Christine Pfeifle and Kristian Ullrich enthrall Students through the "Rent-a-Scientist" Program

July 09, 2024

As part of this year's "Rent-a-Scientist" program by the Kiel Region, Christine Pfeifle and Kristian Ullrich from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Biology (MPI) visited various schools to engage students with exciting scientific topics. Christine Pfeifle provided insights into the secret life of mice at two elementary schools, while Kristian Ullrich spoke to a 10th-grade class at the Kronshagen Gymnasium about the significance of networks in biology and social media.

Christine Pfeifle, head of the animal facility at MPI, visited Theodor Heuss School and Johanna Mestorf School to introduce first graders to the fascinating world of mice. In the first week of July, the children learned how differently mice and humans perceive their environment. Mice have less sharp vision and see in a different color spectrum than humans, and they hear ultrasonic sounds important for their social behavior. The students recorded their own voices and compared them with the sounds of mice, highlighting the differences in sound spectrum and volume.

Another focus was the diversity of life among mice. Christine Pfeifle explained that there are many different species of mice, each with its unique characteristics. The children learned how crucial it is for a mouse to find enough food and water, hide, and share everything with its family members. These insights helped the children better understand the importance of biodiversity.

Meanwhile, Kristian Ullrich, PhD, a member of the Scientific IT Group at MPI, visited Kronshagen Gymnasium. He spoke to a 10th-grade class on the topic "Cliques and Groups – Which Point in a Network Can Serve as an Influencer?" In his lecture, he connected the world of social media with biological networks. The students learned that networks play a significant role in all areas of society, from school to social media. These networks can be analyzed and their complex structures classified to make predictions about user behavior, for example.

Kristian Ullrich demonstrated that similar networks exist in biology, such as in bacteria forming biofilms or in multicellular organisms with various cell types producing enzymes. In bioinformatics, algorithms are used to characterize these complex networks. In a hands-on course, the students created simple networks and identified cliques and key nodes. This helped them understand which connections in a network are particularly important and which nodes play a central role.

The Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Biology is pleased to contribute to the education of young people and promote understanding of science through initiatives like "Rent-a-Scientist." Positive feedback from the schools confirms the success of these actions and encourages the institute to continue similar projects in the future.

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