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Nobel Prize winner visits Cell EXPLORERS

Nobel Prize winner and DNA scientist Paul Modrich discuss the banana DNA extraction experiment with 5th class primary students form Presentation Primary School, Tuam (left) and Cell EXPLORERS demonstrator Rachel Allen, NUI Galway Undergraduate Biochemistry student (right)

On a sunny Thursday in May, 60 young Cell EXPLORERS from 5th and 6th class of two local primary schools, Scoil Mhuire from Clarinbridge and Presentation Primary School from Tuam, benefited from an experience of a life-time: meeting a real-life Nobel Prize-winning scientist!

Professor Paul Modrich of Duke University, who received the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 2015 for his work on how cells repair DNA, visited a enthusiastic group of primary school students while they were in NUI Galway working on DNA themselves with Cell EXPLORERS. Prof Robert Lahue, principal investigator at the Centre for Chromosome Biology, researching DNA repair and links to human neurological disease, was also in attendance and knows Prof Modrich from when he completed his postdoctoral fellowship in his laboratory in Duke University Medical Centre. He invited Prof Modrich to NUI Galway and was of great support to arrange this exciting visit.

Freshly landed from his flight from the USA, Prof Modrich joined the young scientists at the final steps in their DNA extraction experiment and answered questions for the young scientists, after Sarah Carroll, the NUI Galway Cell EXPLORERS volunteer coordinator, gave a short introduction about him and his work.

Our native scientists were very enthuasistic about this opportunity and asked questions such as "What is it like being a scientist?", "What were you doing when you won the Nobel prize?", “How many people work in your laboratory?” and “What is your favourite thing about being a scientist?”.

Paul answered that his preference goes to planning his experimental work and doing the experiments at the bench himself, to the delight of our team and all the young scientists.

“This is what we like the most too!” commented Sarah Carroll.

According to Professor Modrich;

"Meeting with the Cell Explorers and their teachers was a highlight of my visit to Galway. The forty or so students were isolating DNA from bananas. Their interest and enjoyment was obvious, and I was extremely impressed by their level of maturity. Dr. Grenon and her colleagues are doing a magnificent job with this programme"

It was clearly a great experience and a day to remember according to teachers involved.

Seán Holian, Scoil Mhuire principal commented “The Cell Explorers team expertly introduced the topic of DNA and various scientific terminology to our pupils and proceeded to work with small groups in hands on activities. The pupils greatly enjoyed extracting the DNA from bananas and indeed taking it home to enlighten their families. It was an absolute privilege then to meet with the 2015 Nobel Prize Winner in Chemistry, Paul Modrich who had just stepped off the plane from the USA. He has had a particular interest in DNA exploration also. A very special day, meticulously organised and expertly delivered.”

Alma Devane, Presentation Primary school said the children "loved the hands-on opportunity to act like scientists. Having the chance to meet scientists and see they were ordinary people like themselves has definitely sparked an interest in the girls. Listening and talking to Paul Modrich was a once in a lifetime opportunity...

This event might well inspire some of the children to pursue the study of science. It was certainly a day to remember. After all, there are not many people who can claim to have shared their lab with a Nobel Prize winner...

Particular thanks must go to Prof. Bob Lahue for kindly facilitating this meeting and to the Institute for Lifecourse and Society (ILAS) for lending us the teaching space.

A day of science for Galway 5th and 6th class primary school children and their teachers from Scoil Mhuire Clarinbridge and Presentation primary school Tuam, with Nobel Prize winner Paul Modrich, NUIGalway Prof. Lahue and the NUI Galway Cell EXPLORERS team.

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