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21 October 2011
Bridgend pupils got the chance to take part in a unique scientific challenge designed to help identify whether eating certain types of fats could be making us ill.
The challenge, part of the Researchers in Residence programme organised by Research Councils UK and Wellcome Trust, brought Cardiff University’s Professor Valerie O’Donnell together with Brynteg School pupils to outline her latest research findings and seek their support in answering the key question.
"The project is a good opportunity for researchers to make a difference to the process of teaching and learning of science in schools," according to Professor O’Donnell from Cardiff University’s School of Medicine and an expert in Medical Biochemistry.
The latest research by a team at Cardiff University’s School of Medicine has found that immune cells in our bodies generate a series of novel fats (or lipids) when they are activated.
"We know that the lipids have clearly-defined functions from our experiments. Some increase the rate of clot formation and others influence inflammatory processes in blood cells.
"This has led the Cardiff team to consider what this could mean for the human body if the lipids are taken in to the body through eating certain types of foods – which is exactly what the pupils will be trying to find out.
"Both plant and animal foods may contain these lipids. We think that when food is stored for long period of times or subject to high temperatures – it’s likely that the lipids we’ve identified may be formed."
To help examine the researcher’s theory the pupils were asked to test samples of foods - using a special process called mass spectrometry - to establish whether the new lipids they’ve found are present.
Preliminary experiments carried out earlier this year involving pupils from Heolddu Comprehensive in Bargoed, also as part of a Researchers in Residence placement, found that cooked pork and beef (but not curry) contained substantial amounts of the lipids.
This time, pupils will focus on the effect of cooking on meat and also look at samples of fruit or vegetables. In Spring 2012, the placement will also take place in Stanwell School, Penarth with the experiments being conducted depending on the results of the Brynteg studies.
Following Professor O-Donnell’s visit to the school on the 6th October, a group of 10 students will then visit her Cardiff lab on the 20th October to analyse the samples, followed by another visit to the School to present the findings.
Professor O’Donnell adds: "Because this experiment is new and has not been done before, we do not know what we will find.
"The results from this experiment will have a direct effect on where we go next with our research. This is an excellent opportunity to introduce students to scientific research through practical experience of an experiment and help encourage the next generation of Welsh scientists."
Researchers in Residence is a national project designed to place key University researchers in secondary schools across the UK to develop a programme of activities with teachers. The aim is to make school science, technology, engineering and maths more relevant and exciting for young people.
Clare Allen, Biology teacher at Brynteg School commented: "This is a fantastic opportunity for our students to see how the information they are learning in school, is used by scientists in their research. The project will build upon their basic knowledge, introducing new ideas and concepts, which should prove very interesting to the pupils.
"None of our students has ever undertaken a project like this before and I am sure they will find it very inspirational and thought-provoking. Hopefully it will also give them some ideas about future study and job opportunities.
"I would like to say a big thank you to Professor O’Donnell for all her efforts in organising this project through Researchers in Residence."
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