They don’t want to leave at the end of the day. Every year since 2012, Dr. Ninan Abraham and Dr. Parvin Bolourani and colleagues seed the fascination that makes future scientists when they invite primary and secondary school students to the Day of Immunology on the UBC campus.
Dr. Abraham estimates about 750 grade school students and 30 high school students have attended the event over the years. Abraham, with dual appointments in the Departments of Microbiology and Immunology, and Zoology, as well as serving as associate dean for equity and diversity for the Faculty of Science, has plenty on his plate, but wouldn’t miss it.
The only break in the program has been this year, due to the pandemic. For Dr. Bolourani, who oversees outreach, alumni engagement, postdoctoral affairs, and serves as a project coordinator, this is a signature event.
It’s popular with participants, too: “my favourite part: meeting you science people. And my least favourite part: not getting to stay longer,” a past participant wrote on their evaluation form.
“I learned bacteria are everywhere but I want to learn more about bacteria,” wrote another. “Now I know I want to learn about germs,” wrote a third.
A team of volunteers teach the students about immune response, introduce them to the tools used in immunology research, and talk about how to prevent the spread of disease. “I learned that a handshake can make me sick!” reported one student – well before the outbreak of COVID-19. “I will talk to my aunt, that vaccines are important,” wrote another.
Glo-germ spread and detection, examining colonies and viral plaques, a visit to a confocal microscope and flow cytometer suite and a vaccine-infection game are tools that deliver. “I enjoyed every second of my stay,” wrote a student.
It wouldn’t happen without the support of graduate students, technicians, staff and faculty, including former and current Department Heads Drs. Mike Gold and Michael Murphy, says Dr. Abraham. It’s clear that the key take-home messages seem to stick: microbes are everywhere, the immune system provides strong defence for the body, and we can help protect ourselves with proper basic hygiene practices, and by getting vaccinated.
Teachers and parents also find the day memorable: “We had such a great time, thank you so much for all the effort and work, Bravo!” wrote a teacher. Another instructor reported “the parents who accompanied us thought the event was fabulous, and one parent said, ‘I wonder if I went to a field trip like that then, what would my job be now!’”
Visit Dr. Ninan’s lab website to see the carousels of images from past Days of Immunology.