Researchers inspire next generation of plant scientists

A screen from the Thaliana game
A screen from the Thaliana game

Researchers at the Universities of Lancaster and Glasgow are on a mission to inspire the next generation of plant scientists with educational resources that transform existing plant science curriculum into an engaging and interactive subject for classroom learning.

The Sci-Seedlets project – led by a multidisciplinary team from the University of Glasgow – aims to educate school age children on the importance of plant physiology and plant science research using a mix of traditional and digital STEM-led educational resources, including an interactive game resource which launched at Knightswood Primary School in Glasgow this week.

The Sci-Seedlets’ first of its kind virtual game “Thaliana: Quest for Gene X” – developed in collaboration with Human Computer Interaction scientists at Lancaster University – now includes new STEM diversity character designs and opens the world of plant science to children through an interactive game where children can perform virtual molecular plant experiments, embark upon adventures in a plant science laboratory, and unlock fascinating facts about plants and plant growth, while sparking their curiosity and improving their knowledge about plants.

By gamifying plant science, the team hope to encourage children around the world to learn not just about molecular plant science, but the importance of molecular plant research’s role in developing new strategies to engineer crops to be healthy and resilient to climate challenges for global food and water security.

Dr Abe Karnik, Senior Lecturer HCI at Lancaster University, and developer of Thalianasaid: “Sci-seedlets is a unique opportunity and challenge for a cross-disciplinary team of scientists to make complex science interesting and attractive to a young audience. We transformed complex concepts into simple game mechanics that retained the scientific accuracy while delivering a playful experience. To us, Sci-Seedlets is an exciting new direction for experiential learning for STEM and grounded in game design and interactivity research.”

The game forms part of new Sci-Seedlets educational kits for classrooms. These combine traditional, experiment based, interactive-gaming and digital STEM-led educational resources to enhance learning outcomes for pupils. The resources are designed to be sustainable, accessible, and affordable; designed to provide tasters into plant science research and its importance in solving global problems by drawing upon plant science research at the University of Glasgow. By supporting educators to teach plant science in the classroom, the ultimate goal is to influence future career decisions of children by making them fully aware of the potential of plant science.

By integrating a range of cross-disciplinary partnerships, the Sci-Seedlets project has evolved over a decade to better understand the needs for engagement and learning. The team have participated in science festivals, conducted school trials, held workshops, worked with teachers, and shared the individual resources, also translated into Chinese, Arabic, and Spanish for wider accessibility, with over 20,000 people and educators worldwide.

Dr Rucha Karnik, Senior Royal Society University Research Fellow and Sci-Seedlets developer and project lead, from the University of Glasgow, said: “We are so excited about the rich engagement experience we have gained over the years culminating in the development of the Sci-Seedlets educational kits. As a team, we want to not only communicate our science, but also to enthuse a fascination for the subject and encourage more children and young people to pursue plant science. This is best served by understanding the needs of the pupils and educators to help facilitate teaching of the subject in the classrooms.”

Mrs Rhona Martin, Principal Teacher at the Knightswood Primary school at Glasgow, who has supported Sci-Seedlets resource developments from an educator’s perspective, said: “We believe the Sci-Seedlets projects has the immense potential to impact public interest in plants and empower younger generations to pursue plant science.”

Sci-Seedlets resources include new designs for scientist characters in the learning activities to promote concepts of equality, diversity, and inclusion in science.

The Sci-Seedlets project is realised through support from SMB, MVLS Innovation team, funding from BBSRC, The Royal Society, Glasgow Knowledge Exchange Funding and the University of Glasgow.

Back to News