Tick Patrol

A tiny foe, an underestimated enemy, a school project for your health!


To communicate complex high-tech-science and research techniques by giving the pupils the possibility to “learn by doing” and striving for a common goal


Analysis in the high-tech laboratory of the school
HBLA Ursprung

Argument for inclusion

Research on authentic and real life problem, initiated completely bottom up from the pupils; participation of experts in different subject areas and close cooperation between students, researchers and teachers

Relevant information in short

Main Research Partners

Clinical Institute for Virology of the Medical University of Vienna,
University of Veterinary Medicine Vienna

Educational partners

Higher School for Agriculture and Forestry, HBLA Ursprung (Elixhausen)

Other partners

Kindergarten, close to the school in Elixhausen; Dr. Ilse Jekel, Parasitologist at the Hospital Salzburg; Dr. Hans Richter, Med- diagn. Laboratorium Salzburg; Mag. Harald Russegger, expert of video; Andreas Kreuzeder, expert of design; DNA- Consult, expert of public relations.

Age classes

14 to 18 years

Thematic orientation

Health Protection and Life Sciences (interdisciplinary: Biology and Genetics, Physics, Chemistry), English

Main Focus

To communicate complex high-tech-science and research techniques, and a whole project process, starting at project design, field mapping, laboratory, evaluation and analyses, up to discussion with experts and information of public

Duration of activity

2005 – 2007, regular work on the project during two school years


Funded by the Federal Ministry for Education, the Arts and Culture. Provided resources (staff, material, sponsoring) could cover all the costs.



Contact person

Dr. Konrad Steiner

Context and conditions

Since 2005 the woods surrounding the school HBLA Ursprung are located within the risk-zone for the contraction of tick-borne encephalitis (TBE) or Lyme disease. Ticks are very frequent in the region and several inhabitants living in the surroundings of the school had been infected in recent years. As the school is an agricultural school doing a lot of practical training in exactly those woods, and considering the fact that one student already contracted Lyme disease, the students decided to go deeper into this theme. So they came up with the idea of spending time in the elective courses genetic and biotechnology to acquire further information on contagiousness, possible treatments and diagnosis of Lyme disease and tick-borne encephalitis.
The local Kindergarten in Elixhausen goes to the same woods. Hence, they showed great interest in the project and initiated a broadening of the survey area in order to include the grounds the Kindergarten very frequently use for excursions. This wish provided high additional motivation for the project:
“…to commission us to extend our study to their woods and find out if the problem poses a considerable threat in this area. This was our first assignment!!”  (excerpt of the website)

So the idea arose of forming a sort of task-form or a SWAT- team, which would be responsible for the capture and analysis of infected ticks.
The frequency of infections such as Lyme Disease and Tick Born Encephalitis, was helpful to spark interest in the project and its results by a broad public. This fact is an indispensable source of motivation for the participants of the project and it shows that a REC is very successful if it deals with real life problems.

Activities and Contents

The students aged from 14 to 18 cooperated with the Clinical Institute for Virology of the Medical University of Vienna and the Vienna University of Veterinary Medicine for realising a very elaborate survey on the percentage of the ticks infected with the dangerous viruses. Experts in different subject areas were invited to give presentations and answer questions in order to provide the students with information necessary for the planned research. So the students got support for mapping and recording spots where ticks were found.


Students hunting ticks

HBLA Ursprung rsprung

The hunt was carried out by students dressed from head to toe in protective clothing. The team covered a large area of the woods with linen sheets. The 280 ticks that were caught were killed immediately in 70 proof alcohol and frozen. The students carried out elaborate laboratory analyses based on state-of-the-art scientific parameters provided by the research partner. They examined infection risks and compared therapy concepts.


Student in the high-tech laboratory

HBLA Ursprung rsprung

"In our high-tech laboratory and with a safety level of 2 we analysed the through RT-PCR extracted DNA to find the pathogens. The result was: 2 ticks infected with lyme disease directly in front of the dorm!!!"
(excerpt of the project website)

The results were transferred into high quality information material and into a protection guideline.
The project was presented widely inside the school as well as to a broader public: by life presentations, web documentation, local print media, TV and the promotion video. In a big complex event, doctors and well-known experts offered presentations and discussions to inform the citizens of Elixhausen about prevention of and protection from the disease.


Tick Patrol won prizes such as the Siemens, spin the globe, user favorite prize or jugend innovativ, 2nd prize in category science.
In order to present the project and its goals to the public, the students formed a whole film group (screenplay writers, story board authors, cameramen, sound engineers, a director, assistant directors, producers, editors, sound specialists and actors,...) and produced a highly professional promotion video for the SWAT-team. The video contains everything from the capturing of the ticks in the woods to the analysis in the laboratory, so that the viewer gets an idea of the project, starts to become curious and wants to learn more about ticks and the dangers they can pose. In addition to the film, an online forum, youtube and a weblog to the work were used.


Different methods were used: ex-cathedra teaching as well as presentations done by the invited experts in the classes, discussion and working groups with the experts, doing research in the internet and specific publications. The pupils had to undertake the task of collecting information for the work in the laboratory, they had to evaluate and discuss the collected information. The pupils were in close contact with the teachers and researchers involved in the project. Highly motivated students had the opportunity to discuss special questions with the experts. Innovative learning materials were used and the pupils had to do intense analysis in the laboratory.
The project, although mainly embedded in natural sciences, was interdisciplinary: subjects such as Biology and Genetics, Physics, Chemistry and English (as the international science language) were connected due to the project. Experts in science education and science communication methodologies supported the project team.
As it was a bottom up project initiated from the students, they took actively part from the project design, to the implementation of the project, the laboratory skills and analyses of the results, discussions with the experts, up to the final presentation, the video and so on…
The sensible exposure to the different types of learning and to the differing interest of the pupils made possible that everyone made a decisive role in the project. A variety of duties and tasks had to be fulfilled by different project teams: hit the ticks, analyse them and film the project.

Curriculum relevance

The results of the project and above all the knowledge of the pupils were used in subsequent projects on molecular biology. “Tick Patrol” had a direct impact on the curriculum of the school: it was the initiation for classes on molecular biology. The results are used for the regular classes that go on and the project design is compatible to subsequent projects.

Other outcomes

Beside the final reports in English and German, the promotion film and the report to the kindergarten about grades of danger in the visited woods and the information event, a very important outcome was the high science competencies acquired by pupils. Because of intense networking longterm cooperation were secured with the University of Salzburg, the Science Centre Seibersdorf, the Landessanitätsdirektion Salzburg, amongst others.

Mutual benefits

Within the project the pupils had to handle a complete process of a project. Starting from the design of a project, acquiring information on the theme, prepare the tasks in the laboratory and the analysis. They learned to evaluate and discuss results, to inform the public about the outcomes and to do a final report. So the pupils adopted tools to do research. This knowledge is implemented in school and will be used for other projects. The researchers got a deeper understanding of how to address scientific ideas with pupils and the broader public. The project helped to promote further RECs and to institutionalise further cooperations.

Evaluation /feedback

The project was evaluated externally. As mentioned above it also won various prizes.

Limits and possibilities

The success of the project shows that besides  motivation and ownership of all participants in a REC, intense networking and very good financial support are necessary for the completion of research projects on a very complex matter. The project could not have completed without the high tech laboratory.