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Students worked with volunteers from Horizon Discovery to complete several hands-on activities.

Students use DNA to determine killer at Horizon Discovery.

This year’s Cambridge LaunchPad Innovators programme started with a bang when Year 10 students from Bottisham Village College, Netherhall School and Swavesey Village College joined together at Horizon Discovery to solve a murder. Students were welcomed onto the Cambridge Research Park, where they participated in several interactive activities and learned about some of the career and education pathways into the life sciences.

During the day students tried their hands at a number of techniques that are used daily by members of staff at Horizon Discovery. Teams from each school were given a sample from the crime scene and tasked to run this through several procedures before analysing the result. First the students extracted the DNA from their sample before mixing this solution with the CRISPR Cas9 enzyme, which in the presence of a certain base pair sequence, cuts the double helix structure. This sample was then amplified using PCR and run over agarose gel to see which of the accused twins should be convicted.

Laura Carleton PhD, Scientific Liaison & Trainer at Horizon Discovery, said:

“We had a great project day at Horizon with our Cambridge LaunchPad schools. These fantastic students helped solve a seriously sticky office crime and provoked our imagination with some truly innovative gene engineering presentations. It is so important to get involved in STEM and outreach, it is an amazing opportunity and gift to the students and to everyone who gets involved.”

Whilst the students were waiting for their results to process, they were given a virtual tour of the Horizon labs and had the opportunity to meet several employees with life science degrees who are currently working in a non-lab based role. These ambassadors explained how a variety of different pathways can lead to a career in STEM and spoke in detail about their roles within the company.

Year 10 students from The Netherhall School, enjoyed the chance to get hands-on within the industry.

“It was an experience that I will never forget and can help me with my decision for my future. I have a lot of fun because I did something new and the volunteers were really helpful and nice.”

Josh Bailey, Science Teacher at Bottisham Village College, said:

“It’s been a great opportunity for students to apply their learning in school to an actual situation. They have all enjoyed the day, learning new science, getting to present their ideas and having discussions on careers with staff at Horizon.”

To apply for this year’s project day, students were tasked to pitch an idea about how gene editing could help solve problems in everyday life. During the day each team demonstrated their communication skills by presenting their project to the wider group and seeing who would invest. Some of the ideas included, plastic eating coral, algae that can break down plastics, fire retardant trees, human regeneration, fear blockers and even the ‘FLOTATO’ – A floating potato plant for areas of the world that suffered from flooding.

Over the course of the day students were observed on their participation, problem solving and teamwork. They were also marked on their presentation skills and how well they communicated with both peers and ambassadors. Congratulations to our winning team, Swavesey Village College who will join Cambridge Launchpad for a prize trip at the end of the academic year.

Molly Askham, STEM Outreach Co-ordinator from Form the Future CIC, said

“The team at Horizon really went all out to set the scene for today’s project day! By giving the students a real-life setting to the science they were using, it helped to get them engaged in the task and allowed them to think about how what they learn at school is applied to the real world.”

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