This summer Dianne Newbury’s lab welcomed a group of ten sixth-formers for a week of work experience. Here Katherine Ferris (Aylesbury High School) and Jonny Hughes (Churchill Academy) write about their experience. All illustrations were created by the students from the images of their gels.
Over the course of the week, we had the opportunity to try out new laboratory techniques and to explore various aspects of the work being done at the centre. On the first day, after an introductory talk, we began to process our DNA sample that would form the basis of our lab work for the rest of week. We gave a saliva sample, then extracted our DNA from it that we would use to run our first gel the following day. In the afternoon, we were shown around the bioinformatics side of the centre and were very impressed by the scale of the machines, particularly the noise that they generated!
On the second day, we began by using a Nanodrop machine to determine the concentration of the DNA in our samples before running a gel to check the quality of the DNA. This involved the process of gel electrophoresis. We then diluted the samples to a standard concentration, ready for use in PCR the next day. After that, we had a talk from Dr Charvy Narain about her exciting career path following a science-based degree that gave us a good insight into the wide variety of opportunities available within the scientific community that are not necessarily in a research role. We finished the day with a talk from Brian Mackenwells on his role as a Public Engagement officer and the importance of this to the research facility. This was particularly interesting as it showed us a side of research that we had never considered before.
Day 3 introduced us to another new technique known as PCR. The number of reactants required a lot of concentration, but we were very excited to see the results on a second gel, and of course we enjoyed the opportunity to continue to play with the incredibly accurate pipettes. We also had a talk from Dr Cath Green who was very enthusiastic about her work in chromosome dynamics. She explained some of her current projects and left us equally enthusiastic. That afternoon we visited the transgenic labs where Dr Ben Davis told us about his work with mouse models and showed us a brilliant microscope that is used for microinjections. It was amazing to be given the chance to use the equipment and the infrared ray, complete with sound effects, created a lot of excitement.
When we came in on Day 4, Dianne had very kindly run a second PCR ready for us, which we used to generate a better image of our DNA. After this, we carried out restriction digestion reactions on the DNA samples to fragment them and create a more interesting image on the gel. We then used the computers to identify the genes present in our DNA samples, and this was fascinating as we were able to see the enormous volume of information known about each of them. Later in the day Dr Sergi Padilla showed us the array of microscopes used in the centre, and we also visited the British Heart Foundation’s laboratory and were introduced to some of the work being done there.
On the last day, we used our original PCR fragments and the ones produced by the digestion reactions, plus our original genomic DNA to run a final gel. We also had two more talks, one on the use of proteins in diagnosing and treating disease, and one on next-generation sequencing, both of which introduced us to further areas of research. Then we were given a tour of the high throughput sequencing lab and we were enthralled by the machines that could pipette 96 samples in the time we had spent on one! After that, we edited the images of our gels to create a range of arty representations before we had to hang up our lab coats for the last time. It was a fantastic week that gave us all a very valuable insight into the opportunities afforded by a career in research. Thank you so much to Dianne and to everyone else who made this week possible.