Magnificent Microbes

Published on 22 June 2022

A news update about the Magnificent Microbes event featuring a weeklong programme of activities that could be done in schools, with a ‘scientist Q&A’ via Teams video at the end of the week to wrap everything up.

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Magnificent Microbes is a public engagement event facilitated by the Division of Molecular Microbiology that has been running biannually since 2010. Normally it takes the form of a two day in-person event at the Dundee Science Centre, welcoming school groups and families for a fun, hands-on exploration of all things microbes. Our last in-person event was March 2020, literally days before the coronavirus pandemic sent us all into lockdown. It was an interesting time to be talking viruses and illness with the public!

This year we wanted to run Magnificent Microbes a bit differently, in case lockdown restrictions returned and we couldn’t run in-person events. We devised a weeklong programme of activities that could be done in schools, with a ‘scientist Q&A’ via Teams video at the end of the week to wrap everything up. For months our researchers worked hard to create new, bespoke activities, videos and games, and we collaborated with external designers as well as UoD facilities like the Print Unit to create a resource box overflowing with things to do.

Obviously a big part of this was finding schools to work with, and we were fortunate enough to have P7 classes from both Dens Road Primary as well as Forthill Primary take part. Each class got their resource boxes (complete with lesson plans for each day) as well as agar plates, microscopes and bacterial slides the week before so they were ready to start bright and early on Monday morning.

Magnificent Microbes week began with a video introducing some of our microbiologists at various stages of their careers, from undergraduate to professor and in between! They shared facts about microbes as well as information about their research, and then challenged pupils to explore the world of microbes using the resources provided. Classes were invited to begin creating their own special microbes using crafting supplies and write a class poem about the science they learned.

Tuesday introduced pupils to microbe record breakers – microbes hardy enough to live in deep sea vents, arctic caves, and even outer space! Scientists ran a video quiz for classes to help them learn all about these amazing adaptations.

On Wednesday pupils learned about bacterial warfare and cooperation. Starting with a fun animation that explains how microbes fight and cooperate within their environment, the lesson challenged the pupils to become microbes themselves and to talk to the other pupils to find out their perfect pair through our cooperation game. They also worked on their microbe creations, adding in details about how they interact with other microbes, whether friendly or not

On Thursday the lessons covered the interactions between microbes and plants, which are more complex than you might expect! Pupils had a chance to look through microscopes at a variety of bacterial samples as well as playing a ‘happy microbe families’ game to build a healthy microbiome.

Friday started with activities around Antimicrobial Resistance, or AMR, a big problem facing scientists and doctors today. Pupils learned about antibiotics – their history, where they come from, and how they work – before finding out about how bacteria have evolved to fight back against them. The classes had the chance to make microbial prints on real agar plates that were collected and incubated back at our labs.

We finished the week with our Q&A, in which five of our microbiologists were asked questions that ranged from ‘when were microbes first discovered’ to the more complex ‘do microbes have a conscience?’. Pupils had so many questions that we ran out of time to answer them all, but we made sure to follow up with answers via email after the fact. Some of the classes extended their ‘Mag Micro’ week into the following week as the sheer number of activities were hard to fit into just five days!

Feedback from the classes was extremely positive; all the teachers requested to keep hold of the materials and use them again with future pupils.

'Just wanted to say a HUGE thank you for all of the hard work and wonderful resources that have made this week a fantastic week of learning. As a class teacher, we have never been supplied with such a quantity of resources – it feels a bit like Christmas. The games and information have been second to none and we are very grateful to have an extended period of time to appreciate them further.'

While we at Life Sciences are keen to get back to in-person engagement, Magnificent Microbes 2022 reinforced the idea that remote activities can still be extremely engaging with the right preparation and resources! We’re also looking forward to using the games, videos and activities in other public engagement outings and sharing the magnificence of microbes with lots more people over the coming year.

Written by
Erin Hardee
Schools Outreach Officer 
School of Life Sciences, University of Dundee


Erin Hardee

Schools Outreach Officer

+44 (0)1382 386460