CBR Blood Labs Outreach Program: Sparking Curiosity

By Anna Sinova and Amarpreet Grewal

The Centre for Blood Research is actively engaged in outreach activities with high school students to broaden their scope of knowledge and provide them with some insight into the life of a scientist.

CBR Members developing Blood Labs in January 2016.

The CBR’s program Blood Labs combines outreach, teaching and science communication – all into one neat package. In this program, CBR members go to high schools in the Lower Mainland to perform hands-on labs tailored to science classes. Currently, the CBR Blood Labs offers 4 labs: “Edible Blood Clots”, “DNA from Strawberries”, “Murder Mystery”, and “Spread of Disease”. The labs were all developed in-house by the CBR graduate students and postdocs, who have a passion for science communication and teaching. Each lab highlights a different aspect of blood science and provides a platform for the presenters to share their research and career paths.

Since last fall, the program has made over two dozen class presentations and the teachers were eager for more fun ideas. Hands-on labs are always appreciated by students and teachers, as they get to piece their knowledge together and form ‘big picture’ ideas about important topics, such as health, medicine, science and forensics.

During the Edible Blood Clots lab, high school students make fake blood clots to mimic what naturally happens in our blood vessels. “The best part of this activity is that the clots formed are similar to jello and are edible, which is both gross and fun!” – said the CBR graduate student after doing the lab. The teachers much appreciate how this experiment easily relates to real life, such as in cooking and in medicine.

The DNA from Strawberries lab shows youth how to isolate DNA using basic chemistry and household products, such as detergent and alcohol. It then engages them in a discussion about DNA and its role in the human body. “The best thing about this lab is that it makes DNA very concrete – the students are excited to be able to see, poke, and take pictures of actual DNA” – said one of the presenters. The teachers also enjoyed having a class discussion with a working scientist, providing more in-depth expertise on applications of DNA extraction.

The Murder Mystery lab turns every student into a police investigator, where they catch a murder suspect by using blood typing techniques. The lab highlights the importance of blood typing not only in the police force, but also in saving people’s lives with transfusion medicine. The teachers told the CBR team that they appreciated how much rich information was taught in a span of one hour, and how it easily segued into a discussion of potential careers.

The Spread of Disease is a highly active lab that models how infectious diseases are transmitted. “Kids love that they get to run around during this activity. But the most surprising part is they get excited when they find out they were infected, as their test tube changes colors.” – commented the CBR presenter. Teachers thought the lab served as a good introduction to the immune system, and liked using the hands-on experiments to introduce concepts like herd immunity and vaccination.

Our presenters find this opportunity very rewarding as well. A few comments about the program:

  • “My favorite part about the Blood Labs is engaging the kids on topics that are relevant to daily life but also form fundamental parts of our research.” – commented Stefanie N.
  • “I think it’s important to teach people that science is more than just a bunch of facts in books, and it’s rewarding to be able to show youth the kinds of experiments that we do in a real lab.” – said Kate S-H.

We are always looking for new members: whether to develop new labs or to present. If you want to join, email anna.sinova@ubc.ca.

If you want to have CBR Blood Labs visit your classroom, please sign up here.