Sunday, 22 June 2014

Towards a Life Sciences Fab Lab at the UTC

The Fab Foundation, formed in the USA, early in 2009 aims to promote the growth of an international network of labs to educate, innovate and invent, using technology and digital fabrication thereby allowing anyone to make (almost) anything. The overarching aim being to improve lives and livelihoods around the world indirectly. At the Life Sciences UTC in Liverpool, we have embraced this concept through the integration of 3D printing and Molecular Life Science Research into our Innovation Lab programme. You will have seen in earlier Blog posts describing the ways in which students at Y12 are developing equipment to drive our experimental programmes, we are now aiming to adopt the Fab-Lab approach as a major component of our Y13 project programme. (Each project will be described in details in a subsequent post, but here are a few tasters in advance).

Understanding the evolution of ruminant physiology through gross anatomy and Bioinformatics, is a project that will combine anatomical observation with dissection of abattoir specimens of stomachs of sheep and cattle. The ruminant story allows us to explore the symbiotic relationship between ruminant microbiomes and ruminant Biology against the backdrop of genomics on these an related organisms. And we will "print" the ruminant stomachs (from polymers!) using 3D images, in order to support the study of this unusual mammalian organ.  The object of the research is to address the relationship between the microbial population and ruminant proteomes in the evolution of a fermentation system that converts vegetation into a "workable" source of nutrition.

The value of mass spectrometry in Molecular Biology research in the post-genomic era cannot be over-stated. However, the instrumentation and the physical principals that underlie its value are often consigned to a "black box". In view of the importance of this technology in Life Sciences, with its foundations in Physics, we are working with the Studio School electronics staff to build our own mass spec. Clearly, we will not be competing with our partners Thermo Fisher! But we will be using this as an exercise in stretching student skills and their understanding of a range of challenging concepts in physics. We will combine fabrication of parts with some off-the -peg components to work towards the assembly of a simple device. This has to be one of the most ambitious projects for next year, but I am excited to see how it goes!

These are just a couple of examples of how we intend to bring an interdisciplinary approach to the student experience at the UTC. However, as will be made clear in a subsequent Blog, these are student ideas, not mine or those of the teachers, that emerged during our project planning session and I believe that through the Fab Lab concept we will be pushing the boundaries of student achievement in schools. We are hosting visitors this week from the International Festival of Business 2014 in Liverpool. Last week we demonstrated the combination of Synthetic Biology and 3D printing. This week we will demonstrate the way in which this new technology can open up new avenues for research in a cost effective way that provides students with exposure to not only science, but computation, design, manufacturing and innovation.

1 comment:

  1. A mass spectrometer project! An excellent idea.
    By the way, I've enjoyed the blog over the year!