Making ‘Marvelous Medicines’ at the Brighton Science Festival

As part of the Brighton science festival the Sussex Drug Discovery Centre (SDDC) has participated for the last two years by doing an activity at the bright sparks event. The bright sparks weekend is aimed at 7-14 year olds and is the festival’s flagship event where there are over 50 stalls, stands and shows across the two days.

The SDDC activity aimed to do a journey though drug discovery called Making Marvelous Medicines. We did this by creating 4 stations of activity lasting 50 minutes. The 4 stations included: What are proteins, Designing Drugs, Synthetic Chemistry and Testing Drugs.

What Are Proteins ?

This station aimed to introduce the concept of proteins, by explaining their role as tiny machines doing millions of jobs that allow us to function healthily.james-1

To illustrate the “power of proteins” the enzyme catalase was used in liver to degrade hydrogen peroxide in our bubbly volcano experiment. An animated video of the motor protein kinesin was also used, and the use of ATP as protein food to give them energy was also introduced.


Designing Drugs

Now we introduced a ATP “eating” protein from tuberculosis, using molymods the children built molecules to fit into the ATP binding pocket of this protein. We then introduced a human ATP binding protein and tested the selectivity of the molecule.

Synthetic Chemistry

Participants were introduced to the concept of a chemical reaction using baking as an analogy: different reagents (“ingredients”) can be combined in order to make new chemical products e.g. a new medicine. The young people carried out their own reaction to make their “drug”  – we used the popular “golden rain” precipitation reaction between potassium iodide and lead nitrate

Gasps of awe and wonder came from the young scientists (and the adults with them) when two seemingly colorless solutions formed a bright yellow solid when mixed together.  The student demonstrators also recrystallized the products the children had formed in order to explain the importance of purifying medicines that are made in a lab.

  Testing Drugs

In the final stall, we aimed to simulate a biochemical assay to test our drugs effectiveness. This assay tuned blue for negative and pink for positive. The actual reagents used for this were Phenolphthalein and Thymolphthalein.


Feedback from parents and children was really positive and the audience grasped the key concepts. Parents were often just as interested as the children. At the end some children left comments on the white board.


Blog written by James Noble [PhD Student]






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