EPQs at Nowgen – part 1

Anita Hashmi and Glenn Coope are two sixth form students in Manchester. They came to Nowgen to do their own practical experiments based on DNA Barcoding, which formed the basis of their Extended Project Qualifications. We thought it’d be good if they shared their experience of working with us…

Anita: The Extended Project Qualification, or EPQ, is a qualification that has been introduced over several exam boards. It offers post-16 students the chance to develop skills that will be useful at university, such as self-conducted research and independent study. Students have the freedom to pursue any topic they are interested in and I was keen to do practical work investigating something around genetics.

Glenn: Hearing about the opportunity to do an EPQ at Nowgen came up when my teacher at college was driving us home from a student focus group at The Nowgen Centre. She told us Nowgen was offering the chance to carry out a practical EPQ in their labs over the summer. As only a small number of places were available, we had to apply with a proposal based around DNA Barcoding, and I was very eager to apply for this opportunity and was thrilled when Mat emailed me back.

Doing an EPQ at Nowgen offers a practical investigation that isn’t readily available in school labs; the Nowgen lab contains specialist equipment such as a Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) machine, micropipettes etc. Having someone explain to you what you are doing at each step of the practical and why gives you a better grasp of the information and the techniques used. I thoroughly enjoyed working on my project in this environment and it made me certain in future I would like to continue in this field of work.

AH: The first step in the process of carrying out the EPQ was to decide what to investigate in the experiment we could do at Nowgen. Once some initial ideas were gathered, a meeting with Mat was arranged to ensure that the idea was feasible and possible to do with the equipment available to us at Nowgen. When an idea has been chosen for the EPQ, the prospect of writing a 5000-word report becomes a lot less daunting! We arranged to go into Nowgen for a day to practice the techniques we would be using for our EPQ experiments, before planning when to go into run our own experiments.

A homogenizer, but not as we know it…

GC: We met up over the summer holidays to do our different investigations. The practical work lasted a few days; the first day we first prepared our samples of DNA by homogenizing and centrifuging our samples to extract the DNA. Then, on the next day, we carried out the PCR after finally preparing our samples and then testing them to see if everything had worked successfully. Once we saw the PCR was indeed successful, our samples were sent off for sequencing. It was so exciting to receive the sequencing data and to see the actual As Cs Ts and Gs from our samples DNA!

AH: When the data were first sent to us, we had no clue what to do with it or how to interpret it! Accordingly, another day at Nowgen was needed. We arranged a time and day to go into the centre to meet Mat, who explained to us how to interpret our data and how to analyse it using the free software Geneious. Once we had learnt what our data meant and how to interpret it, we could go away and analyse on our own, drawing our conclusions from the data and hopefully answering the questions we had posed in our titles and set out to answer.

GC: As part of our EPQ project, we must now write a report explaining our work and the outcome of our results, what we found and how our experiments went. In order to validate our work we must use references from sources that relate to our topic area. We will also present to a group of people explaining the concepts and what we found out through our results. The mark from the written report, production log we kept detailing the different stages of our projects, and presentation will all contribute to our final grade for the EPQ.

Carrying out an EPQ has enhanced my research skills and I have also acquired practical skills within the labs at Nowgen. In my opinion, doing an EPQ was one of the best choices I made and carrying it out at Nowgen was such an amazing experience. I thoroughly enjoyed my time at Nowgen and I’m very grateful for everything they have done for me!

Top image from the New York Botanical Garden website