High school students from across Qatar had the chance to investigate the biology and spread of the novel coronavirus (Covid-19) thanks to a collaboration between the National Museum of Qatar (NMoQ) and Weill Cornell Medicine – Qatar (WCM-Q).

The All About Science: The Biology of Pandemics programme, held remotely over video-conferencing apps, offered high school students with an interest in science and medicine the chance to learn more about the current pandemic and place it into the context of historical pandemics.

Using mathematical tools, the students learned how scientists study the epidemiology of the virus and how measures like social distancing, vaccinations, and travel restrictions impact upon the virus’ spread.

The one-week online programme, offered by Premedical Education’s Office of Student Outreach and Educational Development, was led by WCM-Q’s Dr Becky Cramer, teaching specialist in biology, Dr Dalia Zakaria, lecturer in biology, and Dr Kuei-Chiu Chen, associate professor of biology, alongside Raga Mohamed, acting head of public programmes at the National Museum of Qatar. Seven current students of WCM-Q acted as programme tutors.

Dr Cramer said, “Throughout the week, the high school students were highly engaged and asked insightful questions as they learned about Covid-19, the tools scientists use to track infections, and the historical context of the pandemic. They then put this newfound knowledge to work, dividing into teams to develop and test a scientific hypothesis about the pandemic, with support from a current WCM-Q student. The resulting presentations were of the highest calibre: well-delivered, well-reasoned, and placed meaningfully into the context of the Covid-19 pandemic."

The programme was designed to encourage the high school students to pursue a career in science and medicine, and to give them a much greater understanding of Covid-19. In addition, they also developed skills in teamwork, quantitative reasoning and experiential design, skills that will benefit them in their future lives.

A total of 31 high school students from Qatar and the region actively participated in the programme and were excited to share their valuable insight through a survey capturing their feedback.

Fatma al-Kuwari, associate director of learning and outreach at the NMoQ, said: “We are proud of the WCM-Q collaboration, which provided learning opportunities to students during such challenging times. They were able to explore the Covid-19 pandemic through scientific, social and historical contexts.”

Dr Rachid Bendriss, assistant dean for student recruitment, outreach, and foundation programmes at WCM-Q added, “This was a fascinating programme. Not only were we able to teach young students about the biology and epidemiology of the novel coronavirus, we were also able to explore the series of deadly diseases that Qatar has faced in the past, and discuss what the future may hold.”