Durham scientists help with ‘scientist next door’ project


Scientists from Durham University are helping children learn from home during lockdown by hosting live experiments over video calls.

The calls are made through the Scientist Next Door project, which was started by researchers from Edinburgh and Durham universities, and involves over 50 scientists. The aim of the project is to encourage pupils’ interest in STEM subjects.

Since it began on Wednesday 25 March, Scientist Next Door has made over 40 calls to children aged four to 17. The calls have covered topics as diverse as extracting DNA from a strawberry, comparing fingerprints, why boats float and balloons fly, how sunscreen works and why we see auroras in the dark winter sky.

The project has a website with a wide range of resources, including information about COVID-19. This explains what it is, models a pandemic and shows why hand-washing is important. 

The project was founded by Dr Valentina Erastova from Edinburgh and Drs Basile Curchod and Matteo Degiacomi from Durham. It has involved scientists from the universities of KTH in Stockholm, Nottingham, Lancaster, Rutgers, Cornell, Bangalore, Barcelona, Perugia, Athens and Oxford.

Dr Curchod, a theoretical chemist, said that “Our goal is to support families that are currently not benefitting from science connections, events and activities as a consequence of the lockdown. Through this, we believe we can lower the barriers that prevent students from the least advantaged backgrounds pursuing their aspirations in science.”

Dr Degiacomi, a computational biophysicist, added: “We want to encourage children to be curious about the world around them. Seeing them getting excited about an experiment that they have carried out with their own hands is extremely rewarding. We’ve also been amazed by the broad response of scientists willing to give some of their own time to our project.”

Families wishing to get involved should visit: www.scientist-next-door.org 

Image: Durham University via Flickr

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