Image credit: Mark Danson, Connecting Science, Genome Research Limited.

Categories: Sanger Life16 September 20194.4 min read

Coding the Future

You’re never too young to start learning about DNA sequencing, software development and 3D printing.

Children in school today are the engineers, software developers, and researchers of tomorrow. As society increasingly relies on technology there has never been a greater need for people with science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) skills. But there is currently a STEM skills shortage, with universities, research institutes and businesses crying out for technicians, researchers and scientists. So how can we bridge that gap? One answer is to inspire children, show them what working in STEM can look like, and show them that they could do it too. Researchers at the Wellcome Genome Campus are hoping to do just that.

Code Club

Stephen Inglis and Harriet Craven are software developers here at the Sanger Institute. They run a lunchtime Code Club at nearby Harston and Newton Community Primary School, teaching a group of children computer coding. Code Club is part of the Raspberry Pi Foundation, a UK-based charity that works to put the power of computing and digital making into the hands of people all over the world. Stephen said “The best thing about it is seeing the kids enthused and excited by what they are doing, or their visible pride when they show you something that they have built. Most of all it’s seeing them work together, help each other and laughing and joking when they play a game together that they have made.”

Code Club on Tour

To show the children what working in science looks like, Harriet and Stephen arranged for their Code Club to visit the Sanger Institute. The group of 13 children, aged 9-11, arrived on one sunny morning, shattering the usual calmness of the grounds at the Wellcome Genome Campus with their bubbling enthusiasm.

They headed first to our Open Lab facility which looks over the DNA sequencing labs. They were excited about the one-way glass, keen to find out if the scientists could see them peering in to the labs, as well as the hands-on equipment and displays.

Researchers spoke to them about genome sequencing, and the scale of work that we get through here. “It’s amazing. But tricky” was one, accurate, observation.

Next stop was the data centre where data centre manager Simon Binley showed them around. They heard about our data storage and processing capacity (55 Petabyes) and the power we use (4KW, equivalent to powering 2,500 houses, or a small village). Simon was quizzed on our green credentials and explained how we recycle heat, purchase renewable energy wherever we can, plus sell, donate, or recycle old equipment.

“I thought my laptop was impressive, but this is like the Godzilla of laptops” commented one year five pupil.

3D printing and Defeat the Helix

They then visited our engineering workshop where they were shown around by Colin Baker, Scientific Instrument Maker at the Sanger Institute. He showed them laser cutters and 3D printers in action, some of the robotics he’s built as well as other bespoke equipment. This turned out to be the most popular part of the visit.

Finally, they played ‘Defeat the Helix’, an immersive experience in our Genome Gallery.

Future coders?

The group left the Campus buzzing with excitement about what they’d seen and heard.

Harriet said “I really hope the Code Club trip has inspired the kids to pursue coding, now they have seen what a future career in software development could look like.”

Francesca Gale, Education Development Lead at the Wellcome Genome Campus said “Inspiring young people, getting them interested in science and genomics, is so important. They are the next generation of scientists, coders and engineers. ”

“I think the code club and visit to campus was really powerful for the students and teachers. Meeting people working in this area can breakdown commonly held stereotypes and show that science is for everyone regardless of gender or background.”

Get involved

Sign up to visit the Wellcome Genome Campus at one of our Open Saturdays, or Genome Lates

Find out about Code Club and the Raspberry Pi Foundation