Welcome to the
Cell EXPLORERS research page!
We investigate the learning and teaching of informal/non formal science, particularly modern biology, using methods drawn from discipline-based education research, the learning sciences, and science education. Note that ‘informal science’ is often referred to as ‘public engagement’ or ‘science outreach’.
The research group activity is linked to the Cell EXPLORERS programme. The group applies evidence from research to improve the design and assessment of informal science programmes like Cell EXPLORERS. We also investigate the impact these programmes can have on its participants, such as children, volunteer scientists (students and staff), and institutions, which facilitate them (universities and research centres).
In 2018, we started developing research projects based on the activity of our National Network as well as research on the influence of scientists on children science self-efficacy.
Originally, our work has concentrated on researching children’s perceptions about science and scientists, volunteer scientists’ and HEIs’ perception of informal science. More recently, our work has focussed on the impact of our activities on young people attitudes and perception towards Science and scientists, and establsihing best practices for educational outreach and public engagement in science. The development of learning materials and optimised formats for the training and support of volunteer students, staff, and faculty members on best practices for informal science is a large part of our activities
The Cell EXPLORERS research group currently includes:
Dr Muriel Grenon - Principal investigator, lecturer in Biochemistry and director of Cell EXPLORERS
Dr Sarah Carroll - Cell EXPLORERS National Coordinator and Postdoctoral researcher
Janic Schulte - Research assistant and lab manager
Shannon Stubbs - PhD sutdent
Dr Muriel Voisin - Biochemistry technical officer
Final Year Biochemistry undergraduate students (5 to 10 per academic year)
The group also works in collaboration with Dr Veronica Mc Cauley, Andrea Higgins from NUI Galway School of Education, Lindsay Deely from Curam, Dr Jennifer De Witt and Dr Ran Peleg.
Past group members include: Dr Tereza Brumovska, Dr Martina Wernecke, Dr Shane McGuinnes, Dr Claudia Fracchiolla, Dr Claire Concannon.
Past research collaborators include Dr Martin Javornicky from Teagasc, and Jerome Sheahan from the school of Mathematics.
The Cell EXPLORERS research group is looking to expand!
Informal inquiries about possible postdoctoral/PhD positions/collaborations can be made by emailing Dr Muriel Grenon at firstname.lastname@example.org
T.J. Brumovska, S. Carroll, M. Javornicky and M. Grenon (2022). Brainy, Crazy, Supernatural, Clumsy and Normal: Five profiles of children's stereotypical and non-stereotypical perceptions of scientists in the Draw-A-Scientist-Test. International Journal of Educational Research Open.https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ijedro.2022.100180
M.Grenon, J.Schulte, S.Carroll et al. (2021). Adapting hands-on STEM public engagement in schools for for online live interactions. Poster presented at Science Foundation Ireland research summit 2021.
S. Carroll, V. McCauley, and M.Grenon (2021). A scientist knows what s/he's doing: Exploring the effect of scientist-led outreach on primary children's science self-efficacy beliefs. Conference Proceedings, Strands 16: Science in the Primary School. In conference proceedings for ESERA 2019: The beauty and pleasure of understanding: engaging with contemporary challenges through science education, Bologna.
S. Carroll, J. Sheahan, V. McCauley, M. Grenon (2020). Development and validation of the Irish Science Self-Efficacy Children's Questionnaire to assess short-term influence of scientists facilitating outreach. Manuscript preprint on BioRxiv pre-print server for biology. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1101/2020.01.25.919357
S. Carroll, M. Grenon, A. Nistor, V. James, S. McGuinness. et al. The sustainability of STEM education projects. Scientix observatory report, September 2019
M. Grenon, S. Carroll, C. Fracchiolla & C. Concannon The Cell EXPLORERS programme – piloting a STEM engagement programme in Ireland. Conference Proceedings of the 2017 European Science Education Research Association (ESERA) Conference . Strand 12, p1620-1630 (2018)
M. Grenon, C. Fracchiolla, S. Carroll, C. Concannon. Multiple benefits of the Cell EXPLORERS programme – a STEM public engagement model in Ireland. Conference proceedings. Published in Pixel (Ed.), New perspectives in science education, 7th edition (2018)
S. Carroll, V. McCauley & M. Grenon. Investigating the effect of scientist demonstrators on primary children’s science self efficacy. Published in Pixel (Ed.), New perspectives in science education, 7th edition (2018)
C. Concannon & M. Grenon. Researchers: share your passion for science! Biochemical Society Transaction44 (5), 1507-1515. DOI: 10.1042/BST20160086 (2016)
C. O'Connell, Research lifes, Dr Muriel Grenon: Exploring a hands-on approach to engaging with science. The Irish Times, February 13th 2020
M. Grenon, 'Try Everything' in Burke E. (Author) 7 secrets of successful science communication. Silicon Republic advice column, November 2019
S. Carroll, C. Fracchiolla, M. Grenon,Why science education is for life and not just a week in November Brainstorm RTÉ, 17th Nov 2017
Our main research Projects
Evaluation Research studies:
As part of our commitment to excel, Cell EXPLORERS carry out evaluation research to both assess the quality of our programme and assess our practices.
To do this, we collect questionnaire data from the participants, including children, their teachers, and our scientist volunteers. All our data is collected after the Fantastic DNA session.
We invite children to complete anonymously a questionnaire. Children are asked about their experience in the session, their thoughts about the content of the session and their reaction to working with real scientists. They are also asked to draw a scientist (DAST). Teachers are also asked questions related to their perception of the content of the session and the perceived benefit it has for children taking part. Our scientist volunteers are asked to complete an online questionnaire. Volunteers are asked to comment on the organisation and structure of session, including suggestions for improvement, as well as any interesting questions that the children may have asked.
As part of the study, some of the information collected might be presented in research conferences or published in research journals. The information is anonymous and participation (or otherwise) in the study does not affect the child's participation on the session. We provide a link to the questionnaire that children are invited to complete if they participate in the study. If you have more questions or would like more information, you can contact us directly.
Children's attitudes to science & scientists:
An important part of our research is to understand the impact that participation in the Fantastic DNA session has on children's perceptions of science and scientists. In addition to our evaluation research on the Fantastic DNA session, we are also starting to further investigate children’s attitudes to science and scientists through empirical studies.
Children's Perception of Scientists - led by Dr Tereza Brumovska (project completed):
This explorative qualitative study was conducted by employing an interpretive research paradigm through a constructivist view. In other words, the study built an understanding of children’s attitude to science/scientists from the study of their subjective experience based on their personal and/or social experiences.
More specifically, we explored in-depth participating children´s attitudes to science with the aim to give children the voice and space to express their experiences (Lundy, 2007) both in their own language and non-verbally. Explorative qualitative methods involved child-centred interviews and arts-based participatory research method in line with and often used in the interpretive ontological paradigm (Kuhn, 1967).
Data were collected via semi-structured interviews with children (11-12 year olds) before and after participation in Fantastic DNA. Children were asked to narrate their experiences with science both in and out of school, their interest in science and their perception of scientists. Emergent themes from the pre- and post- interviews were to be compared to identify any changes after participation in Fantastic DNA. To triangulate this and to further contextualise data, post-session interviews were also conducted with children’s teachers and parents, to add their perceptions on any changes in children’s attitudes to science and scientists. Unfortunately COVid-19 pandemic interupted the data collection post-session. Howeever we were able to collect data before engagement.
A first publication reports that children describe 5 categories of scientists. You can read it here: T.J. Brumovska, S. Carroll, M. Javornicky and M. Grenon (2022). Brainy, Crazy, Supernatural, Clumsy and Normal: Five profiles of children's stereotypical and non-stereotypical perceptions of scientists in the Draw-A-Scientist-Test. International Journal of Educational Research Open.https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ijedro.2022.100180
Effect of the ‘Science Capital Teaching Approach’ (SCTA) implemented in an informal science classroom intervention on children’s science capital - Led by Shannon Stubbs (ongoing project)
The aim of the project is to explore the effect of the ‘Fantastic DNA’ workshop, employing SCTA techniques and specific facilitators training, on children’s science capital.This research will be underpinned by best practice in informal science education. Specifically, the theoretical framework associated with the construct termed as ‘Science Capital’  will be used for this work. Science capital is a methodological and empirical construct that encapsulates all the science-related knowledge, attitudes, experiences and social contacts that a person may have [1, 2]. The more science capital a person has, the more likely it is that they will pursue engaging in science-related activities, and aspire towards a career in science [1, 3].
Employing the Science Capital Teaching approach (a set of teachers’ recommendations to positively impact students’ science capital ) in the formal classroom helps to improve student engagement, leads to participation by more diverse audiences and positively contributes towards participants’ science capital . However, little is yet known on how this approach can be adapted to the informal science context, and what effect it may have on participants’ science capital. This work aims to investigate how SCTA pedagogical techniques, implemented in an informal science education workshop, support participants’ science capital. This project also builds up upon work done by the Cell Explorers informal science research group on perceptions of science/scientists  children science self-efficacy , and action research.
The project will involve 3 stages:
Stage 1: Development of a Fantastic DNA intervention that includes pedagogical techniques aligned to the SCTA.
Stage 2: Study of the facilitator training efficiency ie. the ability of the facilitators to deliver the intervention according to SCTA
Stage 3: Children's perceived science capital, as well as perception of the intervention and its impact will be assessed before and after intervention using questionnaires and interviews of children, teacher and parents.
This work contributes towards formulating best practice for informal science practitioners wishing to support children science capital, which widen participation of children who might not have an interest in science.
1] L. Archer et al “‘Science capital’: A conceptual, methodological, and empirical argument for extending bourdieusian notions of capital beyond the arts,” J. Res. Sci. Teach., 2015, doi: 10.1002/tea.21227.
 S. Godec, H. King, and L. Archer, “The Science Capital Teaching Approach: engaging students with science, promoting social justice.,” London, 2017.
 L. Archer et al “Science capital made clear,” King’s Res. Portal, 2016.
 L. Archer et al., “Using Bourdieu in practice? Urban secondary teachers’ and students’ experiences of a Bourdieusian-inspired pedagogical approach,” Br. J. Sociol. Educ., vol. 39, no. 3, pp. 283–298, 2018, doi: 10.1080/01425692.2017.1335591.
 T. Brumovská, M. Grenon, "Impact of the Fantastic DNA science education intervention on children's attitudes to science & scientists: a qualitative exploraty pilot study", 2020. Confidential report to Science Foundational Ireland.
 S. Carroll, "Science self-efficacy beliefs of upper primary students & the effect of a short-term scientist-faciltiated informal workshop", PhD thesis, 2020.
Children Science Self-Efficacy - Sarah Carroll (project completed)
In addition to the Fantastic DNA study, a branch of our research effort focuses on the impact of participation in our programme on children’s science self-efficacy. Science self-efficacy can be described as the self-belief an individual has in completing specific science-related tasks successfully. Those with high science self-efficacy are more likely to do well in science at school, participate in science events, and pursue science at third-level.
This research was the PhD project of our postgraduate researcher, Sarah Carroll, who is also the Cell EXPLORERS NUI Galway volunteer coordinator. Specifically, Sarah is looking at whether the interaction between the local scientist volunteers and children in the Fantastic DNA session improves children’s science self-efficacy.
To do this, she has developed and validated a questionnaire: the Irish Science Self-Efficacy Children's Questionnaire (IS-SEC-Q), which assesses the strengths and influencers of children’s science self-efficacy beliefs.
If your child participated in this validation study - Thank you!
Sarah's latest study, which involves assessing children’s science self-efficacy before and after participating in the Fantastic DNA session, finished data collection in June 2019. In addition to completion of the IS-SEC-Q before and after, these Fantastic DNA sessions were also recorded (video and audio) to look at the interactions between the children and the Cell EXPLORERS scientists. A sample of children also completed interviews, to further examine any induced changes to their science self-efficacy and to explore their perceptions of the Cell EXPLORERS scientists. Only pupils attending invited schools and with full parental/guardian consent participated in these studies. The quantitative findings relating to this study are currently being written up as a manuscript.
If you or your child(ren) participated in either the (1) IS-SEC-Q validation study or the (2) Mixed Methods Pre-Post Study, Thank you!
We hope that the findings of this study will serve to inform other science outreach practitioners, like in Cell EXPLORERS, on best practice on increasing pupil's confidence in science.