‘Access To’ programme allows under-represented pupils experience hands-on toxicology

diversity in science grants biochemical society aberdeen
Photo: Dr Marie Goua

By Gabriele Butkute, science policy assistant the Biochemical Society

If you have been following us online or reading our newsletters, you are probably aware of our Diversity in Science Grants. The deadline is 30 September so still quite a bit of time to apply!

In the meantime, we continue to share the inspiring stories from previous grant winners.

Dr Marie Goua, a lecturer in bioscience at the School of Pharmacy and Life Sciences, at Robert Gordon University, tells us more about the project:

“The Access To programme at Robert Gordon university in Aberdeen enables pupils from local schools, that are identified by the Local Authority as low attainment or progression schools, to be exposed to a university setting and to learn about different topics. It also helps them realise their potential for Higher Education. Although similar programmes have been successfully run in other subjects, 2014 was the 1st year for a STEM subject to be offered. The Diversity in Science Grant enabled us to cover the costs associated with the gene detection kits.

Access To Photo 1
Photo: Dr Marie Goua

18 S5-S6 pupils carried out a series of experiments to determine the toxicity of substances and analyse how the chemical structure of a substance determines its toxicity. Among the experiments they did, there was toxicity testing in plants, analysing sandwiches for nasty bacteria and examining how the bitter taste is governed by our genes by doing DNA extraction and PCR techniques. At the end of the programme, we asked them to write down how they felt about their experience, and here is a sample of what we got:

“A really enjoyable experience.”


“I enjoyed the experience of working in the lab and getting to use new equipment.”

“It has helped me understand how germs get into our foods and the effect on our bodies.”

“It has helped me decide exactly want I want to do at university.”

Photo: Dr Marie Goua
Photo: Dr Marie Goua

The pupils were brilliant and they surely kept us on our toes! It was fascinating to see them realise the various scientific careers available when studying biology, chemistry, pharmacy or nutrition. The end of course celebration with teachers, parents, guardians, senior management from the university showcased their commitment as the pupils demonstrated to the visitors the experiments they had done. They were great at answering questions and at making sure that the attendees were engaging, as one of the visitors said:

”I particularly loved the way that the school pupils relished access to doing experiments themselves, experiments working and the kit they were exposed to – as well as growing in confidence and making new friends. I left feeling very optimistic about the future of science and for public engagement in years to come – there were some real naturals there!”

We are now continuing with the programme, and have 31 pupils coming to our labs in September 2015. We would like to thank the Biochemical Society, alongside the Scottish Government, the School of Pharmacy & Life Sciences and the Study Skills and Access team at RGU for all their support!”

For more information about “Access To” at Robert Gordon University read the news article in the Press and Journal and view the full project report.

Apply now for one of this year’s Diversity in Science grants. The deadline is 30 September 2015.

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