Well, hello Dolly ..

31st October 2008 at 00:00
Model of the cloned sheep is on show as one of the interactive exhibitions engaging pupils in science. Su Clark reports

Most of the students at the Sci-Fun Roadshow at Liberton High were only six or seven when Dolly the Sheep died. Yet all of them recognise her picture instantly.

Many know she was a clone, but fewer understand cloning as the start of stem-cell research or that Dolly was the only lamb which survived to adulthood from 277 attempts.

Behind the students, among the 40 interactive exhibitions on a variety of topics, sits a model of Dolly, looking more like a Telly Tubby than the experiment that confirmed Edinburgh's place at the cutting edge of stem-cell research. In her middle is a screen showing the slow process of injecting a cell into an egg. When it comes time to engage with the exhibits, students stand around, captivated by the ghostly image.

Dolly is just one interactive within a section dedicated to the controversial study of stem cells in Edinburgh University's much-loved Sci-Fun Roadshow. By the end of November, there will be 12 exhibits promoting the research, and over the next few months, 10 schools will see them.

It is an odd time to be adding to the long-established roadshow. Its budget was cut last year by the university and government, and for the past few months it has been gathering dust, rather than engaging and exhorting school children to consider science as a career. It has been taken out of storage only a fraction of times compared to previous years and only to those schools which can afford the Pounds 800 cost.

"With funding, we were able to pay Pounds 500 of the cost, so it was affordable for state schools," says Donna Dalgetty, a post-doctoral scientist with the university's new Medical Research Council Centre for Regenerative Medicine and part-time education officer for the roadshow. "It is a fantastic experience for students, as it shows them the practical application of the science they study in school."

A former pupil of Liberton High, Dr Dalgetty is impassioned about giving all children access to science and its potential career opportunities early on, so they are encouraged to take it as an option. She is determined to keep Sci-Fun on the road and was instrumental in getting funding from a different source - her own department, which willingly provided cash as part of its publicity.

The centre opens officially next month. Sponsored by the Medical Research Council, which has a remit to engage the community, and headed by Ian Wilmut, who led the team that created Dolly, it is keen to publicise its research.

Its funding has allowed Sci-Fun to add exhibits on stem-cell research and pay for it to visit 10 schools over the session. Dr Dalgetty is confident the positive feedback from schools will lever more longer-term funding. "Stem-cell research is part of the new curriculum and Sci-Fun gives schools a perfect opportunity to investigate it in a fun and engaging way," she says. "But we have made sure it covers all areas of general science, so that it is relevant to schools.

"We will get more funding. And we will take it to other schools, because the stakeholders see how crucial it is to engage young people if we are to continue the work the centre does. The university has a remit for widening participation, which Sci-Fun helps deliver."

During the visit, four sessions are held for S2; two in the morning, two in the afternoon. Each consists of a talk on stem-cell research and another about a general area of science. Sandwiched between them is a chance for pupils to interact with the exhibits, all of which are managed by peer educators from the senior school.

"It covers general science and it has talks tailored to cover what you want," says Graham Crawford, principal teacher of science. The pupils were also given talks on careers in science and another on the senses. "It helps to create a real buzz about science."

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