April 2015 | ISSUE 17
Girls to Pioneers Programme: Inspiring the scientists of tomorrow

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Assoc Prof Karen Crasta (far right) with her research team and participants of the field trip to her lab

"Wow, I kind of expected to see more around the lab!" whispered Grace Cho as she stepped into Nanyang Associate Professor Karen Crasta's lab.

She and five other girls from Raffles Girls' School (Secondary) were at a special field trip, held on 20 March, to learn more about a career in science, as part of the Girls to Pioneers programme. Girls to Pioneers is an initiative by the Singapore Committee for United Nations (UN) Women, which aims to change the gender imbalance by encouraging young girls to pursue careers in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics).

Hosted by Assoc Prof Crasta, also an ambassador for the UN Women in Science STEM Programme, and her team, the girls had the opportunity to experience a day in the life of a cancer scientist.

"Through this outreach programme, my team and I hoped to impart the thrill of discovery to the girls through simple experiments which they carry out themselves," said Assoc Prof Crasta who has been involved in the UN programme for about a year.

"It is important to let the girls know that career choices in STEM are legitimate choices for women. I had great mentors who encouraged me throughout the years and I wanted to transmit my passion for science in a similar way," she added.

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Clockwise from top left: A participant treating cervical cancer cells with Nocodazole; viewing cell growth every five minutes using a time-lapse microscope and camera for imaging cells in real time; Assoc Prof Crasta demonstrates adding primary antibody before incubation of cells; throughout the session, participations had the chance to interact with the women scientists in Assoc Prof Crasta's lab

Through hands-on experience of treating cells with Nocodazole, the girls learnt how cells divide and how to inhibit cell division in cancer using anti-mitotic drugs, which lead to cell death.

"I found the hands-on aspect of today's session very interesting because it's not everyday that we get to treat cancer cells. Much of the equipment found in this lab is not like what we have in school, so it's very cool to have the chance to experience using them," said Claire Goh, a participant at the outreach activity.

While some were fascinated by the experiments themselves, others were intrigued by the treated cells and molecular structures which the girls viewed using time-lapse and florescent microscopies in the lab.

"The microscopes in our school don't allow us to see the cells so zoomed-in. So, it was a very interesting experience to see the treated cancer cells in such magnification, especially with the different colours and filters," said Jacqueline Tan.

For Assoc Prof Crasta and her team, engaging with the young participants and seeing them be inspired to be future scientists was the best part of the Girls to Pioneers outreach activity that day.

"The girls showed strong interest and were curious about everything! It was satisfying to see them being blown away by the 'discoveries' which they viewed using state-of-the-art imaging, " said Assoc Prof Crasta.

"Overall, all of us had fun and it will definitely be an annual event in our lab!"​