31 years and counting
NCBE office
University of Reading

The NCBE was the first school biotechnology centre in the world.


Since its establishment in 1984-5, the NCBE has gained an international reputation for the development of innovative educational resources: its materials have been translated into many languages including German, Swedish, French, Dutch and Danish.

The NCBE was a leading founder member of EIBE, the European Initiative for Biotechnology Education, an EC Concerted Action which ran until 2000. The Centre also coordinated the EC Sixth Framework project, Volvox, between 2003 and 2008. The Centres patented equipment for DNA gel electrophoresis was granted Millennium Product status and was one of three biotech-related items to be taken on a prestigious Science Museum tour of Japan (the others being Watson and Cricks DNA model and a sweater made from the wool of Dolly).

Independent research by the University of Leeds has shown that through the provision of materials and training courses, NCBE is successful in ensuring that these new procedures are adopted by teachers in the classroom (the NCBEs sales of equipment and materials also testify to the Centres effectiveness).

The NCBEs Web site (started in January 1995) is recognised as a valuable source of information and has featured in the journal Nature Biotechnology. It attracts more than 100,000 connections per week. The Centre also deals with written and telephone enquiries from teachers, students and members of the public each day, particularly on safety and practical project work.


The NCBE is one of Europes principal providers of continuing professional development in school biotechnology and has run courses in 10 EU member states, mainly for teachers, student teachers and post-16 students. On average, more than two courses a week are run by the Centre during term-time (about 4,000 people attend NCBE courses per year).

The Centre has also run courses for organisations such as Unilever, AstraZeneca, CREST, BBSRC, The Wellcome Trust, The Royal Institution and the Institute of Grocery Distribution. Many of these courses have been aimed at scientists who wished to improve their communication with members of the public.

We have contributed to public events such as the Royal Agricultural Show, the Edinburgh International Science Festival, the Göteborg Science Festival, the Tomorrows World Exhibition, the Science Museums Womens Science Nights and the University of Readings Science Fun Days.

For the last 21 years, we have run residential summer schools in Sweden, organised in association with and accredited by the University of Göteborg. The Centres work was recognised by the award, in 1994, of the Unilever Prize for Biotechnology in Teacher Training (one of the Partnership Awards for Innovation in Teaching and Learning in Higher Education).


To support the activities it devises, the NCBE supplies a range of equipment and materials to schools and colleges. Were it not for the NCBE’s efforts, many of these materials would otherwise be unobtainable by schools and the range of practical biotechnology undertaken by them would be correspondingly restricted.

When the NCBE started, for example, the only enzymes typically used in UK school were salivary amylase and trypsin. The Centre, working with Novo Nordisk (now Novozymes), changed all that. Today, NCBE equipment is sold to more than 30 countries world-wide, including North America, where several items are licensed to a major educational supplier (Carolina Biological).


About the NCBE