DIY DNA extraction, Royal Society, and maps.

The Royal Institution has a laboratory facility for children in their basement, designed for schools to bring their children along to get on with some serious science. This evening they had a members’ event, Science live @ the L’Oreal Young Scientist Centre, to give an idea of what these school groups can get up to.

I went along with my thirteen-year-old daughter. I thought we might have to walk from Victoria Station as there was a tube strike, it’s quite a pleasant walk past Buckingham Palace and across Green Park, but the Victoria Line was mostly running and we used that and got there somewhat early; unfortunately the café wasn’t serving, so we had a look at some of the museum exhibits while we waited.

Having donned white coat and purple gloves we then spent over an hour extracting our DNA from some cheek cells using surfactants and alcohol, Pasteur pipettes and micro pipettes. I was too successful, in that I produced such a big glob of DNA in the test-tube that it wouldn’t fit up the nozzle of the micropipette so I’ve had to make do with some smaller bits which have subsequently coagulated into a lump. We were taken through the different stages, each of which were explained, by David Porter, the Manager of the Centre.

We both now have a small vial, each containing some alcohol and our DNA – the globs on the left are my DNA. My daughter DNAwould like it if she were able to do such interesting science lessons at school; she’s also thinking that it will be useful for arresting police officers if there’s a DNA sample ready prepared in a necklace. She often gets philosophical about the nature of self and so on, and on the train home she was ruminating on the fact that the small blob in the vial was her, containing the program which produced her.

The Royal Institution, the Royal Society, and the British Science Association all provide events for schools, but unfortunately in my experience the school my children attend doesn’t take advantage of any of them. It’s a shame that generally science isn’t more exciting in schools.

Next week (14-19th September) is the British Science Festival, this year based in Aston University’s campus at Birmingham. Last year I had the pleasure of it’s being hosted at Seeing FurtherSurrey University, twenty minutes drive from home, so I managed to get to lots of events, including talks by Jim al-Khalili (many will know him from Radio 4’s In Our Time, and he’s usually wheeled out when the BBC need science comment in their news coverage) and Bill Bryson. There were lots of activities for children, too.

Bill Bryson edited the book published to celebrate the Royal Society’s 350th anniversary, and it’s slowly approaching the top of my pile of books I’m going to read. On Monday I took my eldest daughter to London for the day, and in the morning we went to the Royal Society’s 350 Years of Science exhibition. It runs until November 19th, and it requires prebooking onto a tour, although when my daughter and I went we were the only people on out tour, which was nice as there’s a variety of documents, artefacts, pictures, and books, and we were able to look at our own pace. Well worth doing.

Magnificent MapsWe spent the afternoon at the British Library’s exhibition Magnificent Maps: Power, Propaganda and Art. This has an amazing selection of maps, ranging from 200 AD through to the present, including Grayson Perry’s Map of Nowhere, a mappa mundi for today, and the book that goes with the exhibition is excellent too, although it can’t do justice to maps that are several metres across. Unfortunately the exhibition is nearly over, it runs until September 19th.

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