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University of Leeds’ Bragg Centre wins IRIS Outstanding Partner Award for DNA Origami project

In September, the Institute for Research in Schools (IRIS) hosted their first awards ceremony, where they celebrated the talented and hard-working students and teachers who innovate in the classroom every day in their national programme.

IRIS is a charity that develops opportunities for secondary students and post-16s from all backgrounds to participate in authentic research in school and make valuable, recognised contributions to the scientific community.

Research has found that students who take part in IRIS programmes are found to be more engaged in Science Technology Engineering and Maths (STEM) and more likely to pursue a career in science.  What is more, the experience strengthens self-confidence, builds communication skills, and fosters collaboration with like-minded individuals.

On the night, hosted at the Francis Crick Institute, awards were handed out by IRIS director Dr Jo Foster as well as scientist, writer and broadcaster Dr Adam Rutherford and scientist and author Dr Maggie Aderin-Pocock MBE.

The Bragg Centre was awarded ‘Outstanding Partner’ for work on the DNA Origami project. Secondary students from UK schools could be the youngest people to construct artificial structures using DNA, thanks to the collaboration between IRIS and the Bragg Centre for Materials Research at the University of Leeds, and the Henry Royce Institute (Royce). The research project was a chance for students to step away from their textbooks to learn to more about DNA nanotechnology, an emerging field of science.

The DNA Origami project engaged students by introducing them to materials science through a subject they already have a basic awareness of, DNA. Over the course of the project, the students design, simulate and synthesised objects made from DNA, learning through tutorials, exercises and practicals in the lab, and present their findings in posters and videos that will be shared across the IRIS (Institute for Research in Schools) network.

The project provides schools with the equipment and materials needed to undertake practical synthesis of a real DNA origami object in the school lab, allowing children to build practical lab experience and simulating a research environment.

Dr Andy Lee, Centre Manager at the Bragg Centre for Materials Research at the University of Leeds said:

I was thrilled to accept this award on behalf of the Bragg Centre. The DNA Origami IRIS project introduced high school students to real research, and Material Science outside of their textbooks, through a familiar material, DNA, by showing how it can be used in a totally unconventional way, building nanoscale structures and robots rather than plants and animals as you would initially expect”

“The project taught students about the field of DNA nanotechnology and empowered them to design, simulate and synthesise objects made from DNA, through a series of tutorials, exercises and lab practicals.”

Dr Jo Foster, Director of IRIS said: 

“It was fantastic to host the first ever IRIS awards and I am delighted to have been able to share the success of some of our students.

“We set out to provide authentic research projects in schools that give young people meaningful experience of science and what it means to be a scientist. The response from the science community, teachers and students has been amazing.”

Tom Hancocks, Royce Training and Skills Manager said: 

“I am delighted to see recognition for the DNA Origami project at the IRIS awards and the brilliant feedback from pupils and their teachers that have participated in the research activity.

Funding from Royce has helped support the development and delivery of the project and the Bragg Centre have delivered a truly innovative project that brings together techniques from the materials and biological sciences.”

The DNA Origami project was also part of two other awards, including Best Research Project, for Tapton School, where students took DNA construction to a higher level, creating a Tesla valve which lets fluid to flow in one direction, with no moving parts. This novel idea required a complex 3D design involving coding above and beyond the requirements of the project.

Further information available via the Bragg Centre for Materials Research and the Institute for Research in Schools