Elisabeth John, pictured, says Scienteens Lab lets high school students step into scientists’ shoes
Photo: Mike Zenari
A career in science isn’t always top of the list for many students simply because they have no idea what the job might involve.
The first research lab for high school students, Scienteens Lab, is an extra-curricular learning centre at the University of Luxembourg that offers “Stem” (science, technology, engineering and maths) workshops designed to spark students’ interest in all things science.
Founded by the university’s Luxembourg Centre for Systems Biomedicine in 2013, and supported since 2016 by the Faculty of Science, Technology and Communication, it provides hands-on encounters supervised by experienced scientists and teachers from a variety of disciplines.
“We want to provide a realistic depiction of the sciences, show students the latest trends and technology to support them in their career choices,” says Elisabeth John, Scienteens Lab coordinator. “If students get to see research being done in Luxembourg right now and can interact with people working in science, it makes the idea of a career in this field much more concrete, a real option instead of a vague idea.”
Dr John, a biologist, believes that students have a good understanding of some professions such as teaching or banking, but still think of science jobs in clichéd terms or lack information of what scientists actually do, because classroom science is often theoretical. “If you don’t know a job, how can you dream about doing it? We give pupils the opportunity to enter a real research lab and step into the scientists' shoes,” she explains.
Scienteens Lab has a team of five scientists from different fields with diverse career histories. It also has the support of nine researchers at the university and 12 teachers in Luxembourg. For schools, there is a wide range of workshops. Maths students can dive into cryptography and graph theory. Biology pupils can focus on DNA and study protein. Physics fanatics can explore visible and invisible types of light. Each discipline offers at least two workshops.
Scienteens Lab also participates in Researchers’ Days, held in November, and offers one-week internships. This summer it launched the Science Academy, a seven-day interdisciplinary workshop for students aged 16 years and above, designed to hone modelling and computer simulation skills. Dr John points out that science outreach and communications have come a long way in Luxembourg and there are a lot of actors involved from the National Research Fund to the Natural History Museum. Luxembourg also hosts a National Science Contest and a Biology Olympiad, and researchers regularly visit schools to talk about their jobs. She also highlights the many initiatives this year to encourage girls to consider careers in science.
“Of course there is always room for improvement, but like scientific research, it involves collaboration on an international level,” John says. Scienteens Lab already collaborates with its counterparts in Germany and welcomes students from the Greater Region. “When high school students are part of the whole process, from formulating hypotheses to doing experiments and finding answers to their own questions, they are more likely to understand the exciting part of science, its diversity and the thrill of discovery.”