Conferences Are Important for High School Students—Youth Apprentices and STEM Professional Development

 

Isabel Jones presenting her research at the BMES Conference in Atlanta, October 2018.

Isabel Jones presenting her research at the BMES Conference in Atlanta, October 2018.

As adults, we can all attest to the benefits of attending professional conferences. They provide us with opportunities to present and share with others, network, and renew and refresh in our field. For some of us, that first conference, at the college or early employment level, may have contributed significantly to a sense of ourselves as professionals.  But what does it mean to someone younger?

Recently, three high school students enrolled in the Dane County Biotechnology Youth Apprentice (YA) Program were able to conferences related to their interest in pursuing Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) careers.  Here’s what they discovered. Continue reading

Fun with Science for the Holidays: An “Actor’s” Perspective

This past weekend, I had the opportunity to be a part of “Once Upon a Christmas Cheery in the Lab of Shakhashiri”. Bassam Z. Shakhashiri is a professor of chemistry at the University of Wisconsin–Madison who is well-known for his fun science demonstrations and a fervent dedication to public science communication. Once Upon a Christmas Cheery started in 1970 as an end-of-semester treat for Dr. Shakhashiri’s freshman chemistry class; by 1973, the Christmas lecture had become so popular that Wisconsin Public Television offered to broadcast it during Christmas week, and this collaboration has continued uninterrupted ever since.

That’s 49 years of Christmas lectures, commemorated by making indium, the 49th element, the Sesame Street-esque “sponsor” of the show. It helps that indium burns bright violet, the name of Dr. Shakhashiri’s granddaughter and hence his favorite color. The color purple made a firm foundation for many aspects of the show: The chrysanthemums frozen in liquid nitrogen were purple, as was the balloon I inflated during my spiel on air movement. Most of the set was various shades of purple, too.

Bassam Shakhashiri and J. Nepper on the set of Once Upon a Christmas Cheery

The set was whimsical and very purple. Photo by Eric Baillies.

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Virtual Reality Is Changing How We Experience Science

The South Pole was exactly as I expected—snowy and barren, apart from the giant research station in front of me. Suddenly, I got a notification in my communication system that there was a strong signal coming from the sky. I looked up and changed the visual display settings of my goggles to find stunning views of the Solar System, all the way past Pluto. My heads-up display told me that I’ve discovered a subatomic particle, called a neutrino, that flies through the fabric of space at nearly the speed of light. I wanted to find the source of this neutrino, so I switched my display to X-ray vision. The signal brightened, and the source was revealed—a massive black hole. I captured as much data as possible so I could report back to the lead scientist on the project. What an exciting afternoon of research!

Okay, I’ve never actually been to the South Pole, but I experienced this event in virtual reality at a conference expo booth for the National Science Foundation. This experience put me in the shoes of an astrophysicist working at the IceCube Neutrino Detection Facility, operated by UW-Madison researchers. As someone who specializes in the life sciences, I had the opportunity to learn more about an area outside my expertise—the fascinating world of particle physics.

VR headsets offer immersive experiences for entertainment, education, training, and more.

Most people think of augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) in the context of gaming or entertainment. You’ve likely had a casual AR experience if you’ve ever given yourself a flower crown in Snapchat, or hunted for Charmander at your local park with the Pokémon GO app. Yet, as I experienced at a conference several weeks ago, AR and VR can have massive implications for education and training experiences in the sciences. Continue reading

Fun at the Wisconsin Science Festival

“Is this a real human brain?” I asked. The answer was yes. The liver, lungs, spleen and stomach that were on display were also real—all from donated human bodies. My 3-year-old daughter put on a latex glove and eagerly touched each of the organs, while my 6-year-old son stood back at a distance, wide-eyed. We were at the Discovery Expo on the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus, a free kid-friendly science event featuring dozens of interactive exploration stations. Continue reading

Glycobiology Research and Training Opportunities are Plentiful

glycans on cell surface

Artist’s rendering of asymmetrically-branched carbohydrates on cell surface proteins.

Glycobiology is the study of glycans, the carbohydrate molecules that cover the surface of most human cells. Glycans attach to cell surface proteins and lipids, in a process called glycosylation. These cell surface structures are responsible for processes as varied at protein folding, cell signaling and cell-cell recognition, including sperm-egg recognition and immune cell interactions. Glycans play important roles in the red blood cell antigens that distinguish blood types O, A and B.

Opportunities in Glycomics Research
As more is learned about the role of glycans in cell communication, they are becoming important disease research targets, particularly the role of glycans in cancer and inflammatory diseases (2).

Some of the open questions surrounding glycans and glycosylation include glycan structural diversity. While some carbohydrates exist as straight or symmetrically branched chains, those populating the human glycome are asymmetrically branched, making them difficult to create and study in the laboratory (3). Continue reading

Living in the Anthropocene: A Photojournalist’s Perspective

Dennis Dimick has focused his journalism career on the collision between human aspiration and the planet. The son of fisheries biologists, Dimick grew up on a farm in Oregon’s Willamette Valley, and he holds degrees in agriculture and agricultural journalism from Oregon State University and the University of Wisconsin-Madison. In his 35 years at National Geographic, he served for over a decade as the magazine’s environment editor, and guided major projects on climate change, energy, freshwater, population, and food security. Dimick is co-founder of Eyes on Earth, a project meant to inspire a new generation of environmental photographers.

As a young man, Dimick witnessed firsthand the price of progress when his family’s farm was cut in half by the construction of an interstate beltway. This invasion of their farm, in addition to the clear-cut logging of nearby forests where Dimick had spent his youth, combined to sensitize him to the profound impacts of human progress on the Earth. Early photography experience and his personal connection to the effects of human progress led to a life and career spent combining these two dimensions.

Clearcut Forest in Oregon's Cascase Mountains in April, 2016

Clear-cut timber harvest in Oregon’s Cascade Mountains south of Eugene in 2016, one of a series of images for an ongoing project documenting the Anthropocene landscape across North America as seen from passenger airplanes. Photo: Dennis Dimick

In anticipation of his participation in the 2018 Wisconsin Science Festival, I asked Mr. Dimick some questions about photojournalism, and what it’s like documenting the human impact on the environment. Some of his answers have been slightly edited for clarity.

What does it take to be a good environmental photographer? Continue reading

Meeting the Needs of Scientists at All Levels

One of the best things about the BTC Institute is that we have programs for all levels of learners. It is as rewarding to introduce the concept of how bioluminescence is used by different organisms in the natural world to middle-school students as it is to have top-level scientists use reporter genes to track their knock-in genome edits.

We spend a lot of time working over our curricula to determine whether the content meets the learner where they are to allow our students to achieve their goals. We develop activities that let students who comes to us —via field trips, high school courses, non-scientist sessions and graduate level programs—to test ideas and evaluate strategies for problem solving as they learn techniques and concepts central to biotechnology. Continue reading

Modeling Scientific Inquiry

Within science education, teaching Scientific Inquiry to students has gained both traction and prominence.  Teachers are increasingly being called to teach students not only science content, but how to take the concepts of the scientific method and put them into action; to think and to act like scientists. As Karin Borgh pointed out in last month’s blog, teachers invariably run up against the limitations of time and resources as they strive to get their students to enact science.  When a teacher brings students to the BTC Institute, they gain access to some of those resources and, on a field trip-basis, a little bit more of that luxury of time.  Continue reading

Smile Science

I have a vivid memory of one Saturday night riding in the car with my parents on our way back from my 4K choir concert. My frequently hungry self was buckled into my car seat next to my two siblings and we watched in excitement as the golden arches came into view.“MOM?! CAN WE GO TO MCDONALDS?!?” I yelled as we quickly sped passed the entrance.“Not today sweetie, I already bought some chicken for dinner,” my smile quickly turned to a frown. My Dad turned around, “Aww c’mon honey, give us a smile!” I faked an even deeper frown causing my Dad to laugh. I laughed, then he laughed, and soon I was wearing a grin ear-to-ear.

Smiling… it’s not something we think much about, we just do it. Yet behind it’s façade of simplicity, there lies a science that affects our emotional and physical health, and the way with which we approach life Continue reading

Conflict, CRISPR and the Scientific Method

Scientific inquiry is a process that is revered as much as it is misunderstood. As I listed to a TED talk about the subject, I was reminded that for the general public the foundation of science is the scientific method—the linear process of making an observation, asking a question, forming an hypothesis, making a prediction and testing the hypothesis.

While this process is integral to doing science, what gives scientific findings credibility and value is consensus from the scientific community. Building consensus is the time-consuming process that includes peer review, publication and replication of results. It is also the part of scientific inquiry that so often leads the public to misunderstand and mistrust scientific findings.

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