10 years MaxLab

December 08, 2020

With a lot of enthusiasm and a wide range of experiments, the MaxLab brings scientific research closer to the public in a practical and up-to-date way. This year, the students’ and visitors’ laboratory of the Max Planck Institutes in Martinsried looks back on a 10-year success story.

Impressions by Dr. Ina Peters, Head of the MaxLab

10 years ago, I got the chance to build up the MaxLab and since then to develop it continuously. The great - and in my eyes exciting - challenge is to present complex scientific questions in such a way that even non-scientists can follow. For me, this is the best way to convey the importance of basic research to MaxLab visitors.

The opportunity to not only talk about science, but also to experiment is an excellent tool - be it for primary school classes, high school students, or adults. It is really fun to guide lab newcomers on their first steps in a laboratory and to see that after initial uncertainty and skepticism, the eyes of some start to shine. For some young people, a visit to the MaxLab is indeed a decisive impulse in finding a career and shows them possible scientific career paths!

Science is constantly changing and developing. In the future, the MaxLab will therefore continue to offer new topics, methods and formats to help young people and other visitors understand and comprehend research. I am very much looking forward to this. It is a great feeling and a great incentive for me when I can pass my enthusiasm for natural sciences to others!

Strictly speaking, the beginnings of the students’ and visitors’ laboratory of the Max Planck Institutes of Neurobiology and of Biochemistry date back 18 years. The institutes had recognized how important it is to make scientific research comprehensible for students and the public by enabling research to be experienced. Thus, annual course blocks for high school classes were created in 2002.

The new course offerings were met with high demand. However, it was not until 2010, when Dr. Ina Peters joined the public relations team of the two Max Planck Institutes, that the course offerings expanded significantly. This marked the birth of the MaxLab as a permanent institution on the Martinsried campus, open all year round.

Today the MaxLab offers a wide range of more than 15 course formats for all age groups. These range from practical courses for school classes, company internships to teacher trainings and courses for adults. In addition to these regular course formats, numerous other offerings have been created over the last years, such as the Bavarian preparation course for the "Bioolympics" competition or courses as part of the Girls' & Boys' Day. "Hands-on" is the motto that runs like a thread through all formats.

Special emphasis is placed on high school classes and the promotion of particularly interested students. PCR or gel electrophoresis – these are just two examples of topics that are dealt with theoretically at school and the MaxLab brings to life. The students thus experience up to date research and laboratory work. In addition, coupled with a sense of achievement and success, the classes provide students with insights into career opportunities in the natural sciences. The MaxLab can proudly claim to have played an important role more than once in the last 10 years in helping young people embark on a scientific career.

The special feature of the MaxLab concept is not only the "do-it-yourself" approach, but also the direct link to the two Max Planck Institutes. The MaxLab has set itself the goal of capturing the research of both institutes in the course content. Every MaxLab experiment has its origin or its application in a laboratory "next door" in one of the two institutes. Together with the latest equipment and methods, this gives visitors an impression of real and contemporary research - making the broad and vague term "basic research" tangible and understandable for many visitors for the first time.

Over the past 10 years, MaxLab manager Ina Peters has built up a network that connects the visitors’ laboratory with around 60 high schools not only in the Munich area, but also in other German-speaking countries. More than 1000 visitors come to Martinsried every year to take part in MaxLab courses - some even from non-European countries.

Unfortunately, not this year: the Corona pandemic has temporarily brought courses to a standstill. The otherwise lively MaxLab looks back on a rather quiet year. Yet we hope that the laboratory doors will open again soon! Until then, please keep an eye on our website. In addition to our already available online course materials on genome editing, we are continuously working on new course formats. In addition, we will introduce some MaxLab guests here, relaying their impressions and experiences.

Impressions by Birgit Bisle, supervising teacher of science classes
Feodor-Lynen-Gymasium, Planegg

The Feodor-Lynen-Gymnasium is not only connected to the Max Planck Institutes in Martinsried through our school's name1. As a partner school of the MaxLab, a visit has been a fixed component of our science project classes since 2012.

In courses specially designed for our school, junior high school students learn how to estimate abstract orders of magnitude for themselves, for example, through microscopy and pipetting. Equipped like real researchers, the students learn a lot about light, determine photometric concentrations, and create calibration lines. Writing their names with upside-down glasses or feeding their neighbors yogurt is not only great fun, but also gives the students a playful insight into the performance of our brains.

In the MaxLab, senior high school students deepen their knowledge in the fields of enzymatics or neurobiology and gain their first practical experience. In a phase of professional orientation, the young people can gain insights into the occupational fields of science at renowned research institutes.

Every year our students are enthusiastic about the mixture of scientific work and data analysis on the one hand and the fun factor on the other. Thank you very much for great experiments and the opportunity to experience scientific work first hand. We are looking forward to many more exciting excursions to the MaxLab!

1 The biochemist and Nobel Prize winner Feodor Lynen (1911-1979) was director at the Max Planck Institute of Biochemistry.

Impressions by Katja Strohmeier, student

I first heard about the MaxLab in 2006 when my mother suggested that I participate in the science week during the summer vacations. At that time, I was 13 years old and I remember how exciting it was to be in the lab wearing a lab coat for the first time. It was so much fun that this week was certainly also a reason why I participated in various scientific competitions later. This helped me a lot at school, but also opened the doors to other seminars. During the Bioolympics, I was at the MaxLab for the third time this year and I can very well imagine working in this field.

Impressions by Christoph Kantsperger, teacher (biology, chemistry) Rupprecht-Gymnasium Munich

Since 2012, the MaxLab has played a special role in the biology-chemistry practical work for my grade 11 students. The school classes are offered a program here that most high schools cannot provide. The biology curriculum is brought to life by allowing students to perform methods such as PCR and gel electrophoresis themselves. I experienced young people, who were completely absorbed in their work and gave "tutoring" in genetic engineering shortly before graduating from high school.

Furthermore, the Martinsried Science Campus is presented and examined in more detail during the course. In addition to the scientific working methods, the students get to know the research world and a wide range of career opportunities.

Some of the course participants have benefited from this course: they were encouraged in their decision to pursue a scientific career. In five cases, students decided to study chemistry, biology and pharmacy because of the molecular biology course at the MaxLab. And even if they told me: "Now I know that I never want to work in a laboratory! “- then that’s worth something, too.

Impressions by Marie Keller, student

The molecular biology course at the MaxLab has strengthened my desire to study biology! The large practical part of the course gave me an insight into the possible professional life of a biologist. We conducted most of the experiments ourselves, which was really fun. With the theoretical introduction presented first, the reactions and processes were also easy to understand. I found the short presentation about the current progress in cancer research particularly interesting. The course was a great experience and has given me a lot of motivation for my career choices.

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