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Do carrots improve eyesight?  Children come up with experiments to test the theory.

Do carrots improve eyesight?  Children come up with experiments to test the theory.

It is a long-held piece of folk wisdom that eating carrots is good for the eyesight; now children at a Nottingham primary school have devised an experiment to test how true this may be.

Pupils at Dovecote Primary School in Clifton have been working with a scientist from Exonate based at MediCity Nottingham, part of We Are Pioneer Group, in Nottingham, to investigate the truth of the matter.

Year 6 student, Annabel, explained, ‘We divided the class into three groups; one group ate a piece of carrot every day, another group a piece of apple, and the third group had nothing – they were the control group.  Then once a week for a month we tested our eyesight using standard eye charts. It’s been a fun way of running a real life science experiment.’

Dr James Daubney, a research scientist at biomedical research company Exonate, specialises in treatments for eye conditions, and was introduced to the Dovecote pupils as part of the Lab_13 online programme from education charity Ignite! and supported by We Are Pioneer Group (formerly BioCity).  James was impressed by the curiosity of the pupils.

‘I described my work with the eye, and the questions just took off. There were many ideas about how the eye works and what affects our eyesight – so the children decided that they wanted to investigate the carrot theory.’

It was important that the children learned the correct way to run an investigation, so each piece of carrot or apple was exactly the same size, and the children also learned the importance of a control group and recording results.

Assistant Head and class teacher Tracey Barton has championed the Lab_13 concept for over ten years at Dovecote. ‘It is really important that children learn how to be scientists as well as learning science,’ she said. ‘Working with James has sparked the curiosity of the children and made them more aware of the kinds of research that professional scientists do as part of their daily lives.  I hope this has inspired them to think of science as a creative and practical subject.’

As well as working on the carrot experiment, the pupils were also guided by James into experiments to grow bacteria to test how clean their hands were, as well as other food related science activities.  ‘We extracted DNA from strawberries, and made an acid/alkaline indicator using red cabbage,’ said Annabel. ‘There is so much science in what we eat.’

And what about the result?  Do carrots improve our eyesight?

‘It depends,’ says Annabel. ‘Some pupils who ate carrots could read the eye charts further away, and some could read lines where the letters get smaller.  But so could some of the apple group, and the control group, so we may have to think up another experiment to work out why.’

And that is a sign of excellent science, agrees Dr James Daubney, ‘The point of research and experiment is that you rarely get definitive results first time.’

So for the pupils of Dovecote it is back to the drawing board – or back to the eye chart.