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September 2012: Robots, God and Genetic Engineering

Secondary school students get hands on with Robots, God and Genetic Engineering

300 pupils and teachers from across 13 British schools experienced a unique partnership between secondary school science and religious education departments at an event staged by the Institute of Education at the University of Reading.

The programme featured acclaimed scientists from a number of universities, including Reading, who explored stem cells, robotics, ethics and philosophy with their young guests. Workshop sessions included building robots, cloning cauliflowers and discussion about the brain, the mind and free will.

One of the many sessions  looked at … What makes a robot a robot?

Dr Nick Hawes from the University of Birmingham looked at what makes a robot a robot, and, more importantly what it takes to create an autonomous (perhaps even intelligent) robot that can work in human environments. With assistance from Dora (pictured here) a robot that can explore and search for household objects, he discussed with the students the problems of robot sensing, planning and action.

 … while another session considered how far we can improve as humans

Professor John Bryant (pictured seated next to Nick Hawes) is a speaker on genetic engineering and bioethics.  He looked at Genetic Selection and Genetic Engineering and considered the fascinating question,  “Can we make better humans?”

… So what did the students think?

“Although I googled the event the day before I wasn’t really sure what the day would bring. Now my head is buzzing with even more questions then I came with. I really want to know more about programming now, because I can see what I can do with it. It’s really made me think about and all the things I could do with my GCSE choices this year.” Tim,15,City of Norwich School.

“I was amazed by the sophistication of the robots on show. I imagine reasoning robots in the future to make our world more efficient than it is now. I would really like to talk to my friends about what I’ve seen today. I belong to a student society at school and today has made me want to plan a science at school day to tell people about what we’ve seen and learnt.”   Delamram, 14, Bentleywood High School.

… And their teachers?

“The day was brilliant for showing students that questions can be cross-discipline and to open students’ minds to a deeper understanding of contemporary issues is science and religion. Good opportunity for RE/Science teachers to talk and discuss key questions and to think about the importance of these in the curriculum. A stimulating, enjoyable day.”

Ms Sophie Clapp, teacher, Heathfield Community college, East Sussex.


“Really enjoyed the interactive questioning and deep level thinking in the ‘all you need is science – is it?’ session with Revd Mark Laynesmith. Really helpful how the Vice Chancellor opened the day and the way the themes he identified carried through.”

Philip Maxfield, teacher, St Michael’s Catholic School, Buckinghamshire.


“The media and scientists rarely talk about the ethical and moral issues surrounding science so I feel that days such as this one are a great way of getting pupils to think beyond the just the science. Often in the very full science curriculum there is very little time for a good debate on scientific and moral ethics. Again the curriculum does not encourage cross-discipline work hence a day like today is a very helpful spade to explore cross discipline questions.”

T Wade.

© 2011 LASAR (Learning about Science and Religion)