In 2011, the Claessen lab was (heavily) involved in the competition for the so-called Academic Year Prize, which is awarded to the team that has the best idea for translating top science to the public. Our team, which was headed by Prof. Gilles van Wezel and coordinated by Desirée Hagens and myself, consisted of staff and students from Leiden University and the Erasmus Medical Centre (Rotterdam). We managed to win the 2011 competition with our project called Antibiotica Gezocht! Within this project, we devised different strategies to involve the public with our research on streptomycetes and the important products they produce (i.e. antibiotics).  We initiated collaborations with important cultural attractions, including Museum Boerhaave as well as Artis, who has developed a so-called “microbial zoo”, called Micropia, and which was recently opened. Within Micropia, we have an exhibit that not only shows the beauty of the microorganisms we work with, but also the important contribution they make to society. With a large number of visitors each year, these contributions are an important outreach activity for our Faculty. 

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To motivate pupils for microbiology, we also developed a kit, which pre-university schools can order to bring microbiology into action in the classroom. With this kit, pupils get all the ingredients to have a four-weeks practical class, during which they can isolate their own antibiotic-producing streptomycetes. Microbiology is largely absent in the current curriculum of pre-university schools, and with our strategy we hope to change that. The success of this concept is reflected in the fact that approximately 80 schools or so are using these kits, which is approximately 20% of all pre-university schools in the Netherlands. Possibly, this outreach activity could stimulate prospective students to come to Leiden to study (micro)biology. 

© Dennis Claessen 2017