The Young and The Curious

“What is a Phantom Limb?” The sensation that a missing limb is still attached.

Jul 19, 2019
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I learnt about it when I was 20 during a talk by Dr. V.S Ramachandran at the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR), Mumbai. An hour long lecture in the huge amphitheatre of TIFR- was one of the reasons why I wanted to join the world of biomedical sciences and research. 

Based on my experiences, I think it is essential to expose children to biological sciences at a young age. 

Begin at home!

Biology happens in front of you, when you boil an egg you are denaturing proteins or when you make yoghurt, you add your starter culture to milk and after 6 hours, then milk turns into yoghurt, biotechnology at home. 

At home, parents need to encourage children to record their observations and henceforth, ignite their curiosity. 

Continuing at educational institutes

School is a vital place to learn and interact with others. Like there are designated hours for extra curricular activities, teachers should set-up some time devoted to scientific thinking.

In Paris, I work with an amazing organization called Savanturiers- which runs educational programs with schools across France to adopt scientific thinking within the time frame of academic activities. Students undertake projects (in biological sciences or in other subjects) with researchers and their teachers. They find a problem that they would like to address (already wrote a blog about it). 

Generating an ambience to make young adults more and more intrigued about their surroundings, leads to a vicious circle of posing questions and searching for answers. 

C for competitions

Contests like Intel ISEF (Intel International Science and Engineering Fair) or iGEM (International Genetically Engineered Machine) are great ways of promoting scientific creativity at the school level to tackle health and environmental problems plaguing the planet. 

Consequently, leading to a scientifically and socially inclined world.

Sowing the seeds of reading

Frontiers for Young Minds is a journal dedicated to connecting the youth to the scientific world that covers a wide range of topics including health and neurosciences. 

I feel that it is an opportunity for the two sectors to mix, where students edit scientific documents. 

Furthermore, we should support the culture of reading books like Marie Curie (Little People, BIG DREAMS) or The Bacteria Book: The Big World of Really Tiny Microbes10, etc.

A perfect formula to trigger passion in biomedical sciences.  

Meeting the experts

Collaboration between the public, scientists and medical practitioners is indispensable to build an ecosystem where biology is available to all. 

Take for example, Skype A Scientist (I am on their list) is a really cool portal where teachers can search for scientists (including in the field of biomedical sciences) who talk to their students online. 

An interesting scientific project called Antibiotics Unearthed conceived by Microbiology Society, UK brought together high schoolers and scientists. They aimed to engage with people about the global crisis of antimicrobial resistance through a practical soil-based activity. 

Platforms like these not just spread knowledge, but also make students conscious people.

Funding scientific communication programs and exhibitions

Nevertheless, one should remember that scientists and medical professionals are hard-pressed on time and resources. Hence, it is desirable to join hands with governing bodies and local communities and through crowd-funding sustain scientific communication soapboxes. 

Exhibitions are also an exceptional way to promote learning. Microbiote - an exhibition set-up by Cite de Science, Paris is an excellent model to teach the general public the importance of a scientific discovery like the microbiota. 

Let’s not forget, technology! 

The current generation is accustomed to an ipad or a tablet from an early age. There are various websites proposing interactive games related to biological themes like Centre of the Cell or Ebug. This does not end here, we could integrate the dynamics of virtual reality like the game Guardians of the Genome to teach and inspire everyone.  

Thus, these are attractive tools for educating and entertaining students at the same time.  But if you want to limit their screen time, there are some old school options like board games

From my personal story, I still remember the first time my camarade helped me use a microscope. When you rotate the focus knob and suddenly you see the squished purple bacteria on the slide or as a PhD student, I saw phages (viruses that infect bacteria) using an electron microscope. 

Moments like these inspired me to work on an innovative project involving the development of vaccines using bacteria found in the gut. 

Thus, I feel that if we start from day 1, youngsters would become more motivated to take up biology in the future. As adults, we need to give them the means to make right and timely decisions in this world of “Fake News” and finally, imbibing the ideologies of biological sciences would make them socially conscious citizens of the future. 

Gayetri Ramachandran

Postdoctoral Researcher, Institut Imagine

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