The Bioengineering Experience

This year, we showcased the best in science, engineering and materials to children from St Joseph’s in the Park (age 10). The children met our star scientists from the Institute of Bioengineering who explained about the mechanics of cells and why it is important to stretch cells and tissues. The children took part in hands on investigative experiments and made biomaterials out of seaweed that could be used to grow chondrocytes. The children squashed cartilage and investigated why exercise helps to keep the tissues strong and healthy. These cutting edge techniques are the future of research at the Institute of Bioengineering and are used in the real bioengineering world.

Children from St Joseph’s in the Park (age 10) participated at the Bioengineering Experience with STEM scientists from the Instiute of Bioengineering at Queen Mary University of London. The children learnt about biology, engineering and materials and how these disciplines can be used to develop technologies and treatments for diseases and improve healthcare strategies for the NHS.

The IOB scientists explained new ideas about how bioengineering could change the future in medical healthcare. For example, David Barrett discussed why it is important to stretch cells in the amniotic membrane. He explained that “stretching” or exercise helps to keep the tissue strong as the baby grows inside the mother’s womb.

The children explore the amniotic membrane. The tissue was taken from a mother who had given birth earlier that morning. The amniotic membrane contains cells and proteins which are sensitive to stretch and enable the tissue to withstand mechanical loads during pregnancy. If the membrane weakens, the tissue breaks and the baby is born too early. David Barrett is exploring new ways to stop the membranes from breaking too early and help babies grow to full term in the womb. David is an IOB scientist funded by the RoseTrees Trust.

The children described the bioengineering experience as “awesome” with comments such as:

“Tendons are really fun to pull and test”.

Marta Godinho (bioengineer & scientist) explains why the tendon is stretchy. She use fasicles taken from the tendon tissue to measure the tensile strength (amount of stretch). Marta is funded by an IOB PhD studentship and is finding ways to heal the tendon in race horses who suffer from inflammation and tendinopathy.

“I was excited to see a dissection of a cow’s knee and squash cartilage”.

Reshma Tilwani (bioengineer & scientist) dissects a bovine joint and show the children articular cartilage which is the tissue that covers the ends of bone. Reshma is an IOB scientist funded by a MOHE grant and is investigating therapies to repair cartilage and treat osteoarthritis.

“I made strings out of seaweed”.

James Taylor (bioengineer & scientist) teaches the children how to make alginate strings using seaweed. The strings are made from a biomaterial that could be used to grow fetal stem cells and repair the trachea or windpipe in babies who are born with congenital abnormalities. James is an IOB scientist funded by the RoseTrees Trust.

“I pulled a horses tendon today!”

We have isolated fasicles from the tendon (look like strings) and we are playing tendon tug of war !

“I made pink beans”.

The children made agarose constructs (pink beans) with cells taken from the cartilage tissue. We use agarose or alginate to repair cartilage that has been affected by osteoarthritis in damaged knee joints.

And the surprise “I stretched a babies amniotic membrane”.

David Barett (bioenginer & scientist) is finding new ways to heal the amniotic membrane to stop mother’s from delivering babies prematurely. He shows the children amniotic membranes taken from a mother who gave birth earlier that morning and also from a sheep who gave birth to a lamb (!). The cells in the amniotic membrane are very stretchy due to the presence of stretch-sensitive proteins . David is an IOB PhD student and is funded by the RoseTrees Trust.

When the children were asked to comment on what type of person could be a bioengineer, one child said “you don’t have to come from a rich background to follow your dreams. A scientist can be anyone who is prepared to work hard and have fun!”

Another child said “the bioengineering experience has made me think about what I want to be when I get older”.

Dr Alvaro Mata (IOB Director) described the bioengineering experience as “spectacular” and said “the bioengineering experience is an unique opportunity for the scientists to share their experiences, and for the children to ask the scientists questions about their work. The event allows the children to see the science behind cutting edge techniques that could revolutionalise medical healthcare in the near future”.

Meet the IOB scientists and engineers (Marta Godinho, James Taylor, David Barrett, Tina Chowdhury, Alvaro Mata). The bioengineering experience was supported by science teachers (Jane Elson, Graeme Ellis), GSK scientist (Rhiannon Lowe) and the Head at St Joseph’s in the Park (Wendy Heath-Clarke). Ten year old children participated in hands on bioengineering activities at the IOB – the general consensus was “this has been an awesome experience”.

Prof Pankaj Vadgama (IRC Director) highlighted the importance of scientists and engineers working closely together with professionals from different disciplines and described how Queen Mary’s research may change the future.

Prof Panaj Vadgama leads the Interdisciplinary Research Centre (IRC) at QMUL. Pankaj reminded the children about the importance of working together with scientists and engineers from different disciplines and professions (doctors, designers, physicists).  The IRC will be celebrating 25 years of interdisciplinary research on 11th November 2016.

Prof Peter McOwan who is Vice Principal for Public Engagement and Student Enterprise said “This is a great example of how cutting edge research has the power to fascinate and inspire the minds of the next generation. Events like the BioEngineering Experience show that scientist have exciting jobs and are all kinds of people, an insight which we hope will help more people chose these important careers.”

Watch the bioengineering experience at

Photos at 

Press release by QMUL