Microbiologist and life-long learner Judith Bateup is using hands-on lab experience to inspire new generations of scientists.
A decade of outreach with thousands of Otago students has won the University of Otago Teaching Fellow the 2018 Cranwell Medal, awarded by the New Zealand Association of Scientists for excellence in communicating science to the public.
Judith Bateup’s day job is teaching microbiology to second year students at the University of Otago. But alongside this she has built a successful science communication outreach programme - from scratch and with minimum resources.
“As a microbiologist, and also as a mum,” says Judith, “I was watching my children go through school and teachers kept on asking me ‘could I bring some science into the classroom’.”
Judith decided she could – but her way of doing it is to bring students into a lab at the university for a hands-on microbiology experience.
Judith says she focuses on Year 11 students, who are doing the first year of NCEA exams.
She identified a couple of internal achievement standards that she admits “not many schools teach.” These standards are “all about microbes in the world around us” and Judith says that a “lot of teachers put it in the too hard basket. But I thought ‘right! That’s a really good place to do some outreach and some liaison’.”
Teachers from Dunedin schools bring Year 11 classes into the university for a 2½-hour laboratory experience in the middle of the year, during the university’s holidays. It is a varied and thought-provoking session.
“We cover everything from antibiotics, antibiotic resistance, vaccination, microbes making food -which is where cheese comes in - and you can move on to looking at gene editing … if the students lead you that way,” says Judith. “Botox – why do we have botox? Is it an advantage or a disadvantage.”
“There are so many wonderful everyday examples and we hope that it is helping get microbiology out there. And it’s learning for life.”
Judith says it is very satisfying to be a female role model, and to get students thinking both about the environment and about the possibility of following a career in science.
The Cranwell Medal
In 2017, the New Zealand Association of Scientists renamed their Science Communicator Medal the Cranwell Medal, in honour of the late Lucy Cranwell. Lucy was a New Zealand botanist who worked in fossil palynology, or pollen studies, at Harvard University and the University of Arizona. She was well-known for her friendship with another leading New Zealand botanist, Lucy Moore.