A Successful Launch for Biotechnology: The Basics for Middle School Teachers

Megan Wagner (left) and Katie Aliota, science teachers from Cardinal Heights Upper Middle School in Sun Prairie, WI; load an agarose gel with colored dyes.

Megan Wagner (left) and Katie Aliota, science teachers from Cardinal Heights Upper Middle School in Sun Prairie, WI; load an agarose gel with colored dyes.

Today’s blog is jointly written by guest blogger  Peter Kritsch, Biotechnology and Biology Teacher at Oregon High School and contributor Barbara Bielec. K-12 Program Director at the BTC Institute.

The BTC Institute has offered two graduate-level courses for high school teachers for many summers.  Biotechnology: The Basics and Biotechnology: Beyond the Basics have become very popular and are also drawing the interest of middle school teachers.  So, this June we piloted a new 3-day course designed specifically for them.  Representing different schools and districts, eight teachers learned how to extract DNA from strawberries, pour and run agarose gels, identify a taste gene, and received information on lots of resources to use with their students.

Through the BTC Institute’s Biotechnology Teacher Academy, these courses are offered at no cost and $300-$500 stipends are available.  A main Academy goal is to provide high quality professional development opportunities that prioritize content that participants can smoothly incorporate into their classrooms.   Our commitment to stipends is generously supported by the Wisconsin Space Grant Consortium (WSGC), Promega Corporation, Madison College and the BTC Institute.  (All three courses are offered for graduate credits from Edgewood College, and Viterbo University also offers credits for the two geared to high school teachers.)

The importance of this approach is affirmed by Sherry Jacobsen (Kromrey Middle School in Middleton, WI):

This [course] is such a gift to teachers!  Many times we aren’t treated as professionals so it was nice to be treated as a professional without a high personal cost.  I love how the course is so practical.  Many courses are only in theory and no application.  I can take so many useful ideas with me.

Biotechnology is making its way into the middle school classroom. With access to the BTC Institute’s Equipment Loan Program, teachers can check out micropipettes, gel boxes & power supplies, an ultraviolet light box and other equipment for up to two weeks.  Course participant Amy Reimer (Core Knowledge Middle School in Verona, WI), has already taken advantage of this program and noted that it was “great to review procedures” through the course and plans to borrow equipment again this coming year. Continue reading

Five Ways to Explain CRISPR Without Delivering a Lecture

Recently a FaceBook friend of mine (who is not a scientist) shared a video from WIRED Science where the concept of CRISPR is explained at 5 Levels of Difficulty— for a 7 year old, a teenager, a college student, a grad student and a CRISPR expert.

First it was pretty amazing to me that my non-scientist friends are interested enough in learning about CRISPR to share this type of information—perhaps showing just how popular and exciting the method has become. People outside the scientific field are hearing a lot about it, and are curious to know more.

This video does a great job of explaining the technique for all its intended audiences. It also is a nice illustration of how to share information in an easily understandable format. Even with the 7 year old and 14 year old, the information is shared in a conversational way, with everyone involved contributing to sharing information about CRISPR.

Really nice. Here’s the WIRED video:


Continue reading

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

March for Science—Every Day

Kindergarten teacher and children looking at bird's nest in librEarth Day, April 22, saw one of many of the marches on Washington, D.C. that 2017 has produced: The March for Science.

A march is a shout, a “Hey, over here, you need to hear this” one-time event. It is not a conversation. It really isn’t even action. It’s a start that requires follow up.

But how do you follow up a massive, organized march that happened across the globe? Consider following it up with little things, at every opportunity:

First, say “yes” to opportunities to be an ambassador for science. Continue reading

Researchers Gather at Promega Madison Campus for Annual Stem Cell Symposium

stemcell header

Since the derivation of human-derived embryonic stem cells (ES cells) in the 1990’s, the world of stem cell biology and engineering has proceeded at an amazing pace. The isolation pluripotent cells (iPS) cells that have most of the properties of embryonic stem cells from somatic tissues has been possible for nearly a decade. Engineered human cells, tissues, and organ-like structures are becoming a reality and may soon play a part in treating diseases. ES and iPS cells are teaching us much about how cells become specialized during normal development and the pathologies that result when those specialization decisions go wrong.

At the 12th Annual Wisconsin Stem Cell Symposium held at the BioPharmaceutical Technology Center institute, leading researchers from around the world will be gathered to discuss the latest progress, roadblocks and issues around Engineering Cells and Tissues for Discovery and Therapy.

The Symposium is co-coordinated by the Stem Cell & Regenerative Medicine Center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the BioPharmaceutical Technology Center Institute and is open to the public. Registration is $100.00 ($50.00 for students and post-doctoral researchers). The Symposium will be held at Promega Corporation’s BioPharmaceutical Technology Center, 5445 E. Cheryl Parkway, Fitchburg, WI.

Topics to be discussed include: Continue reading

Calling All Science PUNdits

As the point of contact for our social media efforts at Promega, I spend a lot of time scanning science-related Twitter, Facebook, Instagram media accounts. There are some science channel managers who do a great job of bringing delight to their followers. Those managers use their platforms to educate—I follow them because they constantly amaze me with new things. I find information that is useful, fun and makes me think “wow, that is interesting.” On my favorite accounts, that new learning comes along with a wry sense of humor, and some of my favorite social media channels are ones that not only teach me new things but do it with a little fun on the side—often in the form of bad science puns.

Promega has the privilege of sponsoring the Cool Science Image contest run by the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Just recently @UWMadScience tweeted about the deadline for the contest, tagging @promega in the tweet. Their tweet included a visual science pun which was not lost on their fellow campus account managers:


That pun started a chain reaction among the other UW accounts that follow @UWMadScience: 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

Sitting on the Moon

Today’s blog is from BTCI Instructor and guest blogger Jackie Mosher.

Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars. —Norman Vincent Peale

mosher_a_editThis motivational quote has echoed throughout my life from childhood.  It has inspired me to be fearless in dreaming, to be ambitious and to reach for those goals without fearing failure. So, naturally at the ripe age of 10, my goal was to become a scientist and discover a cure to both AIDS and cancer with a secondary plan of becoming this nation’s first female President. However, as I grew older, I realized my genuine interest and excitement for science and that I enjoyed not only learning about various scientific concepts but also sharing this information with others. Therefore, I completed a Bachelor’s of Science degree with a major in Molecular Biology and minor in Chemistry and decided to continue my studies as a graduate student at UW-Madison in the Cancer Biology graduate program.  My goal was to graduate and aid in disseminating scientific knowledge.

Why teach and not become a scientist? 

Continue reading

Top Science Books of 2016

While I planned to write about New Year’s resolutions for the first Promega Connections blog of 2017, I was sidetracked by some “best of 2016” lists—in particular, best science books. I realized though that these seemingly unrelated ideas overlapped at some level because every year I resolve to find time to read more books. What was once an easy and natural escape for me, like for so many others, reading for fun now requires a bit of effort and prioritization. With the continual distractions of Netflix, social media and online news stories, it’s a challenge to find time to read books the way I once did.

So, in honor of a new year’s resolution do more of what I like and less of what I don’t like, here is a list of what has been deemed the best science books of 2016. I culled through the lists of several of the most reputable science blogs and publications and looked for overlap among them. Between the Science Friday blog, New York Magazine’s blog, The Science of Us, Smithsonian Magazine, NPR, and the New York Times’ best of 2016 lists there are loads of suggestions to keep you reading until the start of the next decade. Below are eight recommendations that appeared on several “best of” lists. Continue reading

Deciding What to Share: Evaluating Content in a Self-Publishing World

A BuzzFeed News analysis of “news” stories during the final three months of the 2016 US presidential campaign revealed that on Facebook, the 20 top-performing fake-news stories from hoax sites and hyper partisan blogs generated 8,711,000 instances of engagement (shares, reactions, or comments) while the 20 top-performing stories from news web sites generated 7,367,000 instances of engagement (1). Basically fake news generated 1.5 million more responses than real news.

This is particularly concerning given that a Pew Research study from July 2016 indicated that 63% of Americans say that family and friends are an important way they get news—they get their news from their social networks (online or offline) rather than from vetted broadcast or print media (2), and 54% of people asked in this same study responded that they “sometimes” or “often” received news from social networking sites such as Facebook or Twitter.

I too must confess that quite often it’s a tweet or a Facebook post that alerts me to a news story or world event. Often it’s even a tweet or a post that leads me to the latest science news. I can’t remember the last time I deliberately watched the 6:00 news, though it was a staple in my house when I was growing up.

So what does all of this mean for science communication, science literacy and a basic understanding of what is really going on in the world? Continue reading