Norwich pupils show science skills beyond their years

Chopping up DNA, cloning genes from jellyfish and manipulating bacteria are not the pastimes of the average 13-year-old.

But that is exactly what year 9 pupils at City of Norwich School (CNS) on Eaton Road have been doing, as they work towards a very special science award.

Working under the tutelage of Dr Kay Yeoman from the University of East Anglia (UEA), a group of 11 vibrant young minds used techniques of molecular biology to create a biosensor for caffeine.

They cloned a gene from a flourescent jellyfish, created their own DNA molecule – which they have named pCNS – and married the two inside a bacterium to create a biosensor that glows when it comes into contact with caffeine.

The efforts are all towards a silver British Science Association (BSA) CREST award for 11 to 19-year-olds.

The work is closer to undergraduate degree student level than the GCSEs they and their classmates are preparing for, but this select bunch are anything but fazed.

Gearing up for a triple science GCSE is 13-year-old Josephine Conway.

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'We had been told from the beginning we might not actually be able to make this biosensor, but everything we did was successful,' said Josephine.

'It makes you feel proud, because you've actually done it, and you are only 13.

'We have never learnt anything like this at school; it has made me certain that I want to go into a career in science.'

Philip Grant, 13, said: 'The level was put so high, and we were expected to know so much, which for the first few weeks was hard. But it was really fun. Actually being successful is the highlight.'

Philip added: 'CNS gives us a lot of options. It is a good learning environment; the school makes it cool to learn.'

The biosensor and the DNA molecule are brand new creations, and could theoretically be used to find sewage leaks by detecting caffeine.

The work was in partnership with the UEA and sponsored by Cue East, a higher education beacon for community engagement.

Dr Yeoman, who has a child at the school, said: 'It is so important at this young stage to give them a sense of what studying science will be like when they get older; what it can do.

'They did really well. These techniques are very advanced for the school environment and they have generated something that did not exist before.

'It shows what you can do with a group of 13-year-olds if you push them and you have the right learning environment.' The young science stars gave a confident presentation in front of school governors, teachers, parents and academics, including representatives from BSA.

Head of science at CNS Kate Nichols said: 'When they gave a confident, eloquent, twenty-minute presentation, jaws dropped.

'It is a huge achievement what they have done, putting in the hours. I do not think there is anybody in the school who is not impressed.

'We never thought they would do it, the fact that they have is really quite incredible.'

Do you have an education story? Telephone Evening News reporter Victoria Leggett on 01603 772468 or email

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