(AMBL is situated within the Michael Smith Building – Image by McPig)
The Advanced Molecular Biology Laboratory (AMBL) is the educational arm of the Michael Smith Laboratories. This facility was conceived by Michael to provide life science learning experiences for both general public and scientific communities. This includes a bifocal mandate to train scientists (university students and faculty) and to inform the public at large on the societal, cultural, corporate, political, economic, and ethical nuances of the life sciences.
The Advanced Molecular Biology Laboratory (AMBL) is a fully equipped research unit that specializes in educational programs and is in the fortunate position of being resourced to provide a superb learning environment complete with state of the art equipment. AMBL’s physical facility, together with the vision and energy of our diverse faculty, have created a unique and highly regarded training program. As well, AMBL has made a name for itself by often using creative and unconventional avenues of science communication, particularly where the intersection of science and other disciplines is explored.
Currently, AMBL supports educational programs with the following audiences in mind:
AMBL is presently responsible for or involved in a variety of advance undergraduate and graduate level laboratory courses. This is primarily a well-received core syllabus on molecular biology techniques that has been revised and adapted to accommodate the following university courses: PATH 547, BOTA 544, FRST 503, PLNT 540 and BIOL 437. As well, AMBL is heavily involved in a new interdisciplinary course known as the Arts and Science Integrated Course (ASIC200). Details of these courses, and enrollment logistics can be found here.
AMBL currently organizes and offers a limited number of advanced workshops directly aimed at researchers. This program currently includes a well received workshop on molecular techniques, past workshops on transgenic mice production, and PCR based techniques, as well as newly developed offerings focusing on bioinformatics. Information for our workshops can be found here – generally speaking workshops are held during the summer months, or during the midterm break (mid February).
AMBL is also available for contracting out services involving professional development within other communities. We provide both hands-on workshops and lecture style presentations for individuals interested in learning some of the sciencific aspects of a particular scientific genre. This workshops have been held with audiences as diverse as the business community, politicians, priests, artists, etc.
A significant proportion of our programs currently inform the public at large on the societal, cultural, economic, political, and ethical nuances of the sciences.engaging and educating the public—particularly youth—in the life sciences. Here, the Labs offer a wide range of outreach programs designed to involve elementary and high school communities in authentic, hands-on scientific inquiry, expose them to some of Canada’s leading researchers, and cultivate their scientific curiosity and literacy.
The goal is to peak students’ interest in science, highlight how science intersects with other areas of life, and help students build critical thinking skills that carry over to a range of subjects. Even students who don’t pursue careers directly related to science and technology benefit—they gain an understanding of real world scientific processes that will allow them to follow emerging controversies, think critically about issues, and form reasoned opinions.
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The Labs currently host a range of outreach programs, events and resources, including lab-based fieldtrips, scientific conferences for high school students, educational professional development, training and equipment provision for science teachers, and Science Creative Literacy Symposia aimed at nurturing science writing.
All initiatives are free to participants, and are currently supported by internal funds. The labs collaborate with a diverse range of partners to guide program development and drive the initiatives to reality.
• MSL outreach programs are heavily geared towards building scientific literacy, particularly where elements of social responsibility can be broached.
• Outreach programs at UBC’s MSL cater to approximately 2,500 high school students a year
• The programs have developed a network of close to 200 biology high school teachers across BC
• MSL’s outreach program’s 3 websites currently attracts roughly 4,000,000 hits per month
Bringing Real-World Science to Students
One of MSL’s longest running outreach initiatives is its popular high school fieldtrip program. Fieldtrips bring grade 11 and 12 science classes to UBC campus to conduct molecular biology experiments in MSL’s state-of-the-art labs. On any given week students might be performing a DNA fingerprint analysis, or sequencing a segment of DNA, as well as other experimental procedures offered to the community. As well, the content provided in these opportunities also strongly emphasize the importance of science literacy by focusing not just on the technical merits of a discipline such as genetics, but by providing an eye-opening yet objective look at the ethics, politics, economics, and culture surrounding the science.
There is no cost involved for any of these experiments and the material has been designed so that teacher preparation is minimal. The program can currently accommodate roughly 50 classes a year—over the last five years approximately 6,250 students have participated in fieldtrips.
“I received rave reviews about the fieldtrip to the lab,” notes Anita Kwon, a health sciences career preparation teacher at Hugh McRoberts Secondary. “The experience piqued a lot of the students’ curiosity and interest…”
Most Exceptional Escapades in Science
This one-day annual event brings high school students from across the lower mainland to MSL for hands-on experiments and tales of scientific adventure from some of UBC’s leading researchers. 2008’s inaugural conference featured Brett Finlay (microbiology), Daniel Pauly (fish ecology), Jane Roskams (stem cells), Jaymie Matthews (exoplanets) and Philip Hieter (genomics). MSL was able to accommodate more than 100 students from 25 schools in 2008, and due to the high interest in this session, wants to increase that capacity over the next few years.
Science Teacher Training and Conferences
AMBL augments its fieldtrip program with molecular biology laboratory kits that allow high school teachers—appropriately trained in a separate workshop series at the Labs—to provide an in-class laboratory experience to their students. Since 1999, the lab has trained over 200 high school biology teachers, and thereafter sent out experimental kits that cater to thousands of students. Here, teachers can borrow all necessary equipment and be provided with the necessary reagents to perform many of these experiments in the convenience of their own classroom. This aspect of the program caters to approximately 1250 high school students each year.
“This opportunity for teachers is virtually unparalleled,” says Tom Harding, the science department coordinator at Rockridge School. “It was stimulating, academically very enriching, and appropriate to the BC biology curriculum. This professional development experience, with such a laboratory focus, is essential for teachers if they are to energize their students with dynamic and relevant instructional strategies.”
MSL also reaches out to high school teachers through an annual two-day teacher conference. The program allows creative educators to interact with world-renowned researchers, participate in hands on science literacy activities, network with like-minded professionals, and take ideas for interactive science activities back to the classroom.
The 2007 conference attracted 75 teachers from across British Columbia. The conference is free to all participants.
Global Issues, Global Citizenship
As its main advocate of science literacy, the lab also plays a central role in UBC’s Terry project (terry.ubc.ca). This project which is a joint initiative of the University of British Columbia’s Faculties of Arts and Science (as well as many others including those from groups as diverse as UBC Student Development and UBC Community Affairs) has a primary mission to educate members of the UBC community (notably undergraduate students) on the pressing global issues of our time. This encompasses a website, the first available interdisciplinary course addressing global issues, and delivery of a speaker’s series showcasing high profile (and engaging) academics, cognoscenti, and proactive members of our global community. Here, the lab is key increating a synergistic forum that addresses topics such as climate change, sustainability, GMOs and AIDS, we hope to stress the importance of multi-disciplinary learning, thus inspiring students to actively pursue university educations that will assist them in developing and promoting just, civil, and sustainable societies throughout the world.
Due to this project, the lab has a remarkably diverse array of contacts, many of which lead to unique and unconventional outreach opportunities. This project has also allowed the lab to create stronger ties with the undergraduate community, the general public as well as with some remarkable individuals (such as David Suzuki, Stephen Lewis, Wade Davis, Vandana Shiva – via the speaker series) culminating in an inclusive perspective central to our programs.
Exploring and Creating Across Disciplines
Michael Smiths Labs is also looking to expand one of its newest outreach efforts—the Science Creative Literacy Symposia. This fieldtrip program blends scientific research with reflective creative writing and provides an engaging and creative experience for a class of grade 6 and 7 students.
The one-day symposia (fieldtrip) is designed to foster written literacy, scientific literacy, as well as develop appreciation for interdisciplinary connections. Sessions are run by pairs of graduate students—one from a scientific discipline and one from UBC’s Creative Writing program. Here, elementary students play both the role of the scientist (perform a science experiment) and the writer (engage in a reflective writing exercise) with a concerted effort to provide linkage between the two skill sets.
In tandem with this program, the works produced by the elementary community have an opportunity to be presented at a web publication known as the Science Creative Quarterly. This science writing website, currently attracts an approximate readership of 10,000 per day, and has been privy to original works by writers who have contributed to places such as the New Yorker, McSweeney’s, The Walrus, the New York Times, to name a few.
“The opportunity to see a multidiscipline approach to learning is excellent. We often discuss this but experiencing it gives it a completely different understanding. Being able to see real science and real scientists is what can make a difference for many students and their attitudes at this time in their learning careers” notes Marie Chomyn, a grade 7 teacher at Tecumseh Elementary.
An Opportunity to Advance Science
In short, AMBL is one of few physical spaces on campus specifically designated for interactive science outreach. As well, it is notable for being not just any space, but an impressive space, nestled within a highly regarded research facility, whose excellence and commitment to public scientific literacy is a testament to Michael Smith’s vision.