Centre for Innovative Bioscience Education (BioCEN)
Patrycja Dołowy, PhD
The Centre for Innovative Bioscience Education (BioCEN) was established in 2002 by enthusiastic young scientists who recognized the importance of popularizing science among the broader community. Since then, BioCEN has been continuously working to achieve this goal by organizing and conducting educational activities, such as laboratory workshops for elementary and high school students, practical courses for school teachers, scientific training for businesses, open lectures for broader audiences, scientific shows, and picnics for children. We believe that learning the scientific method is key to understanding today’s world. The aim of BioCEN is to bridge the gap between science and society by conducting educational activities and popularizing the theme of modern biology. BioCEN could not continue its mission without financial support from the International Institute of Molecular and Cell Biology (IIMCB) in Warsaw, which has been BioCEN’s Strategic Sponsor since 2015. In addition to IIMCB’s support, BioCEN is also subsidized by the Nencki Institute of Experimental Biology (Polish Academy of Sciences), Institute of Biochemistry and Biophysics (Polish Academy of Sciences), University of Warsaw Faculty of Biology, and BioEducation Foundation.
BioCEN workshops cover various areas of biology and life sciences and appear to be a remedy for a weakness of the Polish education system, namely an insufficient focus on practical and experimental approaches. Therefore, our goal is to cover several scientifically and educationally important topics, such as molecular and cellular biology, histology, immunology, biochemistry, biotechnology, microbiology, biophysics, plant physiology, bionics/bioengineering, and medical sciences. We encourage participating students to take advantage of their creativity while working individually on real-life experiments. This is advantageous because workshops at BioCEN for most students are their only opportunity to perform laboratory work on their own. Notably, over the last 17 years, approximately 40,000 students have had the opportunity to take advantage of the workshops that are offered by BioCEN.
Since April 2018, we have introduced six new workshops. Three workshops were tailored to elementary school students: physics and biophysics (surface tension, material densities), optics, and environmental microbiology. Two new workshops were tailored to 7th and 8th grade students: plant physiology and environmental microbiology. One workshop was tailored to high school students: medical and nutritional microbiology.
We also updated four of our workshops for high school students: Explore your own DNA, Protein fingerprints, Biotechnology of antibodies in clinical practice, and Histology, embryology, and stem cells.
In 2018, BioCEN held 286 workshops based on 31 different topics. More than 7,100 students participated. Creating and conducting the workshops were possible because of five projects (programs) that were co-funded by the Department of Education in Warsaw City Call, coordinated by Aleksandra Kot-Horodyńska.
Because of the location of BioCEN, access is somewhat limited to students who live outside Warsaw. As such, the BioCEN team is ready to organize and implement laboratory workshops outside its headquarters. We believe this move will be an effective way to increase life science awareness and scientific skills among a wider population and thus will be an important component of our program.
Flying science cafes and workshops for refugees
In collaboration with the Council for the Promotion of the Public Understanding of Science (Polish Academy of Sciences) and SPACES Foundation, we organized science cafes for adults and science workshops for children age 7-12 who are refugees who live in refugee centers in the Mazowieckie and Podlaskie regions in Poland. Two 2-h workshops for children based on biophysics and optics were held in BioCEN’s laboratory at Grójecka 93 st. After the workshops, the children received gifts, including two books: one about zebrafish (published by IIMCB) and the other one on simple self-made experiments (published by BioCEN), balloons, crayons, and stickers.
Workshops for international students at the “Where is Europe” conference organized by Rijskuniversiteit Groningen and Jagiellonian University in Cracow
The Head of BioCEN, Patrycja Dołowy, PhD, gave a lecture and organized a workshop for international students about popularizing science and teaching using the scientific method. The aim of the workshop was to learn about the scientific method and how using the experiments in a hands-on type of education influence the process of learning.
Participation in Science Week in Berlin
BioCEN participated in Science Week in Berlin and the Falling Walls Conference. Science Week is an annual, international gathering that brings people together from the world’s most innovative scientific institutions to celebrate science and connect local and international scientific societies with the public. It is dedicated to fostering dialogue between science and society to inspire a deeper understanding of our world. It comprised more than 100 events that were organized by local and international institutions.
Professional training for young scientists of the Polish Academy of Sciences
One of our main goals is to improve the teaching skills of science educators who work at all levels of education. In 2018, BioCEN was involved in professional training for young scientists whose goals include popularizing their experiments and results for the public. The event was organized by the Polish Young Academy of the Polish Academy of Sciences.
17th Educational Symposium for Biology Teachers
This symposium has become one of our most important events. The most recent symposium was held on Saturday, December 1, 2018. During this meeting, biology teachers from all over Poland had the opportunity to receive up-to-date information on frontline discoveries in neuroscience and become more familiar with cutting-edge studies, such as those that were related to the Nobel prizes in Chemistry and Medicine. Moreover, teachers had the unique opportunity to talk to academic researchers in person and create social networks, which has a positive impact on the quality of their teaching. The symposium was organized in cooperation with the Nencki Institute of Experimental Biology, Polish Academy of Sciences, in Warsaw.
Experimental kits and other scientific tools
For those who are unable to take advantage of our workshops, we provide alternatives. BioCEN produces laboratory kits that are commercially available through our website. All of the kits come with the necessary chemicals, dishes, tubes, theoretical summaries, instructions, and protocols that are needed by students to perform a particular experiment either at school or at home. To date, the following experimental kits are available:
- We are studying DNA
- The sweet world of experiments
- Photosynthetic dyes
- A necklace with your own DNA
Each of these kits come in small and large versions.
We also emphasize the notion of “learning while playing.” As such, we also produce high-quality, genuine BioCEN educational board games:
- By the trails of evolution
- Dare to assemble your cell (still in testing)
Especially for teachers, we have lesson scripts and experimental protocols available on our new website. Some of the scripts and protocols have been updated based on the latest science.
22nd Festival of Science in Warsaw
As in previous years, BioCEN participated in the 22nd Festival of Science; this time, participation occurred in collaboration with the International Institute of Molecular and Cell Biology in Warsaw. We organized and held two 90-min scientific workshops that were related to the Nobel prizes in Chemistry and Medicine, entitled, Close Encounters with Proteins, for children age 6-13. The children’s parents could also listen to the lectures that were given by IIMCB scientists about their research on proteins and applications.
16th Summer Meetings with Science
The Summer Meetings with Science event has been co-organized for 17 years by the Institute of Oceanology (Polish Academy of Sciences) together with the Institute of Hydro-Engineering (Polish Academy of Sciences) and Baltic Science Festival. Patrycja Dołowy, PhD, lectured at this event for the seventh time. For the first time, she represented BioCEN and spoke to Summer Meetings with Science attendees about BioCEN’s activities and goals, which led to further future collaborations.
BioCEN animators and co-workers
Important members of the BioCEN team include animators and co-workers without whom the educational activities would not be possible. In 2018, the following individuals collaborated with BioCEN in this capacity: Kryspin Andrzejewski (animator), Tamara Aleksandrzak-Piekarczyk (laboratory support, author of workshops), Patrycja Dołowy (president of the board of the BioEducation Foundation, animator, author of workshops), Maciej Grochowski (laboratory support), Andrzej Gruza (animator), Piotr Horodyński (designer, author of workshops), Weronika Iwaniuk (animator), Rafał Jabłuszewski (animator), Monika Jakubiak (animator), Katarzyna Jędrzejowska (animator), Agnieszka Kamińska (animator, author of workshops), Magdalena Karpińska (animator), Izabela Kern-Zdanowicz (laboratory support, author of workshops), Aleksandra Kot-Horodyńska (project manager, member of the board of the BioEducation Foundation, author of workshops), Maciej Kotliński (member of the board of the BioEducation Foundation, animator), Kinga Lipka (animator), Katarzyna Łepeta (laboratory support, author of workshops), Aleksandra Kowalczyk (animator), Katarzyna Krzyczmonik (animator), Sebastian Kwiatkowski (animator), Paweł Morga (animator), Michał Niziołek (laboratory support), Aleksandra Olszańska (laboratory coordinator since September 1, 2018, animator), Michał Oziębło (animator, author of workshops), Jacek Patryn (head of BioCEN until March 31, 2018, animator, author of workshops), Zuzanna Sobańska (laboratory coordinator from February to August 2018), Kamil Synoradzki (laboratory coordinator from January to February 2018, animator), Barbara Świerczek-Lasek (animator), Jan Maurycy Święcicki (animator), and Michał Wielądek (animator).