When the Rudolf Virchow Center welcomed for the first time 30 tenth graders in its laboratories in July 2008, nobody assumed that this would be the first chapter of a remarkable success story. Since then, 5,592 students from 33 schools have taken the opportunity to gain an insight in research topics of biology, biochemistry and biomedicine. At the heart of the school laboratory were and are comprehensive experiments that the participants carry out independently.
The focus of the Virchowlab has always been the practical experience: After a half-hour introduction to the topic and a short safety instruction, the pupil go straight to the lab to carry out experiments until the afternoon. At the end of the day they present their results and discuss them in the group.
With the program „Virchowlab“ the organizers have evidently hit a nerve: „We are getting more and more requests. Some school classes, for example from Nuremberg or Aschaffenburg, take journeys of one hour and more to benefit from this opportunity. Usually we are fully booked at least one year in advance,“ says the manager of the Public Science Center Dr. Daniela Diefenbacher. „In our labs, they can use devices and techniques that are usually not available at school.“
Crime Time at the University
The head of the school laboratory, Katja Weichbrodt, is driven to offer up-to-date topics. For example, participants can identify genetic fingerprints in order to track down a fictitious criminal (Module CSI Würzburg). They isolate the green fluorescent protein GFP from bacteria (module Green Light For Bacteria) – a method that allows a detailed insight into the biochemistry of cells and that is now one of the standard repertoire of molecular biologists. Or they test with another standard procedure, the ELISA test, how diseases spread and which hygiene measures are useful against it (module Infectious Diseases).
The concept was initiated by the Public Science Center of the Rudolf Virchow Center, in order to give the public an understanding of their research work. To inspire children and young people for science, the Public Science Center offers, among other things, the school laboratory – from elementary school to upper secondary school. At the beginning, the Virchowlab was funded by the German Research Foundation (DFG). When the funding came to an end, the Center decided to continue the format due to the growing demand.
The organizers see their commitment also as an investment in the future: „The life science field is currently developing rapidly,“ explains Diefenbacher. An example is the CRISPR/Cas method, which allows organisms to be genetically modified in a very targeted manner. Anyone who wants to have a say and to be able to correctly assess the opportunities and risks of such trends, needs to be up-to-date with comprehensive background knowledge. „The Virchowlab provides a realistic insight into such crucial topics of the future“, emphasizes Diefenbacher. „This is especially important in times of fake news.“
The Virchow Lab wants to support schools in life science education and foster students‘ interest in life science through experiments that complement the school curriculum. In addition to these experiments, discussions are encouraged, focusing on interdisciplinary topics such as the ethical implications of genetic engineering experiments. The Virchowlab is suitable for the 9th – 11th grade. Katja Weichbrodt has been running the various programs of the school laboratory for ten years.
Public Science Center
The Public Science Center is a separate department at the Rudolf Virchow Center, which is committed to the dialogue between science and society. The school laboratory regularly offers various projects where pupil get to know science first-hand. Adults are able to learn more about current research of the Rudolf Virchow Center in public engagement events, for example in public discussions, lectures or exhibitions. The center is also an interface between scientists and journalists.
Rudolf Virchow Center for Experimental Biomedicine
The Rudolf Virchow Center (RVZ) is a central institution of the University of Würzburg, Germany. All research groups work on key proteins that are particularly important for the function of cells and thus for health and disease.
Dr. Daniela Diefenbacher (Public Science Center Manager, Rudolf Virchow Center), T.: +49 (0) 931 3188631, email@example.com