Italian school students experience life in the lab

Isabelle Bergiers (Postdoctoral Researcher), Andrea Totaro (Student) and Christophe Lancrin (Group Leader) post for a group photo.
Isabelle Bergiers (Postdoctoral Researcher), Andrea Totaro (Student) and Christophe Lancrin (Group Leader). PHOTO: Dm Communication/EMBL

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Following the first ‘Summer in Science’ summer school in Italy, school student Andrea Totaro and EMBL group leader Christophe Lancrin reflect on their experiences

The ‘Summer in Science’ summer school brought 20 school students from all over Italy together with life science researchers from EMBL, CNR and Sapienza University in Rome. From June 12-23, students experienced what life working in a research laboratory is like. The first week of the programme consisted of intense laboratory training held at the teaching labs and seminar rooms at the CNR campus in Monterotondo operated by Adamas Scienza educators. During the second week, students worked together with scientists in the lab conducting their own experiments. ‘Summer in Science’ has been organised by Adamas Scienza, EMBL, and supported by the Amgen Foundation.

Christophe Lancrin:

“Isabelle Bergiers, a postdoctoral researcher in my group, taught Andrea how to trigger the differentiation of stem cells into different types of blood cells by turning on and off specific genetic switches (called ‘transcription factors’). More generally, we showed him how scientists plan their experiments, how to access databases and read scientific articles. We gave him a general overview of the research in my group. Interestingly, Andrea reported that we completely changed his opinion on the work in a lab: he said he was expecting scientists to do experiments in the lab the whole day, but he quickly realised that most of the work is actually about designing experiments and interpreting the results, which mostly happens behind a computer. His comment was enlightening because it gave us a glimpse of what people outside of the world of science may think about our work. One piece of advice I gave him during the programme was not to be ashamed of what he does not know ­­– ignorance is what drives scientists to make discoveries. We need to be aware of what we don’t know so we can take the necessary steps to fill the gaps in our knowledge. Overall, it was a great experience for us and a wonderful opportunity to pass on our love of science to the potential scientists of tomorrow. We are already looking forward to the next edition!”

It was a completely new way of exploring the world of science

Andrea Totaro:

“During the two weeks of the summer camp I learned a lot about science in general, and specifically how to carry out research experiments. Before this experience I thought that scientists were sitting in the lab all day, just doing one experiment after the other. Now I know that lab work is just a little part of their day-to-day work: most of it is about planning experiments, analysing the results and planning for the next ones by drawing conclusions from the finished experiments. Working in the lab changed my opinion in a positive way: it was a completely new way of entering and exploring the world of science that will definitely influence my future career plans. I recommend the course to everyone! These two weeks were also a lot fun and also highlighted the power of incentives – at the beginning of the camp a tutor asked us to solve a geometry problem: we struggled with it for a full week, until we were offered chocolate to solve it and it was done in one day!”

We are looking forward to the next edition!

“The summer camp was a complete success,” Rossana de Lorenzi and Tommaso Nastasi, the founders of Adamas Scienza, explain. “We hope to be able to make it a regular meeting between high school students and the EMBL scientists.”