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Students use scientific techniques seen in TV crime dramas to help solve the case

School children use University labs to bring supervillain to justice

Pupils from schools across Devon, Dorset and Somerset will use scientific techniques commonly seen in TV crime dramas to help solve the mystery of who sabotaged Devon’s very own Bake Off.

In its 13th year, the University of Exeter Medical School’s outreach event will allow Year 9s from across the South West to help scientists unravel a scandal which erupted in the “Great Bideford Bake Off” using state-of-the-art microbiology and DNA analysis techniques.

The fictional scenario involves an outcry as the West Country’s most talented bread makers ended up with soggy bottoms as their loaves failed to rise, and the spoiled bread tasted mysteriously sugary. Who introduced a mutant yeast to rig the contest?

This will be the largest event yet, with 226 science sleuths from 17 schools attending. Known as the Men in White – titled so to challenge stereotypes around scientists – the students will work with special operatives from the University of Exeter Medical School on March 6th and 7th. They will use all their genetics genius to identify which supervillain was guilty.

Josh Moore, 13, a student at St Peter’s School, said: “I was kind of expecting much bigger machines in a lab, but it’s actually so much more intricate! We’re really lucky to have access to a resource like this.”

Previous years have seen pupils stain yeast DNA on slides and examine them under microscopes to find the mutant strain, alongside trying out clinical procedures such as blood sugar sampling and blood pressure testing to learn more about their bodies. This will be the third event to take place in the Medical School’s Research, Innovation, Learning and Development (RILD) building on the Royal Devon & Exeter Hospital site.

Gina Archer, a teacher at St Peter’s School, said: “Men in White supports what the children learn in Key Stage 3 and in GCSE, but it’s really engaging when they can put it into practice with state of the art equipment.”

Professor Lorna Harries, one of the organisers of the event, said: “Men in White is a fun and interactive way to gain a real understanding of some complex scientific concepts. These students work alongside real scientists, which gives us a great opportunity to bust some myths while they learn. We’re not all older men in white coats and glasses.”

Co-organiser Dr John Chilton said: “It’s very important that we motivate the next generation of scientists to consider a career in a stimulating and innovative subject at the cutting-edge of discovery. Our move to RILD a few years back meant that we could welcome more pupils than ever before. Who knows – some of them may one day come and join our world-leading research team here at Exeter.”

  • Weds AM: St Peter’s, Coombeshead Academy, Torquay Academy, ISCA College Exeter
  • Weds PM: Spires College, Okehampton College, Tiverton High School
  • Thurs AM: Exmouth Community College, Kings College, Wellington School, Clyst Vale Community College
  • Thurs PM: Exeter School. Newton Abbot College, Dartmoor, Cranbrook Education Campus, Woodroffe School

Date: 7 March 2019

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