Public engagement

Working With Schools

"Inspiring the next generation"


School visits to departments

We have a busy schedule of school visits with approximately 30 local schools gaining a taster of practical science in our laboratories each year.  Some of the activities that we ran are via the University Widening Participation team, whilst others are via direct contact with schools.  If you are interested in organising a visit, please contact Adrian Harrison. Details of University-wide services for schools are available at the University outreach pages


An ongoing partnership has been developed between the University of York and BSix (Brooke House Sixth Form College, London), led by Liz McNeil of the University’s Widening Participation team. Biology provides different inputs to the relationship, involving both visit by our staff to BSix and students to Biology. One of the favourite activities we provide is DNA finger-printing , delivered by Adrian Harrison and the Biology Outreach team. The students are taken through the process of amplifying minute amounts of DNA from a crime scene and matching to the DNA profile of suspects. This hands-on exposure to cutting-edge science is highly valued by the students.

 Staff and student visits to schools

Many of our staff and students are also directly involved with schools and can provide a range of potential inputs including career advice, activities, mentoring etc. This is part of York Students in Schools, a huge volunteering project placing over 500 students a year in local schools in a variety of activities. 

CASE STUDY - Of aphids, wasps and beneficial bacteria...

This was the hands-on activity that two of our PhD students, Ruth Wade and Ellie Heyworth, provided for pupils at Middlesbrough College as part of their STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Maths) event.  The activity involved observing parasitoid wasps injecting aphids with their eggs and understanding how this interaction is affected by beneficial, endosymbiotic bacteria.  The pupils, aged 14-17, enjoyed the chance for some hands-on science along with the opportunity to formulate and test hypotheses and analyse the data that they collected.  null

 Partnerships with schools

Members of our Department have been involved in Royal Society partnership grants with local schools. These grants allow schools to work in partnership with professional scientists. This is a chance for schools to go beyond the curriculum and develop some exciting hands-on activities.

Department helps rural primary school win Royal Society Partnership Grant

Dr Adrian Harrison, the Department’s Outreach Coordinator, helped Cowick CE Primary School from East Yorkshire secure a £2,000 Royal Society Partnership grant that allowed year 5and 6 to explore the hidden world of microbiology. The project called “It’s a small world” demonstrated to pupils the roles that microorganisms play in everyday life, from producing food to causing infection, as well as introducing how scientists study these interesting organisms. The 20 pupils not only learnt all about microbes but also had the chance to work with them, both at school and in a full day session in the Department’s laboratories. This culminated in them designing and  carrying out experiments to test how effective different cleaning materials are at killing microbes. As part of the grant Cowick CE Primary was able to purchase microscopes for teaching all year groups at the school about cells and microbes.  For more detail about these awards visit the Royal Society pages



Work Experience

Work experience for Year 10/12

The Biology department of the University of York is offering an exciting summer work experience opportunity for a small cohort of Year 10 and Year 12 students. The work experience week, 19-23rd August 2019, will include group sessions on general lab skills, presentation skills, advice on University applications and careers advice, as well as time spent working in research labs in the department. 

Application for work experience biology (MS Word , 57kb) and return to by the deadline, 30th June 2019. 

"I enjoyed getting an idea of the types of techniques used for research in different fields and meeting experts in these areas".
Year 10 work experience student

For enquiries on work experience outside of the summer work experience scheme, please contact the Biology DMT Hub


Work experience for Year 12/13

Each year we receive a large number of requests for work experience placements for Year 12 and Year 13 students.  Whilst we endeavour to help, the number of opportunities are limited.  We pass on all requests for placements to staff in the Department via our weekly bulletin, staff then respond directly to requests if they are able to help.  Requests for Year 12 and Year 13 work experience should be made directly to the Biology DMT Hub.

For staff: Work experience forms are available on the Biology Wiki site within the 'DMT (Departmental Management Team) Hub' tab, nestled under the 'Visiting Associates and Work Experience' header.

Open Lectures

The Department of Biology organises a series of Open Lectures each year which address important and topical biological subjects in a accessible manner suitable for lay audiences.

Admission is free and no booking is required. Each of the speakers is both a distinguished scientist and a good communicator. The lectures aim to capture the imagination of everyone interested in biology.

The University organises a programme of Public Lectures covering a wide diversity of topics.


Our staff and students talk about their exciting science in many different ways and at many different events from scientific conferences to talks to special interest groups and members of the general public.

Over the years, many of the talks at the York Philosophical Society's Cafe Scientifique programme have been given by members of the Department 

Some examples of other events are:


Fifteen York scientists were among c. 270 academics from across the UK swapping the lab for a pub from 19-21st May as part of Pint of Science 2014, a national science festival.



Dr Mark Coles and Liz Gothard from the Centre for Immunology and Infection (CII) provided talks on wound healing and artificial immune systems.  This event was sponsored by NC3Rs research council.

Dr Betsy Pownall (Biology) and Dr Stephen Smith (Electronics) described their work to combine zebrafish studies and computer modelling to investigate Parkinson’s disease in their talk “Fish and (computer) chips – a novel mix of science and engineering for learning about Parkinson’s disease.



Dr Gareth Evans (Biology) discussed his research on synapses in the learning brain in his talk “From membranes to memories – how do we learn?” null

  Outreach Events


Science in a suitcase

We have a range of resources that can be provided from our "Science in a suitcase packs":

As the name suggests, these activities  are readily transportable and have all the materials listed along with instructions you need to provide an interesting and engaging session.  The current activities are listed below.  These activities can either be used by school teachers, students on the York Students in Schools placement or if necessary we may be able to arrange for one of our scientists to bring the suitcase and lead the activity.  Contact Adrian Harrison if you would like to arrange to borrow the activities.

Current activities include:

Heart & Lungs:

Interesting facts about the heart and lungs, activity to learn about the vital parts of the organs, followed by experimental design.

For years 7-9 for approximately 1.5 hours

Energy for us:

Understanding that food is needed for energy, activity involving exercise and discussion of energy expenditure.

For years 5-6 for approximately 1 hour.  Need access to hall/outside for activity.

Nuts about Energy:

Discussion of renewable + non-renewable energy, what energy is and understanding of a fair test.

For years 7-8 for approximately 1.5 hours.  Allergy issues.

Arthropods; look a little closer:

Highlights the importance of observation for a scientist, use of magnification using magnifying glasses & discussion of how arthropods are adapted for survival.

For year 5 for approximately 1 hour.  Need to borrow microscopes and blocks.

Adaptation; Year 12:

Overview of the role of natural selection in evolution, using the example of Darwins' finches, linking genotype to phenotype & finishing with adaptations to Europa.

For year 11 for apprximately 1.5 hours.  Needs a lesson plan.

Adaptation; survival of the fittest:

Introduction to the concept of adaptation by using specific examples from the animal kingdom. Discuss that adaptation is necessary for survival “survival of the fittest”. Fitness in terms of those most fit for their environment, are the ones that best survive. 

For years 7-9 for approximately 1 hour.  Needs a powerpoint presentation. 





Dr Adrian Harrison

Contact for Schools 

Dr Adrian Harrison
Outreach Coordinator
Department of Biology
University of York
York YO10 5DD



Public Engagement Events Contact  

For external events please email: 



How to find us:

Information and directions on how to find the Department of Biology can be found on our how-to-locate us page. This page includes maps, directions, opening times and Satellite navigation instructions.