FoodSmartphone goes to… school

Γεια σας!

One of the most interesting, unique, and at the same time, difficult experiences I had within the FoodSmartphone project was to present my research work at my former elementary school. The purpose of such a presentation, was not only to explain to kids how we can use smartphones for alternative use, such as point-of-care detection in food safety analysis, but also to motivate them to pursue science and develop their scientific interests form an early age. This presentation lasted almost an hour, but I was preparing it for almost a week! So, let’s see…

Why was it difficult?

Having finished elementary school a good 16 years ago (oh, I feel old!), my mind is far from that simple way of thinking of a kid. So, it required a lot of preparation, not only because I had to present my work in Greek, which needs additional thinking from my side, but also because the terms I used had to be as explanatory and straightforward as possible. Not going into details, and only saying the basics, while at the same time, staying as accurate scientifically as possible, without exaggerating… not an easy task.

Why was it unique?

For anyone to enter an elementary school in Greece, permission is needed, so that the safety of the students is reassured. Thankfully for my case, the fact that FoodSmartphone is a European Union-funded project, was a golden reference. Also, even after all those years, my teachers (surprisingly) still remembered me! So, the director of the school was less skeptical of my intentions. As long as my presentation was not of any promotional type, and it didn’t involve the kids in any kind of research, I was allowed to present. Moreover, all scientists during their career have the opportunity to present their research in scientific conferences, among other scientists of their field. However, presenting at a school is an eye-opening experience that only a few can have.

Why was it interesting?

Seeing all students follow my presentation, and being surprisingly quiet while I was presenting, was something I was not expecting. What I was also not expecting was all the questions, which made me realize that kids understand way more things than we think. After a discussion with my supervisor, we decided that it would be easier for kids to follow a presentation only on the topic of striptests. An introduction of mass spectrometric detection AND the hyphenation I’m working on, would be too much information, which would only lead to confusion. After explaining them, how we use striptests to detect mycotoxins, those are some of the questions they pose to me, and I thought it would be nice to answer also here.

  • How big is a striptest?

An average striptest is half centimeter width and 7-centimeter length.

  • How many lines can we have on a striptest?

A typical striptest has 2, one that detects our substance of interest, and one that shows that the test was performed correctly. However, we can have as many lines as we want, depending on what we want to detect. In the striptest I’m developing, I have more than 10 lines!

  • Can we have other shapes instead of a line? Like a heart? (someone is in love)

Well, technically, we can have any shape we want, but the line is the most efficient one and the easiest to make.

  • Can we detect other stuff or only mycotoxins?

We can detect many things, as far as we have a specific element designed to capture them. We can identify toxins, pesticides, drugs, or even diseases.

  • What is this liquid we use to run the striptest? Is it water?

The liquid is water with some salts and detergents so that we are sure that the substances bound to the line, and the test is performed correctly.

  • Why do we need a smartphone to read the result, if we can see the lines also with our eyes?

With our eyes, we can only see the lines. However, with our smartphones we can also have results that tell us how much of the substance is in the sample.

  • Finally, my personal favorite – Are your shoes bought from the Netherlands?

No, my shoes are made in and purchased from Greece.

Mycotoxins make corn “sick”

Those are my latest experiences within the FoodSmartphone project. I hope you enjoyed reading about them, as much I enjoyed living them…

Till next time though,

Enjoy the summer safely,

Peace and Love!


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