active learning, Biology, coding, DNA, education, outreach, PEDAGOGY, science, teaching, University of Sussex

Ever wonder how to decode DNA? Learn how with our hands-on puzzle.

2 DNA 14-19 yr olds

We built a hands-on puzzle to allow students to explore how the genetic information stored within DNA is decoded by the body. In two weeks a small team will be taking this to the South of England BIG BANG STEM festival to help 12-18 year-olds and their teachers explore this for themselves.

This is a repeat activity for us at the School of Life Sciences, University of Sussex. Each year the team changes and new staff and students encounter public engagement for the first time. It is always fun for us and the participants and everyone learns from it.

What are the secrets of a successful outreach experience? I recommend the following:

  • Go as a team.
  • For hands-on activities with 100’s of visitors it is more effective to work as a team.
  • Harness enthusiasm.
  • One person needs to start it going, but hopefully the team will sustain this.
  • Obtain funding. Relatively small amounts will help if you want a display or hands-on activity.
  • Offer your services to an existing Science Event – they know their audience and have event management experience. Try our local STEM network – you can become a stem ambassador and access advice, pre-designed activities and insurance. Plan your content several months in advance with your team. Expensive research equipment will be of little use to you – don’t even rely on having wi-fi available on the day. I suggest identifying between one and three key concepts that you want to get across and then get inventive. Test your ideas and get feedback from nearby non-scientists.
  • Finally, hold a final planning meeting at least a week in advance and have detailed lists of responsibilities and a time schedule finalized.
  • Be flexible. After all this detailed planning you will need to be prepared to be flexible on the day, things will go off-schedule and you will have to adapt as you go. If possible have one team member available as a runner to deal with the unexpected glitches.

After the event discuss the feedback with your team, plan any changes for the next time you run it and book in for the following year – once you have experienced public engagement activities you will want more!

DNA detectives will be presenting at the BigBang South East Festival on 27th June 2019.


Professor Alison Sinclair’s profile page

Sinclair Lab website


active learning, Biology, coding, education, outreach, research, science, The Royal Society for Biology, University of Sussex

Taking Science To The Public Is Addictive –DNA detectives at the 2018 Brighton Science Festival

My interest in science was fed by occasional documentaries and the hands-on activities at The Science Museum and Natural History museum. Accessible information is now available on every platform, but where do the the youth of Sussex get to join in with hands-on activities?

The Brighton Science Festival

Just under three weeks to go until the Bright Sparks weekend provides hands-on activities at the Brighton Science Festival. And we get to join in! The DNA Detectives – a group of researchers, students and faculty from the University of Sussex School of Life Sciences will be extracting DNA from strawberries and making models of viruses with 100’s of young people.

Thank you to The Royal Society for Biology for sponsorship.

Thank you to researchers, students and faculty for their time.

Thank you to Brighton Science festival for giving us the opportunity to have fun undertaking this important outreach.


active learning, Biology, coding, DNA, education, microbiology, outreach, science, teaching, University of Sussex

Short Burst Activities in Lectures Part 2. viral genomes code for the information required to make a virus

Short Burst Activities – part 2.

My teaching philosophy is that the most effective teaching fosters an active participation in learning and in my roles as a University professor and as a leader of outreach activities I consider myself primarily as a learning facilitator.

A worked example makes it easier for others to understand how readily this can be achieved and so I am compiling a series of ‘how to’ guides for ‘Short Burst Activities’ within lecture theatre teaching teaching of Bio-Sciences. Some are very specific but others could be readily adapted to other topics. I would be grateful for feedback and if you would like me to add your activities to the blog, or add a link to them please contact me.

Part 2. Viral genomes code for the information required to make a virus

LO: to illustrate that the important component of a virus is its genome. 


In advance bring balloons with a s strip of paper with either a genome printed (NCBI genome database) or a sentance   e.g. ‘information required to make Herpes Simplex virus’. Inflate the balloons a tie the end

  • Release the balloons into the class and let them bounce them around (1 minute)
  • Ask them to stop and hold a balloon if it is near them.
  • Ask one person to burst the balloon (nails or a pen should work) and ask them to call out what is inside (2 minutes)

Discuss the balloon being the delivery mechanism for viruses to get from one cell (or organism) to the next and the viral genome being the instructions to make a new virus.


Different colour and shape balloons (with different information on the paper slips) can be used to illustrate the variety of viruses.


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