National Science and Engineering Week – Invasion! Workshop

13 Mar

Captain Science Reporting for duty: Leading the White Blood Cells is a tough job but someone's got to do it. Photo by @Mark_K_Quinn

National Science and Engineering Week is in full swing and the Manchester Science Fair kicked off today. Nick Johnson (Follow him on twitter: @Nick_A_Johnson) and I have designed a workshop called Invasion! The main portion of the workshop revolves around a quiz game in which the group is split up into 4 teams; B-Cells, T-Cells, E.Coli and Flu Virus. A member of each team is nominated to play on a giant game board set out in the middle of the room. The aim is for the other members of the team to answer quiz questions by buzzing in. If they answer questions correctly the team earns points which allows their player to move around the board. The white blood cells (B and T-cells) are dressed up as soldiers in the game – defending the body. The pathogens wear brightly coloured wigs, obviously because if E.coli was 5 foot tall it would definitely have a green curly hair.

The E.coli outfit: This is an actual microscope image of an E.coli

The players move around the ‘blood stream’  whenever their team gets a question right. The E.coli, which start at the mouth are aiming to get to the gut to infect it. The Flu start at the nose and are aiming to infect the lungs.  The aim of the B-cells is to intercept the invaders with antibodies and the T-cells aim to kill them outright.  The full rules are in the power point (pdf) which you can download here or on the resources page. Based on the first two workshops Nick ran this morning the game works really well with the white blood cells ganging up together to drive the invaders back to the mouth/nose. We used laminated red paper and posters to make the game board, if you want to print some out yourself they can be downloaded from the resources page.

We use an icebreaker of Antigen vs. Antibody, which is basically rock paper scissors – if the White blood cell wins that represents an antibody recognising an antigen, if the pathogen wins that represents the pathogen evading the host defences. It’s just a quick game to get them up and moving – again, there’s a better description in the power point.

We finish the session with a ‘Modify my Microbe‘ exercise that Nick designed. It was a great way to finish of the session and involves the students customising a microbe of their choice – picking antigens, genomes and specialisations like flagella.

I’m really looking forward to the next couple of days delivering more of the sessions and having a go at playing Captain Science!

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