Wellcome to the (Cell) Matrix
At the heart of the research focus of the Cell-Matrix Research Centre, in the Faculty of Life Sciences at the University of Manchester, is how cells interact with their local microenvironment (or matrix) and how these interactions control the way that cells build tissues and organs. Understanding the nature of cell-matrix interactions is crucial to learning how multicellular life is organised, and hence what goes wrong in disease.
‘Wellcome to the Matrix’ is the flagship public engagement event of the Cell-Matrix Research Centre. The event was established in 2007 and continues to run every year. ‘Wellcome to the Matrix’ affords Key Stage 3 pupils from across Greater Manchester the opportunity to work with current researchers from PhD students to Principal Investigators in the Cell-Matrix Centre, exploring the laboratories and completing tasks set for them based on the current and contemporary research within the Centre.
Pupils work in teams, led by a mentor from the Cell-Matrix Centre, and each team focuses on a particular area of research from cartilage to mucus. Each team is given the task of designing, creating and presenting models based on particular areas of Cell-Matrix research. With complex scientific topics to cover, including cell cycle regulation, inflammation, protein secretion and cell signalling to name but a few, it was crucial in the planning stages of the event that the main aim was to ensure that pupils’ learning is fun and stimulating.
This aim continues to be realised year-on-year: the model building exercise is undertaken in a “Blue Peter” style using various craft materials and the pupils are also challenged to create a song, poem or rap to explain what they have learnt about their particular area of research. Pupils use PowerPoint to write and deliver a 10 minute presentation, all to highlight the things that they learn during the day. The event culminates in each team presenting to their peers and a panel of judges, in the form of Principal Investigators from the Cell-Matrix Centre, for the coveted award of ‘Best Team’!
The visit provides a highly enjoyable and interactive learning experience and feedback from teachers who took part in the event include:
“The writing and the presentations showed the students creativity and ability to present information learned on the day. It offered a chance to express their ideas differently then they would be able to in the classroom, and as they were working in groups it encouraged each child to get involved and input their ideas” (Teacher, 2010).
“The mentors were brilliant and their ability to engage with and relate to the pupils is amazing” (Teacher, 2011).
Pupil feedback indicates that participation in the event may influence future education and career choices of the pupils who take part, with 92% of students saying that the event had increased their interest in science as a choice for further education, and 80% saying that science now interests them as a career. Quotes include “I want to work in science in the future-I learnt a lot” (Pupil, 2011).
Dr Ceri Harrop, Wellcome Trust Centre for Cell-Matrix Research, Manchester.