Wellcome Trust Centre For Mitochondrial Research

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As part of the MRC Science Festival 2019, 15 researchers from the Centre for Ageing and Vitality and Wellcome Centre for Mitochondrial Research at Newcastle University spent an afternoon engaging Key Stage 2 children with a range of activities linked to health, fitness and wellbeing.

The event, held at Gosforth Park First School, saw 90 pupils aged between 7-9 years discuss the importance of healthy eating, exercise and how our bodies generate energy before taking part in a number of fun activities put together by the researchers.

One such activity involved the children thinking about what makes up a balanced diet, before they were given the task of designing their own ‘healthy plate’.  The children thought about their own packed lunch and then set about cutting and sticking pictures of different food items onto a paper plate. The idea was to balance all the different food groups, making sure there were plenty of healthy choices (along with an optional chocolate bar as a treat!). Other activities involved weighing out how much salt we should have in a day, what counts as 1 of your 5 a day and deciding which foods contain ‘good’ fats.

Another activity involved the children learning a bit more about drinks and the amount of sugar they can contain. After an initial discussion about how many sugar cubes they thought would be found in a range of different drinks, including fruit juice, milk and cola, the children were asked to test the drinks using paper ‘dipsticks’ that change colour depending on the sugar content.

The children then learnt a bit about what mitochondria are and why they are important for our bodies to generate energy. They were tasked with making their own mitochondria out of play-doh, which involved modelling the inner and outer membranes and the mitochondrial DNA using different colours.  The children did an amazing job and their models all looked fantastic!

First year PhD student Alex Bury, said “I was really impressed with the enthusiasm of the pupils to learn more about mitochondria. It was a great opportunity to raise awareness about the role of mitochondria in maintaining our overall health, and that by adopting a healthy lifestyle we can ensure that our mitochondria remain healthier for longer.”

The final activity was designed to promote the benefits of exercise and involved two teams going head to head on an obstacle course.  After completing the race (which seemed like an Olympic final with plenty of shouting and cheering!), the children were given glasses to wear that mimic different visual impairments, including some of those related to ageing, and asked to very carefully try the obstacle course again.  This was to demonstrate some of the difficulties faced when a person’s vision is reduced. The children also wore the glasses whilst taking part in a penalty shootout, with PhD student Jack Collier being forced to pull off some amazing saves despite the children’s restricted vision!

Following all the activities, the children evaluated the event using ‘emoji’ stickers and we were delighted to see lots of smiling faces and ‘thumbs up’ on our evaluation tree!  Mr Hindess, Deputy Head Teacher at Gosforth Park First School, said “I would like to thank the researchers for all of their hard work to create a memorable and exciting event for our children”.

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