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New kits to revitalise teaching of science in the classroom

26 April, 2007

The Institute of Bioengineering and Nanotechnology (IBN) is arming teachers with new tools to revitalise their teaching of science in the classrooms.

IBN has launched a series of educational kits to help secondary school and junior college teachers inject cutting-edge concepts in their laboratory lessons. Minister of State for Trade and Industry Mr S Iswaran unveiled the Kits to some 400 students and teachers at the Institute's Open House for Schools at the Biopolis.

Aimed at students between the ages of 15 and 19, the IBN Nano-Bio Kits feature interactive experiments and lessons on practical applications in nanobiotechnology, drug delivery and medical devices. The first three Kits in the range include the Biological Fuel Cell Kit, the Thermo-responsive Hydrogel Kit, and the Dielectrophoresis Chip Kit, and they come equipped with lesson plans, background readings, experimental components and instructions, as well as worksheets and quizzes. Teachers are also provided with worksheet answers, experimental instructional videos, and slides to help them plan lesson modules based on the scientific topics relevant to each Kit. 

The first Kit in the series, the Biological Fuel Cell Kit, demonstrates how biochemical energy may be converted into electricity using enzymes that are fixed on nanoparticles. Bio-fuel cells are a "green" alternative to conventional energy sources, as they run on sugar solutions and are emission-free. Students can assemble their own bio-fuel cell with the materials provided in the Kit and learn the basics of fuel cell technology and chemical processes.

"Students will have fun assembling this kit and learning about how electricity can be generated from sugar. It also provides teachers with high-quality educational materials that supplement the curriculum," said IBN Research Scientist Dr Edwin Chow Pei Yong, who designed the Biological Fuel Cell Kit.

The Thermo-responsive Hydrogel Kit illustrates how a thermo-sensitive material is made, and how the rate of diffusion of particles within the material is altered at different temperatures. Practical applications of such materials include controlled and targeted drug delivery systems for disease treatment.

Students can synthesise the hydrogel and study its behavior at different temperatures. They can also observe how particles diffuse through the hydrogel. Said its inventor, IBN Senior Research Scientist Dr Motoichi Kurisawa: "IBN's Thermo-responsive Hydrogel Kit helps students understand basic polymer science and drug delivery systems. They can make their own hydrogels and learn the significance and importance of this technology in creating a novel drug delivery system."

The Dielectrophoresis Chip Kit shows how cells behave under dielectrophoresis (DEP), which is the movement of an object in a non-uniform electrical field. "How can we use an electric field to capture a cell that is less than 1/10th the diameter of a strand of hair? How can we make a device with micrometer-sized features? With the DEP Chip Kit, students can find out the answers to these questions through simple lab experiments," said IBN Research Officer Xu Guolin. DEP is commonly used in numerous biological applications for cell manipulation, separation and characterisation for diagnostics and drug discovery. Students can produce their own DEP chips using basic photolithography techniques and observe the movement of cells on these chips.

Through the scientists' discussions with teachers at IBN's first Workshop for Teachers in December 2004 and interactions with students and teachers on attachment at IBN, it was clear that there was a pressing need for teachers to familiarise their students with the latest biomedical technologies and concepts in their classrooms. Hence, the Institute has worked with selected schools and research attachment teachers over the past year to conceptualise and design interactive experiments that can be conducted in school laboratories using its series of Nano-Bio Kits.

Three rounds of field trials were subsequently held at 12 selected secondary schools and junior colleges. The Kits were so popular with the students and teachers at these schools that IBN sold over 100 of them ahead of their official launch. Anglo-Chinese School (Independent), Hwa Chong Institution, Raffles Institution, and National Junior College have incorporated the use of the Kits in their school curriculum and IBN scientists have conducted enrichment courses at these schools. In addition, the Institute has sold the Kits to Anderson Junior College, Nanyang Polytechnic, Singapore Polytechnic, National University of Singapore and United World College (South-east Asia). 

"What is most exciting about the Biological Fuel Cell Kit is that students can learn through hands-on experiments about concepts such as electrochemistry, electricity and respiration," said Joseph Chong, a science teacher at Raffles Institution. Elaine Quah, a senior teacher for Biology who teaches lower secondary pupils in the Gifted Education classes at Raffles Institution, also said: "The Kits provide a refreshing way of teaching topics across the disciplines within the science domain and gives an excellent opportunity for us to introduce nanotechnology and its application to our young students."

Added Chong's student Marc Tan Jia Renn: "I was pleasantly surprised that experiments on topics of such an advanced level could be scaled down to our level in the laboratory."

National Junior College teacher Ong Yann Shiou said the Thermo-responsive Hydrogel Kit allowed her students to conduct interesting experiments illustrating drug delivery easily in the school laboratory. "The students enjoyed themselves thoroughly during the lesson."

Sukandar Hadinoto who teaches chemistry at the NUS High School of Mathematics and Science added that the Dielectrophoresis Chip Kit was very useful in demonstrating real-world applications. He said: "The Kit provided an insight into the concentration of electric fields, and how this could be used in lab-on-chip applications."

IBN will be holding quarterly workshops for all teachers who are interested in using the Kits in enrichment courses or as part of their school curriculum.

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