Bacteria are everywhere. While some can be extremely toxic to human health, others are needed to sustain life. At the recent Science Week, students had the opportunity to see some fluorescent and coloured bacteria that normally grow in everyday life. They also learned about the importance of hand washing after they are shown the difference between a clean petri dish compared to one that has had some dirty fingers inside of it.
Developed by the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence in Convergent Bio-Nano Science and Technology (CBNS), the program introduced the students to “Journey to the Centre of the Cell” a virtual reality experience that allows the participant to “walk” around inside a cell and get up close and personal with the engine of the cell (the mitochondria), the brain of the cell (the nucleus), and other organelles within the cell.
Part of the program called: “How small is a nano?”, was organised by the Future Industries Institute's Dr Marnie Winter and CBNS' Dr Ania Oszmiana who hosted a series of short activities explaining current and future use of nanotechnology in everyday life with an emphasis on nano-particles and their role in biomedicine.
The students, who were also led by PhD candidates, Ms Ludivine Delon and Ms Tahlia Meola, were shown how to make tiny models of the human intestine with silicone chips. Researchers at the University of South Australia node of the CBNS have developed an “intestine-on-a-chip”, a microchip embedded with hollow microfluidic tubes that are lined with human intestinal cells, through which nutrients, infection-causing bacteria, and oral drugs could be studied in the laboratory. According to Ms Delon, the goal of developing these mini-guts “is to reduce the dependence on animal testing and decrease time and cost for developing drugs, understanding their absorption as well as for providing better knowledge about pathogen invasion in the gut and intestinal diseases”.
In “Super-drugs and Slimy Bugs”, students learnt how scientists design new ways to effectively deliver drugs to the body allowing for improved absorption.
Overall the aim of the program, according to Dr Winter, was to show students “that in Australia and particularly in South Australia, researchers are performing not only really important scientific studies but also pretty cool ones. Each of the activities in this event was directly related to work we are doing every day at the CBNS. Importantly, this provided a rare opportunity for students to speak with researchers (PhD students and early-career researchers) about what it is like to study and work in a STEM area.”