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On Monday 19th of March, a group of 21 IB Biology students from Saint Maur International School, led by Ms Novick and Dr Erard visited the Yokohama Campus of RIKEN (Rikagaku Kenkyūsho, 理化学研究所), a multidisciplinary research organization that is engaged in a broad variety of research within natural sciences.

Founded in 1917, RIKEN is a principally state-funded (approximately 88 billion Yen annually) institution that conducts research within a number of scientific disciplines ranging from physics, chemistry, biology, medical science, engineering, and computational science. As such, RIKEN finds itself at the frontier between academia and industry and as a result, its activities touch on both basic research and more practical applications.

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RIKEN has been welcoming students from Saint Maur International School every year since 2014, each time offering a slightly different version of their tour, in order to fit with the current level of knowledge of our students, and to best spark their interest in Life Sciences. This year, Dr Todd Taylor, Team Leader of the Lab for Integrated Bioinformatics at RIKEN Center for Integrative Medical Sciences, offered a 1-hour lecture. Dr Taylor talked about his own experience as a student, and as a young researcher, and introduced a few of his many areas of research. Notably, he was part of the team who worked on the Human Genome Project, which resulted in the sequencing of the entire human DNA strand.

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Dr Taylor lecturing

After a short Q&A, students were then taken to the DNA Sequencing Facilities by Dr. Jordan Ramilowski, who offered a thorough explanation of the main research conducted there, and some of the technology, past and present, used for undertaking this work.

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Dr Ramilowski giving a tour of the sequencing facilities

Dr Ramilowski also gave students a summary of RIKEN's historic groundbreaking contributions to the understanding of human genomics, in particular via the building of cDNA libraries, a body of work that was conducted in parallel to that of the Human Genome Project and that was jointly published upon their simultaneous completion. Students were then given one last opportunity to ask some more questions and they were eventually asked to fill a satisfaction questionnaire that would help Dr Taylor and his colleagues to fine-tune even further their outreach efforts. As a bonus, we all departed with a bag full of goodies courtesy of the Lab for Integrated Bioinformatics, including a reprint of the issue of Nature that reported the groundbreaking completion of the Human Genome Project.

goodiesA bag full of goodies!

This experience provided the students with an invaluable opportunity to deepen and consolidate their understanding of genetics and to understand the implications and conditions of scientific research as a whole. We would like to thank the RIKEN Yokohama Campus for providing us with this eye-opening experience. We also thank Mrs Megumi Tabata and our colleagues at Yokohama Science Frontier High School for organizing this visit. We hope to be given this opportunity again to explore with them the works of some of the world's top scientists!


Video report of the 2016 visit led by Dr Jay Shin

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