Development of novel teaching aids to support inclusive science learning

This work is supported by the Vice Chancellor’s Learning & Teaching Project Fund 2020-21.

The year 2021 marks 60 years since the invention of the piston action pipette that has allowed scientists to develop some of the world’s most important modern scientific discoveries including diagnostic tests and medicines for diseases.  

Just as a pen or pencil is a basic, fundamental tool for a writer, a pipette capable of accurately and safely dispensing small volumes of liquid is one of the very first tools that science students are introduced to across the globe.  Being able to use this tool is a critical skill for any science student to master who wants to undertake a laboratory-based science career, for example, in the NHS, pharmaceutical companies, or medical research laboratories. 

However, the current design requires an interpretation of acute sensory feedback in the thumb/hands of the person operating it meaning it is possible for all students to use the pipette incorrectly and that could have serious consequences for the experiments that they perform.  In addition, given that the pipette requires excellent manual dexterity to operate there are aspects of the current design that do not consider use by disabled students or those with specific educational needs.  

Therefore, our team – Dr Abigail Rickard (Associate Professor), Dr Melanie Thorley (STAART), Ben Rickard-Stephenson (Product Design Student), Rebecca Cordina (Science Undergraduate Student), and Bradley Cory (Science Postgraduate Student) – have been working on a new, inclusive pipette design that aims to address these issues.

Over the last 6 months we have held focus groups in which undergraduate students have provided their views on the current pipette design and have set to work in developing 3D printed solutions to make the pipette design more inclusive and intuitive. We plan to extend this consultation further to disabled students in schools and colleges across Kent and Medway so that our solutions can become as inclusive as possible, and hopefully inspiring disabled students to pursue careers in science that they might not otherwise have thought possible.

In addition, some of our 3D printed solutions extend beyond the redesign of the pipette and could be useful with other pieces of fundamental scientific equipment.

Although we are currently unable to share specifics about the nature of our design solutions due to intellectual property applications, we hope that we will be able to soon share these designs with scientists across the globe to ultimately make science more accessible. In doing so we hope to have some of the world’s greatest problem solvers, our disabled student community, engaged in a whole host of successful scientific careers over the next 60 years and beyond.

Dr Abigail Rickard
Associate Professor
School of Science, University of Greenwich

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