Science Through the Eyes of a Child: What Makes Biology Interesting

Yulia Mikheeva studies in a typical St. Petersburg primary school. Besides her usual schedule, she also goes to music classes, programming contests, plays volleyball and studies chinese, yesterday she even presented her own research at the Congress of Youth Scientists. Since she was really young, Yulia has loved biology, so her family's apartment has long been turned into half garden half lab. In the future, Yulia and her mum are planning to do research together with adult scientists. Learn about how to love serious science and start your own project at only ten years old.

Yulia, can you share a bit more about your scientific research. How did it start?

My project is devoted to the study of oyster mushrooms and the conditions for their growth and development. My biology teacher last year suggested this research topic. Actually there were two topics, one about caries and the second on the study of mushrooms. However, I am afraid of doctors so I decided not to take the first one. And, since my mum and I are avid mushroom pickers, the second was more interesting to research.

When I was starting my research, I went an oyster mushroom factory in Steklyaniy village. There, we were given a huge sack of mycelium and substrate, and were shown how to grow mushrooms in an industrial environment; we even participated in a special workshop. They put mycelium in these huge sacks, where the spwan develops under specific conditions, and then the mushrooms appear through special holes made earlier.

During our experiment, we grew mushrooms in our own home, and complied with all the necessary procedures we had learned. We had a similar sack that weighed about 25 kg. It turned out that oyster mushrooms need a lot of water, if you just spray the mushrooms they soon begin to dry. In fact, it’s very difficult to comply with all the necessary conditions.  

How did you find out about the Congress of Young Scientists?

Irina Mikheeva (Yulia’s mother): We have been attending the University for Children for sometime now and since it’s held at ITMO university we had a chance to see which events take place here. We were also at the University’s Open Day: this was a really wonderful day for Yulia, she still remembers it clearly. She saw experiments, participated in competitions and started to ask questions about her research, she even engaged adults in a scientific discussion. This is where I found out that there is a congress held here and we were invited to participate.

When did you start working with science? And why biology?

Yulia Mikheeva: I became interested in biology when I was still in kindergarten. I like plants and animals. I’ve been going to the Ecology and Biology Center on Krestovsky island for over a year now . We plant flowers in greenhouses there, study animals, and they show us different experiments in chemistry and physics.

My mum and I are always growing something at home, we already have an entire flower bed right in our apartment. Now my friends have also started participating in the experiment, they live outside the city. When it gets warmer, they agreed to move this flower bed to their garden. By that time, our plants will have grown even more so it’ll be interesting to see what happens to them in the end.

In our family, everyone is different, some want to live in the city because there is Wi-Fi. In fact, my brother doesn’t like biology. And I’ve met quite a few people who don't’ like it. Why? I think it’s because it’s difficult. But for me it’s the opposite, I would love to live outside the city, in the forest. For example, one of our teachers, who lives outside the city, has a wolf. She studies its different habits, I think that’s really cool!

What do you study other than biology?

I go to a music school, study chinese, learn programming, play volleyball and go to school, of course.

Tell us more about your Chinese lessons.

I’ve been going to chinese classes for over two years, we have a native chinese teacher and he tells us a lot about the culture. It’s really interesting.

Do you have any time to relax?

Of course, I chat with my friends, and we go out together. We chat in class and at the University for Children on Sundays.

What are you planning to dedicate your life to in the future? Have you already thought about it?

When I grow up, i’m sure my interests will change, but i will never give up on biology. I really like it.

Irina, when did you notice that your child is showing interest in science? And most importantly, how can one recognize this interest at the right time and help develop it?

When a small child begins to grow up, boys usually start grabbing technology, and girls usually grab dolls. Yulia wasn’t interested in either. She would prefer toys that were similar to real animals. It became clear that she likes real things and she really likes nature. I have an older son, who we are actively teaching. So Yulia also started to listen and absorb information. She already started reading at about three years old.

Her interest in biology emerged after her elder brother started going to biology classes after school. He soon lost interest in it, yet she became more and more interested. In fact, she didn’t even write anything down, she just remembered everything and immediately began talking about different creatures. Since I am personally more interested in physics and mathematics, I started teaching her these fields too. Frankly speaking, i pushed her a bit into mathematics, but as for biology and chinese, she wanted to do them herself.

In your opinion, do you think that science is a promising field for a future career, for financial success?

I believe that one has to do what they love. If she likes biology, then it’s important that she goes ahead and does this. But besides the fact that she likes it, gives it a lot of time, and she’s also really good at it, a good specialist has to be successful in other fields as well. There are lots of accountants but very few amazing accountants. There are also many physicists, but not many of them are Nobel laureates. This is what i’m talking about.

Only this kind of symbiosis plus knowledge of languages, in my opinion, will result in a child being successful in their career and financially secure. As far as I see, in science these days, there is more significance placed on a combination of knowledge in technical, practical, philosophical and humanities fields. So I try to help my child develop in many different fields, like music, maths, biology and languages, specifically chinese and english. We are always listening to something, or reading. Yulia has already read a lot for her age.

Where can children develop their capabilities at a young age? Going to school is unlikely to be enough.

At school, scientific research is done at a very low level. At university, there’s an opportunity to participate in congresses and talk with specialists. This is important because that way children already get used to studying and doing their work at a higher level. I have a lot of acquaintances who live abroad, and there the system is much more developed: children who are good at science are immediately taught to do anything they want and present their work from a young age. Yulia is already really good at presenting, she feels really comfortable answering questions on stage. I don’t think I could’ve done that.

If she likes something, I give her a chance to try. I don’t turn down opportunities that life offers. If ITMO University will accept us in the school for young biotechnologists, then we could write another scientific paper with people who work at the university, because here, everything is different. School education does not bring out talented children who can do scientific work. Who actually did scientific research while we were at school? I think only a few. But children actually want to study and engage in the beauty of science.

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