Nerve Cell Derby – Attack of the Giant Nerve Cell

8 Oct

A few months ago I did a stand called ‘Nerve Cell Derby’ at the Manchester Science and Engineering Fair. Now, unless you really like paper mache, poster paints, and spending 3 months worth of evenings constructing models of giant neurones, I wouldn’t recommend trying this activity. It was, however, very fun and I’m quite proud of the 8 foot monstrosity so I thought I’d post it on here. 

My PhD is focused on researching motor proteins. These little guys spend their lives inside our cells, literally walking (they have tiny legs) along  microscopic tubes – imaginatively named microtubules. They grab hold of cargoes like organelles and other proteins and transport them to a different part of the cell.

The aim of this game was to guess which motor protein  would be the first to make it from the cell boy of a nerve cell to the axon. The motor proteins in question  were actually small toy cars cleverly disguised to look like a motor protein through the use of polystyrene balls and cocktail sticks. The school students won a chocolatey prize if they guessed correctly BUT had to listen to me or a fellow PhD student explain motor proteins first if they wanted to play.

The nerve cell was particularly difficult to transport. My friend helped me take it to the the fair in her Vauxhall Astra – the only way we could fit it on was to put the seats down and open the window. We must have looked pretty strange driving round Manchester city centre with half a giant nerve synapse hanging out of the front window.

At the end of the 3-day science fair there was no where to store the giant nerve cell so a care taker cut it into three pieces and put it in a skip. That was pretty gutting. Moral of the story; plan ahead and arrange storage if you ever decided to make an 8ft neurone.


One Response to “Nerve Cell Derby – Attack of the Giant Nerve Cell”


  1. Science and Engineering Fair « biofluff - February 7, 2012

    […] year I did a stand at the fair and I can vouch for the fact this fair is ace. There’s loads of sciencey stuff for the […]

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