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Research to recycling – Science Oxford takes students to the heart of STEM businesses for work experience week

Wednesday 11th April 2018

 “We saw heart cells beating in a culture flask and learnt how our skin cells can be turned into stem cells in order to diagnose disease.” Our STEM Experience Week in March was a great success with secondary school students from three schools across Oxfordshire. Rebecca Philp, Science Oxford’s STEM Projects Officer, reports.

Twenty year 10 secondary school students from Icknield Community College in Watlington, Mathew Arnold School in Oxford and Wood Green School in Witney took part in our STEM Experience Week, which gives young people the chance to experience what life is like working in a STEM career and explore the cutting edge technology, research and facilities of local STEM companies.

Our week kicked off with ice-breaker activities, as everyone joined in with fun puzzles and games such as ‘Escape the Room’.

On Monday, we headed to MRC Harwell (near Didcot) to find out how mouse genetics help researchers to find cures for diseases such as cancer and dementia. We visited the laboratories and used simple lab protocols to diagnose Huntington’s in a family from their DNA samples.

Pipette Practising

I really enjoyed the experiment we did DNA testing for disease with equipment I had never used before however the tour round the Mary Lyon centre to see the mice labs was very interesting.” Caitlin


Viridor (in Ardley near Bicester) was our destination on Tuesday morning. Viridor is a recycling, renewable energy and waste management company and turns all of the rubbish from homes and businesses in Oxfordshire into electricity to power 330,000 homes, rather than generating landfill.

I really enjoyed the tour around the Viridor site because it was interesting to see the machinery that converts waste into electricity and how every part of the waste is used.” Ben


That afternoon we visited the rapidly expanding Oxford Nanopore in the Oxford Science Park. We viewed their labs and classified sequencing machines, before using their amazing portable DNA sequencer to sequence a genome.

“The tour was mind blowing through the nano-technological labs in which we ourselves used their star product (the MinION) in an experiment to identify and sequence a bacterial genome.” Tynan

Wednesday was very busy. We visited the Oxford University Department of Engineering in the morning and made key chains to take home followed by a talk from Cancer Research UK.

On Thursday, the group visited the Dunn School of Pathology to learn more about and actually witness the ground-breaking research in stem cells that researchers there undertake. We saw heart cells beating in a culture flask and learnt how our skin cells can be turned into stem cells in order to diagnose disease. In the afternoon, we visited the Oxford University Physics Department for a mind-blowing talk on quantum physics and liquid nitrogen demonstration.

“I loved the observation of heart cells created from induced pluripotent stem cells which were created from the skin of patients. All of the sessions though were very informative and interesting.” Leah


Finally, on Friday we visited Thames Water to see how our sewage is turned back into drinking water and as our energy was ebbing, we visited Vertex Pharmaceuticals. Vertex develops drugs to treat serious diseases such as cystic fibrosis and we explored their incredible facilities and heard from a range of staff about their careers.

“The visit was extremely enjoyable and informative but I especially enjoyed seeing how new drugs are designed with computers before testing them in the lab.” CJ

Feedback from all the students who took part was excellent and they would highly recommend the STEM Experience Week to others. This quote by Angus sums up the week:

“The STEM week I thought at first was a sequence of educational trips to different companies and scientific departments of Oxford University. But this trip was far more than that. I was tested in my scientific knowledge ruthlessly and taught by employees about how A levels could influence my career potential.”

Find out more about our STEM work experience programmes for secondary schools, or check out our STEM Horizons database of individuals and regional businesses. If your business would like to get in touch about our work experience programme, please email [email protected].


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