Researchers turn children into scientists at outdoor lab

University researchers met hundreds of children and their parents at stalls in the city’s Millennium Square at this year’s Child Friendly Leeds Live event.

Researchers from the University smiling with children from the event

Researchers Dr Emily Caseley, Kasia Hammond, Emily Rolfe, Izzie Gibson and Rebecca Motley, from the School of Biomedical Sciences, taught children how to keep themselves healthy and how robot doctors could transform healthcare.

A constant drizzle failed to dampen the enthusiasm of attendees as they played interactive games and learned about Artificial Intelligence (AI) while picking up tips for staying healthy.

The event was organised by Breeze, a service that offers children and young people access to a wide range of sporting and cultural activities, to celebrate National Play Day.

The University researchers were part of the Be Curious initiative to show local communities what research is taking place and what impact it can have on people’s lives.

A team from the School of Computing, who included PhD student Xin Ci Wong, demonstrated AI algorithms to children using ‘decision trees’ to classify dogs and cats by narrowing down characteristics.

“We are using this outreach work to try and communicate the message as to how AI works in a simple way,” said Oliver Umney, a first year PhD student.

“There is as yet not much practical use of AI in medicine, but it will be in regular use in hospitals and GP practices in the near future and especially when these children are older.”

Zoe Hancox, who is in her second year as a PhD student, added: “We are trying to push engagement with the local community and instil a passion for science in young people.”

A second team taught children how to identify different parts of their bodies and stay healthy, understanding the role of oxygen, sugar, vitamins and water.

Izzie Gibson said: “We spoke about our bodies and the importance of everything we eat, drink and breathe. The children wore lab coats to ‘join our lab’ for the day and they loved imagining being a scientist.” 

Celine Roblin-Robson, Engagement Officer at the University said: “Our teams of researchers did such a fantastic job at being able to attract all ages and finding different ways of making their research interesting to them.

“Our aim is to make Be Curious a known name across Leeds. We want it to be synonymous with high quality and fun activities. It is also hugely important for us to engage with city-wide initiatives, giving us the opportunity to connect the University with the city.”

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