This post originally appeared on The Node.
Getting the next generation of scientists excited about Biology is an important part of our jobs as researchers. To that end Karine Nedoncelle, Aurelien Doucet and I created PokeMod cards. Each card features a model organism and highlights some of its contribution to the field of biology. The cards are easy to deploy at your next outreach event or in the classroom. All you have to do is download them, and have them printed at your local or university's print shop (we provide tiled front and back files in both A3 and A4).
Model organisms have become indispensable tools in biological research and have enabled innumerable advances in our understanding of life. But while many people are versed in core concepts involving cells, DNA and genes (my mother can give a pretty good explanation of CRISPR!), they are sometimes un-aware that the majority of the research behind these concepts is attributed to a handful of unique, sometimes exotic, organisms. Occasionally, particularly ignorant politicians have attacked such research as frivolous! Clearly there is a need to familiarize the greater public with the existence of our beloved model systems. We made PokeMods as an introduction and tribute to some of our most productive model organisms. We hope that after interacting with the cards, someone will walk away with a greater appreciation for the utility of say a fruit fly or sea urchin in biology research.
A basic objective is the awareness that biological research is carried out using a variety of interesting organisms. This objective can be built upon in the classroom to include knowing which models are good for which types of research.
These cards are intended for children aged 8+. Younger children can certainly enjoy the cards but may not benefit from the learning objectives above. We also hope to reach a secondary audience that includes the ecosystem around the children (parents, educators, etc.)
There are lots of ways these cards can be distributed. In a classroom they can be provided as a reward for correct responses or good behaviour. Then when students collect all of them they get a prize.
A more advanced classroom activity could be to create a game by assigning biological problems to groups of students. They then 'attack' the problem using their model systems and explain why.
During the 2016 fête de la science, an open house for the university, we 'hid' the cards at different exhibitions. For example the zebrafish card was found at a stall that was highlighting zebrafish research. When the students found all of the cards they got a prize, in our case a 3D printed DNA molecule. We also provided a flyer that displayed all the model organisms to find, connected by a phylogenetic tree. This aspect can be used with a more advanced audience to highlight the evolutionary relationship between the model organisms and the benefits to study them.