Experimenting like the pros: The BioS student laboratory turns 20! Braunschweig: Current topics from biology and biomedicine prepared for school pupils
Pupils in Braunschweig can explore biotechnological phenomena door to door with real researchers. This is possible in the Biotechnologische Schülerlabor BioS (biotechnological student laboratory), which is operated on the Science Campus Braunschweig-Süd by the Helmholtz Centre for Infection Research (HZI) together with Technische Universität Braunschweig and the Leibniz Institute DSMZ-German Collection of Microorganisms and Cell Cultures GmbH. On 9 June 2022, the extracurricular place of learning celebrated its twentieth anniversary.
“We started with a single course. Today, schools can choose from 21 thematically different courses. We are always fully booked for many months in advance, because at many schools the excursion to the BioS student laboratory is firmly anchored in the curriculum,” recalls Professor Ralf-Rainer Mendel, one of the initiators of the student laboratory. Together with Professor Dirk Heinz, the Scientific Director of the HZI, he heads the supporting association “BioS – Biotechnologisches Schülerlabor Braunschweig e.V.”.
Over 31,000 pupils have visited the BioS in the past 20 years. Teachers, trainee teachers, and students also come for all-day courses and further training events. “Our equipment is state-of-the-art and our student laboratory conveys the authentic atmosphere of working on a science campus,” Professor Mendel continues.
Professor Angela Ittel, President of TU Braunschweig: “I would like to congratulate you on your anniversary. The student lab offers a particularly beautiful form of knowledge transfer – and even more: cooperation and consistency in progress – and thus the best form of getting young people excited about science.”
Prof. Dirk Heinz, Scientific Director of the HZI, says on the occasion of the twentieth anniversary: “The HZI is very proud to actively contribute to the pool of extracurricular offers through BioS. It was a conscious decision to house the student lab centrally in one of our research buildings in order to give school pupils a feel for active research and hopefully inspire them to study STEM subjects. The Corona pandemic brought a lot of media attention to infection research, and thus also to the HZI – perhaps an additional motivation?”
For pupils in grades 10 to 13
Examining your own DNA and discovering the Neanderthal in you – this offer is just as much a part of the programme of the student laboratory as the genetic analysis of food and working with microorganisms. Equipped with lab coats, protective goggles and the rules for safety in the laboratory, the pupils in grades 10 to 13 explore current biological issues.
Goals of the BioS
The aim of the BioS team is to awaken interest in scientific research and possibly in studying and later pursuing a career in the life sciences. The BioS is also committed to promoting general education. It takes up topics currently under discussion in biology or biomedicine, such as the skin cancer alert, the search for perpetrators with genetic fingerprints, or genetically modified crops. “Whether environment, health or nutrition – the results of the life sciences have a great influence on our everyday life. Insights into modern scientific ways of thinking and working are important in order to be able to assess the opportunities and risks in an unbiased and responsible manner,” says Professor Mendel.
Close cooperation with schools
Part of the BioS profile is close integration into everyday school life. All experiments contain aspects that are part of the Lower Saxony framework guidelines and can be integrated into the respective teaching context. Expectations and needs of a learning group can be met at the request of the teachers.
In view of the safety measures during the Corona pandemic, the BioS has developed a “student lab to go”. This allows pupils to carry out experiments at home.
Experienced teachers supervise the BioS and continuously ensure conceptual and organisational implementation and close cooperation with the schools. The Lower Saxony Ministry of Education and Cultural Affairs (Kultusministerium) supports the BioS by providing three teaching positions. The HZI provides the premises and a technical assistant. TU Braunschweig and the Leibniz Institute DSMZ take over the annual budget, which is used to finance consumables, new equipment or repairs if necessary. Further funding through membership of the association or donations is very welcome.