Tallinn University of Technology

‘I was very satisfied!’ says Sigrid Kirss, project manager for Natural Sciences Day at TalTech and doctoral student in gene technology. ‘There were many participants in the workshops, more than last year. The students were very happy and the organisers of the workshops received good feedback.

loodusteadustepäeva töötuba miks tunnelid kokku ei varise
Workshop - ‘why don’t tunnels collapse?’

In total, 150 people came to TalTech to explore the various workshops. ‘It was a joy to see that there are so many people interested in the natural sciences among young people,’ said Sigrid Kirss. ‘It definitely inspires me to continue what I am doing.’

What was offered during the day was truly special and there were several intriguing themes: an hour in a forensics laboratory; luminous cells; ‘where did the fork come from?’; ‘why don’t tunnels collapse?’; removing the sharpness from black pepper. Five areas were covered in a period of five hours.

The excitement of the day and the satisfaction of the participants were also confirmed by the results of the feedback survey. It was suggested that there could be even more workshops in the future. Favourites included the forensics lab, DNA extraction from fruit, future foods from microbes, as well as a workshop on modelling physical processes. ‘What I liked the most was that the people who conducted the workshops were all very friendly and nice, which made me feel good for the whole day,’ one of the ratings read.

Piperine is good, a drone is even better

Gätlin Randrüt, who is studying in the TalTech Department of Economics and Finance, was there with her whole family. ‘We learned about Natural Sciences Day through our child’s school,’ she said. ‘However, we have been to open events organised by the university before. It’s good to introduce kids to different things and topics to broaden their horizons.’

The older children in the family liked the experiment where an attempt was made to remove piperine from pepper. ‘Practical things are suitable for boys; they want to get their hands dirty,’ said Gätlin. ‘However, the younger children were amazed by the drone that they saw during a tour of the Laboratory of Marine Ecology.’ A day later, the same family also visited the LIT-festival (Leidlike Inseneride Tehnoloogiafestival), where the younger children tested robots and the older ones built one in the workshop.

The organisers of the Natural Sciences Day workshops were also satisfied. ‘I showed interesting radar images of algae blooms in the Baltic Sea, but I also did a small introduction about the importance of the algorithm and the workflow of development,’ said Sander Rikka, a senior researcher at the Department of Marine Systems, whose workshop was called ‘Remote Sensing Capabilities’.

Rikka assured prospective students that they would have a lot of work in the future. ‘Once a person understands what data comes from where and what it means, and becomes familiar with the development of algorithms, they will be able to find a job in any company,’ Rikka said. ‘They say that data is the new gold.’

Why do we need the fruit fly?

The workshop given by Mari Palgi, Chief Officer in the Division of Gene Technology, was called ‘Model Organisms – why and what for, based on the example of the fruit fly’. ‘I’m working on the fruit fly as a model organism in the Laboratory of Molecular Neurobiology,’ she said. ‘We use the fruit fly as a simple model of a whole organism for the sake of our research.’

The main objects of research in the laboratory in question are rat embryonic nerve cells removed from the brain and mouse embryonic stem cells, grown in an incubator on cups. ‘The fruit fly offers us the opportunity to test the results obtained in the tissue culture on a whole organism,’ Palgi explained. ‘Our lab currently uses two human disease models in the fruit fly – the Pitt-Hopkins intellectual deficiency syndrome model and the Alzheimer’s disease model – the former of which was developed at the TalTech and it is unique in the world.’

According to Palgi, the School of Science at TalTech has a small but intensive student society where everyone can carry out practical work in laboratories and no one is left without an internship. ‘Our labs are equipped with state-of-the-art equipment; world-class research is being done here,’ she noted.

Fluorescence and chemiluminescence

In the forensics laboratory, Pille-Riin Laanet, a doctoral student and junior researcher at TalTech, talked about the fact that knowledge of some chemical and physical principles helps one to understand both how narcotic substances are detected among unknown white powders and how forensic scientists identify blood traces at a crime scene.

More specifically, the tests carried out in the workshop were based on the phenomena of fluorescence and chemiluminescence, which also help chemists in other cases. ‘For example, fluorescence detectors are highly sensitive detectors that we use in our laboratory – including for drug detection, among other things,’ Laanet said.

For young people interested in natural sciences, the doctoral student-junior researcher recommends studying at TalTech, as there are many inspiring lecturers, exciting lectures and laboratories found here. However, mastering the specialties of applied chemistry and biotechnology are very useful, as studying broadens one’s perspective and gives us a better understanding of the phenomena surrounding us, in addition to providing an opportunity for further study as well as entering the labour market. TalTech itself is spawning an increasing number of new start-ups aimed at solving today’s current problems.

New hopes for the New Year

Sigrid Kirss is also providing inspiration to become a student of natural sciences. ‘By studying chemistry and food technology, you get a good understanding of what different foods, cosmetics, cleaning products, etc. consist of. By studying gene technology, you will have a greater understanding of how organisms work, how diseases occur, and how to treat them,’ she said. ‘These are some of the few outputs that are provided by the various disciplines within the School of Science, and which are certainly very useful even if you aren’t looking to pursue a career as a scientist in the future.’

However, as far as the Tallinn University of Technology Day of Natural Sciences is concerned, it will return again next year. Already, the organisers, which includes Sigrid Kirss, are planning to increase the share of practical workshops. People also giving more thought to different activities in the outdoor area; unfortunately, this is very much dependent upon the weather. They are attempting to be a bit faster when it comes to filling any vacancies in the workshops and directing people to the workshop that best suits them.