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:


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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

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? 

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Back to Basics: Organizing Your Writing like It’s a Hamburger

The "hamburger" scheme for organizing a paragraph.

The “hamburger” scheme for organizing a paragraph.

Last night I was helping my daughter, who is in fourth grade, with her homework. We had completed a math worksheet, a geography worksheet and had moved onto writing. For her paragraph assignment, she was supposed to write about a special place. So I began drawing the concept map that we typically use to help her organize her thoughts. She stopped me before I could get started.

“No Mom, wait,” she grabbed the pencil and paper from my hands, “I have a better idea.”

She drew five shapes on the paper.

“We should write the paragraph like it’s a hamburger. The first sentence is the topic—it’s the top of the burger, tells you what is inside—it makes you hungry to read more. Next comes the juicy, meaty part. Three details—three sentences. Then the bottom bun, the summary that supports the whole paragraph. It’s the hardest to write.” She proudly sat down with her drawing and pencil.

“I LOVE that,” I exclaimed. “That’s a great way to organize a paragraph.”

“Yeah,” my husband looked up from his Suduko that he had been working on, “and the cheese goes right here.” He pointed to one of the three boxes my daughter had drawn underneath the bun.

“And the lettuce over here,” my daughter giggled.

“Well, I like mine with lettuce and tomato,” I chanted with no apologies to Jimmy Buffett, “Heinz 57 and French-fried potato..,”

“A big kosher pickle,” my daughter joined in, and the evening’s homework activities degenerated from there. (Sometimes it’s the parents who are easily distracted.)

My daughter’s hamburger graphic was new to me, but the concept wasn’t. It is a solid method for organizing a piece of writing, and it can be applied all kinds of writing—from a paragraph, to an essay, to a speech and even to a scientific article. Continue reading

Next-Generation Genomics Education: Educating and Preparing the Next Generation

Students pursuing their interests wit h hands-on activities at BTC Institute.

Students pursuing their interests wit h hands-on activities at BTC Institute.

The BTC Institute has many partners in creating educational opportunities in the molecular biosciences. In recent years, we have worked with the Dane County School to Work Consortium (DCSWC) to create a unique, one-semester class aimed at giving high school Juniors and Seniors interested in scientific research and health careers a chance to explore how concepts they have been learning about in their biology and biotechnology classrooms are used in the laboratory.

To take it one step further, these laboratory experiences are tied to the Gates Foundation Grand Challenges in Global Health. The Challenges provide a framework to help students understand worldwide concerns, including ways in which biotechnology can be applied to generate solutions to these problems. Students are encouraged to place scientific challenges within social and socioeconomic contexts which, in turn, make some solutions more appealing than others. This holistic approach provides the “real world” milieu that is so sought after in academic endeavors. Continue reading

iGEM: Building Living Machines

Life forms are often compared to machines, whether you are referring to a single cell or a complex organism. This concept is the basis for the International Genetically Engineered Machine (iGEM) Competition. Each year, high school and university students around the world assemble teams that create genetically engineered systems. In addition to the building work, teams document their process and progress through wikis that are assessed by judges at the end of the competition.

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Some members of iGEM 2016 Team Duesseldorf.

In order to synthesize these living machines, iGEM teams use standard biological parts called biobricks—each biobrick is a sequence of DNA encoding a particular biological function. Teams receive a kit of standard biobricks and work over the summer to build and test biological systems in living cells. These basic units are put together to make more complex parts which can then be grouped together to make “devices” that can function within living cells. Continue reading

The Unforgettable Experience of Traveling: Beyond the Formal Learning Experience

CTPGE students (l to r): Anna Facchetti, Anqi Fu, Pureum Jeon, and Hajeong Sim; Anna and Anqi are UW-Madison graduate students.

CTPGE students (l to r): Anna Facchetti, Anqi Fu, Pureum Jeon, and Hajeong Sim;
Anna and Anqi are UW-Madison graduate students.

Last fall, I blogged about our partnership with Promega-Hannam BTCI at Hannam University in Daejeon, Korea , providing an overview of the ways in which we have collaborated over the years.

This year, 2016,  included the participation of two Hannam students, Pureum Jeon and Hajeong Sim, in one of our advanced courses, Core Techniques in Protein and Genetic Engineering (CTPGE), which offers graduate credits through the University of Wisconsin-Madison. UW-Madison is a bustling campus with a large international student, staff and faculty population, and Promega Corporation is a global company with a diverse workforce that brings a steady stream of international visitors to its main campus in Fitchburg. My sense is that sometimes those of us who live and work in environments like this, who also regularly tap into global news, can lose touch with what it’s like to leave home and travel to a completely new place, perhaps somewhere far away where the language spoken is not your own.

Our experience with Pureum and Hajeong this summer was a reminder of how important these experiences can be for those who make these journeys. Their participation in the course provided them with valuable training, but the small things, like walking around the UW campus, having dinner with one of us, driving through rural Wisconsin and feeling welcomed at the hotel, also meant so much.

In their own words, here are a few of their thoughts: Continue reading

Pack a Little Science into Your Summer with Advanced Courses from BTCI

This new cGMP facility was built to have the least effect on the natural environment as possible--surrounded by rain gardens and native plantings, using grey water for flushing toilets--sustainable growth was the goal.

Summer on the Prairie at Promega–Study science surrounded by birds, bees, flowers and amazing prairie.

Summer, a much-looked forward to season. We typically pack in the activities and make the most of the daylight. We work hard and we play hard.  This summer will be no exception, and at the BTC Institute, we are already getting set to host as many students as we can. We will see middle and high schoolers, K-12 teachers, college students, graduate students, college and university faculty and staff, and professionals in the biotech community under our roof at some point. You may want to join us too!

Our programs for advanced learners, geared toward the graduate student or biotech professional, offer much more than just a rigorous immersion in molecular biology theory and practice. Held at the BTC Institute at Promega Headquarters, they are taught by highly knowledgeable scientists, coming from both industry and academia. These instructors offer a wealth of information and share their expertise as well as life experiences with students. Informal discussions about career trajectories and access to industry are important added benefits to attending these off-campus workshops. Continue reading