Strawberry DNA opens the eyes of our children to a future in STEM

Illumina and Cambridge LaunchPad announce new partnership to bring STEM careers to school children and young people

A new partnership between STEM outreach programme Cambridge LaunchPad and Illumina, a global leader in genomics technology, will deliver hands-on activities to broaden school children’s and young people’s experience of science and inspire them to pursue a STEM career.

A recent study by the Institute of Engineering and Technology (IET) estimated the current talent shortage within the UK STEM sector to be 173,000 workers. Of the businesses surveyed, about half expect this shortage to impact their ability to operate and grow. The IET recommendations, cited in an open letter to the Prime Minister in November 2021, highlighted the need for an increase in investment, resource, and collaboration between industry and the early education sector.

Illumina’s new partnership with Cambridge Launchpad aims to address this and will bring its DNA Day programme to UK schools for the first time – in Cambridge, the birthplace of DNA sequencing. DNA Day has historically been a national day of celebration in the USA, celebrating the discovery and understanding of DNA, and the scientific advancements it has enabled. In previous years, Illumina’s DNA Day programme of events and resources have reached 50,000 students in the US.

On 25th April around 2,000 primary and secondary students across Cambridgeshire took part in hands-on activities to learn how to extract DNA from a strawberry. By bringing genomics programmes into the classroom in exciting ways, the programme aims to ignite curiosity and inspire the next generation to see themselves as future scientists and innovators. The activities were provided by Illumina, alongside career talks from their employees to showcase the wealth of careers available in STEM.

Jo Lee, Senior Manager, Talent Acquisition (Europe, Middle East, and Africa) at Illumina, said:

“Engaging with early talent and the local community is key to the success of not only our business but to inspire future talent with the endless possibilities available in our region. Illumina has ambitious growth plans over the next few years and believes a sustained investment in the future talent pool is vital to the success of both the company and the wider Cambridge business community. Joining Cambridge Launchpad enables early talent to see the opportunities available to them for future careers in a fun and impactful way.”

Simon Humphrey, Regional Lead for CSR and Sustainability (Europe, Middle East, and Africa) at Illumina, added:  

“Joining Cambridge LaunchPad and delivering our first project day is part of a long-term investment that we will be making in developing the skills, and building the science capital and aspirations of young people. Being one of many inspiring Cambridge Launchpad-supporting organisations means we can be part of something much bigger and more impactful than if we were to deliver this on our own.”

Alongside delivering Cambridge LaunchPad project days, Illumina is also exploring other ways of engaging young people in STEM including creating bespoke free STEM resources for science teachers, as part of Cambridge LaunchPad’s newly launched Resource Hub. Illumina aims to reach children and young people in Cambridge who wouldn’t otherwise get insight into careers in STEM, to open their eyes to the opportunities available, as well as engage with early talent and the local community more widely

Cambridge LaunchPad is managed by Form the Future, Anne Bailey, CEO said: “We are delighted to welcome Illumina to the Cambridge LaunchPad programme. Their ethos aligns with ours – Illumina will undoubtedly help to bring STEM to life for school children and young people, providing valuable insights and role models at key stages of their development.”