Science Interviews

Interview

Sun, 16th Mar 2008

Festival Highlights - Biology Zone

Meera Senthilingam

Listen Now    Download as mp3 from the show Cambridge Science Festival Highlights

Kat - Now itís time to hear some highlights from Science Saturday. We sent Meera Senthilingam off to roam around the hands-on activities in the Biology Zones, right in the centre of Cambridge. And hereís what she found.

Meera - Iíve come along to the Pathology Department on the Downing Site and Iím here with Christine Watson who works here in Pathology. Hello Christine.

Christine - Hello.

Meera - What have you got going on in your section?

A glass of milkChristine - Well, this morning weíre showing people how cells make milk. Weíre very interested in the mammary gland and how that goes wrong in cancer. In order to do that we need to understand normal mammary function. Today we have an exhibit on breast cells and how they make milk. Weíve lots of interactive exhibits for the kids to look at different animals and how much milk they might make and to look at all of the things in milk: the fats, the proteins and sugars Ė all of these things.

Meera - How are you displaying this, how is it interactive?

Christine - Weíve lots of posters and we have guess how much milk? Weíve a Meccanoģ fats machine here so the kids can put balls in the machine and study how we separate cells to determine the different functions.

Meera - So you have everyone guess how much milk these animals make but I can actually see some milk and cheese down the end there. Whatís that for?

Christine - We thought it would be really exciting for people to taste different sorts of milk and realise how the flavour is actually made. Some animals make a lot of fat in the milk, some have much more sugar and so we have milk to try here. Weíve goatís milk and cowís milk and we even have milk from a plant: soya milk which some people drink because they donít like animal milk. Thereís lots of things to try and taste.

Meera - What are you hoping theyíll walk away with having come to this section?

Christine - I hope theyíll go away with an understanding of how exciting it is to study science and also to have some idea of how the mammary gland makes milk. Lots of people donít understand how cells make milk.

Meera - How do cells make milk?

Christine - Ah, well during pregnancy very special cells called alveolar cells grow. They make protein and lipid and secrete that into the ducts in the gland. If an infant suckles at the teat they can actually withdraw that milk. These cells all die at the end of lactation when theyíre not needed any more.

Meera - Is it these cells that go wrong in cancer or is it a variety of cells?

Christine - Itís usually these cells that go wrong. If they donít die properly then women can get cancer. In fact, dogs and other animals can get cancer too. Weíre really very interested in finding out how we can kill these cells if they go wrong.

Meera - So, Iíve wondered over to the New Museums Site and Iím here with festival patron, Carol Vorderman. Hello, Carol.

Carol - Hello.

Meera - So what have you been doing this morning?

DNACarol - Well, I was over near Plant Sciences earlier on and seeing lots of people dressed up as bees and then getting lost in a very large yellow flower. Then I was getting my DNA extracted, shaken up in a test tube along with various chemicals.

Meera - Were you able to take it home with you?

Carol - Yes, you are. You can make it into a little necklace: your own test tube. How fantastic is that? Then I went to see the lecture about the science of Dr Who. Which was, OH MAN itís real!

Meera - Iíve come over to the Biology Zone and itís really busy. There are hundred of people queuing outside just to come in. Thereís a whole variety of activities going on. Over in the distance I can see children bashing a machine of some form with quite a lot of force. Iím just going to see what that activityís about. Itís the neurone section and Iím here with Isobel whoís organising this particular area. Hello Isobel.

Isobel - Hello.

Meera - Why are children bashing that machine over there?

Isobel - Actually, theyíre trying to get their motor-coordination as better as they can so theyíre pressing one button to the next one for 45 seconds. Weíre just recording how much they do. Weíre using these tests in the clinic. These are used in the diagnostic for patients with Parkinsonís disease or Huntingtonís disease.

Meera - What else have you got going on in this section?

Isobel - Actually, in this section we have building a brain in Playdoh. We try to sensitise people to what is brain science. The idea is to sensitise kids to how complex the brain can be by making them make a brain in ten steps.

An animated brain showing different lobesMeera - So the personís thatís actually created the build-a-brain section is Dr Lizzie Burns from the University of Oxford. Hello Lizzie.

Lizzie - Hello.

Meera - Whatís that section all about?

Lizzie - The idea is to inspire and engage people with the brain which is the most fascinating organ in the body. Itís really what makes us who we are. Itís everything we experience is happening, all our memories. Itís extraordinary to think the strange wrinkled thing is responsible for all those feelings. Itís also about trying to appreciate how beautiful it is. The real thing doesnít look very beautiful, it has to be said but it is beautiful in terms of what it does. People are actually able to find out about whatís inside their brain. Thereís loads of things in there as well: what each part does, what would happen if one of those parts wasnít working as well, what effect that would have on the person. Iíve actually run this sort of workshop for very young children who love it all the way up to leading neuroscientists in their field and theyíve loved it too. Everyone turns into an instant child, itís wonderful.

Mera - Iíve come over to the brain section and Iím here with Sam whoís currently in the middle of making a brain. Hello Sam.

Sam - Hello.

Meera - So what have you been doing here?

Sam - Iíve been making a brain. Thereís this instruction thing and it tells you all the parts of the brain and you have to make them in a certain order and each oneís a different colour.

Meera - Which stage are you at now?

Sam - Iím on the last stage.

Meera - Ok, so your brainís nearly there. Actually I can see it. Itís very impressive. What have you learned new today?

Sam - Iíve learned which part controls which bit. The front part which Iím making now controls the personality; the top part controls the movement and touch; sides control vision; and the stem controls your breathing and the heart.

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