© Steven Pocock/Wellcome
The first school groups are learning about science within one of the world's leading biomedical laboratories.
Groups of Year 5 pupils from primary schools in the London borough of Camden are coming to the Francis Crick Institute to spend a day in a new space just for them.
The pupils aged 9 and 10 do a range of science activities with staff from the Crick's education team. They create giant bubble eruptions, use chemistry to identify mystery powders and build electronic circuits that launch spinning discs high into the air.
These activities all take place in the Weston Discovery Lab, a dedicated laboratory for schools that has just opened within the new Francis Crick Institute building opposite St Pancras International station. The Weston Discovery Lab has been named in recognition of the Garfield Weston Foundation, who generously supported the construction of the Francis Crick Institute.
Netley Primary School in Camden was one of the first groups to use the Weston Discovery Lab. "It's marvellous. Today has been really fantastic," said Kim Abraham, the teacher of Class 5KA. "There's not been a single moment when they haven't been fully engaged. They are loving it. It's something they can't get experience of at school."
"It's been really fun," said Majeed Mohammed, aged 10. "It's for fun but also for education. The best bit was when I tried to find out if the glucose was soluble or not soluble."
Freddy Leake, aged 10, explained: "We've been doing experiments, trying to see which powder of five powders was cornflour."
Each week of the school year, staff from the Crick's education team will work with a different primary school in Camden. As well as hosting a Year 5 group in the Crick's Weston Discovery Lab, there will be sessions for years 1 to 4 and year 6 at the school. These can involve workshops, equipment loans, competitions with prizes and after-school workshops for parents.
Sir Paul Nurse, director of the Francis Crick Institute, says: "We want to enthuse the next generation of scientists, to build excitement in the possibilities of future developments and the discoveries that can be made. Working with schools where we're based in Camden has long been part of the plan for the Crick. What's really important is that we're inviting school students right inside a world-leading biomedical institute at the forefront of research."
The Francis Crick Institute's building in St Pancras was completed in August 2016 and over 1000 scientists have now moved in and are working in the purpose-built laboratories. Their research aims to discover how and why disease develops in order to find new ways to prevent, diagnose and treat conditions such as cancer, heart disease and stroke, infections and neurodegenerative conditions like motor neurone disease.
The Crick's education programme aims to reach every child at a state school in Camden each year of their school education. That's over 20,000 children a year from a wide variety of different primary and secondary schools - from affluent areas of Camden and from disadvantaged areas, schools that work with children with special needs or disabilities, and those with children who have been excluded.
"We're not reaching everyone yet. In fact, we've a long way to go," says Katie Matthews, Director of Public Engagement at the Francis Crick Institute. "But last academic year, even before we had our lovely new building, we reached 8,000 students. Now we have this fantastic space in the Weston Discovery Lab we can do so much more."
The Crick's programme with Camden schools is designed to encourage young people to consider careers in science, technology, engineering and medicine; to support teachers with material that is linked to the school curriculum and extend it; and to boost science awareness and literacy generally.
"In terms of approach, there's no one else to our knowledge that is seeking to engage and enthuse cohorts of children quite like this," says Clare Davy, Education Manager at the Francis Crick Institute.
She says: "Other places will provide science sessions for whoever wants to come from wherever they are based. But that's often teachers, children and schools that are already motivated, already doing a lot of school visits. We want to provide a great science offer for all children in all the schools immediately around us, and then see them repeatedly, year after year, all 11 years of their school careers. It's for them, in their community.
"We would like students to get to know us in the Crick, perhaps meet some of our scientists - who knows, perhaps they'll be studying or working here one day."