The Great Bacterial Bake Off


Ready, Study, Bake! Phil Aldridge set out this challenge for his students and tells us all about the amazing results – and how it is all about engaging with students in innovative and fun ways.

@ScoobyWaffs: I am loving the #GreatBacterialBakeOff tweets! I’ve never wanted E. coli in my belly as much as I do now! #cake

@jeanmadams: Who would have thought lab scientists could have so much fun with cake! Definitely look at #GreatBacterialBakeOff

If you ask a scientist to do something outside their defined barriers they come up with creations that look amazing.

The pictures and quotes in this post were all generated after I challenged our Stage 2 Medical Microbiology students to a “Great Bacterial Bake Off”, which took place at lunchtime on Friday 26th April.  After the very positive response to tweeting pictures of these creations, we have uploaded an album of the creations to both the ICaMB and School for Biomedical Science (in progress) Facebook pages and collected the twitter action on storify. The quotes and images speak for themselves.  This was a nice, and hopefully successful, way to make some noise about Microbiology studies at Newcastle University, not strictly through our academic exploits but through CAKE!

The Background:

There was no criteria set for this challenge except they had to focus on bacteria that they had come across in their course. Wow, did they deliver! Well done all of you.

Since advertising this event, there was a clear buzz on the grapevine asking what I was up to. The occasional probing question to a student brought forth comments “Oh this is going to get competitive” and “someone has bought chickenwire!” (Chickenwire???)

I will admit the decision to tweet the results was a bit of an experiment in itself as I had not tried something like this before. Since I was lecturing the Stage 2 students on Diagnostic Microbiology earlier in the week, I checked if they were fine if we went online with this experiment. One student got the ball rolling on Thursday evening with a proud tweet of one entry, which gave us the hashtag #GreatBacterialBakeOff. The rest is now history…

The reason:

I was looking for a way to drive what could have been a rather dull discussion about our Medical Microbiology degree, into something with a fun twist.  Not enough experiments in the lab result in edible end products (at least if you are obeying all health and safety instructions) so a bake off seemed like a way to make people think while overcoming this scientific shortcoming.

We can, at times, forget the need to not only teach our undergraduates but also engage with them. In fact, a workshop has been organised for the Higher Education Academy here in Newcastle on Student Engagement in Education. Being able to interact, in an informal manner, can have great benefits for everyone involved. This does not have to be only at the Academic-Student interface. Indeed this is partly what both PANIC and IPA are doing in ICaMB at the moment. What is important is that it is fun, works both ways and you can get a chance to communicate.

ICaMB Academics mainly lecture on the portfolio of undergraduate degrees offered through the School of Biomedical Sciences. I have recently taken over the coordination of Biomedical Science with Medical Microbiology (UCAS BC95). The custodian of Wikipedia, Jimmy Wales, this week proclaimed that lectures are doomed. I disagree with this statement. Yes, not everyone is going to be able to deliver the perfect lecture but we can sure try to find complimentary ways in which to engage with our students at the undergraduate and postgraduate level to inspire them to learn and hopefully stay in a Science related career.

The winning cake

Health Warning: Having such a bake off creates quite a few cakes – eating said cakes (it was part of the competition for best effort) means you end up eating a serious amount of sugar. A number of participants, me included, suffered from “icing” overdose! So, if you do think about doing something similar, you may want to co-ordinate it to be a cake sale so you do not end up trying to eat all the entries!

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