immunology in particular, at an especially important time for girls as they select their GCSE and A levels subjects. The day was a great success, with 30 participants and eight contributing scientists from the National Heart and Lung Institute at Imperial College London.

Photos from the Synapse event

Highlights of the day included:

It’s in your genes

A hands-on laboratory activity involving DNA extraction from strawberries and staining cheek swabs to observe the cell nucleus.

How do they get there?

An interactive workshop on how the vascular system works and how inflammatory cells and blood vessels interact to fight off infection. 

I loved coming to Imperial College. I learnt so much and it was really interesting.

- Celia M.

This activity was a video presentation on the development of microscopy, from the simple light microscope to cutting-edge intravital and super resolution imaging, as well as a brief introduction to flow cytometry and how vaccines work. 

Growing and dividing

A hands-on demonstration in the Wohl Reach Out Lab on cell culture techniques including freezing eggs in dry ice and liquid nitrogen and observing live cells in culture.Other activities included making DNA models from sweets at lunch on the Queen’s Lawn at Imperial College London and a session in the afternoon using French knitting to build a model of a vascular bed – this activity has previously been used in the Blood Lines exhibit at the Green Man Festival, the Science Museum and the Natural History Museum. The art work resulting from this activity has been donated to the participating Guide Units, the National Heart and Lung Institute at Imperial College London, and to our generous sponsor, the British Society for Immunology.

The main impact of this event was getting girls really excited about science. They all enjoyed actually doing experiments themselves (such as the strawberry DNA extraction) and looking at different types of cells in the microscope (including their own). They also gave positive feedback regarding the close interaction they had with the Imperial College scientists throughout the day.

Jill Johnston, Imperial College London

This activity was supported by a BSI Communicating Immunology Grant. These provide up to £1,000 of funding for BSI members to carry out public engagement activities. Find out more