By Daniela Quaglia, Postdoctoral researcher at Université de Montréal
On the cold spring morning of the 23rd of March, we were warmed up by the arrival at Université de Montréal of a very enthusiastic group of students, our first for 2016, ready to experience a day in one of our research laboratories. Eleven students from the public school Lucien-Pagé were the third group to be invited to our activity Technology goes bio: enzymes to the rescue!
Our workshop consists in hosting a group of high school students at the University to give them a taste of what a day in the lab really looks like. It is a collaboration between the research group of Prof. Joelle Pelletier, the team of Prof. Alexis Vallée-Bélisle, the École de proteins (The Protein School) and PROTEO, the Québec Network of research on protein function, engineering and applications. It is made possible thanks to the hard work of a group of students belonging to the participating laboratories and Jean-Daniel Doucet (full-time manager of the École de protéins).
The day started with the usual engaging short presentation of the experiment by Jean-Daniel. One of our primary targets is to share our passion for the molecular biosciences with our young audience. For this reason, we chose to involve the students in an experiment they can easily relate to. In particular, we study the effect of the enzymes contained in a commercial laundry detergent on a fictional meatball stain, which is represented by a solution of the protein Bovine serum albumin (BSA). Will the enzyme chop away the stain? And under which conditions?
Soon after the presentation we were ready to move to the lab where the demonstrators handed in the protocols to the students, just as in a university undergraduate laboratory session.
It is always exciting to see how the students react when they are shown some of the equipment we use every day at work for the first time. The most loved item is (of course!) the pipette. Under the guidance of our capable demonstrators, the students, geared up with lab coats, goggles and gloves, pipetted solutions of fictional meatball stain from one tube to another, added the detergent to the samples and tested different digestion conditions at different temperatures. By doing so, without any of them realizing it, they learnt some important scientific concepts in a fun way. Such as, enzymatic digestion, the importance of a control during an experiment and how to be safe in a laboratory environment.
The experiment was a success! From our findings, we proved that the detergent is preferentially active at 25˚C, but also works at 4˚C. As expected, at 100˚C the enzyme completely loses its activity.
Another thing that the students were able to witness is that in the lab sometimes scientists need to wait. And to make good use of our workshop time, with the help of a second presentation, during dead-times we discussed with them what are the possible options for a career in the biosciences.
It was now time to say goodbye, but it would be better to say “till next time” because, thanks to the success of the first workshops, we are planning to re-propose the activity next year, with new experiments, more students, but the same great fun!
In addition to working in research I am a freelance science writer-communicator. You can follow me on twitter @Dny_q.
This workshop was funded with the assistance of the Biochemical Society.