The Bell Burnell Observatory: 140 Years of Inspiring Scientific Curiosity

The Bell Burnell Observatory, located at Promega Madison

On a hill at the top of the Promega Madison campus, an old observatory overlooks the city of Fitchburg, Wisconsin. Inside, cutting-edge telescopes are ready to give students and astronomers breathtaking views of the cosmos.

Over the past 140 years, this observatory has served as the first launchpad for storied careers in astronomy. Following a relocation, it gave a passionate community a home for their curiosity. Today, it supports modern research while also welcoming stargazers of all ages. It is now one of the oldest operational observatories in the United States. This is the Bell Burnell Observatory.

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A Different Kind of Sustainable Growth: What’s Happening in the Promega Garden

Tomatoes growing in the Promega garden
Tomato season is ending soon, and Mike has already harvested 2,500 pounds from the Promega garden.

Summer is winding down at Promega Madison. Kids are heading back to school, sunset is creeping earlier, and a new cycle of academic research projects are ramping up. However, in the Promega garden, Master Gardener Mike Daugherty is still hard at work harvesting fresh produce that will soon become delicious meals in our cafeterias. As the seasons begin to change, I stopped by to learn what’s happening on the farm. Here are a few highlights that Mike shared.

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Behind the Scenes at Promega with the Brazil Young Researchers Award Winners

“What I’ve learned in science is that we don’t do things alone. Everything is connected,” says Marcos da Silva Regueira Neto.

Marcos is a post-doctoral research at the Federal University of Pernambuco in Recife, Brazil. His project is part of a large interdisciplinary study, so he is no stranger to collaboration and welcomes opportunities to gain knowledge outside his specialty. Earlier this year, Marcos travelled nearly 5,000 miles to take advantage of one such opportunity.  

In May 2022, Marcos and eight other young Brazilian scientists spent a week in the United States experiencing a unique behind-the-scenes dive into Promega. Their trip included stops in New York City, Madison, and Chicago. For most of the students, this was their first look into new areas where science could lead them.

“I’ve spent most of my life in academia,” Marcos says. “I want to see the other side – the industry side. I want to learn new things and expand my knowledge.”

Over the course of a week, the students presented their research project to Promega leaders, got hands-on experience with emerging technologies alongside the scientists who invented them, and played with human-sized proteins in a virtual reality space.

They also took a picture with a six-foot duck.

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Getting To Know D.O.O.R.S. Scholar Anusha Ray Dey

“I want to make sure that what I think I want to do, truly is what I want to do.”

Anusha Ray Dey started working in a research lab as an undergraduate at the University of Wisconsin-Madison because she imagined it would improve her future application to medical school. However, there was one twist she didn’t see coming – Anusha realized she really enjoyed working in research. Now graduated, she’s earning a Masters degree to gain more experience before making her next decision.

“I could go into industry and do research, or even be a research coordinator. But maybe I’ll decide to still go on to medical school,” Anusha says. “My experiences in research definitely did shift my plans.”

Anusha Ray Dey
Photo courtesy of Anusha Ray Dey

Supporting Mental Health on Campus

Anusha Ray Dey completed an undergraduate thesis searching for chemical signals in the urine of male orangutans. She has a black belt in tae kwon do and she loves to draw. For an honors project, she drew all of the illustrations for an animated video on Alzheimer’s Disease.

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Promega Sourcing Over 20% of Global Electricity from Renewable Sources

Last summer, we announced our most ambitious sustainability goals ever. This year, as part of our annual reporting, we are proud to share that over 20% of our global electricity is supplied by renewable sources. This represents a ten-fold increase in our renewable energy usage over the past three years.

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A Vibrant Welcome Back to the Promega Art Showcase

After a long hiatus sparked by the COVID-19 pandemic, the Promega Art Showcase will return next week with a new exhibition titled “A Vibrant Welcome Back!”

Promega Art Showcase

Why is a biotechnology company hosting an art show?

At its core, science is rooted in creativity. Scientists investigate the unknown and search for novel solutions that can improve our quality of life. We believe that observing and creating art reenergizes the imagination, inspiring scientists to look from new perspectives and step outside of the norms.

Promega has hosted quarterly art showcases in the BioPharmaceutical Technology Center since 1996. These showcases are open to the public and have featured the work of local, national and international artists. Past shows have included sculptors, folk artists, photographers, and painters. The December-March show each year features artwork by Promega employees and their family members.

The 2022 Summer Art Showcase features the work of Derrick Buisch, a painter and professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, alongside Bettina Madini, a European contemporary artist and fashion designer.

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Kornberg Innovation Seminars: Inspiring Creativity in Promega R&D

Kornberg Center was designed to accelerate scientific exploration.

“Are you going to the talk?”

The refrain regularly echoes through the halls of every academic lab building. During our education, we’re treated to a non-stop supply of speakers on every subject we can imagine. Prestigious speaker series gave us chances to hear from some of the world’s most prominent experts on subjects that would shape scientific pursuits for the next decade and beyond. When we leave academia, however, it can be difficult to find those same opportunities to learn. Sure, there are lab meetings and conferences, but when can you be treated to a renowned expert giving a talk just down the hall?

Promega Head of Biology Frank Fan aimed to address that problem when he developed a plan for the Kornberg Innovation Seminars (KIS), a recurring speaker series to be held in the new home for Promega R&D. Kornberg Center is an environment where Promega scientists are challenged to think outside-the-box and anticipate the challenges life science researchers will be facing tomorrow. Frank believed that opportunities to learn from a wide variety of guest experts would be critical for inspiring that type of thinking.

“Promega R&D focuses on understanding scientists’ needs and providing novel solutions,” Frank says. “The KIS program is about helping us achieve that vision.”

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Study Reveals New Strategies for Targeting “Undruggable” KRAS Mutants

NanoBRET assays can be used to understand the behavior of drugs targeting KRAS mutants

A new study published in Nature Chemical Biology shows that the most commonly mutated protein in cancer might not be as “undruggable” as previously believed. Promega R&D scientists collaborated with the research group led by Kevan Shokat at the University of California – San Francisco to develop strategies for targeting mutants of KRAS that have evaded previous drug discovery efforts. Their paper opens new possibilities for developing small molecule inhibitors against KRAS(G12D) and other clinically significant mutants.

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Transforming Your Fear In Meetings

During the summer after my junior year of undergrad, I worked as a marketing intern for a health education nonprofit. I was a biology major, but by this time I knew I wanted to pursue a career in science writing, and this internship was my first real-world experience. It was an amazing summer, and by the time I walked into my exit interview, I was confident that my supervisor was pleased with my performance. However, she shared a piece of feedback that caught me off guard.

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Can We Prevent the Next Pandemic?

Before the respiratory virus SARS-CoV-2 ever emerged, Tom Friedrich was already studying how viruses evolve to cause pandemics. His PhD training focused on how HIV adapts to escape detection by the immune system. Since opening his lab at the University of Wisconsin—Madison in 2008, he’s studied how viruses like influenza and Zika overcome evolutionary barriers to spread and cause disease. For nearly two years, he’s been analyzing viral sequencing data generated from positive COVID-19 test samples around the state of Wisconsin.

Thomas Friedrich, professor of pathobiological sciences in the School of Veterinary Medicine. Photo by Jeff Miller / UW-Madison, provided by Thomas Friedrich.

As the COVID-19 pandemic persists, Tom continues to make important contributions to both SARS-CoV-2 research and the relevant public health response. However, his experiences have led him to ask an even bigger question: How can we prepare for the next pandemic while still battling the current one?

“What has characterized our responses to these types of disease outbreaks in the past is sort of a boom and bust cycle,” Tom says. “We spin up a massive response that often tends to get going just as the thing itself is petering out. Then interest and funding wane so that we’re not really left with any sustainable infrastructure. But with Ebola, Zika and now COVID-19 in a pretty rapid cadence, I think people are finally getting the idea that we need to have a more sustainable infrastructure that is not totally specific to the particular disease that’s causing this outbreak today.”

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