I recently had some work experience students with me in the laboratory. It is always a pleasure to have young people learning about science and thinking about their future and what jobs they may want or not want to do. It makes you realise how little we talk to children and young people about our everyday working lives and how few jobs they actually understand – in fact that is probably true for most adults!
Anyway I managed to give these students a “real life” project to work on. We received a comment from a parent that the hydrocortisone tablets they were using to treat their child had changed and they were having difficulty administering the correct dose. Parents had been asked to crush the adult tablet; mix this powder with water (10mL) and then give their child 2mL of this 10mL. This type of manipulation is common and it is not right. It is added pressure on parents to ensure they follow the instructions and provide the correct dose to their child. There is an urgent need to ensure that children get access to the correct dose in the same way as adults. The parents reported that the new brand of tablets were harder and not as easy to crush. So I asked these students to look at the two brands and measure physical properties including hardness and also to measure how easy it was to crush the tablets. I asked them to pretend to be a parent and make up the resulting powder as directed and withdraw 2mL. We then measured the dose to see if there were differences. I am pleased to report that although the tablets are harder – once crushed to a fine powder the doses were similar.
The even better news was that we posted this finding on a parent forum to reassure parents in a similar situation that they could still provide the relevant dose to their children.
This work took two A level students with no prior experience just 1 week to conduct and they have been able to make a real impact. Sometimes I think my job is the best in the world!
The students also went away really positive about becoming scientists in the future.