Celebrating Women in Science

By US Environmental Protection Agency [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

February 11 is the International Day of Women and Girls in Science, a reminder that there is still a gender gap in science. Despite the obstacles that women need to overcome, their contributions to field of science have benefited not only their fellow researchers but also their fellow humans. From treatments for diseases to new discoveries that opened up entire fields, women have advanced knowledge across the spectrum of science. Below is a sampling of the achievements of just a few women. What other living female scientist or inventor might you add?

Hate malaria? You can thank Tu Youyou for discovering artemisinin and dihydroartemisinin, compounds that are used to treat the tropical disease and save numerous lives. Her discovery was so significant, she received the 2015 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. Continue reading

Encouraging, Supporting, and Advocating for Diversity in Science

On December 27, 2017, the life sciences community lost a pioneer in neurobiology and an advocate for equality in science. Dr. Ben A. Barres passed away at the age of 63. His work focused on the critical role of glia (non-neuronal cells) in the brain and how they interface with neurons to maintain cognitive function.

Equally remarkable was the more personal side of his life. In 1997, Dr. Barbara Barres transitioned from female to male and lived the remainder of his life as Ben Barres. I read a number of the articles that Dr. Barres wrote and came across one that particularly caught my attention. Continue reading

Optimizing Your Scientific Conference Experience

When I was in graduate school (a really long time ago), I remember going to my first big conference—American Society for Cell Biology—and being completely overwhelmed. I walked in with my Annual Conference Proceedings (back then it was all paper—no apps—and those books were thick, heavy and took up a ridiculous amount of space in your luggage). I had highlighted at least 100 posters that I was going to visit, along with one talk at every session that remotely applied to my work. And of course, I was not going to miss a single platform presentation. I was grimly determined to learn everything.

After a day-and-a-half, I was too tired to even troll the exhibition floor for freebies.

In my current job, I spend time monitoring hashtags for scientific conferences, and I occasionally notice a plaintive tweet from a conference attendee awash in a sea of posters and platform presentations—wondering where to start or where to stop.

So I asked our scientists at Promega what their tips are for getting the most out of a conference. Here are our Conference ProTips:

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FutureQuest17: Dynamic Career Exploration for Middle School Students

Isabel Agasie speaks with middle school students at FutureQuest 17.

Isabel Agasie speaks with middle school students at FutureQuest 17.

The Dane County School Consortium and the Madison Metropolitan School District’s Career and Technical Education Division collaborated to offer FutureQuest17 on December 6th at the Alliant Energy Center.  Designed as a hands-on experience for Dane County middle school students to explore areas of potential interest within a 16 career cluster, over 70 companies provided information and activities for 5300+ attendees.

BTC Institute staff members (Isabel Agasie, Amy Prevost and Karin Borgh) and volunteer Promega production scientists (Molly Nyholm and Kay Rashka) created a lively table area that focused on bioluminescence. Our space included opportunities to see an illustration of the range of careers in a biotechnology company like Promega, practice with different sizes of pipettes, view glowing recombinant luciferase, watch a scrolling slide show illustrating bioluminescence both in nature and in the lab and consider why a scientist might be interested in bioluminescence as a research tool.

Most importantly, we were able to engage in many wonderful conversations, and for this we needed all five of us since the schedule for the day included 14 periods of 20 minutes each—our estimate is that we were able to speak with ~40–50 students during each of these cycles!

As Molly noted:

The questions students asked were fantastic!!  “What is the chemical composition of this luciferin solution?”  “How much money do you make?”  “Do all glowing creatures have the same luciferase enzyme or are they different?”  “Are there any bioluminescent fish in Wisconsin?”  “Do I have to go to school for as long as you did if I want to be a scientist?”  “What pH is this solution?”  “Does this have potassium or sodium iodide?”  “Can I do an internship?”  “Can I be on the culinary team at Promega?”  “Does my glow paint have luciferase in it?”  “Do you have to take luciferase and luciferin out of those creatures or is there a way to make it in the lab?”

Kay Rashka works with students at FutureQuest17.

Kay Rashka works with students at FutureQuest17.

And, Isabel added:

It was really great to connect with students and also with teachers. Lots of fun being surrounded by kids and fantastic adults. Some kids were surprised to learn that a biotechnology company hires people in other areas besides science. They asked about diversity and were very glad to hear that there are many different kinds of jobs in biotech companies.

Some of the other presenters in the STEM area of the event that we were in close proximity to included: the City of Madison Engineering Division (where students could construct marble runs that represented water flow), Saris (where students could ride bikes set up to display a training program), Laser Tag (try it out!), very active construction companies’ hammering stations and the MG&E’s electric car. In other words, the level of activity was high, and it was wonderful to contribute to this event—we’ll be back next year!

Where Science and Art Meet: The 2017 Holiday Card

The Promega Holiday Card

The Promega Holiday Card

University of Wisconsin-Madison undergraduate Celia Glime didn’t think she was creating a design for the 2017 Promega holiday card while doing lab work last winter for her introductory Chemistry 104 class. She was simply doing her homework.

Celia explains she was studying the progression of three chemical reactions in test tubes when she decided to take out her smartphone and snap some photos to use for her lab report. (Bonus points if you can tell from the photo what’s causing each reaction. Answers below.)

“I ended up creating an art project instead,” she says.

Celia, who at the time was considering a major in genetics and a minor in visual art, had been keeping an eye out for instances of science in real life. Her mentor on campus, Professor Ahna Skop, a geneticist and artist herself, had recently told Celia about the annual University of Wisconsin Cool Science Image Contest, sponsored by Promega. The contest aims to bring together the worlds of science and art by recognizing the technical and creative skills required to capture images or video that document science or nature.

Celia did exactly that. Continue reading

Honoring Caregivers

This blog post is contributed by guest blogger Diana Clark, Benefits Manager, Promega Corporation

November is National Family Caregivers Month, first proclaimed by President Clinton in 1997, the proclamation has been renewed by every U.S. President since. When President Obama proclaimed this designation in 2012, he commented, “The unselfish devotion of family caregivers affirms the importance of respecting the dignity of life in all stages and underscores the importance of the family unit.”

Hearing these words, I felt even prouder to be a part of the Promega family. You see, we are already in the process of rolling out Caregiver Leave for 2018. Caregiver Leave will provide Promega employees with an additional two weeks of paid time off annually to care for a sick parent, spouse or child, or to welcome a new child into their family via birth, adoption or foster placement. Continue reading

BioTech Scientists through a Different Lens

When I was in grad school and pictured what a role in industry would look like, the first thing that came to my mind was a Research and Development (R&D) Scientist. My life as a grad student and as a postdoc revolved around benchwork, so that must be the case in industry too, right?

It really wasn’t until I started working at Promega that this image of a scientist in industry was completely turned upside down (in a good way). Here are some roles that a scientist can assume at Promega: Senior Scientist, Research Scientist, R&D Group Leader, Production Scientist, Technical Services Scientist, Product Manager, Strategic Marketing Manager, Client Support Specialist, Client Support Consultant, Clinical Technical Consultant, Field Support Scientist, Applications Scientist, Scientific Instructional Designer. The list can probably go on for a while, but it makes the point that there are a variety of interesting positions for scientists in the biotech industry.
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The University of Wisconsin Master of Science in Biotechnology Program Celebrates Its 15-Year Anniversary

The University of Wisconsin Master of Science in Biotechnology Program began with its first cohort of students in 2002, and its 14th class graduated this May, with the BTC Institute serving as a major partner since its inception. The 15-year anniversary highlights the success the program has garnered over the years, with over 300 alumni successfully completing the program between 2002 and 2017.

Kevin Conroy, JD led the panel discussion

To celebrate and acknowledge the program’s 15-year anniversary, a panel discussion was held in March of this year on the University of Wisconsin – Madison campus at the Wisconsin Institute for Medical Research (WIMR).  A panel of alumni and faculty, led by Kevin Conroy, CEO of Exact Sciences, addressed the question: What are the future education needs of the biotechnology industry in Wisconsin? Continue reading

Biotech Manufacturing: A Good Machinist is Critical for Your Laboratory Reagents

Travis Beyer, Machinist Technician, at the CNC milling machine in the Promega machine shop.

Travis Beyer, Machinist Technician, at the CNC milling machine in the Promega machine shop.

It can be easy to forget that Promega is a manufacturing business. The company’s cGMP Feynman Center on the Madison campus has been described as looking more like a retreat than a factory. But hidden within the well-designed walls of Feynman, as well as in other facilities on campus, technicians operate hundreds of machines that manufacture, dispense and package Promega reagents day in and day out. Keeping those high-tech machines running at peak performance is critical, requiring immense skill, precision and even artistry. That’s where Promega Machinist Technician Travis Beyer comes in.

“I get to make stuff,” says Travis who is not afraid to show his enthusiasm for his craft while describing the best part of his job. “There’s a product at the end of the day. Plus I get to support science, and make things that support people’s lives. That’s cool.”

 I get to make stuff. There’s a product at the end of the day. Plus I get to support science, and make things that support people’s lives. That’s cool.

The da Vinci Center, another artfully designed building on the Madison campus, houses the Promega machine shop where Travis does his work designing or improving on parts for newer manufacturing equipment or reverse engineering broken or worn parts no longer available for older equipment that still serves its purpose. He makes every machine part imaginable from drive shafts to sensor brackets to filling forks, and his work is critical to manufacturing businesses like Promega, where a downed piece of equipment can cause costly production delays.

An example of a machine part that Travis designs or reverse engineers and then builds to keep Promega manufacturing moving smoothly.

An example of a machine part that Travis designs or reverse engineers and then builds to keep Promega manufacturing moving smoothly.

As he explains, not many manufacturing companies the size of Promega have a fully capable machine shop. They usually send out their work, meaning longer lead times and more expense. But, as its distinctive architecture suggests, Promega is not like many other companies. Continue reading

Biotechnology Youth Apprentice Madhu Gowda Wins GRAND PRIZE at the Capital Science and Engineering Fair

Madhu presents her work.

Madhu presents her work.

Imagine the pleasure Barbara Bielec, the BTC Institute’s K-12 Program Director and co-coordinator of the Dane County Youth Apprenticeship Program in Biotechnology (YAP-Biotechnology), felt when reading this recent message from Sharon Tang, one of our apprentice’s mentors:

“I am unbelievably proud to let you know that Madhu won not only first place for the biological science projects, but also the GRAND PRIZE at the Capital Science and Engineering Fair this weekend! She was at the fair from 7:30am until 4:30pm presenting her work done in our lab and did a fantastic, eloquent job speaking about her project. This was such an impressive honor – she won among over 20 competing students in the region, earned a cash award, and will be competing as a finalist at the Intel international science fair in May. I’m sure she’ll tell you, but I am just over the moon and wanted to share the news as well. Attaching a photo I took of her in action.”

A second year student in the program, Madhu is a senior at Middleton High School. Since November, 2015, she has been working in the lab of Dr. Susan Thibeault in the Department of Surgery, Division of Otolaryngology – Head & Neck Surgery at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Continue reading