Squashed bananas and fuzzy neurons

15 November 2017

Old Castle pupil with red filter glasses
DIY red-filter glasses were a big hit with the school children.

With oversized lab coats and mushed up fruit at the ready, more than fifty school children and their teachers visited Cardiff University and became neuroscientists for a morning.

On Monday 13 November MRC CNGG researchers were thrilled to welcome 52 pupils from Oldcastle Primary School, in Bridgend, to Cardiff University’s Hadyn Ellis Building.

Five activity stations were set up to give the children a hands-on experience of learning about the brain; from block-building IQ tests to Stroop racing, a racing game and brain teaser in one, which involves reading aloud the colour of words rather than the word itself as you step on them.

Squishy science

A highlight for many of the school children was the chance to extract DNA from a banana. The extraction involved the banana, pre-squashed, being mixed with shampoo and alcohol, then drained through coffee filters until the children could see the results at the bottom of their test tubes.

Two children and teacher examining DNA
Two children examine the DNA they've extracted from a banana.

I enjoyed learning how to make banana DNA. I did not know how to make banana DNA!

Pupil from Oldcastle Primary School

Everyone who attended was asked to share their favourite part of the morning on a brain-shaped card which was then hung on a feedback tree. After DNA, making blue-light glasses was a big hit, with many of the children wearing their creations as they left to catch their bus back to school.

Hayley Moulding, a PhD student, looks at different factors that affect sleep and how that impacts on mental health as part of her research.

Hayley said, “The sessions were great fun. We had felt tip pens and glue everywhere! There were a lot of snazzy glasses being created and they even listened to what I had to say about the science behind them – I wish my audience were always so attentive when I have to give a talk.”

Child and researcher cutting out glasses
Hayley taught the children about the effects of blue-light by making red filter glasses.

Pipe-cleaner corner

The children also had a chance to create model neurons from fuzzy pipe-cleaners which were then stuck on a giant poster of the brain. The children are currently learning about the brain in class and were able to take the giant poster with them to display it in their school.

We'd like to say a big thank you to the pupils of Oldcastle Primary School for paying us a visit and being so enthusiastic and well-behaved.

Poster of brain with pipe-cleaner neurons
The children made short work of filling the brain poster with colourful neurons.